Balls Head Reserve – A Harbour Side Bushwalk


Well, it was Monday morning and the day that I had set aside to go for a little trek around Sydney Harbour. I have to say that I didn’t actually know what to expect, but then again looking at an area on Google Maps is a lot different than actually going there yourself (even though the Google Car has pretty much been all over Australia – though there are a few places, such as the middle of a shopping centre, that the Google Car can’t go). Anyway, before I go any further, here is the route that I took on my little (or should I say not so little, relatively speaking that is) hike.

My Route

1. Waverton Station & Botanic Cafe

The start of my journey was at Waverton Railway Station, a couple of stops after the harbour bridge. Since I don’t have a car I had to rely upon public transport, which in Sydney is pretty good (there are some parts of Australia, including capital cities, that to get around you need to rely entirely upon buses, unless of course you have a car – Australia isn’t the most tourist friendly of places for those who wish to travel by foot). Anyway, the train dumped me off in this lovely North Shore suburb, and upon making my way to the station exit I noticed that there were a number of signs pointing to Ball’s Head reserve, though at that time it didn’t make all that much sense to me.

Waverton Station Sign
Couldn’t get a better shot otherwise I would have been standing on the railway

So, as I left the railway station and I spied what looked like a rather nice cafe – the Botanica Gardens Cafe – across the road. I won’t say to much about it, other than people claim that the coffee is seriously good but the service is pretty poor (though I thought the service is pretty good), simply because I have already written a review of this place on Truelocal and Yelp (as well as Google, but that doesn’t count – I don’t know many people who use Google for reviews, however Google Maps does open itself up for reviews – it’s a shame they basically publish everything). However I will share some photos of the place because they will probably do a much better job of describing the serenity of the place than my words could ever do:

2. Coal Loader

I then headed down the road towards the harbour shore, and it was at this point that I realised that I had forgotten to take some cash with me, which was annoying because I couldn’t check out another cafe that was en route (and then later kicked myself because I realised that I had a heap of small change in my bag – then again I can be really stingy when it comes to small change because I don’t like spending it, I like gathering it up and then dumping it into my bank account).

My next stop was a place known as the ‘Coal Loader‘. The reason it’s called the Coal Loader was because of its original function: a port for loading coal that had been dug up in the Hunter Valley. However, as a little twist of irony, after the place had closed down the North Sydney Council decided to turn it into a centre for sustainability – basically an anti-coal complex (but then some people seem to think coal is good for humanity – that may be so but the pollution that it pumps into the atmosphere is anything but). Unfortunately I didn’t have any paper currency on me so I wasn’t able to sit down at the cafe and enjoy some organic coffee, but I did spend some time walking about the place.

Coal Loader Centre Coal Loader Centre

Even though I didn’t have any money for a coffee, I did have some time to walk around the place, and they do provide a helpful guide in the form of sign posts. One of them pointed to a garden of plants that the Aboriginals would use for food, however I did have a difficult time finding it. What I did find was the sustainability garden where fresh vegetables are grown, no doubt by the locals or other volunteers.

Vege Garden Vege Garden

After spending some time wandering around here I decided to head down towards the harbour. To one side of the Coal Loader there happens to be a naval base that is still in use, while on the other side there is a park known as Balls Head Reserve. That was where I wanted to go, however to get there I had to pass through a tunnel in one of the old buildings. The jetty that was used to transport the coal to the ships is still there, but I wouldn’t recommend walking on it as it looked like it was in a really dilapidated condition. They even had an old ship parked on the shore, though when I say old ship I don’t mean a wooden sailing ship, rather a rust bucket dating back to the fifties (or earlier).

Coal Loader Jetty Coal Loader Ship

Anyway, it was now time to enter the tunnel and head to my next destination – Balls Head Reserve.

Coal Loader Tunnels
Only one of them offers the way out – the others lead to your DOOM!

3. Balls Head Reserve

Well, I have to say that this place really surprised me. I emerged from the tunnel to find myself surrounded by natural bushland – in the heart of Sydney. I guess this had a lot to do with development occurring on the north shore much later than it did on the south (before the bridge was built the only way to get across Sydney Harbour was by travelling all the way down to Parramatta – though I’m sure the ferry service was available). Anyway, this place appears to be in its natural, pristine state – with the exception of a few paths running through it, the occasional seat, and of course the ubiquitous barbeque area.

Balls Head Reserve Balls Head Reserve

Balls Head Reserve Balls Head Reserve

Personally, I don’t get to do this all that often – that is travel out to some natural bushland and simply go for a walk. Okay, one of the reasons is that I don’t have a car, but then there are quite a few areas within reach of public transport that you can do that anyway. Maybe I need to create some more time to do such things – or simply not travel as often as I do so I can spend some more time exploring Melbourne (though a part of me feels that I have already done a significant amount of exploring here).

Barbeque Area Bush Walk
Seat Seat

The annoying thing about wandering through these bushland areas is trying to choose which photos to use. Okay, I could use a lot more, but I do want to try and be a little more conservative in my approach. However, there are some photos that are pretty impressive, especially when I emerged from the bush at the tip of the peninsula to look out over the harbour towards Balmain and the city. Okay, I’ve already used one for the title of this post, but it wouldn’t hurt to use another here:

Balls Head City View
This time minus the bridge

Here is another that I took of what I believe to be Pyrmont (Balmain is actually a little further over):

Pyrmont View
You can see the ANZAC Bridge in the background

I did end up meeting this little fellow on my walk as well:

Fortunately he managed to stay still for this photo shoot.

