Parramatta River Ferry Trip Guide

A journey on the RiverCat up the Parramatta River is quite different to any other ferry ride in Sydney. The beginning of the journey is what one expect - the Harbour Bridge, the grinning mouth at the entrance to Luna Park, the rows of wharves around Walsh Bay and Pyrmont. But once you get past Balmain and Cockatoo Island there are no ocean going vessels to avoid, or choppy waves to cut through, just a lot of pretty waterside suburbs that most Sydneysiders don't even know exist. Before too long the multi-level houses suddenly end, and it's nothing but mangroves and the RiverCat breaking the stillness as it glides through the water. As you pull into Parramatta, it's hard to believe that 50 minutes have passed since you hopped aboard at Circular Quay, proving that time does fly when you are having fun.

There are plenty of things to see and do when you are in Parramatta, and when its time to head back, you can take the return journey on the RiverCat or take a train. To fit it all in, allow a full day.
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As the ferry departs Circular Quay it passes the Overseas Passenger Terminal, then the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it turns east and heads down the Harbour past the suburbs of Kirribilli, Neutral Bay and Cremorne Point.
Dawes Point

Governor Phillip s first step upon arival of the First Fleet in 1788 was to fortify the entrance to Sydney Cove. He did this as much to provide defence should there be a convict uprising as to engage any enemy ships that might came in close to the town in a hostile manner. He gave the task to Lieutenant William Dawes, an Officer of Engineers and Artillery in the staff of Major Robert Ross of the detachment of Marines. As well as building the fort, Dawes established an observatory there. Remnants of more recent fortifications remain on the point below the Harbour Bridge approaches.
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Acclaimed as one of the most remarkable feats of bridge construction in the world at the time it was built, until recently the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world and is still in a general sense the largest. Since its completion in 1932, it has been an icon and an internationally recognised symbol of the the city of Sydney.

The first sod was ceremoniously turned on the site of the North Sydney Railway Station on 28th July 1923. The acquisition and demolition of buildings in the path of the new bridge and its approaches on both the northern and southern shores commenced on 28th July 1924.

The bridge was opened to roadway, railway and pedestrian traffic by the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr JT Lang, on Saturday 19th March 1932. The time taken to complete the whole work, including bridge and approaches was eight years. The contract for the bridge construction provided for six months' maintenance by the contractors from the date of opening, after which maintenance became the responsibility of the State.

Built at a cost of $20 million, it was only paid off in 1988, much of the cost being raised by tolls placed on vehicular traffic using the bridge. Tolls collected after the bridge was paid for has gone towards the cost of the construction of the harbour tunnel.
Milsons Point, the first ferry stop, is situated directly opposite Sydney Cove. The point itself is dominated by the northern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the approaches of which mark the border between Kirribilli on its west side and Milsons Point on its east. Take a walk from the Milsons Point Wharf up Alfred Street South alongside the Harbour Bridge approach and you are soon in the commercial district of North Sydney, now the second largest concentration of office buildings in New South Wales.

Milsons Point

Milsons Point: One of Sydney s smallest suburbs, Milsons Point is 3 kilometres north of the Sydney central business district, next to North Sydney. It is named after the geographical feature that juts into Sydney Harbour from the northern side, It is home to a number of Sydney's icons, including Luna Park, North Sydney Pool, the picturesque Lavender Bay and the northern pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
  • Comprehensive Guide to Milsomns Point.
  • North Sydney

    North Sydney is both a suburb and commercial district on the Lower North Shore of Sydney. It sits across the waters of Sydney Harbour opposite Millers Point, 3 kilometres north of the Sydney central business district. Though dominated by commercial office towers, parts of old North Sydney still survive, and searching out the 19th century cottages in the back streets can be quite rewarding, especially forb those with an interest in the past.
  • Comprehensive Guide to North Sydney.

  • MacMahons Point

    The first peninsula to the east of Milsons Point and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, McMahons Point is named after Maurice McMahon, an Irish manufacturer of brushes and combs who, in 1864, built his home on the headland. The suburb of McMahons Point is flanked by Berrys Bay to the west and Lavender Bay to the east.
  • Comprehensive Guide to MacMahons Point.

