Sydney Harbour Kayaks Eco Tour Review

I’m silently paddling across the completely calm waters of Middle Harbour, and I can’t stop grinning. More than a decade has passed since I last kayaked, which ended up with me getting stuck in a sandbank, which I have to admit wasn’t my greatest look. This time, however, I’m powering on, effortlessly gliding through the water in a regular rhythmic pattern, although my guide Peter might be the real reason for our speedy success.

I have had the pleasure of living in Sydney for over six years now, and I’m ashamed to admit that in all those years, I have never kayaked Sydney’s spectacular waterways. More accustomed to walking Sydney’s rugged coastlines and lush bush trails, I quickly realise there’s nothing quite like exploring the waterways by kayak and discovering Sydney from an entirely new perspective. Secluded sandy bays, carefully manicured waterfront parks and million-dollar mansions all compete for our attention as we swiftly glide on by, but it’s the stories of sunken shipwrecks, daring tightrope walkers and an abandoned explosives depot that resonate with me during this 4-hour guided Kayak Eco Tour, something you wouldn’t necessarily know about if exploring by yourself.

Besides myself and our expert guide Peter, there’s only another young couple on today’s early morning Guided Kayaking Eco Tour, making it a more intimate paddling experience. After donning our lifejackets, getting the essential safety drill and learning the best paddling techniques to save our muscles, we jump into our double sea kayaks and begin our adventure.

Sharing a double sea kayak with Peter, I’m positioned at the front in charge of navigation, whilst Peter’s at the back responsible for steering. Our 4-hour guided Kayak Eco Tour takes us through the sparkling waters of Middle Harbour with our route heading north into Bantry Bay and the remote bushland of Garigal National Park. After a week of non-stop pouring rain, I couldn’t have asked for better weather for my first kayak outing in over a decade. We’re greeted by a fresh morning breeze, with the winter sun gently warming our backs and temperatures expected to reach 18 degrees, the perfect paddling conditions.

Fiona paddling Middle Harbour

Kayaking Middle Harbour

Oysters and a Houseboat

We swiftly paddle across the harbour towards Clontarf Beach and Sandy Bay, which forms part of the spectacular Spit to Manly Walk, a popular walking track for locals and tourists alike and one of my all-time favourite Sydney coastal walks. As we follow the picturesque shoreline, we stop to admire the Sydney Rock Oysters that cling on to the jagged rock formations, before spotting a pelican hungrily hunting for fish as we slowly kayak past a houseboat in Fisher Bay.

Peter informs us that during the Depression there were as many as 32 residential houseboats legally moored within Middle Harbour. Today, only two seem to remain – this one and a lavish two-storey houseboat permanently docked at Pearl Bay, Mosman.

Smoothly gliding underneath the Spit Bridge, we pass cormorants, wings spread wide, sunning themselves in the glorious morning sunshine. Fishermen expertly cast their lines from the shore and moored bobbing boats hoping for a good catch of the day, whilst we eagerly search for fur seals, which were sighted earlier this morning, but now seem to be hiding from view as are the white-bellied sea eagles.

Architecture and Tight Ropes

Our kayak tour soon becomes an architectural hunt as we pass grand waterfront mansions prominently perched on cliffside edges with million-dollar water views and private boat ramps, home to equally expensive yachts. Peter points out an egg-shaped looking building, known as ‘the spaceship home’ or ‘the flying saucer house‘ by locals. However, its true name is ‘Vendome’, or the ‘Schuchard House’, built in 1964 by architect Stan Symonds who is highly regarded for his free form, sculptural designs.

Continuing, we come across the spot where stuntman, daredevil and tightrope walker Henri L’Estrange set up a tightrope over Sydney Harbour in April 1877. Known by the nickname “the Australian Blondin” after tightrope walker Charles Blondin, who famously crossed Niagara Falls in 1859, over 10,000 Sydneysiders came to Middle Harbour to witness this incredible spectacle. Miraculously, Henri successfully tight roped 432 metres across the mouth of Willoughby Bay from Clive Park (Northbridge) to Beauty Point (Mosman), at a height of 104 metres, dressed in a red cape and a turban.

