Sydney: Ships at National Maritime Museum

Travel Period : 1 May – 7 May 2014

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Day 2 Morning to Afternoon Itinerary :

  • Australian National Maritime Museum –>>
  • Sydney Fish Market 

Getting To the Maritime Museum

According to Google Maps, the fastest way to get to Australian National Maritime Museum from our accommodation, Mercure Hotel, was to take a Light Rail there, because there is a Light Rail Station just opposite the museum.

When we told Dar that we would be taking the Light Rail, he was very excited, especially after he had saw one passing us by when we were in Chinatown the night before. Our journey to find the Light Rail Station at Central wasn’t that easy though, despite asking a station staff. He directed us AROUND the railway station and after a 15-minute walk, we still had to ask for further directions from passers-by to find the station which was on the second floor.

Thinking back, we should have let that first staff know that we had the Weekly MyMulti passes with us (which entitles us to unlimited public transport rides in a week), which he could then advised us to take the shorter route of passing through the ticket gantries for the Sydney Trains and Intercity Trains, so that we could get to where the Light Rail Station was.

We were still fortunate as the Light Rail train arrived just moments after we found the station, and we boarded it till the Pyrmont Bay Station. From there, we just needed to go up the stairway to see the museum just across the road.

Sydney Light Rail

Australian National Maritime Museum

My first impression?

“Wow! A much bigger and grander building than I had thought!”

We walked towards the museum as the sea view behind it came into sight.

“Big tickets for 2 adults and 1 child, please.” I quipped, as I wiped out discount coupons torn from some Sydney travel guides. It is important to take a few of these guides after touching down at Sydney International Airport. There are many other discount coupons and information in them.

For the Australian National Maritime Museum, these coupons gave 10% discounts for Big Ticket purchases but as the terms & conditions didn’t mention if it’s one coupon for one ticket or multiple tickets, so we just brought three coupons along. In the end, the staff took two of the coupons so I guess it’s one coupon for one adult ticket?

After purchasing the tickets, we were given stickers to paste on our clothing as a proof of purchase. We were then advised to deposit our bags at their Cloaking Counter just behind the ticket booth, since bags are not allowed at the outdoor section.

There are mainly two sections in this museum, the indoor and the outdoor sections:

The indoor section consists of the permanent exhibitions and temporary exhibitions, while the outdoor section consists of a lighthouse, vessels like ships and submarine which we can enter. Getting the cheaper Galleries and Exhibitions Ticket only allows access to the indoor section, while the more expensive Big Ticket provides access to both sections.

  • Note: Entry to the permanent exhibitions is free on the first Thursday of the month (excluding public & school holidays), which happened to be the day we arrived in Sydney. However, this does not include entry to the vessels (and the temporary exhibitions), we dropped the idea of visiting it for free, such our main priority was to visit these vessels. How often can one go on board and explore them?

After depositing our bags, we headed out to the outdoor section, walking towards the Cape Bowling Green lighthouse first, since we knew it would be closed around noon time.

Going Up A Light House 

After the lighthouse was de-staffed and replaced by a modern tower at Queensland, it was transported to the museum in 1994, re-erected on their North Wharf and fitted with the type of clockwork and kerosene mechanism used in 1913. We had never visited a lighthouse before so it would be an interesting experience for us.

A staff welcomed us at the entrance and directed us to the wooden spiral stairway. We started our climb up and reached a short ladder soon after. Another staff was manning the area and advised us to let Dar take the lead in climbing the ladder, so that we adults could watch and protect him behind him. The ladder was indeed a little steep so such advice was much needed.

Once on top, we saw the light and lens fittings, though they were no longer in working condition, according to another staff on that level. We were quite impressed that three staff were present in this lighthouse as ushers and guides. The man gave us a short history of the lighthouse, and also some background information on some of the museum’s vessels parked at the wharves below. It was interesting that one of the vessels was actually captured from the Japanese after they crossed into Australian waters illegally.

From the Lighthouse, View of Darling Harbour
From the Lighthouse, Nice seaview

We didn’t stay long as we were eager to go on board the vessels at the wharves, namely the HMB Endeavour’s replica (the actual ship had sunk), Submarine HMAS Onslow, Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire and tall ship James Craig (though I couldn’t recall seeing it).

We arrived at a small counter where the staff would check our stickers to make sure we had bought the Big Tickets. They also handed us a pamphlet with information on James Cook’s HMB Endeavour.

Exhibition Ships – The Endeavour 

Captain James Cook was a British explorer in the 18th century, who made voyages and achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia. This later led to the British settlement of Australia. This replica of HMB Endeavour is Australian-built and does regular trips along the Australian coast, though most of the times it would be docked at the wharves of the museum where visitors to the museum could board it.

This ship reminded us of those we had seen in the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and it was a fantastic feeling to be able to go on board one from that era. Especially with Dar around, we had to tread carefully as we walked up the wooden bridge leading from the wharves to the ship.

  • Note: Visitors boarding Endeavour must be over 90 cm tall and no infant can be carried on board, since safety is a concern.

On the deck, we loved the structures and design of the ship, and couldn’t resist getting a little adventurous by climbing over ledges for some nice shots. This ship is one of the world’s most accurate maritime reproductions so we did feel we were back in the past and going onto a voyage.

Looking at ships in National Maritime Musuem

A staff was present on the deck and introduced us a little to the ship, while informing us not to cross over to the mid-section of the deck to the other side. Instead, we should be heading down to the galley below via a hatch. A short ladder led downwards with a rope to aid in support as we made our way down. Once again, we were advised to keep Dar between us for safety reasons.


