Thursday, 24 March 2016

Captain Cook Cruises Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer

Captain Cook Cruises Hop On Hop Off ferry
'Get out on the harbour!' - This is the one piece of advice I always give visitors. You can't truly appreciate Sydney without seeing it from the water. I also used to say it didn't matter whether you went on a tour or a ferry, but David and I recently spent a day with Captain Cook Cruises Hop on Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer and the experience was so much better than riding the ordinary ferries I can't believe how much we have missed over the years.


The Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer works just like a hop on hop off bus. There are nine stops: Darling Harbour, Circular Quay, Taronga Zoo, Watsons Bay, Luna Park, ManlyFort Denison, Shark Island and Garden Island. You board and disembark as many times as you want; tickets are valid for 24 hours; a round trip takes between 60 and 90 minutes, and there are 45 minutes between boats at the major stops. Every explorer has a live commentary on board and best of all, the catamaran style explorers have an open-air upper deck with 360 degree views.

Fort Denison


Our day began at Circular Quay with a five-minute hop across to Fort Denison. Known colloquially as 'Pinchgut', Fort Denison is a small island in the middle of the harbour, east of the Harbour Bridge. It is, without doubt, the best place in Sydney to get that perfect photograph of the bridge and the Opera House. It is also a place with a fascinating history.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House
It is more difficult than you might think to catch the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in a single photo.

In 1788, when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney, the island was a rocky outcrop known to the local Aboriginal people as Muttewai. The British soon called it 'Pinchgut'. Pinchgut is a nautical term meaning a narrowing of a sea channel but it also refers to the physical effects of a starvation diet. At least one early convict was sentenced to a week's isolation on Pinchgut on a diet of bread and water and that is probably where the island's unofficial came from.  Another convict - convicted of murder after arriving in Sydney - was hanged from a gibbet constructed on the island and his body left for years as a warning to others, but contrary to what many Sydneysiders believe Pinchgut was never in common use as a place of punishment.

Fort Denison, Sydney Harbour
The Opera House photobombing my shot of Fort Denison (Pinchgut).

In the mid-19th Century, Fort Denison was fortified, with the last Martello Tower ever constructed in the British Empire and the only one to be built in Australia. Although David and I were able to wander freely around the outside of the tower and through a small museum, the only way you can see inside the tower is to join a National Parks and Wildlife Service Tour. At $15.50 per adult the half hour tour is over-priced but it would be a shame to miss seeing inside. 

If you have the time, there is a very nice looking restaurant on the island with some of the world's best views.

Inside Fort Denison
Inside the tower.

Fort Denison, canons.
I am no expert in military tactics, but aren't these canons pointed the wrong way!

Watsons Bay


Our next hop took us past the ritzy eastern suburbs where Sydney's rich and famous like to build their mansions. If you missed having a white tablecloth lunch at Fort Denison don't despair - dining on take-away fish and chips from Doyles at Watsons Bay is a Sydney institution and the views from Robertson Park next to the wharf can't be beaten.


Watsons Bay Beach
The beach at Watsons Bay. Walk along here to join the South Head Heritage Trail.

The South Head Heritage Trail leads along the harbour foreshore to Hornby Lighthouse where the views across to manly and North Head are stunning. There is a large engraved map near the Doyles takeaway counter on the wharf or just head north along the beach and follow the signs. Look for the canons toward the beginning of the walk and from April to December watch for migrating whales.

If you have children with you, you might want to speed up the pace a bit and find something interesting to look at in the bush on your right as you pass Lady Bay Beach on the left - one of Sydney's few nude bathing spots.

Hornby Lighthouse
Hornby Lighthouse - it was painted red and white to distinguish it from Macquarie Lighthouse two kilometres to the south. Does it look like it is leaning a bit to you? I don't know if it is actually leaning, my photo is crooked, or its an optical illusion, but it does seem to lean to one side in all the photos I took.
The Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage at South Head.
The Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage at South Head.

South Head Heritage Trail
Looking down on Camp Cove from the South Head Heritage Trail

David and I stayed at Watsons Bay for two hours which gave us plenty of time to do a return walk to South Head and have a leisurely picnic of  fish and chips before hopping back on the explorer and across to Manly.

Manly


The route to Manly goes past the entrance to Sydney Harbour between North and South Head. When you feel the boat begin to rock you know you are crossing the opening to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Manly Beach with its iconic Norfolk Island Pine Trees. Shelley Beach is in the distance.

Cafe culture is alive and well in Manly, which makes it a great stop for afternoon tea. Manly is on a headland with the harbour on one side and the ocean on the other. The two are connected by The Corso which is directly opposite the wharf. Stroll along The Corso for five minutes and you arrive at Manly Beach, then turn right for a picturesque twenty-minute walk along the ocean front to Shelly Beach.


The Corso, Manly
The Corso, Manly - no shortage of places to eat and drink

If you turn left after disembarking and stay on the harbour side of the headland you can walk all the way to the Spit Bridge. It is at least three hours and therefore best left for a separate excursion. David and I had the idea of walking part of the way for an hour or so but after about fifteen minutes we found a lovely bench in the shade looking out across Manly Cove and never made it any further. In our defence, it was a very hot day.

