Since moving to Sydney, I’ve become obsessed with a few things: daytime drinking, green smoothies (god help me, I’m a traitor) and harbour walks.
The last one has become like bananas to a monkey. And I’m the monkey.
After finally finishing the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk a few weeks ago (plus writing about it in detail) and being the pest that I am, I dragged my grumbling husband on “another harbour walk”. This time it was Manly to Spit’s shy sister: the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk around Middle Head.
While it may be lesser-known, this 6.5-kilometre, medium difficulty Sydney Harbour walk deserves a standing ovation. Get ready to feast your eyes on a banquet of harbour views and nature at its best, while exploring quiet beaches and beautiful luscious bushland.
Getting to Taronga and back
Getting to Taronga Zoo, where this walk starts, is super easy. You just follow the rascals going to the zoo itself, and then definitely abandon them before going anywhere near the zoo’s line up.
There’s regular ferries running from Wharf 4 at Circular Quay to Taronga Wharf. There are also buses, and depending on the day of the week camels. Actually, I lie, there are no camels. How charming it would be if there were though.
Getting home from Balmoral is a little more complicated and inevitably involves a bus or if you’re really shagged an Uber. Let Transport NSW plan the best bus route for you with their handy Trip Planner tool.
Just be warned: Trip Planner isn’t handy enough to calculate hill ascent. I said to Jude, “It looks like it will be easier for us to get a direct bus from Spit Road”. He nods. We then spent the next 15 minutes walking vertically up a hill the size and slope of Everest.
Where exactly does the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walking trail start?
Ok winding back to the start of the walk, get off the ferry at Taronga Wharf and set out east hugging the harbour, playing eye spy with the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge as you go. Just keep following the signs to Bradley’s Head.
The best bit is Taylors Bay
Well at least this was my favourite nugget. Right next door to Taronga Zoo, peaking through the bushes that are in desperate need of a haircut, is Taylors Bay. With ocean the colour of emeralds, this secluded beach is a little dreamboat. Take the narrow stairs to the beach and you can go for a quick dip to cool and calm down.
Things to see along the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk
This walk is anything but boring. Aside from Taylors Bay, there’s also the heart-breakingly beautiful beach and reserve at Clifton Gardens, Bradley’s Head Amphitheatre with its knock-out view of Sydney Harbour Bridge (mental note taken for New Year’s Eve) and the HMAS Sydney Memorial Mast.
Plus, say hi to a menagerie of possums, blue-tongued lizards and kookaburras along the way.
A Sydney history lesson
Coming from Adelaide where the most defensive fortification you experience is Wang Wang and Funi’s cage at the Adelaide Zoo, the idea of gun pits just baffles my mind. But they’re here in Sydney, particularly along this walk, including a convict-built gun battery at the tip of Bradley’s Head and a number of other historic military sites.
Don’t make a wrong turn after Chowder Bay
Instead of keeping on the pedestrian path that continues to wind its way through Sydney Harbour National Park I somehow navigated us along Chowder Bay Road, which is essentially a one-kilometre car park and not a lot else. The whole time I was horribly confused why the view of native bushland had been replaced with that of BMWs and Bulgattis.
Eventually, we reunited with the path that carves its way through rainforest-type bushland down to Balmoral Oval. Just don’t tell husband Jude I made him walk a kilometre out of the way in the process, nor that we missed Georges Heights Lookout with its views of Sydney Heads, along with the Lower Georges Heights Artists’ Colony.
Balmoral Beach, you beautiful bastard
Finally, after about three hours, you’ll stumble upon Balmoral Beach. You can’t miss it because it’s the size of the moon. There’s also a marina, circular jetty, kayak hire, shark-netted swimming areas and a fricken island here. What doesn’t Balmoral Beach have? Actually, they don’t have camels. No camels here either.
We perfectly timed it so the sun was setting just as we arrived, casting a golden glow over the very cute Balmoral Bathers Pavilion. Actually, who am I kidding? There was no strategic timing, just luck. Either way, it was a ridiculously beautiful way to finish the walk.
Before you set sail, there are a few more things you need to know about walking from Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach:
- Public toilets – finding a bathroom isn’t too difficult (thank gawd). There are public toilets at Bradley’s Head Amphitheatre, Clifton Gardens, Chowder Bay, Balmoral Oval and Balmoral Beach.
- Pack a spider shield – finding a spider also isn’t too difficult (less gawd thank for this one). I assure you, you don’t want to be looking into the trees too closely.
- Hours – because it’s national park, some of the track is closed at night-time. Not that you’d really want to be doing this walk in the dark with all those pesky spiders around.
- Food – there are ample places you can stop for a packed picnic lunch but very few places you can buy food from until you arrive at Balmoral Beach. Burnt Orange and Gunners Barracks do a mean high tea – both a slight detour but acceptably so if you’re desperate for sandwiches and scones.
- Bring your own water – drinking water is hard to get hold of on the walk and a 500ml bottle from Taronga Wharf costs an insulting $4.