The Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach Walk via Middle Head is one of Sydney’s most beautiful and scenic coastal walks. The walk hugs the coastline and goes through Sydney Harbour National Park, providing you with stunning views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House before ending at the iconic Balmoral Beach. Along the way you’ll pass lots of historic military sites from WWII, secluded beaches and plenty of bush that will make you feel miles away from the busy city! Taronga to Balmoral is an easy coastal walk and makes for a great day out: here’s all you need to know about the walk!
Sydney’s coastal walks are some of my favourite in the world and it is fair to say every weekend I will get out and do a different coastal walk around the city. The Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk is one of my favourite as it is a lot quieter than the more famous Spit to Manly or Bondi to Coogee walks, yet in my opinion the views are far better! The beaches here are secluded and less crowded (some are even completely empty!!) and the harbour views are just fantastic. Plus you get to wander past some rather spectacular houses!
Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk info:
Length of walk: 11 km if you do the complete walk around Middle Head. 6.5 km if you skip Middle Head.
Time to walk: set apart several hours for the hike
Area of Sydney: Mosman
Apps to make your journey easier: Transport NSW + maps.me
Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach Walk
The Taronga to Balmoral Beach walk is situated in the upmarket suburb of Mosman, located on the north shore of Sydney Harbour. You can either do the walk from Taronga to Balmoral or vice versa. This article is from Taronga Zoo to Balmoral, but just start from the bottom of the article and work your way up if you plan to walk from Balmoral to Taronga.
The walk is fairly easy to follow, just continue walking east with the harbour on your right hand side. There are maps along the way, but I always advise to have an offline maps downloaded on your phone, so you can check at any time where you are.
How to get to Taronga Zoo Wharf
If you are driving I suggest you park at Balmoral Beach, get the 238 bus to Taronga Zoo Wharf, do the walk and then you can drive straight back home from Balmoral as your car will be there at the end of the walk ready for you. Parking is paid if you park directly by the beach, but if you park a few hundred metres away you will find many free parking spots.
Public transport: ferry/bus
It is very easy to get to Taronga Zoo Wharf on public transport – you can either get the ferry to Taronga Wharf (next to the Zoo) from Circular Quay wharf 4 or you can get the 238 bus from Balmoral Beach. The bus cuts through the residential streets and you’ll be able to get a peek at some of Sydney’s finest houses. Remember if you plan to travel on public transport in Sydney you will need a pre-paid transport card (Opal card). Click here to see the 238 timetable and bus route.
When you get off the bus/ferry, just follow Bradleys Head Road east (keep the harbour on your right) and you will shortly get to the historic lower entrance of Taronga Zoo – Australia’s largest zoo. The lower entrance of Taronga Zoo is officially where the walk starts. Continue the walk along the waterfront on Bradleys Head walking track and keep following signs for Bradley’s Head.
The first beach you’ll come to is Athol Beach. This beach has a really nice view and is near to Athol Hall, a popular wedding and events centre. You may even see wedding shoots taking place on the beach.
At the end of Bradleys Head peninsula there are stunning almost 360 degree harbour views (perfect for New Years Eve!) looking out across to Elizabeth Bay, Potts Point and the CBD to the right, and out towards the Eastern Suburbs on your left. Here at Bradleys Head there is also a gun battery, the HMAS Sydney Mast (in memory of all the Australian sailors who died at war) and a small amphitheatre. There are actually lots of military historic sites along the Taronga to Balmoral walk as this was a vital place to protect Sydney Harbour from foreign boats and attack during WWII.
Continuing the walk will lead you onto Taylor’s Bay track and within a few minutes you’ll be within Sydney Harbour National Park. It gets quite bushy here (although there is still a well defined footpath) and you’ll be able to spot some native wildlife. Please note NO dogs are allowed in Sydney Harbour National Park (or any National Park in Australia). It is a $3,300 fine if you are caught, plus you definitely don’t want to risk bringing your dog here as there is often fox poison spread around the National Parks which is lethal for dogs. Sydney Harbour National Park also makes up part of the Bondi to Manly walk.
