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Guest Kate

Where to have a picnic in Sydney

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Guest Kate

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1. Wendy's Secret Garden

 

Where: Lavender St, Lavender Bay

Wendy's Secret Garden is a small testament to heartbreak hidden amongst the skyscrapers that line the city's foreshore. The garden was created by Wendy Whiteley, the wife of one of Australia's most celebrated artists, Brett Whiteley, noted for his depictions of Sydney painted from the wastelands of their Lavender Bay home.

After Brett's death of a heroin-overdose in 1992, Wendy got hold of the derelict land belonging to the NSW Rail Corporation adjacent to their house. The land was tangled and broken, choked with lantana, scattered with broken bottles and rotting mattresses and an occasional sleeping spot for the city's homeless. Channelling a lifetime of artistic endeavour and all her grief, Wendy restored the grounds, transforming it into a beautiful, secluded space laced by winding paths, fig trees, native plants, a flurry of bird life, antiques and esoterica all against the backdrop of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

While the garden marks the spot where Brett Whitely and their daughter Arkie's ashes are buried, the space is always open to the public and is accessed between Clark Park and the Lavender Bay rail-shunting yard. Wendy says "People like to come and eat a sandwich or sit and think or read or even do a little bit of work, but they love to be in it because they feel that they can be part of it, and any kind of creative activity needs to be shared otherwise what's the point?"

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Guest Kate

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2. Nielsen Park

 

Where: Greycliffe Avenue, Vaucluse

Nielsen Park, and the adjoining Shark Beach, is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled heritage parks in Sydney, sitting at the bottom of a hill in the very grand suburb of Vaucluse. With stone steps down to the sand, a wooden kiosk dating back to 1914, picnic tables, rockpools and meandering paths through the bushland, it's been beloved of Sydney-siders for well over a century.

There is also a harbour-side walk: if you head in one direction you reach the ridiculously pretty grounds of Strickland House, a former convalescent hospital which is now a public park and popular wedding spot. In the other direction a loop walk takes you out over Bottle and Glass Rocks with views of the Harbour all the way to Manly. Because the beach is relatively protected, with flat surf (although rideable waves do break here once or twice a year), the park can get particularly busy over weekends or during the summer school holidays, which is why venturing away from the park and staking out a spot on the rocks can often be a good idea. Alternatively, it makes a very nice supper spot in the summer twilight.

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Guest Kate

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3. McKell Park

 

Where: Darling Point Rd, Darling Point

Surrounded by manicured grass, with the historical Canonbury Cottage as its centrepiece, McKell Park is a popular spot for weddings due to its spectacular views out over the harbour. The park, which is open from dawn to dusk, has grassed sandstone terraces leading down to the harbour, where you can go for a paddle in the warmer months and set up a picnic basket alongside the water, and leads down to the Darling Point ferry wharf, so it’s very convenient to get to.

Located amidst the grand villas and lavish apartments of Darling Point, home to such Australian luminaries as Gough Whitlam and Ita Buttrose, the park is surprisingly unintimidating for its location. A secret little sanctuary along the waterfront, McKell Park is one of the loveliest places you could choose to picnic, and the adjacent wharf means you can easily jump on and off a ferry back to Circular Quay or wheresoever you may choose to go.

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Guest Kate

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4. Mrs Macquaries Point

 

Where: Mrs Macquaries Rd, Royal Botanic Gardens

Mrs Macquaries Point is the best-known picnic spot in Sydney, but for very good reason: it has probably the best view in the city. It's the kind of place you take tourists to impress them, the kind of spot you go yourself so you can say, "look at the city I live in. Just look at how pretty is. Do I really live here?" and so on.

The Point is a part of the Royal Botanic Gardens, and features a panoramic view of the city from the Opera House to the Bridge, and if you're wondering what happened to the apostrophe, it's the Australian Geographic Name Board that makes the rules, not me.

Mrs Macquaries Chair, the place where the wife of Governor Lachlan Macquarie used to sit and watch the boats sailing into the harbour, is the prime attraction. The chair is a piece of sandstone in the shape of a bench and hand carved by convicts in the good old days when Sydney was pretty much a desolate island prison. Reached by walking along the Botanic Gardens foreshore from Circular Quay, or past the Art Gallery along Mrs Macquaries Road, the spot is guaranteed to be stunning in almost any weather. However, if you go, you have to be prepared for the tourists, who are a constant presence and can often make Mrs Macquaries Point less peaceful than it otherwise might be.

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Guest Kate

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5. Centennial Park

 

Where: Centennial Parklands, Moore Park

Centennial Park is the vast stretch of greenery that frames the entrance into much of the Eastern Suburbs. Designed in the 'European' tradition as a grand Victorian park, with wide avenues so that the gentle-folk of Sydney could promenade in their carriages and 'take the air', Centennial Park has ponds, gardens, statues, heritage buildings, and a steady stream of joggers, cyclists, roller bladers and horse-riding enthusiasts.