Architecture seen from Spit Bridge

Fiona paddling Middle Harbour smile

Shipwrecks in Salt Pan Creek

As well as the magnificent architecture and spectacular water views, Middle Harbour is also home to several shipwrecks including the Itata and Cobaki. The Itata met its end at 4:40 am on 12 January 1906 when a fire broke out as the ship was preparing to sail from Newcastle to South America, carrying nitrite and coal (which should never be packed together due to nitrite easily catching fire). Today, the wreck of the Itata lies in Salt Pan Creek, Long Bay, Middle Harbour and makes a popular diving spot for shipwreck lovers.

Alongside the Itata, also lies the Cobaki, a 257-ton wooden steamship built in 1918 in Sydney for Langley bros. Owned and used by the Australian Army for training purposes between 1939 to 1945, vandals scuttled the steamship in 1946 in Salt Pan Creek, where it still lies today.

You can see both wrecks from the water during an eco kayak tour, but also from the Wreck Bay Walking Track in Northbridge.

Bantry Bay Explosives Depot

Paddling north into Bantry Bay, we soon set eyes on the abandoned, red-roofed Bantry Bay Explosives Depot, situated within the Garigal National Park. Built between 1910 to 1914 to replace the existing storage facility at Powder Hulk Bay, there are nine specially designed “magazines” which were used to store explosives up until 1974, each separated by either natural sandstone or purpose-built sandstone walls as a barrier to stop fire spreading from one magazine to another.

In case of an explosion, the double-brick walls and suspended tin roofs would also direct the force of an explosion upwards rather than outwards.

The facility was decommissioned in the 1970s and is currently undergoing restoration works. The depot remains closed to the public due to old explosive contamination but can be viewed whilst kayaking with Sydney Harbour Kayaks or via a walking track from behind Seaforth Oval.

Waterfall closeup

Waterfall moss

Picnic Lunch at Flat Rock Beach

With our heads full of history and our stomachs starting to rumble from our upper body workout, we kayak to nearby Flat Rock Beach to rest our weary arms and are greeted by a full flowing waterfall and an almost empty beach all to ourselves.

Landing effortlessly on the beach (thank you Peter), I carefully shimmy out of my kayak without falling into the water and make my way to shore. Whilst Peter prepares our picnic lunch, my fellow kayakers and I explore Flat Rock Beach and hike the short distance for a closer glimpse of the gushing waterfall. Treading carefully along the muddy path and following the slippery steps up, we reach the waterfall hidden amongst a subterranean rainforest setting and listen to the croaking of frogs, through a thick forest of ferns.

Back at the beach, we are treated to fresh rockmelon and pineapple, cheese, crackers and dips, along with chocolate cookies, tea, coffee and hot chocolate. What a delicious spread and a well-earned treat after a successful 7km paddle session. We swap stories of travelling and kayaking adventures, before jumping back into our double sea kayaks to continue our kayak eco tour.

Picnic blanket lunch

Fiona with paddle

Sydney Red Gums and the Coffee Boat Man

Following the meandering shoreline again, we spy towering Sydney Red Gums (Angophora costata), also known as the Smooth-Barked Apple along with spectacular sandstone formations, weathered over the years by the wind, rain and water. Peter also points out his favourite picnic and BBQ spot accompanied by stunning water views – not a bad place for an Aussie barbie! However, one thing that I wasn’t expecting to see on Middle Harbour, or even knew existed was the Coffee Boat Man! Garry White, serves freshly brewed coffee along with soft drinks and ice creams to thirsty kayakers, boaters and fishermen in need of a caffeine hit, right from his coffee-coloured boat. Genius!

