Waverton Bus Stop

Waverton: Industrial Heritage and Sustainable living

A Self-Guided Walk in Waverton

Download the Walking Map and Notes

The Coal Loader in Waverton is a place I know of but have never visited. One of the few disadvantages to living on the Hawkesbury River, is that once I’m home there’s little incentive to leave. This project to discover Sydney differently by exploring Sydney Suburbs provides an incentive to get out and about.

So, today I am off to Waverton – to explore the Coal Loader and Balls Head Reserve which I have also never visited even though I lived on the North Shore for many years.

Community of Waverton

Community Notice Board

Sydney Harbour Views

Harbour Views

Walking Through Waverton

The little shopping village of Waverton clusters around the railway station, a cream weatherboard building with beautiful ironwork which goes seemingly unnoticed by commuters rushing for their train.

A man wearing odd socks sits on a bench outside the bottle shop, a baseball cap upside down on the footpath in front of him. “Can you spare some silver for a pensioner?” he asks. Feeling uncomfortable, I decline, setting off a train of thoughts about the best way to help people who are homeless.

My strategy is to support organisations who work with homeless people or occasionally (after checking with the person) to buy their choice of food. Interestingly, the request is always for something simple like a chicken sandwich.

Streets Alive North Sydney

Streets Alive Project

Home in Waverton

Herringbone and Leadlight

Harbour Views

Walking down Bay Road soon provides glimpses of the harbour and then the Sydney Harbour Bridge. My pace quickens. How lucky am I to be out and about near the harbour on a fresh, clear winter day?

A couple sit facing each other on their narrow verandah. On a small table between them are two brown stoneware cups and a round teapot. They know how to start their day well.

The Waterview Café looks inviting and I’m sorry I’ve already eaten. Soon, the sparkling harbour opens out in front of me and then another Sydney icon, the ANZAC Bridge comes into view. How lovely is this city?

HMAS Waterhen

The fenced land on my right belongs to The Australian Government. Two Naval personnel walk past and then a sign pointing to HMAS Waterhen explains all. This is a Naval Base. Research explains that its main role is mine warfare.

HMAS Waterhen

HMAS Waterhen Naval Base

The Coal Loader Waverton

The Coal Loader

A firm compressed sand footpath under my feet is different from the usual black bitumen. It meanders through street plantings created by the “Streets Alive” program which involves Council supporting community volunteers to create street gardens that enhance and beautify local streets.

Two types of herringbone brickwork (plain and diagonal) decorate a home over the road. A man talking on his mobile moves away from the leadlight window when he sees me take a photo.

Aboriginal Carving Waverton

Aboriginal Carving

SES Headquarters

SES Headquarters opposite carving

The Coal Loader

Both the Coal Loader, and the entrance to HMAS Waterhen are on Waterhen Drive. Behind the tall barbed wire fence, I count three navy vessels. Where have I been? Garden Island is familiar to me, but this is a whole Naval facility that I never knew existed.

Aboriginal Carving

Early Aboriginal history is evident here. The Cammeraygal people were the original inhabitants of this area and an Aboriginal Rock carving of a large whale with a smaller figure within the body is clearly visible from the boardwalk near the Centre for Sustainability.

Coal Loader Community Nursery

Community Nursery

Sustainable Gardening

Clever Idea for sustainability

Centre for Sustainability

From the 1920s to the 1990s the Coal Loader was an industrial transfer depot for coal. After an extensive works program, The Coal Loader Centre for Sustainability opened in 2011 and more recently (in March 2018) The Coal Loader platform opened.

The Coal Loader Platform

The largest publicly accessible green roof space in Australia, the platform harvests the sun with a bank of solar panels, captures and recycles rainwater, and is host to a community garden and leased allotments. It sits above the coal loading tunnels and provides visitors with expansive views of the harbour.

