Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Walk [Guide & Map]
The Taronga to Balmoral Walk in an easy bushwalk from Athol Bay near the wharf at Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach. It follows the northern side of the Sydney Harbour shoreline and we think it is one of the best inner-city “bushwalks’ around.
There is no doubt that Sydney Harbour is one of the most beautiful in the world; and this is my favourite walk in Sydney, it’s the one that I take all my visitors on. Everytime I tread this track I thank those who worked to keep this part of the harbour accessible for all.
Of the 240km of harbour shoreline, over 77km has been reclaimed for public enjoyment.
What you will see on this walk to Balmoral Beach
What makes the Taronga to Balmoral walk unique is that even though the city skyline is just a across the water, you feel like you are miles from any city while walking here.
Throughout the walk, you will come across:
- pristine bushland of Sydney Harbour National Park
- spectacular views of the harbour
- an old Naval Base
- tiny harbour beaches where you can take a swim
- a nude beach or two
- several cafes and restaurants at Chowder Bay
- the Sydney Harbour Marine Institute, where you can learn more about the Harbour
Key Spots on the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk.
This 6km long track which starts just below the zoo wharf will take you about 2 hours to complete 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 for the trip home. Alternatively, jump on a bus near Georges Head or Balmoral to make your way back to civilisation.
Athol Bay Beach and Athol Hall
The first short detour off the walking trail is to one of the harbours best kept secret beaches Athol Beach. This small beach can be reached along a track leading off the main trail. It’s a favourite spot for boaties who often anchor here to have lunch, swim and enjoy the view.
This harbour beach is usually pretty empty and safe if you feel like a quiet swim.
An alternate path will take you up the hill to Athol Hall, a historic building dating from 1908. Initially, it was a private residence that became the Athol Gardens Hotel in the 1860s. For many years it was a popular spot for dances and parties.
These days, NSW Parks and Wildlife owns the hall and operates as a cafe. For many years it was a popular wedding venue. My daughter was married here in 2016, and after recent renovations, it is again open for wedding bookings.
Bradleys Head Amphitheatre
In 1895 the land along this part of the harbour was levelled after being found suitable for coal mining. Thankfully protesters were able to halt the development and save the land for us all to enjoy.
The headland is named after the first lieutenant of the first fleet ship, the HMS Sirius Lieutenant Bradley, a cartographer who mapped much of the colony during his time here.
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 occasionally musical performances.
The rock jetty is a favourite fishing spot and popular for wedding photos because of the perfect city backdrop behind it. In addition, the parkland provides a decent amount of shade for picnicking.
Bradley’s head is 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; the 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 to memorialise 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. The pillar was one of the original from the Sydney General Post Office. When the building was demolished, it was moved here to mark 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 find some Aboriginal engravings of kangaroos near a small stream.
Taylors Bay has a fascinating history; it is 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 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.
Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) have taken over some of the old buildings and inside one is a small museum that highlights the area’s marine life. It also gives a lot of geographic detail on the harbour floor.
We enjoyed the virtual dive simulator that lets you pretend you are chasing fish in Sydney Harbour.
The centre is open to the public one weekend a month, and luckily this coincided with our last visit.
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.
We think it’s hard to beat L’Heritage, a new French restaurant in 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 until it comes to Drift Cafe. Here you can either take a shortcut to Balmoral or continue straight to Middle Head.
The shortcut, known as Bungaree’s Walkway (dedicated to historic indigenous leader Bungaree), leads to Georges Head Lookout. Take the staircase to the cafe’s right and follow it until you see the sign for Gunners Barracks or Georges Heights Lookout.
While the stairs are tough on the knees, they are a cardio workout. The hard work pays off when you reach the top and take in the Georges Heights lookout with its 180-degree views over the harbour and across to Manly, Vaucluse and the city.
During WW2 Italian prisoners of war where housed in huts near this beach.
This 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 to move on, retrace your steps 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 clothing optional if you fancy a swim and do not bring your bathers.
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 leading down to Balmoral Beach.
The prettiest harbour beach in Sydney Harbour, 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 takeaway 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 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 Sydneysiders far and wide discovered the beauty of the area. I am particularly fond of the gorgeous rotunda built in the 1930s
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 need 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 city view.
- 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 its 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 exciting 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.
How to get to Taronga Zoo & the start of the track
The usual place to begin this walk is the Taronga Zoo Ferry Wharf. However, 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.
If you are coming from the south or eastern suburbs, take a ferry from Circular Quay. When you get to the wharf, walk along Athol Wharf Road, heading towards the lower gate of the zoo, the trail begins when you head down the ramp on the harbour side of the street, just past the zoo entrance. From the north, you can take a bus to the top of the zoo and walk down.
This section is officially known as the Bradley’s Head Track and leads to the headland known as Booraghee in the language of the Cadigal.
How to get back to the city from Balmoral Beach
If you want to return to the city by ferry, take the 238 bus from Raglan St to Taronga Wharf. However, it is quicker to take one of the buses directly to town. Alternatively, explore the harbourside suburb of Mosman a little more with the walk by Travel with Joanne.
We think this walk is the perfect addition to any Sydney itinerary, as the natural bushland here gives a great contrast to the busy city centre.
Download our Taronga to Balmoral Beach Map
Click on the markers for more information.
Google has loaded street view for this track so you can see what the terrain is like before you head off.
Need more ideas? Join our Sydney Expert Facebook Group where you can ask questions, stay updated with what’s happening and meet a bunch of friendly locals just waiting to share their advice!
About the author: Paula Morgan, a born-and-bred Sydney resident, has been sharing this city and its secret spots for over 15 years. She’s not just about the iconic landmarks; she’s all about the hidden alleys adorned with street art, and the joy of discovering a new café or a fabulous restaurant tucked away in a corner you never knew existed and weekends away exploring regional NSW.