We also stop in at Pearl Bay for a closer look at the lavish houseboat (I could definitely live here) – before passing more million-dollar yachts and stylish boats moored in private marinas.

Ellery’s Punt Reserve and Spit Bridge

As we draw closer to the end of our kayaking tour, I soon recognise the outline of Spit Bridge and Ellery’s Punt Reserve. Peter tells us that during the early 1850s, the only way to get across Middle Harbour was by rowing boat, operated by a local farmer called Peter Ellery. Later, he began operating a punt service to transport both people and cattle, with a cheaper fare offered if horses swam across Middle Harbour themselves. By 1871, the Government introduced a ferry service and the first Spit Bridge was built in 1924 before being replaced by the current bridge in 1958. Unfortunately, increased road traffic was never thought about at the time so the Spit Bridge becomes heavily congested during peak times.

Spit Bridge from Ellerys Punt Reserve

Spit Bridge Mosman

Kayak Eco Tour Overview

Arriving back to shore, we land our kayaks one last time on the sandy, golden beach and remove our life jackets and store our paddles. Surprisingly, I’m quite sad the tour is over, but I’m completely inspired and in awe of this whole experience. Not only was Peter a true professional, a phenomenal guide and passionate paddler, but he also has a wealth of knowledge about the local area and its history which made the tour an incredible experience.

Whether you’re a beginner, a local Sydneysider or a tourist, kayaking through Sydney’s Middle Harbour during this 4-hour guided kayaking eco tour is an eye-opening and magical experience, and one that I know will stay with me forever.

Note: I was invited along to the Kayak Eco Tour as a guest of Sydney Harbour Kayaks.

Beach by Sydney Harbour Kayaks

Double sea kayak on beach

Sydney Harbour Kayaks – Kayak Eco Tour Key Details

If you’re craving adventure and the chance to learn more about the natural and social history of the Middle Harbour area from a friendly, expert guide, then this 4-hour Kayak Eco Tour is for you. From affluent urban to the remote natural bushland of the Garigal National Park, soak up the serenity as you paddle by spectacular scenery, watch for wildlife and enjoy a wholesome morning tea, served at a secluded spot.

  • Location: 81 Parriwi Road – Smiths Boat Shed, The Spit Bridge, Mosman 2088
  • When does the tour run? Every Saturday and Sunday morning from 8:30 am until 12:30 pm
  • What’s Included?
    • 20-minute instruction on safety and equipment use.
    • Qualified, experienced, friendly guide.
    • Wholesome morning tea stopover at an idyllic location.
    • All paddling equipment supplied.
    • Storage and bottled water.
    • Stable and safe double sea kayaks
  • How much is the 4-hour Kayak Eco Tour? $135 per person
  • How big is the group size? Group sizes are kept small and intimate with up to 12 paddlers.

How to get to Sydney Harbour Kayaks?

Sydney Harbour Kayaks is easily accessible by car and bus and situated right by the Spit Bridge.

By Bus:

If coming from the city, you can take bus 178 or 180 from Carrington Street (Stand A) by Wynyard Station and alight at Spit West Reserve, just before Spit Bridge. The journey takes approximately 25 minutes, check Sydney Transport for times. Cross over the road and walk approximately 200 metres along Spit Road to arrive at Sydney Harbour Kayaks, next door to Plonk Beach Café.

By Car:

You can find limited free on-street parking along Upper Parriwi Road, Mosman or anywhere along Avona Crescent, Seaforth. Both locations are approximately 200 metres from Sydney Harbour Kayaks. Alternatively, there is paid parking at Spit West Reserve car park ($7 an hour on weekends or approximately $25 for the day).

What to wear for a Sydney Harbour Kayak Eco Tour?

I recommend wearing comfortable clothing and cover up as much as possible to protect yourself from the sun.

