To the south of Sydney lies Botany Bay, the place where the British, led by Captain Thomas Cook, first made landfall in 1770. These days the bay is part of the Botany Bay National Park, which also features interesting museums and some stunning natural beauty.Originally the British named the bay Sting Ray Harbour thanks to the rays that congregated in the bay in huge numbers. Within just a couple of days of arriving more than 3000 new species of plant had been discovered and Sting Ray Harbour was re-christened Botany Bay.
The spot where Captain Cook set foot on land, on the southern tip of the bay, is now commemorated as Captain Cook’s Landing Place. There is a monument in the form of a stone needle, and a visitors’ centre where various exhibitions offer insights into the history of Botany Bay. The arrival of Cook had huge repercussions for the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, who were driven from their traditional lands or killed.
On 26 January 1788, 18 years after Cook, the First Fleet arrived from Great Britain. The approximately one thousand voyagers from the 11 ships are seen as the founders of Australia, and established the first British colony. Every year on 26 January the arrival of the First Fleet is celebrated as Australia Day. The whole population has a day off work and throughout the country festivities are held. And that includes Sydney. The programme is different each year, but is traditionally rounded off with a spectacular firework display.
Another voyager of discovery who landed in Botany Bay was the Comte de La Pérouse, just a few days after the First Fleet. His two ships disappeared in a mysterious manner soon after leaving. On the northern tip of Botany Bay is the La Perouse Museum & Visitor Centre that is largely given over to this French explorer and his fleet. The museum has a large collection of maps, navigation instruments and relics salvaged from the shipwrecks of the Lapérouse expedition.
It’s the combination of history and gorgeous nature that makes Botany Bay so attractive to visitors. The National Park is the habitat of many remarkable native plants, dozens of species of bird and a rich underwater world. Not for nothing is it a popular spot for scuba diving. The National Park is also a great place for strolling along the white sand beaches or heading for the viewing platform at Quibray Bay, a top spot for bird watching.