Trip report: Taronga Wharf – Balmoral – Castle Rock – Manly. Sat Feb 28, 2009.

Party: Bruce Stafford, Tom Murtagh, Marta Karz, Gosia Pawlak, Francis Soosai, Eve Gallagher, Jim Phillips.

We set out from Circular Quay on the 9.15am Taronga Zoo ferry after a last-minute slight panic when I realised that I had advertised its departure time as 9.20am (it actually left at 9.19am). On disembarking at Athol Wharf we took the Harbourside track to Bradley’s Head with its HMAS Sydney memorial, We noted a crow perched in the crow’s nest of the preserved mast on the headland.From Bradley’s Head we walked to Chowder Bay through bushland which remarkably is probably little changed since white settlement 211 years ago.

At Chowder Bay we re-enter civilisation with its coffee shops and diving school, and walked through the 19th century naval buildings up to the track to George’s Head. Here we briefly admired the view from the restored amphitheaters (and noted the plaque stating that it had been opened by Tony Abbott, M.P. – aaaarrgh!).

From Georges Head we decided not to follow the normal track to Balmoral Beach (which goes along a tin and wooden walkway anyway), we took a road bash via Middle Head Road to access Laurie Plunkett Reserve, which is actually part of the former Balmoral tram line right of way.

Unfortunately it is not possible to follow the former tramway all the way down from Middle Head Rd , as the NSW transport drongos of the 1950’s and 60’s sold off a couple of blocks half way down so as to ensure – they thought – that the line couldn’t be reopened. It was on this section that we encountered our only rain shower, which came on out of nowhere and after 5 minutes disappeared into a cloudless sky. In Laurie Plunkett reserve we walked through what I called a canyon, which Tom reminded me was just a deep cutting, not a real canyon. Even so, inside the cutting seemed very remote; there was no hint that we were in the middle of suburbia.

We walked along Balmoral Beach and stopped for “elevenses” on Rocky Point. Then we continued along the Beach and onto the rocks at the northern end, to see if it were possible to get to Chinaman’s Beach that way, thus avoiding a road bash. Unfortunately the tide was only just coming off high tide, so it wasn’t safe to used that route. So with some slight backtracking we went on the road bash to Chinaman’s Beach. Then along that beach on to Parriwi Road to the Spit Bridge. (Actually we are still not sure that it’s safe to use the rocks route even at low tide – something to explore on another trip there – at low tide!).

After a brief rest at the old Spit Tram Terminus we took off along yet another tram line right of way and then along the northern foreshore of Middle Harbour to Contarf Beach. Here we had to rock-hop about 100 metres at the end of the beach as it was under water, something I had never encountered on this walk before (a sign of global warming perhaps?). On the section from Clontarf to Castle Rock we saw our only dragon for the day – a juvenile. This was in contrast to the dozen or so that can be normally encountered in this section – where have they gone? We did pass a number of people walking dogs – a turn-off for dragons.

We had lunch and a nice rest at Castle Rock, which has a view across the entrance of Middle Harbour to Balmoral Beach. Then it was off in the final – and hottest – section of the walk to Fairlight and Manly. Along the way we made a detour to enable Eve and Marta to refill their water bottles, at a sort-of public tap, and cut across Tania park to regain the normal track through Dobroyd Point. here we noticed what looked like giant shopping bags full of rocks. Apparently they had been dropped by helicopter as part of the National Park Service’s upgrade of the pathway (which is showing signs of erosion). There were several dozen of these giant shopping bags along the next few km of track.

At Fairlight we left the track to walk down past the boatshed to cross the sand-flats (by now the tide was almost right out), thus avoiding another long road-bash. However the final road/concrete path bash from Fairlight to Manly is unavoidable, and we eventually arrived at Manly Wharf with 5 minutes before the next ferry left at 3.45pm. Here we said our goodbyes, with some heading straight for the ferry, while Marta, Gosia and myself then headed down the Corso for the Ocean Beach to wash off the dust of the walk with a swim, grab a coffee and relax.

This was a nice walk through a very scenic part of Sydney, enjoyed by all.

Bruce Stafford