  • Darling Harbour: From MacMahons Point, the ferry cross back across the harbour past Goat Island to Darling Harbour. It was one of Sydney's busiest industrial areas in the 19th and early 20th centuries, during which time it was extensively developed into Australia's busiesr port. Containerisation changed everything, and by the early 1970s, became an industrial wasteland, like so many docklands around the world. The Darling Harbour port area, along with the neighbouring suburbs of Ultimo and Pyrmont, was totally redeveloped in time for Australia's bicentennial celebrartions (1988) into an area known for its recreational facilities and museums.
    Darling Harbour

    Darling Harbour is a precinct on the city's doorstep, encircling the first bay to the west from Sydney Cove. Once a busy port area surrounded by extensive railway marshalling yards, in the 1980s the whole are was razrd and totally rebuilt. Today, Darling Harbour is one of those places that not only attempts to be all things to all people  it actually pulls it off. It was built primarily as recreational space for the people of Sydney, and fulfills that role so well, but it soon became aparent after its opening that its appeal extends to the city s visitors also. Thus, over the last 20 years the flavour of Darling Harbour has changed somewhat to accommodate the needs and requirements of the growing number of interstate and overseas visitors using its facilities. These include a number of hotels dotted around its preimiter.
  • Comprehensive Guide to Darling Harbour.
  • Goat Island

    Since European settlement, Goat Island played an important and fascinating role in the development of Sydney's cityscape. In the 1800s, the island was used as a home for convict work gangs and as a gunpowder storage depot. Later, Goat Island was the site of the first water police station and harbour fire brigade. Following this, the island served as a shipyard, and in more recent years it has been a location for filming and concerts, including the television series 'Water Rats'. National Parks And Wildlife Service operate tours of the island from time to time. See their website for details.
    Balmain East: Next stop is the suburb of Balmain, one of Sydney's iconic inner suburbs, is one of Sydney's oldest industrial areas. Over time, industry left Balmain, and is now synonymous with avant garde cafes, bookshops and galleries. There are several renowned restaurants in Balmain, and the area is well-served by interestingly revamped former workers  pubs, with music and other entertainment.

    Balmain and its close neighbour - Birchgrove - is serviced by four ferry wharves - Balmain, Balmain East, Balmain West and Birchgrove, two of which are servied by this ferry. Balmain East Wharf is at the foot of Darling Street, the main street, which climbs its way up the hill and into the main shopping area. About a kilometre from the wharf you'll find the next kilometre is full of cafes, restaurants, character pubs, bookshops, galleries and antique shops.

    Within 2 km of the CBD and commanding outstanding Harbour views, Balmain is one of Sydney s oldest waterfront areas. It has a strong maritime, artistic and community/political heritage, and is today is well-served by interestingly revamped former workers  pubs, with music and other entertainment. This all makes the Balmain Rozelle area one of the most fascinating and exciting areas to visit in Sydney.

    At its peak the area had over 80 pubs! Today it still has something for everyone from traditional to trendy, neighbourhood friendly to chic and all serving a wide range of beers, ales and often cocktails. Make a night or day of it! The areas pubs are also great places to eat with a range of food from simple to sophisticated. Most pubs also cater for a variety of functions from christenings or birthdays to weddings to wakes or company events.
  • Comprehensive Guide to Balmain.
  • Birchgrove Wharf: Birchgrove wharf is at the end of Yurulbin Point (Long Nose Point), a narrow neck of land opposite Manns Point and the suburb of Greenwich.

    A sister suburb to Balmain, Birchgrove is located on the north-west slope of the Balmain peninsula, overlooking Sydney Harbour, and includes Yurulbin and Ballast Points. The long waterfront provides views of the Parramatta River with Cockatoo Island dominating the foreground. It is one of the wealthier suburbs of Sydney thanks to its harbour frontages. Yurulbin Park, at the tip of Yurulbin Point, is a former shipbuilding site located at the end of Yurulbin Point which has been transformed into an award winning public space. An old stone slipway adjascent to the wharf marks the site of Morrison and Sinclair s boatshed, where handcrafted timber vessels were built from the 1920's; such slipways were once common all around the Harbour.
    Greenwich: Greenewich Wharf is at the southern tip of a large peninsula occupied by the The Lower North Shore suburb of Greenwich. The lower eastern shore of the peninsula is one of the last areas around Sydney Harbour to be still occupied by industry, in this instance it is an oil bunkering facility on Gore Bay.

