The finest harbour in the world, in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security?.", is how Captain Arthur Phillip described Sydney Harbour in 1788, when he established a new colony. Sydney Harbour is the heart of a magnificent city, brimming with picnic areas, bays, harbour pools and beaches to relax in. It's where ferries, yachts, cruise vessels, jet boats, catamarans and kayaks all jostle for a piece of the world's best harbour. You can laze on a chartered yacht moored in a bay or unwind on a scenic cruise, plenty of which are on offer from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour. Sydney Harbour is also famous for it's first class restaurants, fresh seafood and fantastic shopping precincts.

The area around Sydney Harbour has been the home of Daruk tribe for at leat 50,000 years and today there is approximately 70 Aboriginal sites found within the Harbour area. In 1788, the 11 ships of the first fleet, let by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed into Sydney Harbour and landed at Sydney Cove to declare a new colony for convicts, marines and families of the first fleet. Since 1788, the Harbour has played an important role in development of the Australian economy through the activities of its industry, defence and trade.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, Sydney Harbour was not the most attractive place to live or enjoy. The Harbour was home to coal mines, power stations, steam mills, shipyards, factories and shipping activities. However, by the 1960's, inner and harbour urban developments started to emerge, forcing these activities further out of the city. In 1974, the Harbour was declared a National Park - Sydney Harbour National Park.

Today, you can trace the history of the harbour though the many historic locations located through the Sydney. They include:

  • Rock Island or Pinchgut, which was a place of banishment for convicts who committed crimes. The first convict was sent there in February 1788 for stealing biscuits. It was later turned into Fort Denision to defend Sydney against Russian warships.

  • The Pyrmont Bridge, which was first built 1858, when the Darling Harbour area started to become an industrial area with steam mills, corn exchange, sawmills, railway yards and cattleyards.

  • In colonial days, Goat Island was the headquarters for the Water Police. It was used to keep an eye out for smugglers and escaped convicts.

  • Balmain which included a coalmine during the early 1900's. The mine was closed in 1931 and the mineshaft was sealed with concrete in 1957.

  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened on the 19th March 1932.

  • The Sydney Opera House was opened in October 1973 at Bennelong Point.


  • Cockatoo Island, which is centrally located within the Harbour has been a prison, ship building, a quarry, and machine shop for the Navy.

  • Goat Island is the largest island in the Harbour, and has been used as shipyard, quarantine station, gunpowder depot and a filming location for TV shows.

  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge was designed to carry up to 6000 cars an hour - but during peak times it now carries 15000. Sydney Harbour covers 57 square kms (22 square miles) with 240km (150miles) of shoreline.

  • The Sydney Opera House was opened in October 1973, at a cost of $102 million dollars. The original estimate was $7 million dollars.

  • Sydney's immigrants, who started arriving in the colony from 1788 onwards, often brought communicable diseases such as smallpox with them. In 1828 Spring Cove, on the western side of North Head, was used to quarantine new arrivals. A permanent quarantine facility was set up in the 1830s, and it continued to operate as a quarantine facility until 1972.

  • Rodd, Clark and Shark islands were set aside as recreation reserves as early as 1879.