By Hugh Tranter
Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is based around Port Jackson, a large body of water that is made up of Sydney Harbour, and its northern arm, Middle Harbour. Most photos of Sydney Harbour feature the iconic twin act of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. But what is less well known is that Sydney Harbour is full of beaches and coves, including some great spots for swimming, searching rockpools (tidepools), and beachcombing!
Sydney-siders (as we are called) love surf beaches like Bondi, Manly, and Narrabeen, made famous in “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by The Beach Boys. But the Harbour beaches are also very popular in summer. These beaches—Balmoral, Parsley Bay, Seven Shillings Beach, and 40 Baskets Beach—don’t normally have surf, but they have sun, sand, shade, and lots of cafés.
Cafés and coffee became big in Sydney during World War II, when American servicemen arrived in Sydney on their way to war zones in the Pacific. Their love of coffee soon sparked a rush of imports and coffee shops sprang up all around the city. By the way, American soldiers are also credited with bringing the tradition of giving flowers to women on dates, something we Aussie guys weren’t apparently so good at prior to that!
At Shark Beach, in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, you can wet your toes and find lots of brown sea glass, with a smattering of green and white glass mixed in. Why brown? The answer is simple, Australians love their beer! During the 20th century, there were three big beer brewers in Sydney—Tooths, Tooheys, and Reschs, and they all used brown bottles.
Despite its name, Shark Beach is a very popular swimming beach, also called Nielsen Park for the national park where the beach is located. You need to be quick when beachcombing here, because the sea glass rolls around where the waves reach the steep, sandy beach. You have to bob down and grab the glass, ground smooth by time and tide.
I learned to look for this rounded glass when I was a child, visiting the beach with my parents and grandparents. Now, I will occasionally stop in the shallows after a swim—a 50-something-year-old bloke—to have a fish around in the sand. Brown glass is predominant, a piece of green is great, white or pale aqua are common, but I am still looking for blue.
Some of Sydney Harbour’s beaches are also located in national parks which line sections of the harbour. Here you can find Aboriginal sites with rock engravings—often of fish, sharks and stingrays—examples of an ancient and enduring cultural heritage and a record of the first people of New South Wales, the Eora people.
There are some great walks where you can search amongst the rockpools (as ever, keeping an eye out for any local safety issues) and do some beachcombing—there is driftwood to be found, although unfortunately there is often also a lot of plastic. Some good walks include the Hermitage Walk, Bradleys Head to Balmoral, the Spit to Manly, and many more. Along the way you will find parts of the harbour’s history, like the ‘Artist’s camp’ in Little Sirius Cove, where well-known Australian artists Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton painted at the start of the 20th century, or Crater Cove near Grotto Point, where a shanty camp, perched on the rocks above the sea, grew up in the Great Depression.
There is also Vaucluse House, close to Shark Beach, originally built in 1827. The story is that its first owner, Sir Henry Browne Hayes, imported soil from Ireland to surround his house, in the hope that it would keep the snakes away.
Another well-known place to find sea glass in Sydney is Malabar Beach. This beach faces the Tasman Sea but is protected by a headland. Here you can also have a swim in an ocean pool, which are pools carved into the rock next to the sea, a feature up and down the coast.
I recommend any visitor to Sydney travel beyond the better-known tourist spots to do a bit of beachcombing. Here are some websites to help find good beaches and walks:
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2022 issue.