DM's Sydney Walks: 13. North Sydney to the Opera House

24 April, 2020

Morton street and Rocklands Road

We start at the corner of Morton Street (ahead) and Rocklands Road (left-right) in the Sydney suburb of Waverton again, the same starting point as walk number 11. North Sydney and St Leonards Park. Last time we headed up Rocklands Road, but today we're going down the slope on Morton Street.

Octagonal sunroom

Past this house with a cute octagonal sunroom for one. The house is a Federation Arts & Crafts style brick cottage, and is heritage listed.

Morton Street and Hazelbank Road

At the end of the block, Morton heads uphill again (ahead right). We turn left, and walk up the hill up Hazelbank Road.

Hazelbank Road, morning

This is one of my favourite streets in the area. It's lined with numerous London plane trees, forming a canopy of leaves overhead in the warmer months. It's like walking or driving through a tunnel of foliage, and looks gorgeous when the sun is shining and filters through the leaves. It's autumn now though and the leaves are starting to yellow and brown and fall off, so the cover is a little thinner than in summer.

Hazelbank Road, midday

Here's one I took later in the day, while walking home, facing the other direction down the hill, with the sun higher in the sky.


Hazelbank has many lovely old houses. Loreto here is one of the nicest looking, built on old sandstone foundations. According to online real estate data, it last sold in 2015 for $2.33 million. Somewhat surprisingly, I was unable to find any heritage listing for this house, so it may not be listed.

Old Masonic Temple, Pacific Highway

At the top of Hazelbank Road, we meet the Pacific Highway. This is the spot where the old Masonic Temple seen in walk number 11. North Sydney and St Leonards Park is located. In that walk, we turned off the highway into Hazelbank Place, the pedestrian path just right of the large green sign.

Pacific Highway, North Sydney.

But today we're going to walk south, straight down the highway itself, into the suburb of North Sydney. We can see some of North Sydney's office towers in the distance.

6 digit phone number!

There are a few old buildings along the highway. This shop still has a 6-digit phone number on it. (Australia converted to 7-digit numbers in the major cities in the 1970s, and then to 8-digit numbers nationwide from 1994-1997.) This old shop is called "The Cloisters" and operated as an antique shop until fairly recently. It's a narrow three-storey brick building in Victorian Free Gothic style with some cool two-tone brickwork, most likely built in the 1880s. The building is heritage listed.

The Cloisters

Here's an older photo I took of The Cloisters some years ago, from across the highway, showing the first floor above, and the awning with the building name in faded paint.

North Sydney Demonstration School

On the west side of the highway is North Sydney Demonstration School, a primary (K-6) school. The "demonstration" in the tile readers to the fact that this is a school where trainee teachers come to practise and enhance their skills at teaching children.

The sandstone and wrought iron gates are historical. These are the original gates of Crows Nest House, the dwelling built by early North Sydney settler Alexander Berry in 1850. This was the second residence in the area to take the name "Crows Nest", after the smaller Crows Nest Cottage, built by Edward Wollstonecraft further up the hill towards modern Crows Nest (mentioned in walk 9. Crows Nest and Cammeray). The Crows Nest House gates are listed as a New South Wales heritage structure.

Woodstock Cottage, North Sydney

Down the highway a little further is Woodstock Cottage, a sandstone cottage built by settler John Brown around 1870, on land originally granted to Edward Wollstonecraft and later acquired by Brown. The interior has been renovated and fitted out as office space, which is available for lease. Notice the bus stop named after the cottage - many bus stops in North Sydney council area have individual names. Woodstock is heritage listed.

Approaching North Sydney

The highway leads through the commercial centre of North Sydney. This is just the beginning of it, there are many more, and taller, office towers further along, and in adjoining blocks.

Pacific Highway, North Sydney

Closer to the Cover-More and Genworth buildings seen in the previous photo. Here the highway curves eastwards, becoming south-easterly in direction. The low yellow building on the right is interesting...

North Sydney Post Office

It's the North Sydney Post Office, built 1885-1889 in the Victorian Free Classical style with a clock tower and domed cupola, and still operating as a post office today. This building has its own Wikipedia article, and quite a long one! Naturally, it's also heritage listed.