    Woolwich: Immediately to the east of Greenwich, across the mouth of the Lane Cove River, is the former industrial suburb of Woolwich. Located at the end of the Hunters Hill peninsula, here you can explore Sydney's maritime past with a visit to Woolwich Dock where boats have been built and repaired for more than a century. The adjacent Woolwich Lookout is a dramatic cantilevered platform that juts out over the dock's sandstone cutting, offering sweeping views of the maritime activity below as well as the city skyline, the Harbour Bridge, Cockatoo Island, Lane Cover River and Balmain peninsula.

    Cockatoo Island: Cockatoo Island marks the point where the Parramatta River begins and Sydney Harbour ends. The largest island in Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo by far the most interesting, and warrants a visit. Where else can you pitch a tent and camp so close to the city, or get such a magnificent view of the harbour bridge, the city skyline and the wonderful juxtaposition of headlands, suburbs and water?
    Cockatoo Island

    Located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers, Cockatoo Island has been put to a number of uses since colonisation, including being a convict prison, industrial school and girls reformatory. It is also the site of one of Australia s biggest shipyards during the twentieth century. It is today Australia's most unusual urban park, and well worth a visit.

    Located at the junction of the Parramatta and Lane Cove rivers, Cockatoo Island has been put to a number of uses since colonisation, including being a convict prison, industrial school and girls reformatory. It is also the site of one of Australia s biggest shipyards during the twentieth century. The first of its two dry docks was built by convicts and was completed in 1857.

    When the shipyard closed in 1992, Cockatoo Island lay dormant for a decade until the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust was established and given the responsibility of revitalising this significant corner of Sydney Harbour. The Trust s rehabilitation of the island ihas resulted in the creation of one of the most unusual places to visit in the city.
    After leaving Cockatoo Island, the ferry passes two islands: tiny Snapper Island is virtually unoccupied but the larger Spectacle Island has been used as a Naval Armament Supply Depot since 1884.

    Drummoyne: A long established inner western Sydney suburb about 5 km from the CBD, Drummoyne is surrounded on three sides by Sydney Harbour. The buildings of the Birkenhead Point retail complex, which are a kilometre to the south of Drummoyne Wharf near the entrance to Iron Cove, formerly comprised the Dunlop Rubber Works. It was established in the 1890s for the manufacture of pneumatic tyres made from rubber imported from India.

    Gladesville Bridge

    Before reaching Hunleys Point Wharf, on the north bank of the Parramatta River, the ferry passes under the Gladesville Bridge.
    Gladesville Bridge

    As the RiverCat approaches the large concrete arch of Gladesville Bridge, it will turn to the left. The inlet on your right is called Tarban Creek and it may be possible to glimpse the prestressed concrete frame and sloping legs of Tarban Creek Bridge. This bridge is part of the Gladesville Bridge complex completed in 1964. Prior to that, Parramatta River was crossed a little west by an 1883 iron lattice bridge with a swing span near the southern shore which allowed colliers and other vessels to pass. Remnants of the earlier bridge's piers, along with the ramp for an early punt, can be seen on the river bank.

    The bridge complex was a key element in a freeway system which was to have linked the city with Gladesville and the suburbs of Sydney's north west, but ended up being the only part of the system to be built. As you pass under Gladesville Bridge, you will see the bridge consists of four ribs side by side. Each rib was assembled from precast hollow concrete boxes on falsework right across the river. When a rib was made self-supporting it lifted off the falsework which was then moved sideways for the next rib and so on. The traffic deck is a series of prestressed concrete girders on slender reinforced concrete columns. At completion in 1964 Gladesville Bridge was the largest concrete arch in the world with a span of 305m. It contains 50,000 tonnes of concrete and has a clearance of 37m above high tide.
    Huntley's Point 9 km north west of the Sydney central business district, the suburb was named by Alfred Huntley who purchased the land here and built Point House in 1851. Huntley later became the chief engineer for Australian Gas Light Company. The eastern section of Huntley Point Road, which leads to Gladesville, was the original road leading up to the first Gladsville Bridge. That bridge's abutment can be seen on the opposite bank of the river on Five Dock Point opposite the ferry wharf. After departing Huntley's Point, the ferry crosses the Parramatta River to Chiswick Wharf on the river's south bank.

