A spectacular nature refuge, bordered by dramatic cliffs, North Head Sanctuary, Manly, is located on the peninsula at the northern entrance to Sydney Harbour. As you explore the park’s coastal bushland, via dedicated walking and bike tracks, you’ll discover diverse flora and fauna, military relics from World War II and signs of the nation’s early quarantine practices. Meanwhile, Aboriginal rock engravings, rock art, campsites, burials and middens speak to the enduring significance of North Head Sanctuary for its Traditional Owners: the Gayamagal. Were it not for the unspoiled harbour views, it would be hard to believe this place of tranquillity exists only 11km from Sydney’s CBD. Upon arrival, drop into our visitor centre, where a friendly volunteer will provide useful tips for your visit.
By car: From Manly, follow Darley Road onto North Head Scenic Drive and pass through the stone archway and Q Station roundabout. Continue for approx. 2km and turn left at North Fort to arrive at our visitor centre and carpark.
By bus: The 135 bus service runs from Manly Wharf to North Head Sanctuary daily. For public transport information, including timetables, visit the Transport NSW website.
Our visitor centre and carpark offer wheelchair access as well as accessible parking and toilets. Please keep in mind that North Head Sanctuary is a natural environment with uneven surfaces and that some walking tracks include stairs and medium inclines. There is a bike rack outside the visitor centre.
Cockatoo Island is patrolled by rangers from 8am to 4pm and by security personnel from 4pm and 8am. In the event of an emergency, dial 000 or 112 if mobile reception is poor. To contact a ranger during an emergency, call 0434 652 152 (8am to 4pm). Alternatively, to contact a security officer, call 0433 631 689 (4 pm to 8 am).
For your own safety, and to protect the park’s flora and fauna, please remain on the dedicated walking or bike tracks when exploring the bushland and observe the following rules, enforceable by our rangers:
Conditions of entry: Do not feed wildlife or bring pets; only use bikes on designated bike tracks; do not litter, dump rubbish or leave dog waste; do not camp overnight; do not erect gazebos or marquees (without a permit); do not operate remote-controlled vehicles (including drones); do not smoke, light fires or use portable barbeques; remain on dedicated bush tracks; do not play amplified music (without a permit) or create excessive noise; do not undertake commercial activities (without a permit); do not hold private functions (without a permit); do not disturb plants, soil and rocks; do not skateboards or scooters on footpaths or walking tracks; do not climb walls, fortifications, sculptures or cliffs.
Total fire bans: In the event of a total fire ban, tracks and trails will be closed for the public’s safety (penalties apply). For more information, dial 1800 679 737 for the NSW Rural Fire Service’s bush fire information line.
With its large network of gun emplacements and underground tunnels, North Fort was a crucial part of Sydney’s coastal defence system throughout World War II. During our 70-minute tour of this former army base, you will walk in the footsteps of soldiers who protected our shores – above and below ground.
Established in 1881 for victims of a smallpox epidemic, Third Quarantine Cemetery is inscribed on the National Heritage List as a significant example of Australia’s evolving quarantine practices. During this hour-long tour, you will hear stories of the people interred at the cemetery and experience first-hand the natural beauty of their final resting place.
The Sanctuary Loop is a circuit trail of North Head Sanctuary, which visitors can complete in under two hours. Highlights include spectacular coastal views from Third Quarantine Cemetery and Fairfax Lookout; unique and endangered flora and fauna; diverse birdlife; decommissioned gun emplacements at North Fort; and the Australian Memorial Walk, honouring those who defended Australia during times of peace and war.
Hone your top spin at North Head Sanctuary’s tennis courts, adjacent to the former School of Artillery. Court hire is $20 per hour with a minimum booking of one hour. It is essential to pre-book courts. To make a booking, email email@example.com during office hours, Monday to Friday.
The North Head Sanctuary Foundation works with the Harbour Trust to protect, maintain and promote awareness of the park’s delicate ecosystem. This includes running guided tours, including the regular Spring Wildflower Walks.
Located near the visitor centre at North Fort, Bella Vista Café marries traditional and modern Italian cuisine with sweeping views of Sydney Harbour. Open: 9am to 4pm, Monday to Friday and 8.30am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday.
North Head Sanctuary is home to unique and endangered flora and fauna, including one of Sydney’s few remaining patches of Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub and a population of Long-nosed Bandicoots, once common throughout Sydney. Abundant in wildflowers, the park is also a refuge for echidnas, lizards, snakes and more than 80 species of bird, including the New Holland Honeyeater, the Rainbow Lorikeets and the Little Wattlebird.
To learn more about the park’s flora and fauna, visit North Head Sanctuary Foundation’s Bandicoot Heaven. Located in the Barracks Precinct, this community education facility is open from 10am to 4pm every Saturday and Sunday. The Foundation also operates the Nursery Group. Partnering with the Harbour Trust, this group of volunteers propagates plants in the foundation’s Native Plant Nursery, using locally-sourced seeds and cuttings, for planting across the park. To date, over 15,000 plants have been planted.
North Head Sanctuary was the backdrop for some of the earliest interactions between Aboriginal People and Europeans, and the area was also used to quarantine Australia from deadly epidemic diseases. During the Second World War, North Head was one of the most heavily fortified sites in Australian history. Remnants of those fortifications can be explored today.
Image credit:The Quarantine Burial Ground, Spring Cove, Manly, George French Angas (1822-1886), National Library of Australia.