There’s something about Sydney’s harbour-side beaches. There’s no surf to speak of, so the water is distinctively clear on a good day. Sunlight glistens on toned bodies laying out on pontoons, and the air is thick with salt and the scent of coconut and sunscreen. These private enclaves dotted on the edges of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs are inhabited during the warmer months by a curious mix of clued-up visitors and die-hard locals. And while Sydney-siders will always have a soft-spot for Bondi’s raw energy and Bronte’s fine white sand, we’re making a case for some of our city’s lesser-known beaches.
Parsley Bay Reserve
At the end of a steep, narrow residential alleyway stretches a white suspension bridge over a protected inlet of harbour water. Standing at the centre of the rickety wooden bridge you get an exclusive glimpse of some of the city’s most prime real-estate. Sydney’s wealth is often hidden, or at least more discreet, than one might think. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, a cobbled-together stairway leads you down to a walkway tucked beneath an overhanging sandstone cliff. Lizards dart in the scrub and molluscs cling to the rocks - both clear indicators that no, you’re not in Portofino... this is as Australian as it comes. There’s only one way to swim here, and that’s to descend the ramp into the deep end of the bay, avoiding the locals doing their laps. Marvel at the bobbing yachts and rugged curves of sandstone. This is Sydney at its quintessential, beauteous best.
Refleaf, also known as Murray Rose Park, is arguable Sydney’s most glamorous beach. White linen, manicured toes, and elegant straw sun-hats are as important to the experience as a swim out to one of Redleaf’s two floating pontoons. A prime spot on one of these bobbing wooden decks is hard to come by, but be persistent: you’ll never truly understand the lure of Sydney until you lie supine in the sun, arms draped across your eyes, enjoying the gentle lull of the pontoon against the harbour waves. A suspended walkway wraps generously around the bay, providing visitors the option to view the beach from a full 360 degrees. A grassy knoll provides ample shade for those less inclined to the sun. And while deck-chairs are not up for hire, there’s little about Redleaf that doesn’t have all the charm and beauty of the Italian seaside.
It’s easy to spend a whole day at Nielsen Park. The restaurant at the park’s centre dishes out modern Italian fare while the kiosk to its right provides ice-creams and coffees throughout the day. But the real drawcard here is the broad beach, often referred to as Shark Beach, that takes in wide views of Sydney harbour. It’s not uncommon to spot a sea plane taking off for the northern beaches, or speed boats racing past in the distance. This is a playground in every sense. At high tide, the water makes for an ideal swim, even if it’s just knee deep. There’s very little posturing here - just children joyfully exploring the sand, young couples basking in the sun, and those in the know who have stocked up on Callipos and have found a patch of sand on which to watch the rhythm of Sydney’s spirited harbour go by.