Coal Loader Platform

Coal Loader Platform

Restoration of M.V. Cape Don

M.V. Cape Don

Alongside the platform is M.V. Cape Don, the last of three ships called lighthouse tenders that serviced buoys and lighthouses around Australia’s coastline. She is being restored by a dedicated group of volunteers.

The Centre for Sustainability provides information on various measures that promote sustainability. It’s a drop off point for small recyclables like corks, household batteries and mobile phones and it even gives away free worm juice.

People here are friendly. They are out and about taking dogs for a walk or just walking and they greet me as we pass each other. This is quite different from other suburbs I have explored. I feel safe and welcome.

Chook Run at Coal Loader

Chook Run

Urban Serpent by Anthony Whyte

Urban Serpent by Anthony Whyte

Having explored the Coal Loader Platform, and Centre for sustainability, I descend the stairs (there is a lift) to explore further.

Chooks and Tunnels

Chooks wait expectantly at the fence of their run. Here, volunteers offer their time to care for the birds and community members learn about keeping chooks in their backyard.

Four parallel 160m tunnels run beneath the Coal Loader Platform. The original coal feeder and cart from the historic coal loading system is visible in one tunnel while another is home to threatened micro bats and a third now contains rainwater tanks for storing rainwater that falls on the platform above.

I walk through Tunnel 2, imagining the noise and dust as coal poured through the numbered shoots above me into waiting skips. The tracks have been removed, and sensor lighting facilitates the walk.

Coal Loader Wharf

The old Coal Loader Wharf

Coal Loader Tunnel

Take a walk through the tunnel

Balls Head Reserve

From the tunnel I continue along the bush track that leads into Balls Head Reserve. In the early 1920s, this area was denuded of almost all trees and vegetation possibly due to firewood collection and wharf construction. As a result of community action, Balls Head was declared a public recreation area in 1926 and together with the planting of many trees and natural regeneration, the Reserve grew back.

Starting off by taking the Isabell Brierley walk, the trail is well sign posted (initially at least). My plan is to zig zag along the different walks to ensure I cover most of the Reserve, and hopefully find Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I heard about the cabin from someone I follow on Instagram (a source of inspiration for suburban discovery), but haven’t found anything in my research.

Termite Tracks Balls Head Reserve

Termite Tracks

Froggatt Lookout Balls Head Reserve

Froggatt Lookout

Termites and Sandstone

Termites tracks climb eucalypt trunks and I spy two massive termite nests close to the track.  A continual drone of industrial noise from shipyards, and the occasional sound of a helicopter or aeroplane is the only reminder that I am near the centre of a large city.

The sandstone has been weathered by wind and rain forming large swirling patterns, hollows and rock overhangs. At the cement flagpole footing I turn left. This is the highest point west of the Harbour Bridge at 300ft above sea level.

The Western Walk pathway which meets the road entrance to the Reserve. Across the road the Angophora path descends into the bush via a series of steps. The track leads past a recent hazard reduction burn back to the road and car park.

Uncle Tom's Cabin Balls Head Reserve

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Tree Poisoning North Sydney

Poisoned Trees

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Across the road again, I walk down some stairs holding onto the green metal handrail to the Harbour Walk. My heart does a little leap when I come across a rusted metal door and realise that I have found Uncle Tom’s cabin.

During the 1930s depression, homeless people often found shelter around the harbour under rock overhangs. This tiny cabin, created by walling in a rock overhang with large sandstone blocks was most likely home to someone during the depression. Then, apparently, in the 1950s a council worker by the name of Tom moved in giving rise to the cabin’s name.

Inside is a little blackened fireplace and a broken chimney. Spaced bricks at the top of the wall form an air vent and a sheet of corrugated iron above the doorway protects the entrance.

Carrandah Park

Evidence of tanks Carrandah Park

Tanks at Carrandah Park

Circular Path

As I follow the Midden Walk back to Balls Head Road my thoughts wander and I think about the people who lived and sheltered in Tom’s Cabin and how different their lives were to mine.