  • Swimwear
  • Rashie/sun shirt or long-sleeved t-shirt for sun protection
  • Boardies/sport shorts or leggings
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Closed-in shoes that can get wet (I wore an old pair of trainers)

What to bring for afterwards

In case you get wet, be sure to bring the following:

  • Towel
  • A full change of dry clothes
  • Dry shoes

Who can join the Guided Kayaking Eco Tour?

This 4-hour Guided Kayaking Eco Tour is perfect for beginners as well as anyone looking to explore Sydney from a different perspective. Some fitness levels are required, especially if the water is choppy, but the tour can be tailored to the group’s ability.

Key things to know

  • During the Kayak Eco Tour, there are no toilets, so be sure to go before you start.
  • There are toilets on site along with a hot shower as well as storage. You can also purchase drinks from the shop.
  • Previous kayaking experience is not essential. A 20-minute kayaking instruction session is provided before the tour.
  • The tour will not operate if the wind is over 15/18 knots – Sydney Harbour Kayaks will inform you of any weather issues.

Other Kayaking Options

As well as the guided kayaking eco tour through Sydney’s Middle Harbour, you can also opt to hire kayaks, canoes, ocean skis and stand up paddle boards by the hour or half-day and enjoy a self-guided itinerary. The Eco Tour can also run as a Private Kayaking Tour with a minimum of six people and groups up to 60.

For beginners, Sydney Harbour Kayaks also offer a FREE three-hour paddling session, teaching safety and basic strokes to help you enjoy paddling. I know this is something that I will be signing up for.

Top Walks Pre or Post Kayak

Whilst you’re in Middle Harbour, why not combine your kayaking tour with a pre or post-walk? Here are some of my favourite walks to enjoy.

1. Spit Bridge to Manly Walk (10km)

The Spit Bridge to Manly Walk is a popular 10km coastal walk that is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Along this bushwalk, you can enjoy spectacular harbour views, beautiful flora and fauna and go swimming at one of the many secluded beaches. Keep in mind, there are some steep hill sections with uneven stairs, particularly leading up to Dobroyd Head. If you’re short on time, you can always walk from Spit Bridge to Clontarf Rock Beach and back.

To learn more about the full Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, read my latest blog.

2. Spit West Reserve (2.75km)

For a short stroll, why not consider the Spit West Reserve, located opposite Sydney Harbour Kayaks. Follow the dedicated path along Figtree Lane through Pearl Bay Reserve. Either continue up the hill to Beauty Point or walk back down the hill via Pearl Bay Avenue and Spit Road. Spit West Reserve also makes a good picnic spot.

3. Spit Bridge to Balmoral via Parriwi Lighthouse and Chinamans Beach (3.5km)

Another favourite coastal walk is from Spit Bridge to Balmoral. Along the way, you will come across the Parriwi Lighthouse, situated along Parriwi Road. Built in 1911 to serve as the rear range light for the Grotto Point Lighthouse into Port Jackson, this active lighthouse is also known as Parriwi Head Light or Rosherville Light. This walk also passes through Rosherville Reserve, a good spot for a picnic and you can also relax on Chinamans Beach or go for a swim. From here, follow Hopetoun Avenue and Burran Avenue before turning off at Stanton Road to arrive at Balmoral Beach.

4. Spit Bridge to Taronga Zoo (13km)

For a more extensive walk, continue from Balmoral Beach towards Taronga Zoo, which forms part of the 80km Bondi to Manly walk. Along the way, you can stop at Middle Head to explore the Inner Middle Head Battery and Tiger Cages. Other highlights along this walk include Georges Head Battery and the Beehive Casemates, Chowder Bay, Bradleys Head and Athol Beach, along with the spectacular harbour views. You can easily take the 12-minute ferry from Taronga Zoo back to Circular Quay. Arrive at Bradleys Head just before sunset to witness the beautiful golden glow against the Sydney Red Gums. You might also spy more wildlife at this time of day.

Walk from Taronga Zoo Wharf to Georges Head during a guided walking tour with EcoWalks Tours. Ready my 'Taronga to Georges Head Guided Walking Tour Review'.