Continue along Taylor’s Bay track, past the beautiful Taylor’s Bay beach (see below left) and you will end up in Chowder Bay (see below right), also known as Clifton Gardens Reserve. This is a nice beach with a jetty and a shark netted swimming area for people to swim in (as sharks often come into Sydney Harbour!). Dogs can go on the beach too in the un-netted area.
Continue the walk along Chowder Bay Road until you get to George’s Head lookout. Here you’ll see the old gun placements and enjoy stunning views out across the harbour.
If you want to do a shorter walk and take a short cut to get directly to Balmoral, from George’s Head you can cut across the barracks up Suakin Drive to George’s Heights. Turn right at Best Avenue and you will arrive at the George’s Heights Artist’s Colony. Here you will find lots of artist studios you can visit (see below left), as well as a nice cafe – Frenchy’s Cafe and several WWII historic gun placements.
Then turn right back onto Middle Head Road and carry on down the road for a couple of hundred metres until you see a bushy path on your left. Head down the path that will take you down a lot of stairs and through what seems like a mini rainforest. From here you will reach Balmoral Oval and then Balmoral Beach. If you are unable to take the stairs (or they are closed as the stairs get locked in the evening) you can get to Balmoral Beach by criss crossing around the residential streets to the bottom of the hill – see the map below for an overview.
If you chose against the short cut and want to do the full walk and explore Middle Head, carry on walking down Chowder Bay Road. The views will be slightly obstructed by the bush but after a few hundred metres you will see a sign for Obelisk Beach on your right (named so as there is actually a big white obelisk above the beach). A big flight of stone stairs will take you down to the beach.
Although much to my disappointment Obelisk Beach is a nudist beach. I say this because the beach is incredibly beautiful but there were lots of old naked people everywhere on the beach which made me feel awkward. I am certainly not used to nudist beaches and they make me feel a bit uncomfortable so I didn’t stay for more than a few seconds despite the beach being so gorgeous.
If it would have been empty I would have sat here for a while but seeing old wrinkly winkies is just not my thing. Obviously photography is not allowed on nudist beaches, but I did manage to get this picture before I got onto the beach so nobody was in my picture.
Carry on down Chowder Bay Road to the roundabout at Middle Head. Just before the roundabout is a small car park on your right – go through the car park and you’ll see a footpath in front of you. A 5 minute walk down the path will lead you to the 1801 Fort. This is a nice quiet place to sit and relax. There are glorious views and you can also see the obelisk on Obelisk Beach from here (but thankfully not the naked people).
Head back up the same footpath towards the car park and then you’ll see another footpath on your right leading to Inner Middle Head Battery, where you will find some other Old Forts dating back from Victorian times and gun pits. There is lots of green space for you to sit and relax and enjoy the views across to Manly and Wilson’s Point. There are also public toilets here if you need.
I wondered why the car park at Middle Head by the public toilets and the Sergent Major’s Quarters was so busy. I literally couldn’t see a soul in sight. Then I headed down the fairly steep Cobblers Beach Road (a cobbley path) for a few minutes until I got to Cobblers Beach. That was when I realised where all the people were. Here on Cobblers Beach which is another nudist beach. I literally couldn’t get over the amount of people here. One retired man tried to convince me to join them and get naked but I made a swift escape! Again, a stunning beach but the naked crowds put me off sadly.
Head back up the hill from Cobblers Beach, turn right and then you’ll come to the navy grounds of HMAS Penguin. Cross the roundabout and after about 350 metres you will come to a bush path on your right. Go down here: there are lots of stairs that take you down to Balmoral Beach. These are actually the same stairs that the people who took the shortcut took. Note these stairs are only open during daylight hours. If they are closed you will need to walk around on the residential streets.
Balmoral Beach is absolutely beautiful and reminds me of the local beach in Palermo, Sicily (Mondello Beach).