Manly is home to a small colony of Little Penguins. The existence of the colony was kept secret for many decades in an effort to protect the birds but word got out some years ago. Don't expect to see them, the colony is very small and critically endangered, but it is still nice to know they are there.


Little Penguin sign Manly
Little Penguins in Manly.


Darling Harbour


When it came time to disembark from our last hop back to Circular Quay we couldn't resist staying on the explorer and sailing around to Darling Harbour instead. On the short hop between Circular Quay and Darling Harbour the explorer sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We have walked, driven and cycled across the bridge, we have even hovered above it in a helicopter, but there is something magical about sailing beneath it while sitting on the open-air top deck of a boat.

Packed with restaurants, bars, tourist attractions and small hotels Darling Harbour is the perfect place to end the day with dinner by the water. If you are there on a Saturday there is even a fireworks display. Click here for the schedule.

Darling Harbour
Darling Harbour and Barangaroo.
Sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Sailing under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Shark Island and Garden Island


Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Shark Island and Garden Island are all great places to visit and there is no reason why you couldn't see all nine explorer stops in a single day but we chose to pick a few destinations and spend time exploring them rather than get a taste of everything.


Tips and tricks and things to know


Where can you find information about destinations, timetables and prices?

  • You can purchase a 24 Hour Pass or a 24 Hour Pass with up to five other Sydney attractions included. Click here for a full list of ticket prices and combinations.
  • Download a copy of the Hop On Hop Off timetable before you start and work out an itinerary. The ferries run less frequently to the small destinations like Shark Island so it helps if you have a plan before setting out. For a copy of the timetable click here.
  • For a copy of the Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer route map click here and then click 'Map' below the changing image toward the top of the page.

Don't risk getting sunburnt.

  • Take sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses - you will need them if you sit on the open top deck.

Our itinerary.

  • This is the itinerary which David worked out for us (I don't do timetables) but bear in mind that we live in Sydney and therefore we weren't too concerned about seeing everything.  
    • 10.45 am - depart Circular Quay
    • 10.55 am - arrive Ft Denison
    • 12.10 pm - depart Ft Denison
    • 12.30 am - arrive Watsons Bay
    • 2.30 pm - depart Watsons Bay
    • 2.45 pm - arrive Manly
    • 4.45 pm  - depart Manly
    • 6.00 pm - arrive Circular Quay via Darling Harbour. 

Would we recommend Captain Cook Cruises Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer - Absolutely! David doesn't know it yet but this is going on my list of things to do again.


David and I received  complimentary 24 Hour Passes on the Captain Cook Cruises Hop On Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer.




48 comments:

  1. Excellent Lyn!! I wanted to do this when my Mum and Aunt were visiting but we decided it was just too damn hot. I'd love to spend a day or two exploring the Harbour like this, especially the smaller islands. And stay for a meal!

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    1. We had a great day. Our original plan was to go to Shark Island as well because this is one of the few ways of getting there but it didn't fit with our schedule so we gave it the miss. I am going to give it another go one day.

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  2. Excellent timing! My daughter is headed to Sydney in two weeks and she is firming up her itinerary. Will have to let her know about this. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. My pleasure. I hope she enjoys the Hop On Hop Off as much as we did.

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  3. I love the ferries in Sydney! You get such an amazing perspective and there are so many sites made easily accessible by them. Looks like you have the perfect itinerary picked out too! Thanks for sharing #Weekendwanderlust #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Many, many years ago I used to catch the ferry to work. It was such a great way to start and end the day.

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  4. I never tire of causing around Sydney Harbour, and this is the first thing we do with visitors. The harbour is spectacular and all of the places that the explorer goes to, gives a really great overview of our beautiful city

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    1. I absolutely agree. David and I have spent a lot of time around the harbour over the last few months and I never get tired of it.

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  5. I love the idea of hop on hop off tours. I always do that when I travel to some big city. You can cover a very large area without the fear of getting lost. I had no idea that it's possible to do this from a boat though. Sydney Harbor looks really beautiful.

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    1. Doing a hop on hop off boat requires just a little more planning but it is loads of fun.

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  6. This sounds really good, we will give it a go when we get to sydney in 2 weeks time!

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    1. On a nice day, and Sydney gets plenty of those, it is a great way to see the Harbour.

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  7. Ha ha...great tips and I wished I had learned about the hop on/hop off boat earlier. In my 7 trips to Sydney now, I think I've done nearly all these stops just on a DIY schedule. Watson's Bay was a great stop for a meal and to watch the giant pelicans in the bay! :)

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    1. I have lived in Sydney almost all my life and only found out about the Hop On Hop Off last year. I think Watsons Bay is probably the pick of the stops.

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  8. I spent many years at Garden Island Naval Dockyard during my 12 years in the Navy. Also had quite a few trips around the harbour in Navy work boats as well as ferry trips & I agree it's the best way to see Sydney's harbour views

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    1. My sister and brother-in-law were both in the navy for many years and I was invited to Garden Island once or twice and even went fishing at Spectacle (I think) Island by getting there in a navy work boat. The Australian Navy has some of the best workplace views in the world.