The park is huge, and for that reason you can nearly always find a spot that’s relatively secluded, and you’ll also have your pick of scenery. If you want somewhere with pretty green fields, formal manicured gardens or stretches of water you could imagine Hemingway drunkenly fishing upon, you’ve got it. Centennial Park is really one of the best open spaces in the city, and perfect for picnicking pretty much all year round. Electric barbecues, of which there are eight, are scattered around the park, and operate on a first come, first served basis.

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Guest Kate

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6. Gordon's Bay

 

Where: Major St, Coogee

Gordon's Bay is a protected aquatic reserve and is probably the least known spot along the stretch of coast between Bondi and Coogee. While the Coastal Walk snakes around it, people rarely venture down the steps to check it out properly, and this is their loss, because Gordon's Bay is spectacularly beautiful. You'll need to take a picnic blanket, because the stretch of sand is not the attraction here, but rather the rocks that line the bay, where you can jump straight into the deep turquoise water.

Accessible from the street via a staircase, it's also easily reached by getting a bus to either Clovelly or Coogee and walking around the coastline. The post-stamp sized beach is lined with racks of ramshackle boats from the local fishing club, combining the look of a Mediterranean fishing village with a tropical palm-tree shaded paradise. Not only is it one of my favourite places in the whole of the city, but it's also, incidentally, the place where I got stung by a bluebottle for the first time last Australia Day, when it became intertwined with my leg and the arm of a man-shaped floaty a friend and I had 'liberated' from a Triple J Hottest 100 Party we hadn't been invited to. As much as I’d like to keep Gordon’s Bay to myself, it would be dishonest of me not to include it on the list.

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Guest Kate

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7. Currawong

 

Where: Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Located in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in the middle of Pittwater, picnicking at Currawong is not something you plan on a whim or a moment's notice. Isolated and almost completely untouched, Currawong is accessible only by water, and ferries depart hourly from Palm Beach wharf. Once you're there, bush trails lead to some of the best Indigenous rock art in the region, and the beach overlooking Pittwater is one of the most spectuacularly beautiful places in Sydney.

A long battle has been fought, and finally won, in recent years to get Currawong on the National Heritage Register, primarily to stop anyone building a road right through the National Park to make the beach accessible by car. For most of its life, Currawong had been barely touched, until the ‘50s when the Labor Council purchased the land to provide inexpensive accommodation for union members in the form of eight basic cabins. A holiday spot for the proletariat, essentially. It’s not easy to get to, but that’s really part of the fun.

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Guest Kate

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8. Parsley Bay

 

Where: Parsley Rd, Vaucluse

Parsley Bay is the second spot on this list located in Vaucluse, but for very good reasons. Significantly smaller and less well-known than Nielsen Park, Parsley Bay is a stunning harbour beach with a hundred-year-old wooden footbridge as its focal point.

There are two stories behind the name: one, that a hermit named Parsley used to live in one of the caves and scare small children, and the other attributes it to a scurvy-curing plant prevalent in the area which early settlers thought was parsley but wasn't parsley. Either way, it’s very pretty.

There are picnic facilities set up alongside the bay, so you can afford to forget a blanket here. There's also a short bushland circuit that takes you around to a waterfall at the head of the gully, where, in summer, you can find Eastern Water Dragon's sunning themselves, although Google assures me these are not actual dragons, merely small lizards. But because I am a massive girl when it comes to reptiles, that frightens me just as much.

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Guest Kate

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9. Shark Island

 

Where: Sydney Harbour, off Point Piper

Shark Island is so called because of its shape, not for a dangerous population of sharks haunting its waters. The island, which for most of its life served as animal quarantine, has large grassy stretches and shady trees for picnicking, and a gazebo which will fit up to thirty people. The island is, however, a bit of a hassle to get to: you can either hire your own water taxi, or catch a special ferry, unless of course somebody has hired out the entire island for their own personal use, which is not unheard of.

There are sandy beaches along the foreshore for you to swim in, but given it's in the middle of the harbour it's probably best not to venture too far out lest you collide with a yacht. The National Parks has a list of permitted activities, and you'll be pleased to know that chairs, alcohol and dancing are permitted on the island, although amplified music, sadly, is not. Located about a kilometre off Rose Bay, Shark Island is the perfect spot to go to if you want to be in the city, but not of it.

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Guest Kate

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10. Shelly Beach

 

Where: Bower St, Manly

Shelly Beach is a secluded cove you get to by walking south along Manly's main street. Surrounded by bush and filled with exotic fish, Shelly Beach is one of the loveliest picnic spots and convenient enough to get to by ferry, because sometimes there's nothing nicer than whiling away a morning on the Manly ferry.

On the western end of the beach is the Fairy Bower, with a reputation as one of the best surf breaks in Australia, and the beach also features a bush track offering spectacular views over the Northern Beaches as well as one of the best spots in Sydney for snorkelling. The area is rich in wildlife, with populations of penguins, bandicoots and (I kid you not) gloomy octopuses. The shaded area has free picnic tables and gas barbecue facilities. Moreover, this is a corner of Sydney which isn't hard to get to but feels like it's miles away.

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Guest Carolyn Adams

I actually think that sydney is a great place to explore as it includes Nielsen Park, and the adjoining Shark Beach which is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled heritage parks.

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