Sydney Kingsford Smith – Spotting Guide

Sydney Kingsford-Smith is the busiest airport in Australia (handling 42 million passengers in 2016) and the primary hub of Qantas. Located next to Botany Bay it has three runways colloquially known as “east-west”, “north-south” and “third”, though with the addition of the “third” runway the “east-west” runway which crosses the “north-south” is rarely used. The airport is also an important hub for Virgin Australia and Jetstar which both operate out of one of the two domestic terminals (the other is used exclusively by Qantas and its link operations). Across the “north-south” runway lies the International terminal and the cargo apron. The “third runway” lies some distance away from the rest of the facilities being built on reclaimed land from the harbour.

Traffic is largely made up of Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia with the usual mix of major Far Eastern and North American airlines visiting also. In addition executive jets are common and the airline sees several operators of the A380 including Qantas, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. The airport is one of only a few major ports which has a curfew in operation between 11pm and 6am whilst movements are also limited to 80 aircraft an hour.

Written and updated by Bernard Proctor, Noah Mauger, Jeremy Denton, Patrick Weis & Richard Stretton (last update September 2017)

Rating Movements  Visitor Rating
How was your spotting trip? Rate the airport!
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
(11 votes, average: 3.91 out of 5)
Airline Variety
Photo Locations
Airport Informations    Runways 07/25 16L/34R 16R/34L
2.530 m (8.301 ft) 2.438 m (7.999 ft) 3.962 m (12.999 ft)
Terminals Terminal 1/International Terminal 2 Terminal 3
All International carriers Virgin Australia, Tiger Airways, Jetstar, Regional Express, Qantaslink and other small regional carriers Qantas and Qantaslink
Spotting Informations  Ladder Not applicable
Car Recommended but there is also a public transport service to almost every spotting location.
Restrooms Within the terminals or the restaurants/fast food and hotels next to the locations.
Drinks/Food Plenty of Fast Food chains around the airport. Check the map for it.
Season There is no special season but its very hot in the summer and heat haze can be a problem at some positions
Runway Usage  07/25 Almost never used except for some light traffic and when a south-westerly wind is blowing
16L/34R Always in use for aircraft up to 767 size. Aircraft taking off to the north often undertake a dramatic easterly turn away from the airport soon after take-off.
16R/34L Always in use and sees all large widebody traffic as well as a wide range of smaller aircraft

 Spot #1 – Rydges Hotel Conference room
WHERE This spot is located at the top level (Dreamliner Conference room) of the Rydges Hotel Sydney Airport. You have to registered at the hotel reception. Show your passeport and pay the entrance which will coast you 10AUD and includes a free drink.

+++We were told that the platform was closed. They open it from time to time for special spotter events but behind glass. Check their Facebook page for upcoming events. Check Spot #11 as it is a good alternative!+++

WHAT Good for landing, take-off and taxi-way shots of aircraft on runway 16R/34L. Most cargo uses this runway as it parks at adjacent cargo ramp. Long lens shots of portions of the Qantas domestic terminal and the Jetstar pier of T2. Portions of the deck have perspex glass across them making photography annoying as you have to use the few pre-cut holes in the perspex. Alternatively you can position yourself on the stairs to avoid some of the perspex. The view across the rest of the international terminal, which used to be ok, has been severely restricted by new construction rendering the deck a frustrating place from which to view traffic for long periods.
TIME Afternoon shots, from around 1300.
MISC. There are rubbish bins and toilets at this spots. There is also a restaurants and a bar inside, but they’re not cheap.
FOCAL LENGTH From 100mm up to 400mm.

 Spot #2 – Gate 33 International Terminal
WHERE Between gates 31 and 35 on the left side of the left hand pier of the international terminal through security.
WHAT Great views (albeit through often smeary glass) of the traffic on 16R/34L and the taxiways leading to 16L/34R. Photography without obstructions can be taken with care and assuming that gate 33 is unoccupied. Gate 35 is usually used by Qantas/Jetconnect 737-800s which are small enough not to pose much of a problem.
TIME In the afternoons when the sun is not direct and when gate 33 is not in use. Other gates also provide ok views as individual gates do not have their own lounges at the airport.
MISC. Plenty of shops and restaurants in the terminal. This spot is obviously through security.
FOCAL LENGTH 50-300 mm
 Spot #3 – 25 Arrivals and Line up
WHERE The spot is at the Ross Smith Ave, next to the Domestic Terminals. You can park your car here without problems. It is also within walking distance from the terminal.
WHAT This spot gives you the chance to take picutre the most of the time of the day onto the lineup and arrivals depens where you stand at this spot. It’s also possible to take pictures of the planes parked at the General aviation. There are a few spots at the fence to take pictures through. It’s also possible to take some limited nightshots here.
TIME You can use this spot if 25 is in use the whole day.
MISC. A KFC a bit further down the steet or a longer walk to the domestic terminal. A bit shade at some times of the day
FOCAL LENGTH 50-300 mm
 Spot #4 – The Sheps/Tower Mound
WHERE There is a newly constructed offical viewing platform. It is located just next to the airport tower. You can reach this spot if you follow the Ross Smith Ave from spot 1. Park your car directly at the mound. You are on an elevated platform so no ladder is needed.
WHAT This spot is good for all activities on 34L/16R and the taxiing planes from and to 34R/16L. This spot is the best to get nearly all plane activies if the parallel runways are in use.
TIME This spot is good from sunris till 12 a.m.
MISC. You find a fuell station and a Mc Donalds like shown on the map.