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  9. I like this a option to explore a lot! To be honest, I am totally clueless when it comes to the distances around Sydney's Harbor. From the map in here, I can see it is pretty big. Riding a boat or sailboat is one of my favorite activities. I would love to combine that with sightseeing around Sydney.

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    1. Sydney Harbour is big but we managed to fit in a lot in one day without starting early or finishing late. It is a lot quicker to get to the sights by water than by road. David and I really like both Watsons Bay and Manly but we hardly ever go there because they are both a long way around on the roads.

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  10. We used to live in Sydney and the harbour is one of the things I really miss about this beautiful city. Each time we go back to visit, we try to get out on the harbour in some form, even if its the Manly ferry! :-)

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    1. We lived near the harbour for years and I would take a ferry to work. We both love living a little further out but I do miss seeing the harbour every day.

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  11. Great itinerary! Love seeing Sydney from the water and this is a perfect way to do it.

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    1. I have David to thank for the itinerary. Left to my own devices I wouldn't be that organised but he had it all worked out a couple of days beforehand.

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  12. We will definitely try this next time. We stuck with the Sydney ferries on our last trip and they are great for getting around and having a view from the harbour but this looks like a fun alternative and you can get to places like Fort Dennison that you can't on the public ferries

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    1. I think the Manly Fast Ferry also stops at Fort Denison. I know it is more expensive than the government ferries but I am not sure how much more. Until I tried the Hop On Hop Off I was a great fan of the government ferries but you get a much better view and overall experience on the Hop On Hop Off and if you took an ordinary ferry to all the destinations we went to I doubt it would work out much cheaper. Having tried the Hop On Hop Off I would unhesitatingly recommend it over the ordinary ferries for tourists and anyone wanting a great day out on the harbour.

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  13. I've been on the hop on hop off bus tours with my kid (so easy when they start whinging about how much thy have to walk) and didn't realise there was a boat version in Sydney. Sounds great for us! (whenever we get around to visiting Australia - it's a dream destination)

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    1. My boys are grown up now but they would have loved the Hop On Hop Off ferry when they were little - a great thing to do with kids.

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  14. Your photos brought back great memories of my visit to Sydney, many years ago. I loved the harbour and a ferry ride was a highlight. It must be time to consider another visit.

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    1. Definitely time to think about visiting again!

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  15. We love the Hop On Hop Off concept and seek it out wherever we go! How delightful to know this iteration exists in Sydney. This is the second mention of Manly I've seen in as many days. Perhaps the Universe is sending a message. :)

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    1. A couple of Sydney bloggers I know have just done posts on the Q Station at Manly. Is that what you were reading?

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  16. I love the Hop On/Hop Off buses that many major cities have and the Hop On/Hop Off Sydney Harbour Explorer sounds like a great idea and a good way to visit some of Sydney's main attractions. There are so many things to see in Sydney, though it seems like you might want to relax, slow down and ride it a few times! I'm hoping to visit your fabulous country some day.

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    1. I have not been on a Hop On Hop Off bus for decades. David hates them - but he loved the Hop On Hop Off ferry and so did I. It is a great way to explore the harbour.

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  17. What an excellent concept of traveling and visiting different locations via water ferry, I would definitely do this when I visit Sydney because I love seeing things from a water vantage point.

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    1. You get to see so much from the water - probably because there are no fences in front of the houses. People living by the harbour want to be able to see the view and it works both ways.

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  18. Wow! You got a very good view of the Opera house from the cruise! I will definitely take the cruise next time when we're in Sydney!

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    1. The absolute best view of the Opera House is from the water.

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  19. sUPER COOl@ Thanks for linking up at Vhttp://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-endless-variety-of-orchids.html

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  20. This is my idea of heaven- hopping on and off ferries! If only :)

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    1. You just need to visit Sydney then to be in heaven! - lol.

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  21. Great set of images. Looking at those cannons, one has to believe that the artillery team was probably deaf after firing the first round.

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    1. Sadly, I think that would have been the case. My grandfather went deaf in WWI for much the same reason. The canons at Ft Denison were never fired in anger. Like so many fortifications and defences they were obsolete fairly quickly but I'm sure there was a lot of practice firing.

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  22. I adore hop on hop off tours and try to do one in every city possible. So next time in Sydney on your recommendation, definitely will be doing this tour.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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  23. I love the concept of hop on/off tours and cruises. They really give you the opportunity to see a lot in a limited amount of time. And it looks like you saw a lot of Sydney Harbour. I would LOVE to go!

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    1. In one day we managed to really see Sydney Harbour and get a great taste of some of the more famous stops like Watsons Bay and Manly, to say nothing of the fact that this is one of the few ways of getting to Ft Denison and Shark Island.

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  24. Lyn the advice you gave us about getting out on the harbour was excellent. We loved our time on the ferry. Another time the hop on hop off tour sounds brilliant.

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    1. I hadn't done the Hop On Hop Off when I saw you in Sydney so I couldn't tell you how good it was. You may have had trouble fitting it in though with everything else you were doing.

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