Once a “North Shore girl”, my discoveries have mostly been suburbs other than on Sydney’s north side. It’s about time my focus turned north so I’m on the ferry to Mosman. Where I’ve chosen to discover Mosman differently by taking a harbourside walk.
Background to Mosman
First a little background. When in 1997, the government gazetted Mosman as the only suburb in the municipality of Mosman, Council decided that residents could continue using locality names. Hence my Mosman discovery includes places like Clifton Gardens, Georges Heights and even Balmoral.
The ferry pulls in at Taronga Zoo, the main tourist attraction for Mosman. The wheels of the Taronga Zoo Cable Car are slowly starting to turn while a bus awaits passengers destined for Balmoral Beach.
Mosman Harbourside Walk
As I’m walking to Balmoral, I turn right onto the bush track. Gentle waves lap the shore. The harbour is busy with all manner of water craft: ferries, jet boats doing “wheelies” eliciting screams from their passengers, and a quieter paddle boarder slowly gliding along.
Looking back towards the city, the bush frames the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Why would you live anywhere else? Just off the path is Athol Hall, a weatherboard building atop a sandstone base. Inside, three round tables are set with white table cloths and wine glasses ready for a function.
The well posted track is within the Sydney Harbour National Park. Colourful signs, illustrated by children identify the fauna and flora that make the Park their home. I read about how dogs and foxes are a problem, about little Bentwing bats, frogs, possums and local birdlife.
If you are scared of snakes you might not want to read about the four types of snakes that live here. However, with so many people walking, running or ambling along the track a snake sighting is unlikely.
There must have been a fire. Fresh new green growth reaches up through burnt undergrowth. On the shore below, fishing lines stretch out from two rods, one bobbing at the tip. A man in a yellow t-shirt walks out from the shadows to check. Nothing this time.
Bradley’s Head Amphitheatre
At Bradley’s Head the views to the city are impressive. A child plays on the amphitheatre seating while two men fish off the end of a concrete jetty. While they haven’t caught much this morning, they point out the puffer fish below.
Then one points out a fairy penguin diving beneath the water. This is an unexpected treat and I watch for a few minutes until the scene is broken by four small red two-man speed boats racing past. They slow and stop. It’s a guided self-driven boat tour. What will people think up next?
A Doric column stands alone on a rocky outcrop. One of six from the original GPO built in George Street in 1847, it was moved to Bradley’s Head in 1871 marking one nautical mile from the centre of the Fort Denison tower.
The mast of HMAS Sydney is another interesting find. Erected in 1934, it is a permanent memorial to the four Australians who died in the Battle of Cocos (HMAS Sydney- SMS Emden action) on 9th November 1914.
The Manly ferry ploughs through the harbour waters as a helicopter drones above me. And then, I hear them before I see them. A group of women in pink t-shirts walk swiftly around the corner towards me. I step aside to let them past. Some greet me, others say thanks while one or two continue on deep in conversation.
Deep in thought about a wattle in flower (this isn’t season for wattle is it?), something out of place pulls me up short. What are those yellow bikes doing here?
A large water dragon remains stock still as I walk past. He watches me with a beady eye thinking that if he doesn’t move, I won’t see him.
Abandoned Mosman Mansion
A sandstone house with Corinthian columns looms large behind a metal fence. Boarded up, tagged with graffiti and bushes growing from the roof I wonder what secrets it holds. Later, I read that the Mosman mansion “Morella” was built in 1939 and has been abandoned for many years.
Chowder bay (named for the Chowder cooked from local seafood by whalers in the area) is around the corner. The Submarine Mining Corps was once stationed here. At the end of the jetty the fishermen seem to be grouped on ethnic grounds – those of European origin together on one side and the rest on another walkway.
Once called Bacino Kiosk
The kiosk, once called Bacino, has had name change. Now called Drift Café, the service is friendly, the food is simple and the coffee good. Confusingly this is actually the kiosk. The café of the same name, at building No. 2 Chowder Bay Road, has a more complex menu.
While enjoying my coffee, the pink shirted women pound past again, still talking. They are on the return trip of their training walk maintaining a fast pace. I on the other hand take my time, observing and enjoying my surroundings.
Nearby the new SIMS (Sydney Institute of Marine Science) Discovery Centre is closed. You need to contact them for opening times.
Wetsuits hang on a rail to dry in the Chowder Bay Boatshed. There is no sign of the traditional boat building and restoration that a sign claims happens here. Instead there’s a strong fishy smell in the air.
Ripples and Gunners Barracks
A set of stairs takes me past Ripples Restaurant and Gunners Barracks. The barracks were built into the sandstone cliff to avoid detection.
At Georges Head, I chuckle on reading a plaque commemorating the opening of the lookout. It was opened by Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott when they were ministers for the Environment and Water Resources and Health and Aging respectively. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.
From there, the Norfolk pines on Manly Esplanade are clearly visible, and continuing to my right I look through the heads to the ocean and then across to the city. It is an amazing view on a clear day.
After another series of steps, I catch my breath and cross Middle Head Road where I start the descent down hundreds of steps hoping that this is the correct route. A young man laughs at my question and says that he “hopes they go to Balmoral as it’s a long way back up”. Finally, a group coming up put my mind at rest.
Descending into Balmoral Park memories of finishing the 50km Coastrek one long February day a few years ago come flooding back. I’m a lot less tired today. Near parked cars behind Balmoral Beach, a woman dressed in black pants and a smart jacket gives directions to someone on the phone. Her neatly sculpted beehive hairdo is a dead giveaway. It is Bronwyn Bishop. She’s a lot smaller than expected.
A sign near a large rock overhang explains how over 3500 years ago, the area was used by local indigenous people for shelter. Remains of the midden were discovered when the site was excavated in 1992.
A little path leads from Lawry Plunkett Reserve to a steep sandstone cutting through which the Balmoral Tram passed to the terminus on the Esplanade. These days not much is left of the tram history besides a section of rail and a few artefacts donated by the Sydney Tramway Museum.
Balmoral is busy. People are sunbaking on the sand, picnicking on the grass and walking along the esplanade. Others cool off in the pool. The wind has come up and the water is a sea of white caps.
While I have been to Balmoral many times I have never stepped onto the island known as Rocky Point. There I read about the shark nets which were erected in 1935 and removed in 2008 and take in a good view of Bathers pavilion.
It is time to walk through suburban Mosman and I walk up Raglan Street. The architecture is a mixture of old and new with plenty of sandstone on display. Many (most) of the homes have been expensively renovated. At Mosman Junction, I continue up Military Road.
As in many Sydney suburbs, modern shops nestle below older facades. The facades aren’t uniform, as some have been altered over the years, but they are worth more than a passing glance.
Here, Military Road is as shopping strip, filled with gourmet food, coffee and boutiques. The footpath is busy and there is a harried feel to the air. The calm relaxation of the bush and the beach has evaporated.
In Strand Passage, planter boxes filled with plants decorate the passage. In many other suburbs the walls would be covered in street art.
The Fire Station, built in 1918 is still functional, but what was the RSL built in 1921, is now home to Country Road. One building claims to have been built in AD1901 while another is newer at 1989.
That’s it for today
Turning the corner at Spit Junction, I look back at the vertical lines of the Art Deco Hayden Orpheum building. The day has got away from me and it’s time to go home. Fortunately, the bus arrives almost as soon as I sit down at the bus stop.
Mosman covers a large geographic area and it’s impossible to walk the entire suburb in a day. Hopefully though, you are encouraged by what you have read to discover Mosman for yourself.
Route of Mosman Walk. You can download the map here