Armed with a case of Budweiser, a mask and fins, a couple of fishing rods and a Grady-White Freedom 325, Alli Ficarra goes in search of Sydney’s coolest coves.
Sydney Harbour is IMO the best waterway in the world. It takes a lot for me to say that. Ya see, I’m a patriotic Californian girl and it’s almost treason to say Australia has something better than the mighty USA. But sorry America, there really is nothing quite like letting my hair down on Sydney Harbour.
Once a drowned river estuary carved out of sandstone, it’s now possibly the world’s largest natural harbour and the crown jewel of Sydney.
It’s got dramatic headlands, postcard-perfect turquoise bays, world-class fishing, awesome entertainment and better not forget the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
The steep housing prices and intense traffic are almost enough to make me pack my bags, but every time I get on the harbour I’m hooked again. Who needs a beachfront house when you can have ocean views and fresh sea air aboard your very own boat.
For some reason, the guys at Short Marine were eager to lend me the keys to a brand spankin’- new Grady-White Freedom 325. Speedboat meets fishing boat, this baby is perfect for showing The Captain’s crew my top five favourite coves of Sydney. BTW, if you’ve been having trouble convincing the missus on that new boat, maybe leave this article conveniently placed on the coffee table and let me do the convincing for you.
1. MANLY COVE
Manly Cove is one of the most popping spots on Sydney’s shoreline for good reason. It’s the birthplace of Australian surfing, hosting the first official Surfing World Titles in 1964 (an unofficial world championship took place in Hawaii a couple of years before). Manly is famous for its beaches lined with Norfolk pines, first planted by early settlers to use to build ships and masts in case they decided to sail home.
They were also pretty handy for lost sailors to find home port. Based on how many trees remain, I don’t think anyone wanted to leave this pristine area with its crystal-clear water, plentiful fish and laid-back vibe. It’s also the location The Captain has used to conduct “how to pick up chicks with a boat” lessons. So there’s a lot of history here.
You can pull up to Manly Cove to fish for bream, tailor, salmon, kingfish and flathead. If you don’t have a boat, you can rent a kayak or jump on the ferry, which runs between Manly and Circular Quay all day.
As the day winds down, head to Wharf Bar to sink a few margaritas with your crew or fair maiden and watch the sun set over Sydney Harbour.
If you didn’t have much luck catching dinner, you can head to one of Manly’s many restaurants to chow down on some world-class food.
2. DARLING HARBOUR
If you’re looking for a spot to entertain the kids and impress the missus for an afternoon, check out Darling Harbour in the heart of Sydney. It played an integral role in Sydney’s early days, being used to land timber from Parramatta and the north coast.
The shores were littered with the remnants of oyster shells and other shellfish remains, accumulated over thousands of years. Today, there’s always plenty happening.
Dock the boat or take a water taxi to avoid battling the traffic in the city.
Grab a coffee or stop in at one of the seafood restaurants for lunch before checking out the Australian National Maritime Museum or taking a ride on the ferris wheel.
End the afternoon by treating your wife or special bosun boy to something special at one of the many shops selling everything from flowers and leather goods to handcrafted souvenirs. And if it’s a Saturday night, don’t miss the regular firework display.
3. SHELLY BEACH
Just down the street from Manly Beach sits a beautiful little cove that is my absolute favourite spot in all of Sydney — Shelly Beach.
Cradled by a headland, Shelly Beach is one of the few west-facing beaches on the eastern coastline of Australia.
A century ago, the beach was a haven for boat owners, providing protection from winds and seas from the south.
Although now we can’t fish there because it’s a marine reserve, the snorkeling is next level.
Since Shelly Beach is protected from the ocean swell by the reef on its right hand side, the underwater visibility is great — perfect for checking out a large variety of marine life that includes blue grouper, whiting, squid, bream, blackfish and metre-long flatties.
Pack a lunch, BBQ or stop in for a quick bevvie at The Boathouse. Shelly is definitely not to be missed.
4. WATSONS BAY
Lovely Watsons Bay, east of the city centre and north of Bondi, has breathtaking views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the city. It’s easy to get taken back by the picturesque buildings that fill some of the suburb’s narrow streets.
This is the site of Australia’s oldest fishing village (1788) and today it’s still home to some delicious seafood to go with those epic views.
The Captain recommends Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel where you can feast on European-inspired lunches while chillin’ underneath their signature umbrellas.
You’ll probably want to look “stylish” before heading in since it was also voted Sydney’s most Instagrammable venue.
If you get time after feasting, it’s an easy walk along the cliff tops on the Gap Bluff walking track to see where the full-rigged Dunbar was wrecked in 1857. Just be sure to have your beach anchoring technique down pat because space can be at a premium on a busy day.
5. NORTH HEAD
When entering Sydney Harbour you’re greeted by a series of headlands that make a pretty good first impression. My absolute favourite is North Head.
It has epic lookouts and for my money the top picnic area on the harbour, Collins Flat Beach. There’s also Quarantine Station, which once protected Sydney from sick and contagious immigrants.
It’s only a short boat ride from Manly and has some of the best boat diving spots in all of Sydney. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can explore the remains of historic shipwrecks or look for the rare Indian fish.
Between sipping Budweisers and feasting on cheese platters, you might even get the urge to take the leap of faith off the jump rock or check out the miniature waterfall.
GRADY-WHITE FREEDOM 325
The Captain’s crew rode aboard the Grady-White Freedom 325, which features everything you could possibly need for an epic day on the water.
There are a few small sacrifices when it comes to fishability, but that’s the price you pay for bomb.com cruising comfort and epic entertaining opportunities.
The 32ft dual console features a hardtop that extends and retracts with the push of a button. She feels spacious and open, yet family-friendly and safe at the same time. This configuration also means the skipper never has to feel like they’re missing out on the party.
Below the waterline you’ve got the Grady-White variable dead-rise hull, which slices up shitty seas — as we discovered heading around North Head on our way to Shelly Beach.
When it comes to size, the Freedom 325 hits the sweet spot. Large enough to take offshore in hectic conditions comfortably, yet still small enough to dock and anchor in coves where manoeuvrability becomes an issue.
This boat is also an Ibiza of entertainment. With plenty of seating including an electromechanically adjustable seat (very fancy), foldaway aft bench, and open bowrider with a table — you can sit back and relax anywhere to sink a few beers.
It even has a bar and countertop to prep those delicious cheese platters and a refrigerator to keep your sashimi cold, not to mention an easy access head area with shower and sink.
After a long day of swimming it gives everyone privacy to spruce up easily for the night.
Whether you’ve got your kids and other half on board or just your fishing buddies, this boat really can do it all.