Behind is Coca-Cola Place, the headquarters of Coca-Cola in Australia, a modern building which is also architecturally significant.

Pacific Highway and Miller Street

The Pacific Highway (ahead) meets Miller Street (left-right) at the major intersection in North Sydney. The Post Office is right behind me, on one corner of the intersection. The other sides are dominated by modern offices.

Miller Street, North Sydney

We leave the highway and turn south down Miller Street. There is a brief uphill section for a block.

St Peter's Presbyterian Church, Blues Point Road

And then Miller Street turns into Blues Point Road and heads downhill.

St Peter's Presbyterian Church

The church on the right is St Peter's Presbyterian, with the adjoining cottage, all built of sandstone. This is the oldest surviving Presbyterian Church in Australia, built in stages from 1866-1886. It is of course heritage listed.

Bridge from Blues Point Road

On the eastern side of Blues Point Road, we get our first glimpse of where we're going - the Harbour Bridge. We'll be walking over the Bridge later today. But first we have to get there!

Blues Point Road and Lavender Street

We continue down Blues Point Road (ahead) until we meet Lavender Street, and turn left.

Lavender Street

Here's Lavender Street, looking east. Here we cross from North Sydney into the suburb of Lavender Bay.

Lavender Street terraces

On the left (north) side is this row of neat houses, being spruced up. Numbers 10-24 are a set of eight Federation Queen Anne style terrace houses arranged in symmetrical pairs. Each one has a heritage listing, but they're all basically carbon copies.

19th century cottage, Lavender Bay

While downhill on the right side is this lovely looking old sandstone house. Known only as 19 Lavender Street, it was constructed with its attached neighbour 21 Lavender Street around 1859 in Victorian Georgian style using sandstone. The houses were built on land granted to settler John Carr in 1865, and it is presumed Carr was the original builder. The first (upper) floor addition visible with the painted appearance and crenelated roofline was added in 1886-7. A James Sheehan bought the house in 1922, and in 1926 applied for permission to convert it into four flats. The original slate roof has been replaced with terracotta tiles. Current real estate information seems to indicate that 19 Lavender Street now houses just two "townhouse" style residences. The buildings are heritage listed.

Lavender Street view

Lavender Street has some fine views of the city. Here we get out first sight of today's ultimate destination, the Sydney Opera House (under the Bridge at the left end).

Lavendra, and Lavender Street steps

Partway along Lavender Street we turn right and head south down these steps. The building at left is an old building, currently occupied by Lavendra, a very fancy Indian restaurant with amazing views out the rear windows. I've eaten there a few times for special occasions.

Whiteley House

Partway down the stairs is this house with an interesting observation tower. This is the former home of artist Brett Whiteley and his wife Wendy. The house is built in the Federation Academic Classical style, and is heritage listed both stand-alone, and as part of the grouping of similar adjacent houses.

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

Just behind the Whiteley house is hidden Wendy's Secret Garden. Wendy put in enormous effort over the years to beautify their garden and turn it into a secluded place of tranquility. Now it's open to the public.

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

You can walk among the many paths and virtually get lost amongst the dense greenery, although with glimpses out to the city beyond.

Wendy Whiteley's Secret Garden

There are dozens of picnic tables in shady spots for people to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Normally this place would be busy with visitors, but today it was empty except for one gardener, keeping it tidy.

Lavender Street stairs

After a loop of Wendy's Garden, I return to the steps and continue walking down, under this railway line. This is a spur line, not used by regular trains, but used as a holding area for commuter carriages during quieter periods of the day.

Lavender Bay through the tunnel

Below the train tunnel we emerge onto the harbour shore, in Lavender Bay. This is a popular walking spot, and there were several people out getting COVID isolation exercise today. The tall flower spike with the huge red flower on top, just right of the central palm tree trunk, is a gymea lily.

Lavender Bay jetty

The view from this small jetty in Lavender Bay. Many of the rich folk who live in expensive houses on the shoreline anchor their boats here in this bay.

Lavender Bay panorama

A panorama to give you more visual context of Lavender Bay.

