This easy bushwalk from Athol Bay at Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach follows the northern side of the harbour shoreline. With pristine bushland, tiny harbour beaches, an old naval base and several fantastic lookouts this is the perfect walk for anyone need a bit of time in the great outdoors.
There is no doubt that Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world however what makes it even more special is that so much of the shore is publically accessible. Of the 240km of harbour shoreline over 77km has been reclaimed and is publically accessible. This section of track between Taronga Zoo Wharf and Balmoral Beach is one of the best inner city “bushwalks’ around. What makes it really special is that even though the city skyline is just a couple of kilometres away you feel like you are miles from any city once you are on the track.
- How to get to Taronga Zoo and the start of the track
- Key Spots on the Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk.
- Where to eat along the way
How to get to Taronga Zoo and the start of the track
The usual place to begin this walk is from the pier at Taronga Zoo. If you have a little more energy or want to make it a full day walk, you can start at Cremorne Point and follow the track to Taronga Wharf. When you get to the wharf walk along the Athol Wharf road heading towards the lower gate to the zoo, the trail begins when you head down the ramp on the harbour side of the street, just past the entrance of the zoo. This section is officially known as the Bradley’s Head Track and leads to the headland known as Booraghee in the local indigenous language.
Key Spots on the Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk.
This 6km long track will take you about 2 hours if you do it at an average pace. You can also choose to finish the walk at the 4km point at Chowder Bay and backtrack to the wharf to return home or jump on a bus near Georges Head back to civilisation.
Athol Bay Beach and Athol Hall
The first detour off the track is to one of the harbours best kept secret beaches Athol Beach. The beach is reached from a small track that leads off the main walkway. It’s a favourite spot for boaties that anchor here and enjoy the view. This beach is usually pretty empty if you feel like a quiet swim.
Athol Hall, built in 1908, originally a private residence stood on this spot which went on to become the Athol Gardens Hotel in the 1860s. For many years it was a popular spot for dances and parties. These days it is owned by NSW Parks and Wildlife and operates as a cafe and for many years was a popular wedding venue. My daughter was married here in 2016, and after recent renovations, it is again open for wedding bookings.
In 1895 the land along this part of the harbour was cleared and levelled after being found suitable for coal mining. Thankfully protesters were able to halt the development and saved the land for us all to enjoy today.
The headland is named after the first lieutenant of the first fleet ship the HMS Sirius Lieutenant Bradley who was a cartographer and mapped much of the colony during his time here.
Bradleys Head Amphitheatre
The amphitheatre was built after the film Mission Impossible 2 used the site for a stunt involving Tom Cruise rescuing a hostage. These days it hosts weddings and occasional musical performances. The rock jetty is a favourite fishing spot and also popular for weddings because of the perfect city backdrop that sits behind it. The parkland provides a decent amount of shade for picnicking.
Bradley’s head is also a great spot to watch the sunset and only a short walk back to the zoo wharf at dusk so you can make it back before dark.
Walk on, and you will find a lighthouse at the point and some old military fortifications to explore, most significant is the mast of HMAS Sydney which you will find in the park at the headland. The HMAS Sydney battled the German ship Emden in 1914 and was erected in 1934 as a memorial to all Australian sailors killed in the war.
One last oddity before we move on. Look out into the water just before the lighthouse, and you will see a Doric-style column sticking up out of the water. This was one of the pillars of the original Sydney General Post Office that was moved here when the building was torn down. It marks one nautical mile to Fort Denison.
Continue on the track which is now called Taylor’s Bay Track to surprise surprise, Taylor’s Bay!
This track is bordered by a narrow strip of harbourside rainforest lined with Sydney Red Gums, and at times the scrub becomes quite thick. It’s very hard to believe you are just a few kilometres away from the busy city streets.
If you go exploring here, you may be able to find some Aboriginal engravings of kangaroos near a small stream.
Taylors Bay has a fascinating history; it is the site where 3 Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour during WW2 and fired a torpedo at HMAS Kuttabul killing 21 sailors. One of three subs was blown up by its crew when it became caught in the netting that was installed to protect the harbour from submarine attack. The other two submarines escaped.
Chowder Bay and Clifton Gardens
In the 1830s a whaling station was established in Mosman at what is now called Chowder Bay. The bay got its name from the American whalers who made chowder from their catch while they were based here. By the 1890s whaling had ceased and a base was built for the Submarine Mining Corps.
