Wrapped around Farm Cove the Royal Botanic Gardens and surrounding Domain have been parklands ever since Sydney was first settled when it was set aside by Governor Phillip as his private reserve in 1788, just weeks after the first fleeters set up camp in Sydney Cove.
Home to more than a million specimens, some of which were planted by the first fleeters 220 years ago, it’s a favourite spot for a picnic or early morning walk.
Most popular spot in the park is Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. In 1810, Governor Macquarie ordered convicts to carve a ledge in the sandstone on the eastern point of the cove so his wife could admire the view, which today looks across to the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Fort Denison, and is still one of the best views in town. Go early in the day to avoid the stream of Japanese brides who flock here to have their photo taken.
Another highlight is the Sydney Tropical Centre in the glass pyramid and the Threatened Plants of the World which includes the recently discovered Wollemi Pine which was thought to be extinct.
Also worth finding is the Cadi Jam Ora garden, Also called the First Encounters garden, these gardens showcase the many Aboriginal uses of native plants. The site was once an important ceremonial site and the scene of many of the first (and often tragic) encounters between Europeans and the local Cadigal people. A 52-metre-long ‘storyline’ tells the Aboriginal history of Sydney from The Dreaming to the present, compiled from more than 40 interviews with local Aboriginal people.
There are more than 35 fountains, sculptures and memorials scattered throughout the park and neighbouring Domain. There’s statues of some of our early governors and politicians, famous writers such as Henry Lawson and the three-metre-high bronze statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns and even one of Shakespeare as well as memorials to police officers who have lost their lives in the course of their duty.
You can’t miss Brett Whiteley’s famous ‘redhead’ matches, one live and one burnt; the reclining bronze by English sculptor, Henry Moore, considered to be one of the greatest of all twentieth-century sculptors; and the soundscape installation by Nigel Helyer called Dual Nature, relating to the history of people and shipping in Woolloomooloo Bay with shell-like objects sitting on the seabed, held in place by crane sculptures mounted on the foreshore.
The extraordinarily knowledgeable and passionate volunteer guides will lead you on a 90-minute guided walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens each day at 10.30am, for free.
During summer (March to November) you can also join a one-hour guided walk at lunchtime at 1pm. Both tours depart from the information counter at the Palm Grove Centre.