Carradah Park

Carradah Park is a former BP site. Evidence of three huge storage tanks remains in the form of circular grassed areas edged with brick paved walkways. Cut sandstone cliff faces follow the curved line of where the tanks once stood. A pleasant spot for a picnic.

The Harbour Bridge is clearly visible from numerous spots in Balls Head Reserve and Carrandah Park. Again, my mind turns to other things. Is this a local secret or does the area get overrun on New Year’s Eve?

Oakhill 40 Larkin St Waverton


44 Larkin Street Waverton

Federation Arts and Crafts Style

Heritage in Larkin Street

Larkin Street is home to two very different heritage listed homes. Oakhill, at 40 Larkin Street, is an example of the Edwardian Queen Ann Style, and number 44 is a two storey Federation home built in the Arts and Crafts style. The more I explore Sydney suburbs, the more familiar I am getting with early architectural styles.

Railway enthusiasts will be interested in the Woolcott Street single-line girder underbridge. It was installed in 1893. Today the original foundations remain, but the bridge itself is a replacement recovered from Dombarton and placed in Woolcott Street in 1991.

Merrett Playground Waverton

Imaginative Play Merrett Playground

Woolcott Street Underbridge

The Underbridge Woolcott Street

Henry Lawson Lived Here

A walk up Euroka Street provides a pleasant surprise. A plaque informs me that Henry Lawson lived and wrote in several houses here (21,26,28,30 and 31). The houses are old and varied in style. There are three sandstone terraces, single storey homes and a group of three freestanding two storey weatherboard homes are apparently good examples of Federation Filigree Style. They nevertheless have a quite modern feel to them.

While walking back to Waverton Station via Carr Street I remember that I looked at buying a unit in this street. It had fantastic views but was way out of my price range.

Street Library Waverton

Street Library Euroka Street

Henry Lawson Lived here

Henry Lawson Lived Here

Waverton is Well Worth a Visit

The harbourside suburb of Waverton has a number of places well worth seeing. Visit the Coal Loader to learn more about Sydney’s Industrial heritage and about sustainability for our future. Spend time in the bush at Balls Head Reserve, enjoying the harbour views. Find Uncle Tom’s Cabin, take a walk through Carrandah Park and perhaps see where Henry Lawson once lived.

If you enjoyed discovering the history and bush in Waverton,  why not take a look at Penrith and Windsor.
Next stop: Lakemba

Useful information:

Waverton on the Lower North Shore of Sydney is 4km north of the Sydney CBD

Plan your trip at transportnsw.info

The Coal Loader hosts an artisan market three times a year. Check the next date here.

To visit the Coal Loader and get a map to guide yourself through the precinct, click here.

The Coal Loader Café is open Wednesday to Sunday 7am to 3pm

The Centre for Sustainability (02 9936 8100) is open Monday to Friday 9am-4pm and Saturday 1pm-4pm

Walking Map and Notes

And a map to assist you walk through Waverton: (You can download it here)
(Note that this is a guide only and that the time indicated on the map does not allow for any stops. I take an average of 4-5 hours when I explore). You can download the day notes that I used here. Please note that they are a guide only:

And a more detailed map of Balls Head Reserve: (You can download it here)


  1. Theres more than meets the eye on first visit to the sustainable market. If only I could find my way there again without such an expert driver. Thank you for sharing so many un-explored parts of this great city.

    1. Author

      It’s a pleasure JD. I have such fun exploring Sydney’s suburbs and discovering hidden gems.

    1. Author

      You are absolutely right. There is so much new life in the Coal Loader and new knowledge too. Thanks for your ongoing interest in Travel with Joanne. It is really appreciated.

  2. Such a treasure in our own back yard. You’ve inspired another picnic Joanne–thanks for doing the footwork!

    1. Author

      Thank you Lyn. It’s so much fun finding new places to explore in Sydney and share them with others. The list of places to return to is growing.

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