Lavender Bay boardwalk

We walk left along the boardwalk around the bay. The huge blocks of apartments ahead are in the suburb of Milsons Point, which is where we go next.

Blinky Bill, Comic Walk

Along the boardwalk is a collection of tiny sculptures, on concrete plinths. This is the Comic Walk, a celebration of Australian comic art. First up is Blinky Bill.

Felix the Cat, Comic Walk

Felix the Cat. Did you know Felix the Cat was an Australian invention?

Mrs Kookaburra and The Phantom, Comic Walk

Mrs Kookaburra, and The Phantom.

Magic Pudding, Comic Walk

Norman Lindsay's Magic Pudding.

Bib & Bub, Comic Walk

And Bib & Bub, the Gumnut Babies, by May Gibbs. There are several other sculptures as well, but I chose some of the better known ones to show here.

Lavender Bay walkway

The walk continues, turning into a paved path.

Approaching Luna Park from behind

Until we approach Luna Park, Sydney's original, and still operating, amusement park. I used to come here as a child!

Lavender Bay, looking towards North Sydney

But first a quick look back the way we've come, looking back towards North Sydney.

Coney Island, Luna Park

Luna Park has many rides and diversions, and this glorious Art Deco building contains many smaller rides and attractions. It's named Coney Island after the famous New York City amusement park. As we reach Luna Park we cross from Lavender Bay into the suburb of Milsons Point.

Luna Park boardwalk

A boardwalk provides a walking path around the outside of Luna Park (which was closed today, due to COVID restrictions). We're getting closer to the Bridge and the city beyond.

Panorama from Luna Park

A panorama, because a normal photo can't really do justice to the view from here.

Luna Park Ferris wheel

Rides and the giant Ferris wheel of Luna Park. A tricky photo in the shade with the sun behind that apartment block.

Opera House, viewed from Luna Park

Rounding the end of Luna Park, we are getting close to our target!

Milsons Point ferry wharf

But we still need to cross that Bridge. Another way across the harbour is to catch a ferry from here, the Milsons Point ferry wharf.

Luna Park front entrance

Turning around behind us, is the main entrance to Luna Park. An absolutely wonderful piece of Art Deco, this smiling face between two towers designed to be reminiscent of New York City's Chrysler Building. Built in 1935, it has been restored several times to keep it in tip-top condition, and is a heritage listed architectural site.

North Sydney Olympic Pool art deco wall

More Art Deco! I love this stuff! This is North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool, with a plaster shellfish and tentacles motif on the brickwork. Above the two larger archway windows are cockatoos, with wings spread. North Sydney is an open-air swimming pool, and one of the first major pools constructed in Sydney. Many Australian and World swimming records were broken in this pool in its early years of operation. opened in 1936, the pool and its buildings are heritage listed.


The swimming pool is right across the street from the northern base of the Harbour Bridge. But... to cross the Bridge we have to get from down up there...

Alfred Street

We have to turn and walk up the hill, up Alfred Street.

North Sydney Olympic Swimming Pool

It leads us past the entrance to North Sydney Pool. The Art Deco here is more subtle. Check out the yellow frogs on the left.

22-26 Alfred Street

Heading uphill we pass these three lovely old houses. Built in 1900-01 in a Late Victorian style with a Queen Anne Revival facade, the three houses are each heritage listed.

Alfred Street

The three houses are shown here (on the right) in the context of the surroundings.

Bridge tunnel

Besides getting up to the Bridge, we also need to cross to the other (eastern) side of the roadway, so we use this tunnel underneath the busy road above.

St John the Baptist Anglican and shops

This takes us briefly into the suburb of Kirribilli, on the eastern side of the Warringah Freeway, the Bridge approach road. With a few shops, and this little church with a cool spire. This is St John the Baptist Anglican Church, A Victorian Romanesque brick church built in 1884. The church is heritage listed. The adjacent Thai restaurant and chemist are also in heritage listed buildings, but the listing doesn't contain any dates or architectural details.

Harbour Bridge steps

And here are the steps leading up to the Bridge pedestrian path. There is also a path on the western side of the Bridge, but it is reserved for cyclists, so we have to take the eastern path. (Which is fine, because it has the best views!)