 Spot #5 – 16L/34R morning
WHERE This spot is accesable when you follow the Foreshore Rd and make a u-turn at the traffic lights at the boat ramp. Follow the road a bit and turn left the fist possible left turn. Park on the lot and walk a few meters to the overlook.
WHAT This spot is good for alle 16L/34R movements in the morning hours
TIME This spot has a good light from sunrise till 12:00 a.m.
MISC. Just some rubbish bins there. No shaddow!
 Spot #6 – The Beach – 16R/34L
WHERE This spot is a bit tricky as the exit for this spot is on the split up of the M5 into M5 and General Holmes Drive. You have to drive onto the General Holmes Drive and leafe the road on the direktly next exit afther the split up. Drive to the old tower building and run into the street there and you wil be at the popular The Beach position.
WHAT This spot is good for all  activities that happen on the 16R/34L. Just the 16R depatures are a bit tricky as there are some trees blocking the view from the arriving or departing planes and you have to react a bit faster. Be carefull with taking a bath here as there are also shark movements in the water. There is a cage for swimming at spot 7
TIME This spot is good from 1:00 p.m. – sunset
MISC. Only some rubbish bins are located here. Depends where you stay you can have some shaddow.
FOCAL LENGTH 100-400 mm from the carpark/ a wide agle at the fence.

 Spot #7 – Stone wall – 16R/34L
WHERE This spot is located if you follow the General Homes Drive from spot 6 a bit more. Turn the first left afther the bridge and you will see the spot. Park your car just on the site before the traffic barrier.
WHAT This spot is an alternate Spot 6 especially for 16R as you can react a bit earlier, but also for 34L as you are closer to the touchdown point from this spot.
TIME This spot is good from 1:00 p.m. – sunset
MISC. There is a seafood restaurant as shown on the map a couple of minutes away also with some public toilets. No shaddow at the spot!
FOCAL LENGTH 100-500mm

 Spot #8 – Dog Park – 34L Banking shots
WHERE This spot is located on the parking space of the Tempe Golf Driving Range and the Dog Park here.
WHAT This spot is good for Heavy planes taking off 34L if they are banking already
TIME This spot is good from 1:00 p.m. – sunset
MISC. There are some rubbish bins and some shaddow
FOCAL LENGTH 200-400 mm
 Spot #9 – Swamp Road – 16R arrivals afthernoon
WHERE This spot is located next to the Swamp Road behind the IKEA store. You can park your car next to the street and choose the spot you like by walking along the road.
WHAT This spot is good for afthernoon Arrivals for Runway 16R
TIME This spot is good from 1:00 p.m. – sunset
MISC. There are no facilitys. Next restrooms in the IKEA.
FOCAL LENGTH 50-200 mm
 Spot #10 – Domestic Carpark 3 – 34L dep and 25arr/dep
WHERE There is a 10 story carpark on the eastern end of the domestic terminal. Parking is expensive so you can use the public transport on the Mascot Train or Bus 400 to the Terminal and then walk past the Express pick-up area to the carpark.
WHAT Great location especially for heavy departures on runway 34L and 25 arrivals and departures (mainly taxiing shots but you can get the roll as well). This location isn’t suitible for 16R Departures or arrivals.
TIME It’s a great location between 0600 and 1130 for 34L Departures and basically all day for runway 25 arrivals and departures
MISC. There is no facilities at the location itself but there’s a McDonald’s, KFC & Krispy on Ross Smith Avenue, roughly a 500-600 metre walk and will take 10 or so minutes.
FOCAL LENGTH 200mm-300mm for 34L departures
100mm-400mm for 25 Arrivals and Departures

 Spot #11 – International Terminal Staff-Carpark – 34L dep and 25arr/dep
WHERE This location is a replacement of the old Rydges Observation deck which is now rarely open and surrounded by glass. It is just accross from the international terminal and next to the hotel. You can access this staff carpark via public transport or by car parking at the official parking garage but expect some walking as well. You can park your car at/around the Tempe Recreational Reserve for free unless you want to pay for expensive airport parking in the actual carpark.
Via public transport you can get off at the privately owned International Airport station which costs between $15-$30AUD to get off at or walk about 1.5-2km from Wolli Creek station and pay a regular fare. Just follow the T1 International signs and look for the big carpark.
WHAT A 12 Story carpark with an overview of the entire airfield. The only useable shots you can get though are 16R Arrivals/Departures/Taxiing, 34L Departures.
25 Departures and 07 Arrivals are possible too but pretty far and not often in use.
This location is one of the best for elevated photographs in Sydney.
TIME The level 12 carpark is only suitable from 1300 to 2300 for 16R/34L. 07/25 all day.
MISC. There are no facilites at the carpark itself but if you head to the international terminal which is just across you’ll find almost everything and anything you could possibly need whilst shooting aircaft. Food Court, Bathrooms, Power Outlets, Free WiFi, Newsagents etc. It is a staff carpark so if someone approachs you and seems angry or upset just let them know what youre doing and they wont bother you. DO NOT LITTER!
FOCAL LENGTH This location requires quite long focal lengths. 100mm-600mm would be ideal for shooting A380’s to 737’s, anything smaller then an A320/737 and the chances of a useable shot degrade quite rapidly.