    Upon leaving Chiswick, as the ferry follows the bend in the river, you will see the buildings of the former Gladesville Hospital on the right bank. The Asylum took what was then an enlightened approach to addressing mental illness by providing meaningful activities such as gardening and farming for patients. A zoo and a farm were established for this purpose. A large vineyard was planted on terraces overlooking the river in the 1880s. The terraces can still be seen alongside a flat area of ground where the zoo animals once roamed.

    Abbotsford Wharf is located at the end of Great North Road. The road doesn't live up to its name these days, but in the early 1830s, the convict-built road became the first major inland route from Sydney to the Hunter Valley. It crossed the river at the site of the wharf via a punt - remnant convict-built infrastructure can be seen on the opposite shore on Bedlam Point. Punt Road, Victoria Road and Blaxland Road follow the line of the original Great North Road on the river's northern shore. Banjo Paterson Cottage, where one of Australia's greatest authors lived as a young man with his grandmother, stands beside the old punt road on the northern bank. It was built as an inn for travellers on the road.

    The area now known as Abbotsford remained virgin bushland until 1828 when the convict-built Great North Road was built through it in 1828. By then it was part of Five Dock Farm, a relatively undeveloped estate granted to colonial surgeon John Harris which included Abbotsord and the neighbouring localities of Five Dock and Drummoyne. Five Dock Farm was subdivided into 12 and 24 acre farming estates in 1836, those estates forming the beginnings of the localities there today. Abbotsford House was built in 1890 by Arthur Renwick, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, President of the Board of Sydney Hospital and a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1887 to 1908. Farming gave way to suburban development after the Great War, Abbotsford House was sold to the Nestle chocolate manufacturing company in 1903 as a site for a new factory. Australian poet Henry Lawson died in the house on 9th September 1922.
    Hen and Chicken Bay separates Abbotsford from Cabarita, the next surburb on the river's southern shore.

    Cabarita Wharf is located in Cabariba Park, a very popular open space. The park is the most popular location for weddings and ceremonies due to its beautiful surroundings. Along with BBQ s and undercover areas with toilets and picnic tables around the park the Cabarita swimming pool and wharf makes it a top location for a day out.

    Putney-Mortlake Ferry: Vehicular ferries or punts were widespread in New South Wales during the colonial period but most have been replaced by bridges. There were four punts on this ferry route but only one - from Mortlake to Putney - is still in service. Established in 1928, the cable ferry can be seen in operation as the ferry rounds Putney Point on the right bank. The suburb of Putney fronts the Parramatta River on its northern bank, between Gladesville and Meadowbank. Kissing Point Bay stretches to the west of Putney Point. Much of the Putney peninsula is now occupied by Putney Park. There are slipways on the shoreline that link the area with its boatbuilding past.

    Kissing Point: the site of the ferry's next stop is believed to have been named from a nautical term describing the action of boats scraping the bottom when entering shallow water. Here the keels of laden sea-going vessels travelling up the river would kiss  the rocky outcrop which extends into the river at the location.

    The strip of Parramatta River foreshore around Kissing Point and Morrisons Bay has historic connections as it was here that the first private settlement outside of Sydney and Parramatta was established in 1792. Known first as Eastern Farms and then Kissing Point, the settlement of Ryde which grew in the hinterland beyond Kissing Point became a flourishing fruit growing region. It was at Ryde that Australia s first brewery was established and the famous Granny Smith apple was developed.

    Bennelong Park received its name from the fact that Bennelong, the Aborigine who befriended Sydney s first Governor, Arthur Phillip in 1788, was buried near the river north of Kissing Point in an unmarked grave. He was buried somewhere in the orchards of brewer James Squire, part of which fell within the modern day park. Today, a memorial plaque sits in Cleves Park, Putney, to mark the approximate location where he is believed to be buried.