Bridge approach north

At the top of the steps we see the impressive roadway carrying traffic to and from the Bridge... And we see how far we have to walk before we even reach the Bridge itself!

Kirribilli from the Bridge

We're still above the suburb of Kirribilli for some distance as we climb to the height of the Bridge deck.

Bradfield Park, from Bridge

As we get closer to the water, we pass over part of Bradfield Park. The park extends underneath the Bridge to just across Alfred Street from the swimming pool. This is a lovely spot to sit and watch the city at sunset. Occasionally my wife and I will grab a pizza and head down here to sit and have a picnic dinner while we watch the sun go down.

Bridge walkway

We're still walking closer to the Bridge proper. Normally the path is pretty full of people: locals heading into work or home, or out for some exercise, as well as many tourists walking across the Bridge and enjoying the views. Today there were no tourists, and only a few people out for exercise, because of COVID.

North pylon

We pass through one of the pylons and onto the Bridge span.

Circular Quay panorama

A view from the Bridge. Not bad, huh? (I stitched this panorama together from two separate photos.)

Bridge walkway

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built from 1923-1932, and was a major construction project during the Great Depression. It's a cantilevered steel truss arch, with the roadway slung below by tensile columns. Which means that if you take the roadway away and leave just the arch, then cut the arch in the middle, each half of the Bridge will support itself without collapsing. That's how it was built - the two half arches extended out until finally they met in the middle, then the columns and roadway were added. The entire Bridge and support structures are heritage listed.

The roadway is 8 lanes of traffic wide, plus there are two train lines, the bicycle way, and the pedestrian path. It was for a long time the widest bridge in the world. (I was shocked the first time I went on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco by how incredibly narrow it feels.)

Although to foreigners the Sydney Opera House is the iconic symbol of this city, to locals the Bridge is a much more familiar and down to earth structure, and the one we relate to more. Being a water city, Sydney has hundreds of bridges, but there is only one Bridge.

Opera House, from the Bridge

Although the Opera House does look pretty nice from up here. As you can see, it is surrounded by water on three sides.

Circular Quay panorama, from Bridge

An attempt at a panorama through the security fence as we reach the space above the southern shore. This area of water is Sydney Cove, more commonly known as Circular Quay (pronounced "key"). The main business district of the city is immediately south of the Quay.

Bridge walkway

There we go. But we're still way above street level on the southern Bridge approach. The clearance between high tide and the bottom of the Bridge is 49 metres, allowing all but the very tallest of modern ships to sail underneath. So we have a lot of altitude to lose.

The Rocks

This area below us is The Rocks. This is where the city of Sydney first began in 1788 when British settlers arrived, and is the oldest part of the city. It still has many historical buildings, contrasting with the modern towers beyond.

Opera House from The Rocks

Here's a context shot of the Opera House that you've probably never seen before.

Cumberland Street

Eventually we reach a set of stairs that take us down off the Bridge roadway to the streets below. We emerge on Cumberland Street in The Rocks.

Cumberland Street

We cross Cumberland Street and immediately head downhill, taking a set of steps between the Glenmore Hotel (a pub) at left, and this obelisk on the right. Our destination is in sight! The Glenmore Hotel was built in 1921 in Inter-War Georgian Revival style, and is heritage listed.

Gloucester Walk

Here are the steps leading down... into a tangled maze of narrow old streets and small buildings. This path is named Gloucester Walk. Beyond, the Opera House still looms over the skyline.

Phantom house

The path leads to this area, called Foundation Park. Here a door marks a phantom house at 16 Gloucester Walk - previously a historical house whose walls have disappeared. Foundation Park covers the properties at numbers 2-16 Gloucester Walk, which are the partial remains of eight houses built from 1874 to 1878. The houses were demolished in 1938, but the site was left undeveloped until being turned into Foundation Park in 1972, converting the remaining foundations into a walk-in historical preserve. Foundation Park is heritage listed.

We head down these stairs to have a look at the lower levels.

Phantom houses, Foundation Park

Below are the foundations and parts of the walls of old houses. Iron furniture has been added to show the functions of the former rooms.

