The last week I was in Sydney, the SS Ayrfield had an internet moment. For whatever reason, it was suddenly everywhere: compiled onto lists of cool abandoned things, showing up in awesome pictures, and being touted as a something you must see before you die.
It's rare that I'm somewhere when something is actually happening/capturing the collective conscience. So, I decided to seek it out and see it for myself. Which is where I ran into a bit of a problem. While plenty of people seemed to have found it (with photos galore as proof), no one mentioned how to get there. After some trial and error (and some pestering of the very patient staff at the hostel), I figured it out. And I want to share the fruits of my knowledge with you!
For those that managed to avoid the hype, the SS Ayrfield was a steam collier built in the UK in 1911. It was registered in Sydney in 1912 and during both world wars it transported supplies to American troops in the South Pacific. In the early 70s, it was sent to Homebush Bay, a boat breaker yard in west Sydney on the Parramatta River. At this point, the usable parts of the ship were taken, everything else was scraped, and the hull was left to rot in the bay.
The SS Ayrfield would have been just one more slowly disintegrating hunk of metal, except that nature had other plans. The mangroves near the rusted out hull decided to expand.
Two views of the SS Ayrfield
And this rotting husk became a floating forest of mangroves, in spite of the polluted waters.
So how do you get there?
There are a lot of public transportation options to get to Homebush Bay; it's near Olympic Park, so there would have to be. The buses and trains have stops there, but I took the ferry from Circular Quay (you can also get it from Darling Harbor). Unfortunately, I don't know what a ticket would cost you to get there and back, because I had purchased a weekly pass for $61 - which got me all the way to the Blue Mountains and points beyond, and included unlimited train, subway, bus, and ferry rides. Totally worth it if you're going to be using a lot of public transportation. It will not get you to the airport, as there's an additional fee for that (I found out the hard way).
Beautiful Homebush Bay
From the ferry landing, walk along the sidewalk or bike trail into town, about a kilometer. When you see a sign for restaurants along the waterfront, turn left and follow that street to the waterfront (maybe four blocks? six? I honestly can't remember - but there's really nothing else to be heading towards, trust me). From there you'll be looking out over the bay. The Ayrfield, and a few other wrecks, are to your right. You can follow the path as it hugs the shore around and get quite close.
Is it worth it?
That's hard to say. Truthfully, it's not that impressive in person. Take away the dramatic lighting of sunrise and sunset and a zoom lens, and you've basically traveled an hour to see a dozen trees crammed into a rusting hulk.
Here's what you should know: it's definitely further afield than almost any "touristy" thing in Sydney and it will take at least an hour to get there. While public transportation will take you to the general area, none drops you off directly at the Ayrfield. You're either walking from the ferry landing or the bus stop, probably a kilometer or more. While the terrain is flat, the sidewalk wasn't always smooth, but the bike path appeared to be. So people with mobility issues might have trouble.
There also isn't much else to do in the area. Like I said before, the restaurants on the waterfront just weren't . I wandered around the streets and did find a coffee shop that was open (and had a bathroom!) but that was it. If you take the bus, I think it drops you off near Olympic Stadium and there should be restaurants and signs of life in that general vicinity. Since I didn't go that route, I can't really speak to it.
I enjoyed my adventure and getting out of Sydney proper (and pretending to be the lone survivor in a post apocalyptic world), but it might not be for everyone.