It has such a nice lively Mediterranean vibe with it’s beautiful white sand, wide promenade, and nearby restaurants including The Boat House (like in Palm Beach, Shelly Beach by Manly Beach).
Balmoral Beach is very large beach overlooking Middle Harbour and there is a lovely marina here where you can hire kayaks and SUPS should you wish. You’ll also see the jetty, the netted swimming area known as the Balmoral Net Pool or Balmoral Baths to protect from sharks, and even a little island! Just over halfway down the beach you’ll see the Rocky Point Island where you can walk across on and enjoy views back onto the beach. The island technically separates Balmoral Beach from Edwards Beach, although most people call both of the beaches Balmoral Beach.
The iconic beachside Bathers’ Pavilion, a modern cafe and restaurant set in a stunningly elegant 1920’s grand heritage building provides stunning views over Balmoral Beach and is another great place to treat yourself after the walk.
How to get back from Balmoral
It is a little more complicated to get to/from Balmoral than it is from Taronga Zoo. There is no ferry service from Balmoral, nor are there trains on the Northern Beaches so bus, Uber or car is your only option from Balmoral. As I suggested, if you are driving by car, leave your car at Balmoral.
If you are want to get back to Circular Quay take the 238 bus from Balmoral Beach to Taronga Zoo wharf and take the ferry from there. If you don’t want to go back to Circular Quay it is best to download the Transport NSW app to help you find the best way to get home. You can also access their journey planner online here, which will tell you how long the journey will take and how much it will cost.
Note that if you want to get a bus back from Spit Junction, you will need to walk up a steep ascent for about 10-15 minutes from Balmoral until you get to the bus stop!
Important information for the Taronga to Balmoral walk:
Ticks are very common on bush walks in the Sydney area and it is important to be aware of them. Ticks are brown, have 8 legs and can grow up to 1cm long. They are found in the bush and in the trees and can get onto your skin and bury themselves into your skin. If this happens you will need to get them removed.
To avoid coming into contact with ticks, most people go walking in long clothes (eg: a shirt/leggings) to cover their skin and wear a hat, to protect their head if ticks fall off the bush and onto them.
Note that dogs are not allowed in National Parks in Australia. The reason for this is two-fold: to protect the native wildlife and also because often fox poison is spread around National Parks and this is fatal for dogs if they consume it.
The Taronga to Balmoral walk goes through Sydney Harbour National Park so you will not be able to bring your dog on the walk.
What to bring on the Taronga to Balmoral Walk
- water. Halfway through the walk at Clifton Gardens wharf you can find a free water refill station.
- suncream – there isn’t much shade and the sun in Sydney is very strong!
- good walking shoes – it is a long walk!
Historic military sites on the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk
You will find lots of artillery placements, gun pits and watch towers dating back from WWII. In order from Taronga to Balmoral:
- HMAS Sydney Memorial (Bradleys Head)
- George’s Head
- Artist’s Quarter
- Inner Middle Head Battery
- HMAS Penguin Military Base (not accessible to the public)
Public toilets on the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk
Luckily there are several public toilets along the way:
- By HMAS Sydney Memorial (Bradleys Head)
- Clifton Gardens Reserve (Chowder Bay)
- On the start of Chowder Bay Road (the side nearest Chowder Bay)
- At Artist’s Colony
- By the roundabout at Middle Head by HMAS Penguin
- On the corner of Old Fort Road by the Inner Middle Head Battery
- Balmoral Oval
- Balmoral Beach
When is the best time to do the Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach walk?
As the walk goes through Sydney Harbour National Park and there is no lighting inside the park, make sure you aren’t doing the walk when it gets dark. Personally I always take a lot longer than the recommended time to hike as I like to sit down, enjoy the view, relax and take some pictures along the way. Therefore always make sure to set off early and calculate roughly how long it will take you so you won’t finish the walk in the dark. Also parts of the walk are closed after dark such as the stairs down to Balmoral.