Basement, Foundation Park

Another level down is this sandstone basement.

Washtub, Foundation Park

With an old washtub and brick water heating unit next to it.

Foundation Park

These are some of the earliest dwellings in Sydney, preserved here for us to look at. Next we look at the yellow buildings on the right.

Argyle Terrace

Around the other side is Rocks Square, a small open area fronted by these better preserved buildings, Argyle Terrace, built 1875-1877 - the same period as the demolished houses in Foundation Park, so this give you an idea of what they probably looked like. And a Victorian era red mailbox, which looks cool and is still in use. These buildings are now fitted out as galleries and shops. This area is very touristy, because of the historical buildings. They are heritage listed (as is almost every building in this area, really).

Playfair Street

We walk south along Playfair Street towards Argyle Street (which runs left-right at the end of this path).

Nurses Walk

And across it into a narrow lane called, oddly, Suez Canal. This leads into a confined area of narrow cobbled streets from the early settlement, open only to pedestrians.

Reynolds Cottage

Hidden in here is Reynolds' Cottage, built around 1823-9 in the Colonial Georgian style, and bought by William Reynolds, a ship smith, in 1830. Originally out the back was this well, but when the cottage was expanded they built extra rooms right over the well.

Cue spooky stuff from The Ring....

Reynolds built several low quality, cheap houses in the vicinity from 1839-41, which attracted gamblers, criminals, and prostitutes. One of the buildings operated as an illegal opium den. many of these buildings were demolished in the 1880s, leaving only the original Reynolds cottages, which were then occupied by various tenants. By the 1970s the cottages were operating as shops, which they continue to do so today. The Reynolds cottages are heritage listed.

Nurses Walk

Suez Canal leads to Nurses Walk, which takes us south past more old buildings. Converted into upmarket shops.

Bakehouse Place

Here is Bakehouse Place, built around 1880, the rear of yet more heritage listed buildings.

Nurses Walk plaque

An info plaque about Nurses Walk, and one of the nurses for whom it's named.

George Street, southbound

We take a narrow tunnel through the buildings to emerge on George Street, looking south towards the business district. George Street is Sydney's main street, running from The Rocks south through the centre of the city all the way to Central Railway Station. It has many, many major buildings on it. But we're not going that way today.

George Street, northbound

Instead we turn north and walk back towards the Bridge for a block.

Old Police Station

Passing this Victorian era police station, built in Neoclassical style in 1882. The police relocated in 1972 and inside now is a fancy restaurant. Blah blah heritage listed blah blah... (There's a lot of heritage stuff around here.)

Circular Quay West

Reaching Argyle Street again we turn right (east) and head to the waterfront at Circular Quay.

Cadman's Cottage

Here is Cadman's Cottage. Now this is some serious heritage. It was built in 1816, and is the second oldest surviving residential building in Australia. It was originally a barracks for the harbour coxswains under command of the colony Governor. Now it's publicly owned and inside is a visitor information centre for the Sydney Harbour National Parks.

Circular Quay panorama

A panorama of Circular Quay from just in front of Cadman's Cottage. We're going to walk around the shoreline to the right, to the Opera House.

Museum of Contemporary Art

The first building we pass is this magnificent Art Deco sandstone construction, designed in 1939, but built from 1946-52, as the headquarters of the New South Wales Maritime Services Board. The MSB moved in 1989 and the building was converted into the Museum of Contemporary Art. The building is heritage listed.

Circular Quay wharves and station

Facing the other direction, we see the ferry wharves of Circular Quay, as well as Circular Quay Railway Station behind.

Circular Quay promenade

We walk east along the main Circular Quay promenade. This area is normally packed with tourists, but was eerily empty today. I have never seen it this empty before.

Circular Quay Railway Station on the right sits on top of restaurants and fast food places - you need to go upstairs to catch a train. Above the train tracks is the Cahill Expressway, a road carrying traffic to/from the east to the Bridge. The station and expressway block sightlines between the water and the city beyond to the south, and there are frequent calls for the expressway to be demolished and the station buried underground (it connects to underground stations in both directions, so there is a significant slope up to Circular Quay Station), but no action on what would be a very expensive construction project. Circular Quay Station is also heritage listed, so an argument would need to be made for demolishing it.