The bay provides a fantastic view of the harbour traffic and the water off the bay is the starting point of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
These days the old buildings have been taken over by the Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS).
The centre is open to the public one weekend a month and luckily this combined with our last visit. There is a small museum that highlights the marine life of the area and also gives geographic We really enjoyed the virtual dive simulator that lets you pretend you are chasing fish in Sydney Harbour.
From here it’s decision time. If you have some energy left you can continue to Balmoral; it’s about another 2km or 40 mins walk. In my opinion, Balmoral is one of the most beautiful harbour beaches.
If it’s time to stop, I suggest you check out one of the many cafes mentioned at the bottom of this post before catching the 244 bus back to Wynyard Station. The bus leaves from outside Drift Cafe on Chowder Bay Road.
Georges Heights lookout and Headland Park
If you are still with me, you need to walk up the stairs behind the buildings at Chowder Bay and continue along the road to until it comes to Drift Cafe. Here you can either take a shortcut around to Balmoral or continue straight to Middle Head. The shortcut, known as Bungaree Walkway (dedicated to historic indigenous leader Bungaree) leads up to Georges Head Lookout. Take the staircase to the right of the cafe and follow it until you see the sign for Gunners Barracks or Georges Heights Lookout. The lookout offers 180-degree views over the harbour and across to Manly, Vaucluse and to the city.
This whole area is part of Headlands Park. Along with the lookout, there is also an artists village to explore here if you have time. When you are ready, retrace your steps back to the main track and follow it until it comes out on Middle Head Road. Cross the road and head down the staircase to Balmoral Beach.
The alternate route continues along Chowder Bay Road and past Obelisk Beach, which is a clothing optional if you fancy a swim and did not bring your bathers. During WW2 Italian prisoners of war where housed in huts near this beach. Head to the right and continue to Middle Head before you retrace your steps and walk up a steep Middle Head Road. Keep walking until you come to a long metal staircase heading down to Balmoral Beach.
The prettiest harbour beach in Sydney Balmoral offers its visitors calm, clear waters, a lovely shaded park, excellent harbour views from Rocky Point and lots of food options from fine dining, great take away fish and chips. I suggest grabbing some seafood and salad and heading to Rocky Point or the shaded area by the beach for a picnic. The potato scallops are too good, we usually try to balance them out with some healthy seafood salad and fresh prawns so we don’t feel quite so guilty!
Balmoral is named after a castle in Scotland and in the 1880s was home to an artists camp. In the early 1920s, a ferry started to bring daytrippers to the area and shortly after a tram line opened and the beauty of the area was discovered by the masses. I am particularly fond of the gorgeous rotunda above built in the 1930s and home to the Shakespeare Bard on the Beach festival each year.
These days while still incredibly popular with locals and those in the know, the area does not attract anywhere near the number of tourists as Bondi or Manly and is perfect if you want to get a little off the beaten track.
Where to eat along the way
- Athol Hall Cafe – If you are in need of coffee or something to eat before you get too far into the walk Athol Hall is your best bet. My daughter had her wedding reception here; it’s a charming little hall with a fantastic view over the city.
- Special breakfast or lunch try Ripples.
- East Coast Cafe – If you want to surprise your partner with a picnic you can order one to take away. They include a blanket and wine! Book 48 hrs in advance. The dine-in menu has a bit of a Spanish flavour.
- Gunners Barracks – A very popular cafe best known for their high tea with a view. Best to make reservations here, especially to get a table with a view.
- Burnt Orange – From healthy delicious breakfast to high tea and interesting lunch options the menu here always leaves me wanting to order way too much.
- Bottom of the Habour Fish and Chips – if all these water views have you craving seafood head across the road from the beach at Balmoral for some first-class fish and chips.
- The Boathouse at Balmoral Beach – upmarket salads and burgers by the water.
- Bathers Kiosk – grab a snack and sit under the gorgeous tree below taking in the view.
How to get back to the city
If you want to return to the city by ferry then take the 238 bus from Raglan St back to Taronga Wharf. It is quicker to take one of the buses directly to the city. Alternatively, jump on the free Mosman Rider and explore the harbourside suburb of Mosman a little more with the walk by Travel with Joanne.
You can download a free app from NSW National Parks which offers commentary on various spots along the route.
Google has also loaded street view for this track so you can see what the terrain is like before you head off.
Download a guide to Headlands Park which includes a map and lots of background information.
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