Food along the Taronga to Balmoral walk
There aren’t many places you can stop at to buy food along the walk so I definitely recommend you to bring some food/snacks and a drink with you for the long hike! This way you can stop at any time that is convenient for you as there are many lovely spots you can sit and enjoy a picnic on this hike. It is a long walk with not that much shade so make sure you will stay hydrated especially if it is a sunny day.
Around Middle Head there is The Burnt Orange restaurant that does good food, and of course at Balmoral Beach there are lots of options. Prior to this options for buying food is extremely limited. There is a vending machine at Taronga Zoo wharf but it is quite expensive.
Extending the walk from Sirius Cove
If you want to make the walk longer you can also start the walk from before Taronga Zoo at Sirius Cove which is an absolutely beautiful place. To get to Sirius Cove if coming from Mosman Junction on Military Road, head down Raglan Street for about 10 minutes then turn left onto Illawarra Street. You’ll see signs for Taronga Zoo as you turn into Illawarra Street. See the Google maps image below for the route from Sirius Cove beach to Taronga Zoo.
Head down the steps and you’ll come to Curlew Camp Road. Turn right (south) and walk up Curlew Camp Walk and onto Curraghbeena Road – you’ll get a great viewpoint of Little Sirius Bay from here with all the boats. Head back down the way you came and then down the stairs to Little Sirius Bay. This is a really lovely little cove and is actually an off leash dog beach, except on weekends between 9am to 4pm when dogs should be kept on a leash.
Follow the path east around the bay. As you continue walking east you’ll see incredible views of the Harbour Bridge, the CBD and Opera House from between the trees. On your right you’ll then see a sign for Curlew Camp Viewpoint, but the views you will have just seen through the trees higher up are much better than at this viewpoint, so you can skip walking the 130 metres to the viewpoint if you prefer. Here at Curlew Camp was where lots of artists settled in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s.
The next viewpoint along is known as Doz’s Viewpoint and whilst the view is nice it isn’t great as the CBD and Harbour Bridge and Opera House are obscured by Cremorne Point.
Just past Doz’s viewpoint you’ll find Whiting Beach. Go down the stairs to this beautiful beach, but make sure on the beach you are wearing shoes as there is a sign here that says glass and syringes are sometimes washed onto beach so please be careful. Then from here the next stop will be Taronga Zoo Wharf – the start of the walk.
Other great Sydney Coastal Walks
Sydneysiders love going for long harbour walks.
Along with the Taronga to Balmoral Walk, other popular walks in Sydney include the Spit Bridge to Manly walk, Cremorne Point, Bondi to Coogee and the Watson’s Bay coastal walks.
If you’re up for an iconic beach walk, The Bloody Long Walk goes all along the Northern Beaches from Palm Beach to Manly Beach. This is an impressive 35km long walk but with incredible views and stunning rugged beaches.
Alternatively you can do the ultimate in Sydney walks: the Bondi to Manly walk! This is a 80km walk connecting existing Harbourside and coastal walk routes. Many people choose to break up the walk in several sections and complete it in a number of days (often 8 days of walking 10k per day). Or for a shorter version of the Bondi to Manly walk you can get on the ferry at several different points to cross the harbour to continue the walk. The Taronga to Balmoral Walk makes up a section of the Bondi to Manly walk and you’ll see signs marking out the B2M walk.
If you have exhausted the Sydney coastal walks and are keen for more walks around Sydney, why not head up to the Blue Mountains for a day? The walk to Hanging Rock is 12km return and you are rewarded with stunning views!
When I first moved to Sydney I never really understood why the locals loved this city so much. It took ages to get anywhere and everything was expensive. I was living in Sydney’s inner-west. That was my problem right there. I wasn’t living on the beach or the harbour! When I moved to the Northern Beaches a few weeks later (first Newport and then Mosman) and was spoilt for choice with the amount of stunning coastal walks and sheer variety of beaches nearby I finally understood why so many people love living in Sydney. Now the coastal walks are a must do for me every weekend, I just love them and I hope you will enjoy them too!
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