Spot #12 -Blue Emu Carpark
WHERE Follow the signs to Blue Emu Long Term carpark near Sheps Mound. You can park there free for an hour then exit and re-enter and it’s free. On Public Transport you can catch the Blue Emu Shuttle Bus from Domestic Terminals 2 and 3.
WHAT This location is a great spot for almost every movement at Sydney Airport. Static shots on Kilo, Taxiing shots, Arrivals etc. Unlike Spot #4 this location is closer to Charlie, has a better perspective of 34L departure and the spot has far less clutter.
TIME 0600-1200 For well lit shots, in summer after 9am heat haze will become a real issu. After sunset you can get nice creative shots with the sunset colours in the background
MISC. You’re shooting through a rusty fence so make sure your lens is betwen the holes in the fence. For Kilo ramp shots (Like A310 shot) you are shooting through the new black barred security fence, I recommend longer focal lengths when shooting throgh them and compensate with a low aperature.
FOCAL LENGTH  20-250mm

Don´t miss our newest guides!

16 thoughts on “Sydney Kingsford Smith – Spotting Guide

  1. Bernhard Jensch

    I will be in Sydney from the 10.09 and somebody can tell me how can find the new Viewing Area.
    Thanks for any infos.

  2. Cristian Balo

    I went today to the Rydges and they told me the spotting area is permanently closed. That from time to time they do an open day which will be advertised on their facebook page.

      1. Charlie

        I think that the rydges may be up, I have not been but the Facebook site has a couple of photos the most recent being July so maybe it is open again? or maybe they had a succession of photo weekends or something?

  3. Jude

    Thank you for such an informative post! I too am new to the scene thanks to my 3yo sons’ passion for planes. I got the ‘plane spotters’ package at Rydges last weekend for a treat and took my Dad along. It was fantastic – I am not sure who enjoyed it the most! The problem is, now I am not sure how to top it! Can you recommend somewhere relatively safe to take a 3yo where he too will have a good view?
    Thanks very much.

  4. DJ

    Hi Mark,

    Brilliant guide, thank you. Im new to spotting and love watching from Swamp Rd. I had a newbie question, how can you tell which way the planes will be taking off/landing on any given day? I know this is likely dependent on wind but would like to know if there is a way to check before I leave home so I can alternate days at Swamp Rd when they are landing from the west as opposed to the east as the last few times I’ve been it’s always been landing from the east.


  5. Marcel Hohl

    Some changes at SYD with Runway usage:

    16L/34R are now used up to B777 . Also New Zealand, United, Vietnam, Xiamen, CEBU and all Pacific Island Traffic are often on this runway.
    07/25 is often in use when wind from East or West and traffic is low for Landing up to B747 also the Freighter. On Weekends with low traffic saw all Day arrivals RWY 07 with SE winds.

  6. Mark Taylor

    Thanks for great information. Please note that Location # 1 is now closed. Excellent new location opened on top floor of new Rydges Hotel (cost is $10, which includes a drink voucher). Please let me know if you need more information.

    1. John johnston

      I will be visiting Australia in March of this year. I thought I might visit Sydney for a couple of days. How good is the Rydges hotel? Do you know if residents have access all the time for10 dollars. Is the sun behind you all day or just part of the day?


      John johnston

      1. Mark Taylor

        Hi John

        Apologies I missed your post, but for others who are interested, Rydges is good from midday until sunset with views over main runway 16R/34L. You could also get departure shots if using runway 07. I think that those staying at the hotel could access the viewing balcony for nothing. Access availability is usually posted on the hotel’s FB page and is subject to conferences and others using this part of the hotel


    2. Benrhard Jensch

      Hi Mark,
      i am plan to visit Australia and i look as much for information to Spot in Australia.
      I want to visit Perth, Cairns and i am looking another Airport which is good Austrailan traffic but nobody go to this airports.
      Kind regards

      1. Mark Taylor

        Hi Bernhard

        Perth now has an observation deck available for spotting/photography. Cairns has some good locations but you would need a car/taxi to access. Have a look here:

        I suggest #5 for the afternoon as it gives good shots from above the airport with the ocean behind the aircraft.

        For another airport I would suggest Melbourne or Brisbane as both have photo sites on the perimiter

        Let me know if you need more info.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *