I’m on another Scout “Grey Wolf” bushwalk with four of our 2nd Gordon Cubs, and they’ve selected the walk from Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach. Whilst it’s not the most challenging hike we’ve done, I’m not complaining about a bushwalk along the coast, with lunch at the end…
We start on Bradleys Head Road near Athol Hall, where we have no problem finding a car park. The path goes down past Athol Hall: now a popular venue for functions and weddings, it was originally a private residence called “Athol” that was built by the Ferrier family in 1850, and then converted to a hotel in the 1860s. We then follow the coastline along Bradleys Head, with great views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the Sydney CBD.
Our first (of many) stops is at the end of Bradleys Head, from where there are impressive views across the harbour in almost all directions. At the end of the peninsula is a small amphitheatre with a huge mast, which was the foremast of HMAS Sydney (a light cruiser that was decommissioned in 1929). It was erected at Bradleys Head in 1934 as a memorial for all Australian sailors killed at war.
To the west is the CBD, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. To the south is South Island and the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
We make a short detour down to a small beach near the end of Bradleys Head. It was originally the site of a degaussing range. A sign explains that in WWII, cables were placed around the hull of ships which acted as a demagnetising agent, and provided protection against magnetic mines. A station was built here (of which there are almost no remains) to identify and monitor the ships as they crossed the underwater Degaussing Range, with the station recording the readings of their magnetism.
It’s more of a fishing beach than a swimming beach – although a thin piece of sand between the rocky shore would make a nice spot for a dip in summer.
There’s not much wildlife, as most of the walk is along a thin sliver of bush between the ocean and some expensive real estate. A solitary white-faced heron is on the beach, and on the trail back up a ubiquitous bush turkey is pecking at a discarded box of chicken McNuggets!
We then follow the eastern side of Bradleys Head back up towards Athol Hall, where we started, before continuing around Taylors Bay.
We make another short detour down to Taylors Bay, but the water is lapping over the steps down to the beach. Maybe it’s global warming… or maybe there’s no beach at high tide. We can see a small sheltered beach not far away, but you’d need to wade through the water to get to it.
A bit further along the Taylors Bay track, there’s a sign explaining that two of the Japanese midget submarines which entered Sydney Harbour in May 1942 were sunk in Taylors Bay by depth charges.
The path follows the coastline along Taylors Bay, with water on one side and (very expensive) houses on the other.
At the end of the headland there’s an unmarked track that leads to some rock platforms with views toward Shark Island and Point Piper. It would be a nice spot for a picnic and to avoid the crowds (not that it was busy on a Sunday morning – I was surprised there weren’t a lot more people on the track).
After this short detour it’s not far to Chowder Bay. Just before the path descends to the bay, there’s what seems to be an abandoned and derelict house, in a prime spot overlooking the water. It’s the “Morella Mansion”, an art deco manor built in 1939 by Walter Burley Griffin’s protege Eric Nicholls and featured in Australian Home Beautiful magazine in 1943 due to its striking design. It has been empty and neglected for almost 30 years, after its owner Anthony Parer (from the prominent Parer family) was unable to maintain the property. Following Anthony Parer’s death in 2015, the Morella Mansion became part of a high-profile legal dispute when Parer’s live-in carer Chew Ho Hong successfully contested the will. Claiming she was in a de-facto relationship with Parer, Chew “Chewee” Ho Hong inherited the property, which was finally sold at auction for $6.6m in September 2016.
Chowder Bay, now part of Sydney Harbour National Park, played an important role in the defence of Sydney from the 1890s until 1922. Initially the base for the Submarine Mining Corps, who would attach mines to underwater cables that stretched across the harbour, it then became a depot and barracks for Army engineers in 1922. Now the bay, surrounded by expensive real estate, hosts a picnic area, cafes and restaurants.
From Chowder Bay, Bungaree’s Walkway goes up to the ridge of Georges Heights. It was named after Bungaree, Chief of the Brooken Bay tribe and a significant Aboriginal figure, who in 1815 was put in charge of a program to encourage Aboriginal people to take up farming. The plan failed and in 1821 Bungaree’s farm had been abandoned.
From the end of Bungaree’s Walkway near the Gunners Barracks, which is now a restaurant, it’s a short walk to the prominent headland of Georges Head. Located near the entrance to Port Jackson, Georges Head became a fortified military base soon after the settlement of Sydney Cove in 1788. It remained a restricted-access military reserve until 2002.
As well as the many fortifications that remain in place, there’s sweeping views from Georges Head over Middle Harbour and towards the city.
From Georges Head, the track passes an old military hospital that was used from 1916 to 1923 and past a sculpture, before following the coastline up to Middle Head Road. There’s nice views from the track out to North Head and Watsons Bay on the opposite side.
The last section of the walk is an odd one… it’s timber and steel boardwalk that traverses a protected area. It’s not exactly unpleasant, but there’s a high fence on both sides of the path, with houses on one side and bushland on the other. A gate at both ends of this section is locked at night.
At the of the track is Balmoral Beach, which is also the end of our walk. A sheltered beach, Balmoral has a kiosk and restaurant, and a big grassy area with picnic tables. (But no BBQ facilities – so BYO BBQ if you want to cook anything!).
I reckon in terms of “best Sydney urban coastal walks”, I would recommend Spit to Manly over this one, by a narrow margin. Taronga Zoo to Balmoral is slightly shorter and easier, and offers some spectacular views of Sydney – but you often feel like you’re walking through someone’s backyard.
0.0km Bradleys Head Road carpark 1.0km Bradleys Head amphitheatre 2.8km Taylors Bay 3.5km Rock platforms with views toward Shark Island & Point Piper 4.3km Chowder Bay 5.2km Georges Head 6.8km Balmoral Beach