South Head

Hornby lighthouse South Head Watsons Bay

South Head is situated approximately 13km from Sydney CBD and forms the southern head of the entrance to Sydney Harbour.  The main areas of interest are a 10-15 minute walk along a coastal path from Camp Cove near Watsons Bay and include wave-washed rock shelves overlooking the Pacific and North Head, Hornby Lighthouse, historic lightkeepers’ cottages and late 19th Century gun emplacements.  Whales are often spotted close to the coast during the migration season between April and December.

Special Photographic Features

South Head Detail Hornby lighthouse

For seascape photography, the sandstone rock shelves on the foreshore below the cliff line offer many compositions but you will need to check the tides and assess the swell.

The foreshore is most easily accessed from a path to the right of the gun emplacement (looking north towards the ocean) opposite the western lightkeeper’s cottage.  Once you are close to sea level you can scramble over the boulders and rocks shelves around to the right (towards the lighthouse) or stay beneath the cliffline at the base of the path depending on what type of shots you are after and the conditions.


Lightkeeper’s cottage and gun emplacement looking south.  The path down to the foreshore is immediately to the left of this picture.

south head rock shelves Hornby lighthouse
Rockshelves below the lighthouse looking northeast (low to mid tide)

Hornby Lighthouse South Head Watsons Bay
Hornby lighthouse from the rock shelves looking north (low to mid tide)

South Head Hornby Lighthouse Watsons Bay
View of rock shelves looking southeast (low to mid tide).  The rocks are impassible beyond this point.

Night Photography

I’ve never visited at night but there would be opportunities with the lighthouse and gun emplacements.  The only light pollution would be from the lighthouse and Manly if you’re shooting to the north or northwest.

Special Equipment

Sturdy footwear or reef shoes are recommended if you’re walking below the cliff line.

Best Time of the Day

Sunrise or sunset in conjunction with a low to mid tide and low swell if accessing the foreshore area.

Tidal Information

The clifftop areas can be accessed at any time.

The foreshore area below the cliffs can also be accessed at most times but the lower rock shelves and the main areas of interest will be covered with water close to high tide.  A low to mid tide is likely to provide the best opportunities.  A heavy swell may also prevent access to the best areas and will require more rock hopping.

Getting There

There are two main car parks (free) and also roadside parking located along Cliff Street in Watsons Bay (map).  Alternatively, you can catch a bus or ferry to Watsons Bay which will drop you 600m / 10 minutes walk from Camp Cove.

Walking time from Camp Cove to the lighthouse is around 10-15 minutes and 650m one way.

From Watsons Bay, head along Cliff Street and follow the signs to Camp Cove Car Park.  Camp Cove is a further 50m on from the car park.

The coastal path starts from the wooden steps at the right hand end of the beach, signposted as South Head Heritage Trail (public toilets here).  Follow the path uphill through the sandstone cutting and gun emplacement onto an asphalt road.  Continue ahead on the road until it narrow to a footpath (more public toilets here).  The path heads downhill and Lady Jane Beach (clothing optional) is signposted on the left.  Continue ahead on the wooden boardwalk until a path comes in on the right and a sign indicates the start of the loop track.  Continue ahead and the area opens up to panoramic views from the CBD and Eastern Suburbs across to Manly and North Head.

To access the foreshore area, take the path immediately to the right of the sandstone gun emplacement opposite the light keeper’s cottage.  To reach the lighthouse, follow the sealed footpath over the footbridge and around the corner.

If you take the path on the right at the loop track sign you will come to the gun emplacements and lighthouse first before looping back around to the gun emplacement and light keeper’s cottage.

Path from Camp Cove

Start of the loop track

Author Bio

Lewis Fogerty

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