Once in the galley, we felt we were in a movie set as the museum had taken effort to make sure everything is as authentic as in the days when James Cook and his crew were on board. The table was set, clothes were hung and there was even a cat (not a real cat) slumbering on the table. The staff there introduced us to the huge stove, called a fire-hearth, and how it was used to cook the food for all the people involved in the voyage. Dar was very interested and kept asking questions about the different structures. We were glad of his proficiency in English during these times because he was able to converse fluently with the staff and learn by himself.

As we moved through the galley towards the center of the ship, we were surprised when our way was ‘blocked’ by a low pillar.

“Oops? Have we gone the wrong way?” We said.

“No. You are right on track.” The staff replied. We were supposed to duck low and walked under the pillar to the other side.

From here on, the ceiling became very low and we had to maneuver with our backs arched, while Dar continued to move around at ease. Such is the advantage of being a child! *envies*

According to another staff who was seated in the cabin area, the ceiling at and cabin area was purposely made to be low since seafarers that time didn’t feel the need to waste the space of the ship in such areas. To them, it’s just a place to rest and sleep, so there’s no need for so much space. Well… I can’t imagine myself living and sleeping in such tight and confined place though.


We explored a few more rooms before returning to the deck area, surfacing from the other end of the ship.

Satisfied with our ‘adventure’, we disembarked from the ship and headed to the next vessel — the Submarine HMAS Onslow.

[ Inside a Submarine ]

To get to the submarine, we had to go on board the Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire  first docked next to it. From there, there is an entrance area guarded by a staff, who would check our tickets and give each of us a yellow tag to restrict the number of visitors on board the submarine at a time. No surprise since submarines are known to have tight compartments and would be congested if too many people are inside.

Onslow was commissioned during the Cold War and was decommissioned in 1999, just weeks before sent to the museum, so the submarine is still close to operational condition.


I was looking forward to visit a submarine since I have always been curious how it looks and feels like inside, knowing that the crews have to be bunked inside the vessel with limited space and deep underwater. I doubt I will be able to withstand living in such condition over long periods of time, so this visit would do just fine to experience a little how such a life would be. ^^

In order to enter the submarine, we had to walk along one stretch of the vessel and climb down a steep flight of steps via a hatch.


Once inside, a staff was seated there and started showing us the torpedoes and torpedo tubes at that area. Dar started asking questions again. We were also surprised that the torpedoes were larger than we had expected; no wonder they could do much damage to ships and sink them.

One good thing about the submarine is that you don’t have to worry where to go or lose your way; there is only one direction to go — straight forward.

We moved from one area to another via hatches which we had to bend our heads down to get through (Dar was an exception, of course). There were information along the way describing each section so even without a guide following us, we could still get a glimpse of how life must had been on this submarine. There was a periscope which we looked through to find the image of Sydney Tower Eye.

Even though the compartments were cramped and we had to walk in single file, there was enough ventilation with cool air so we were quite comfortable.


Reaching the end, a staff awaited us and directed us the ladder which led us outside. It was an interesting feeling to be in an open area again after going through the narrow passageways; its fortunate that none of us is claustrophobic, else this visit wouldn’t be possible.

I loved the visit to the submarine, and were happy to have finally stepped into one! Dar liked it too and we both said we would want to visit it again later. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do it in the end due to time constraint, and we got tired after our visit to the indoor section.

[ Navy destroyer HMAS Vampire ]

Its front cannons immediately caught our attention when we reached the upper deck. They were really HUGE and we couldn’t have known when watching the ship from afar! We bet the damage they could do would be tremendous too.


We also visited the interior of the ship, checking out the crew’s living quarters, kitchen, engine room etc. it certainly was interesting to be able to enter these ‘out-of-bounds’ areas.


As we climbed higher, we arrived at the Bridge, where the captain’s chair is. Dar was ecstatic seeing the chair and made sure he was the first among us to climb onto it, sitting on it like he owned the chair. “Aye aye Captain Dar!” We said jokingly.

[ Photo Spot ]

[CAT]: From the upper deck of the ‘Vampire’, we could get a nice photographic view of Darling Harbour and its surrounding structures. Just across was the Wildlife Sydney Zoo and Sea Life Sydney Aquarium. Behind them, we could see the Sydney Tower Eye. Later, we walked out to the back of the ship and was able to take a self-timed family portrait again with the Australian Flag behind us. The weather was so good with the sky so blue.



We spent a little more time on board and was ready to explore the inner sections of the museum.

On the way, we came across a family whose young daughter was garnering all her strength and efforts not to board the ship, crying and throwing tantrums. Poor Daddy of hers trying very hard to convince her to get on board.

We were glad we needn’t do the same with Dar. ^^|

[ More Info ] – Visit the Official ANMM Website

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  1. Jeremy July 25, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Nice review of the museum!

    Too bad you didn’t get to see the James Craig as it’s the oldest ship on display – an original 19th century sailing ship! It was a bit further down the wharf past the ferry wharf.

    1. Vin July 26, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Thanks for the compliments and sharing about James Craig! ^^

  2. Jeremy July 25, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Also I should mention, it is not necessary or even correct to enter the paid area of the station (past the ticket barriers) to reach the light rail. From the Mercure hotel, you should have proceeded at street level (*not* the lower level under the bus platforms), along the outside of the station towards the Intercity (platforms 1-15) area. There is a path through a small park in this vicinity (you are walking roughly parallel to Pitt St). Then, you will be at the level of the light rail platform with no barriers to pass through at all – it is only a 5 minute walk. I’m sorry to hear you got wrong information on this as the light rail should not be hard to reach!

    In fact there are two other light rail stops in Chinatown which may be closer – Capitol Square and Paddy’s Markets.

    1. Vin July 26, 2014 at 9:36 am

      I see, thanks for sharing Jeremy! This info will be useful for travelers heading there!

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