    Bennelong Memorial, Putney

    Uhrs Point (Ryde) Bridge: The set of steel trusses and two steel towers that form the central part of the Uhrs Point lift bridge began carrying road traffic in 1935. The bridge replaced an earlier punt service here. With the decline of upstream shipping needs, the lift span was locked and the counterweights removed in 1949. Increases in road traffic neccessitated the building of a second road bridge on the eastern or downstream side, which was completed in 1987.
    Meadowbank Bridge

    A short distance upstream from Uhrs Point are two railway bridges. The two bridges display different technologies that are 100 years apart. The first to come into view is a typical iron lattice bridge completed in 1886 to carry the Main North railway out of Sydney to Newcastle. It is named after the NSW Engineer-in-Chief, John Whitton, whose achievements during 35 years in office earned him the title of Father of New South Wales Railways . Whitton built a number of identical iron lattice bridges around New South Wales - the only other ones in the Sydney metropolitan area iare the Gasworks Bridge in Parramatta and the Como Bridge, which used to take the Illawara railway line across the Georges River. The Como and Meadowbank bridges no longer carry rail traffic and have converted for pedestrian and cyclist use.

    The replacement bridge on the upstream side is a marked contrast, being pairs of welded steel box girders, fabri- cated off-site and trucked to the north shore and conveyed to their piers by a special floating crane. It was opened to rail traffic in 1980
    Meadowbank: before British colonisation, Meadowbank had been the homeland of the Dharug-speaking Wallumede clan. During the early years of the 19th century, the Aboriginal population of the Sydney basin had been decimated, and the few survivors of the Dharug people tended to congregate in this area. Charity Point, where the ferry berths, is named because it was the place where the colonial governor used to distribute gifts to the aborigines each Christmas as a token of goodwill. A vineyard was established here by a second fleet comnvict, James Shepherd, in the early 1800s. A cable punt service operated here between 1898 and 1935, in which year Ryde Bridge was opened and traffic diverted to it. The remains of wharf walling are visible at low tide.
    Sydney Olympic Park

    Sydney Olympic Park: For many years Homebush Bay was an industrial wasteland avoided by locals. The whole area was rejuvenated after part of the area was chosen as the main site of the 2000 Olympic Games. Once used for the dumping of rubbish, it is now an attractive urban oasis. Serviced by its own railway line and station, the Homebush Olympic precinct it features lawns, ponds and recreational facilities alongside a tract of natural vegetation that includes a series of boardwalks through a natural stand of mangroves. Sydney Olympic Park Millennium Parklands contains remediated lands; remnant woodlands; fresh and saltwater wetlands and areas of cultural heritage.

    Beyond Homebush Bay, the Parramatta River becomes quite narrow and shallow, so shallow in fact that all ferries in the Sydney Farries fleet other than the specially designed RiverCats cannot navigate its waters. The concrete road bridge with curved undersides under which the ferry passes is the Silverwater Bridge. It was the first prestressed concrete box girder bridge in New South Wales. It was built from a series of precast concrete boxes supported on temporary steel trusses between the piers and was completed in 1962.

    Rydalmere Wharf: Rydalmere, on the north bank of the river, is a residential suburb with a sizeable pocket of commercial development at its western end.

    Rydalmere is 21 kilometres north-west of the Sydney central business district. Upstream from Rydalmere Wharf is a bridge carrying a water pipe across the river. It has a walking deck, and links the suburbs of Rosehill and Rydalmere. Flowing into the river on its northern side are Subiaco and Vineyard Creeks. Sydney s first privately owned vineyard was planted along the banks of these creeks by Thomas Schaeffer in 1792. Schaeffer s vineyard was the first vineyard to be established in the colony. In 1798, he sold this property to Captain Henry Waterhouse, but not before creating the first wine to be exported from the colony. Captain Waterhouse was the man who first brought Spanish merino sheep to Australia, and began to breed them on the property.
    As the ferry negotiates a sharp S-bend, the Camelia Railway Bridge comes into view. It is welded steel truss and is the latest bridge (1995) over the river. The bridge stands near where Vineyard Creek enters the river.

    Gasworks Bridge, Parramatta

    Not far upsteam is the James Ruse Drive bridge, opened in 1966. The next and last bridge over the Parramatta River before the ferry reaches its terminus at Parramatta is the Macarthur Bridge. Iron lattice bridges were common from 1870 to 1893, about 20 road bridges and 12 railway bridges were built and most are still in service. Unofficially called the Gasworks Bridge after a nearby gasworks, it was completed in 1885.

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