A couple of the ferries, berthed at the wharves. Sirius is named after Captain Arthur Phillip's flagship in the First Fleet of British colonists in 1788, HMS Sirius.

Customs House

We duck underneath Circular Quay Station quickly to have a look at one building on the southern side. This is Customs House. Blah blah... heritage listed... blah blah... 1854 sandstone... blah blah... Georgian style architecture. It now houses the City of Sydney Library, museum displays, and commercial and food businesses.

Circular Quay East

Continuing around Circular Quay we turn north and head along this promenade to the Opera House, which is now hidden behind the buildings on the right. Again... this is weird. I have never ever seen this area so empty of people.

City from Circular Quay East

A view back to some of the big buildings of the city.

Queenscliff and Bridge

And north-west across Circular Quay to the Bridge.

The big ferry is the Queenscliff, one of the ferries that cover the Circular Quay to Manly route. Manly is a suburb on the northern side of the harbour entrance where the calm harbour waters meet the Pacific Ocean. As such, it can get pretty rough along the way in bad weather, so they use the largest ferries for this popular route.

Opera House

At the end of the promenade we clear the buildings and get our first close view of the Opera House.

Opera House, COVID desertion

The sun was directly behind the building from this angle, so apologies for the awful photos and weird colour casts. And - holy cow - it's deserted! This is tourist central normally.

Opera House forecourt

There is a large open courtyard in front of the Opera House.

The Opera House was built from 1959-1973, so it's less than 50 years old from its opening. It's a lot bigger than many people realise - 65 metres high, roughly equivalent to 20-storey building. But also much more spread out horizontally.

Opera House during COVID lockdown

This was as close as I could get to the shells today. I've poked my camera over a security fence, under the watchful eyes of some guards. The whole place is closed due to COVID. Normally you can walk right up to the white shells and the glass walls, and of course go inside to check out the foyer and buy tickets, or go into the performance spaces once you have tickets.

Royal Botanic Gardens gate

On the far side of the Opera House is the Royal Botanic Gardens. Which could be a whole walk in itself, so we won't go in there today.

Man o' War wharf

There is a small wharf here known as the Man O'War Steps, for the boats of mega-rich people to moor when they go to the opera or the symphony. The closest set of shells on the right house the opera theatre. The far shells in the middle house the concert hall. The two small shells at left house a restaurant. The Man O'War Steps is heritage listed.

Opera House tunnel

Normally you can walk around the whole building at the ground level, which is what I intended to do. But you can just see a security fence on the right of the stairs. So I walked underneath the tunnel to the other side.

Northern side

And then around from there to the northern side of the building. Opera theatre left now, and concert hall on the right.

During performances, when the interval happens, you can look through the glass at the top level or walk out onto the balconies at various levels and look out on to Sydney Harbour, sparkling with lights in the evening. It's one of the greatest things to do in this city.

Cormorant and Fort Denison

I spotted a little pied cormorant in the water! And in the background the small fortified island is Fort Denison - originally a secluded prison for the worst of the worst convicts in the original British penal colony. The fort was built from 1840-1862 on the island originally known as Pinchgut, which had been used for confining and executing prisoners since the First Fleet arrived in 1788. The island was fortified and armed with cannon to repel hostile ships arriving from sea. The fort is heritage listed.

Opera theatre and concert hall

Remember the concert hall on the right is larger than the opera theatre on the left.

Concert hall shells

Close up of the concert hall shells.

Opera House panorama

To finish, a mind-bending panorama, taken from the north-west tip of the Opera House base. The railing leading from my position is actually straight, leading south towards the city, and north towards the sun.

This ends the photos, but I still have to walk all the way home!!!

Opera House walk map

Our walking route today, starting at the top, and ending at the Opera House, bottom right. And yes, I walked all the way back home too. I tracked my walk on Strava, and the round trip from my home was 18.6 km (11.5 miles). I left home at 8:00 and arrived back just before 12:00.

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