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8 Secret gems in Sydney to visit

With so many big-ticket attractions, there’s no shortage of postcard worthy places to visit in Sydney. With its glorious harbor and beaches, it strikes a wow factor with everybody that visits its shores. We decided to take the road less travelled and discovered these secret gems you won’t believe are in Sydney.

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Cockatoo Island

Located in the heart of Sydney Harbour, a short ferry ride from the CBD, Cockatoo Island is a historically significant place where visitors can explore historic landmarks and stay overnight.

Known as ‘Wareahmah’ by the region’s Aboriginal People, the island – a former convict penal establishment and ship dockyard – has emerged as a popular arts and entertainment venue, having hosted everything from Australia’s largest visual arts event, the Biennale of Sydney, through to live performances by musicians Lorde and Justin Bieber.

Cockatoo Island’s year-round offerings include heritage accommodation, a waterfront campground, tours for all ages, tranquil picnic spots with panoramic harbour views, and two licensed cafés: Societé Overboard and the Marina Café and Bar.

Additionally, the island’s heritage buildings and distinctive terrain provide visitors with insights into the complex and layered history of this fascinating destination. These include the convict penal establishment, which has been inscribed on the World Heritage List together with ten 10 other Australian Convict Sites.

Cockatoo Island is the largest island on the harbor and one of the city’s best kept secrets. Open daily, free entry.


Wendy Whiteley’s secret garden

Any landmark with the word ‘secret’ in its name deserves a place on this list, especially when it’s as beautiful as this leafy oasis on the doorstep of the city centre. Wendy Whiteley, the wife of legendary Australian artist Brett Whiteley, converted a derelict space that was once a rubbish dump into an immaculately curated garden in the 1990s, and those lucky enough to stumble upon it, next door to Luna Park in the salubrious harbourside suburb of Kirribilli, have been treated to a maze of winding walkways, rambling paths, picnic tables and colourful plant life ever since.

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2 Tank Stream Tours

This is an incredibly privileged private tour of Sydney’s literal underground which happens only twice per year.  The original Tank Stream was the first water supply for olden-day Sydney from back when it was just a burgeoning colony.  These days, excited history buffs can explore the old underground storm water drains which lie deep underneath the modern-day city.  The damp and unique tour covers 60 meters of the historic tunnel which was built by convicts and stonemasons hundreds of years ago.  Entry is twice per year and is achievable only upon entering and winning a ballot.  The tickets cost $40 per person.  Enter the ballot here https://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/events/tank-stream-tours-may-2019-ballot

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Elizabeth Bay House

The iconic Elizabeth Bay House was built ‘at considerable expense’ and once stood as ‘the finest house in the colony’.  Second in charge to the Governor, Alexander Macleay built this magnificent house with commanding views over the harbour before he descended into financial ruin.  The house remains as a testament to the once aspiring times of the early Sydney days and can be visited for around $12 per adult.



Wormhole, Manly

Want to flee the crowds flocking to the uber-popular Manly Beach? Escape into this wormhole, a 50-metre tunnel dug by fishermen a century ago to connect the sand at Queenscliff and Freshwater. Head to the north end of Manly Beach, walk past the children’s pool and spy the pink graffiti heart that marks the start of the dark tunnel that takes you to ‘Freshie’, one of Sydney’s most eye-popping strips of sand. The Fairy Bower Sea Pool, with its enchanting statue, as well as Shelly and Collins Flat Beaches are other well kept hideaways in the Manly area.

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Angel Place, Sydney

A skinny stairwell off Martin Place in the city centre leads to this hidden alleyway, which is filled with the chirps of dozens of birds once found in the Sydney area. Forgotten Songs is an art installation of 50 cages representing the birds that flourished in the region before European colonisation; it also holds the hundreds of native species listed either as extinct or threatened. And just down George St in Chinatown, In Between Two Worlds is another immersive inner-city installation worth discovering.

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Shark Island

Just off the exclusive Eastern suburbs of Sydney lies Shark Island.  A place so named for its shape, not its marine life.  This is a perfect place for a picnic with the best views of Sydney Harbour.  Relax on the foreshore, hang out in the shaded interior or explore the many interesting rock pools surrounding the small island.  A national park fee of $7 is applicable to all visitors and you can catch a ferry from Darling Harbour or Circular Quay, or paddle your own kayak to arrive on this special island.  Visit https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/picnic-areas/shark-island to arrange your National Park Pass.

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Purikura Photoland

Have you ever seen those fun Japanese photo booths?  They allow you to cram up to 10 people into a booth at once, and then edit your faces with whiter skin, rosy cheeks and widened eyes.  Purikura Photoland has heaps of these booths along with other Japanese favourite arcade games such as the claw machines.  Turn your perfect Purikura photos into instant stickers for a cryptic souvenir of Sydney.  It is open from 10 am daily and closes at 11 pm Monday – Wednesday, midnight on Sundays and Thursdays, and 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights.  Purikura Photoland is located in the Capitol Square Building, T39, Haymarket.

Monica Limanto