Sydney harbour explorer cruises will show you the best of the harbour in a single day. You can get on and off the boat at any stop.
Sydney Harbour explorer cruises generally have six stops: Taronga Zoo, Shark Island, Watson’s Bay, Luna Park, Darling Harbour and Circular Quay. There are great things to do at each stop.
Taronga Zoo has the best views in the world. It’s also an excellent zoo in its own right. Taronga Zoo is pretty high up, so you can see a lot of Sydney Harbour. You can also see a wide range of Australian and other animals in semi-natural enclosures. Look out for Taronga’s newest addition - a baby gorilla. Tickets are an extra $16 AUD on top of your Sydney Harbour explorer cruise ticket ($29 AUD).
It’s not very well known on the tourist trail, but Shark Island will certainly be a highlight of your Sydney visit.
It’s smack bang in the middle of Sydney Harbour and you can have a picnic (BYO food and drink), a swim and have a wonderful few hours. There is a national park entrance fee for Shark Island, but it’s only $6 AUD when purchased with your cruise ticket. Well worth it.
If you’d prefer to see just Shark Island, you can ditch the harbour explorer cruise and buy a Circular Quay - Shark Island - Circular Quay ticket ($16 AUD which includes the $6 AUD national park entrance fee).
Watson’s Bay is another great place to get off the cruise. You can drink a beer and scoff fish and chips in the sunshine at the world famous Doyle’s Seafood Restaurant. If you feel like a swim then Camp Cove (a harbour beach with no waves) is just around the corner. There are also beautiful harbourside walks that start at Watson’s Bay.
I don’t recommend getting off the cruise at Luna Park because the other attractions are so much better. Luna Park is an historic (in the Australian scheme of things) amusement park with sublime harbour views. Entrance is free - you pay per ride. The rides are nothing to write home about.
Sydney Wildlife World / Darling Harbour
A good place to get off the cruise is Sydney Wildlife World at Darling Harbour. Here you can see real koalas, wallabies (similar to kangaroos) and hundreds of other Australian animals.
The entrance fee to Sydney Wildlife World is $14 AUD on top of your cruise ticket. If you got your fix of animals at Taronga Zoo, you can head across to Sydney Tower (formerly Centrepoint Tower). Here you can see 360 degree views of Sydney from 260 m (850 ft) up. The entrance fee to Sydney Tower is $24 AUD.
Finally, you can get off at Circular Quay for the short walk across to the gorgeous outdoor Opera Bar. You can also stroll to the Botanical Gardens (a great spot for a picnic) or climb the south pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for less than ten bucks.
There are two major companies who offer Sydney harbour explorer cruises: Captain Cook Cruises and Matilda. Tickets for either are $29 AUD. The two companies operate to the same timetable, so whichever one you choose will be fine.