Water, water, everywhere

Come and experience Sydney’s watery past by ferry. This trail highlights some of Sydney’s early sites of occupation found right on the edge of our magnificent Harbour. Since colonial times the Harbour was the main highway for transport, access to many hard-to-parts of the settlement and relied upon by early industries. It linked the earliest military fortifications, the first point of entry for immigrants and the sites of punishment for wayward convicts.

Our trail can be enjoyed in sections as separate trips, or as a full day out and about on water. We recommend you work backwards from the Royal Australian Navy Heritage Centre on Garden Island as you must be aboard the last ferry from there at 4pm!

The best place to begin the trail is at Darling Harbour. The Australian National Maritime Museum and the Sydney Heritage Fleet sit side-by-side on the spot where Sydney’s first foundries and Zollner’s Galvanising Plant once belched thick smoke into the air and toxic waste into the little cove.

Once you have had an introduction to all things maritime, it’s an eight minute ferry trip from Darling Harbour to Cockatoo Island where you’ll discover multiple layers of occupation on the largest of Sydney’s 11 islands.

The leg from Cockatoo Island to Quarantine Station via Circular Quay is the longest of the trail but can be completed in just over an hour using the Manly Fast Ferry. If you prefer to use the general ferry take a break at Circular Quay for lunch or to see several of the historic sites found there. Cadman’s Cottage is the oldest and one rich in both convict and maritime history. Sydney Harbour National Park can provide information on how to access some of the islands within the Harbour including Fort Denison where convict Francis Morgan was hanged in 1793.

Quarantine Station Visitor Centre situated on the arrival wharf can be seen in under an hour and provides rich displays on the medical quarantine and multicultural mix of early immigrants, although for appreciation of the whole site, you’ll need to allow significantly longer.

Last stop on the trail is the RAN Heritage Centre which is a short Eco Hopper Ferry ride across to Watsons Bay where you can pick up the Eastern Suburbs service to Circular Quay, disembarking at Garden Island. Highlights here include, the richly packed displays of naval history, much of it told from the sailors’ point of view, as well as the picturesque site itself. The Signal Tower and the verandah at the Salthorse Café both provide stunning 360 degree views from where you can survey our watery past while keeping an eye out for that 4pm ferry!

Ferry Timetables can be found here and we recommend using the Plan your trip menu so you can plot arrivals and departures with ease. Weekend ferries operate on a slightly reduced schedule compared to weekdays.

Good luck and bon voyage!


Museums & Galleries of NSW helps museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres of NSW create exciting and inspiring experiences for visitors and strong, thriving local communities. We develop their skills, connect them with others in the industry, provide funding, point visitors their way, and give them access to ground-breaking exhibitions.

Museums & Galleries of NSW is supported by the NSW Government through Create NSW.

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