4. Old Fuel Dump

It seems as if Balls Head used to be a very industrial part of the city – but not any more. Once I had left the reserved I continued my walk around the harbour an came across what used to be an old BP fuel depot (which has long since gone). Like the Coal Loader this place has been transformed into a harbour side park, but unlike the reserve it is not natural bushland but a manicured park.

Old Refinery Old Refinery

I had landed up back at the Coal Loader, but then descended some stairs, attempting to find the Maritime Museum Ship Yards. Unfortunately it seemed to be located in the wrong spot on Google Maps. Actually, as I looked out over Berry’s Bay I couldn’t see anything that looked like a ship that belonged in a museum – they all looked like small yachts anchored in the harbour.

Berry's Bay
They don’t look like museum pieces

So I continued my walk and suddenly found myself surrounded by what looked like the remains of some buildings, or at least their foundations. Despite the fact that they have long since removed this fuel dump (or was it a refinery) there were some things that simply couldn’t be removed – such as where the tanks used to sit.

Building Remains
Something used to be here

Tank Remains Tank Remains

So, I made my way along the cliff top, descended some stairs to the foreshore, and then continued my trek along the harbour, past these huge areas where there once stood a tank full of petrol. There’s probably a few reasons why they ended up removing the refinery, one of them probably being that the local residents got really upset. However it seems that the scars of this industrial site have been left for time and eternity. At least they had a map of the old site.

Now we know what all the buildings were

5. Off to the Pub

Well, I decided that I had done enough and really didn’t want to continue my journey along the harbour shore – anyway it looked as if a trek around Blues point was simply going to take too long – I had other things to do, such as visit a pub. So I crossed Waverton Oval and headed along Union Street. As I’ve said before one of the good things about visiting pubs is that you get to see parts of a city that you normally wouldn’t get to see – particularly the houses. Okay the houses in the new estates tend to be quite boring, but there is something different about the houses in these older suburbs. Anyway, this does happen to be North Sydney so you aren’t just going to get houses – you are going to get mansions.

Lavender Bay Houses Lavender Bay Houses Lavender Bay Houses Lavender Bay Mansion

Another thing that I have come to realise whenever I travel to Sydney is that it feels like I’m in a foreign land. Sydney just feels so different to Melbourne that it feels that I am somewhere else. Maybe it has a lot to do with Melbourne being on a flat plain surrounding a bay where as Sydney has a multitude of waterways and is quite hilly. It seems to have a unique character all of its own, and wandering through some of these older suburbs simply adds to it’s character.

I then arrived at the Commodore Hotel.

Commodore Hotel

I actually haven’t got around to writing a review on this place, so I will say a few words here. Straight out it was pretty nice, but I have to say that it isn’t the type of pub that I would frequent too often (unless I lived around the corner, but that would a be a different story). Anyway, much of the hotel is actually an outdoor terrace and due to the smoking laws, you can’t smoke around food served commercially, and you have to smoke at least four metres away from the entrance, most of the pub, with the exception of a small corner, is smoke free. However, despite it being a nice pub, there was a coffee shop across the road which was much cooler, so I went over there and grabbed a pot of tea.

Once I had finished that it was time to continue my journey – this time along Lavender Road towards Watt Park and Wendy’s Secret Garden.

6. Lavender Bay

I made my way along Lavender Road only too discover that I was some way up the side of a hill and it looked like it would be difficult to get down to the harbour side. In any case I wanted to check out what this secret garden was all about, even though I had only discovered it by spending a lot of time looking at Google Maps. However, the first task was to get down to Watt Park, and fortunately I discovered another road that headed down the side to the hill.

Lavender Street
There were also a few houses in the way.

So, what about Watt Park? Well, there is probably not all that much I can say about it beyond it being, well, a park. Like most parks you find people walking through here, some people out for a jog (though I thought most people went jogging in the morning), and there is the occasional dog wandering around the place. Other than that it is, well, a park. I probably should mention that it is what I call a manufactured park – no authentic bushland here.

Watt Park Watt Park (pic - Story) Balls Head - Watt Park 03 (pic - Story) Balls Head - Watt Park 04

So, after wandering through here I went under the old (or is it old because I’m sure I saw a Sydney train sitting on it) railway line and out onto the shores of Lavender Bay, which once again gives you a pretty good view of the city (as well as a bunch of yachts that are sitting moored in the harbour – maybe the owners can’t afford the fees for keeping them in a marina, but then again those yachts do give the harbour a bit of character).

Lavender Bay
Pretty cool view

7. Wendy’s Secret Garden

Well, I had almost given up in ever finding this secret garden (probably because it is a secret) so I then turned around and began the climb back up to Lavender St to make my way to the railway station when, all of a sudden, I found myself in what looked like, for want of a better word, a secret garden – I had found it!.

(pic - Story) Balls Head - Secret Garden 01 (pic - Story) Balls Head - Secret Garden 02

The garden was created by a bohemian artist known as Wendy Whiteley. Wendy actually comes from a prestigious family as her grandfather invested the Totaliser (whatever that is) and founded the CSIRO. However her father was kicked out of home when she was six and landed up in gaol after committing a burglary. Wendy lived next door to where the garden is now, and being rather put off by the old railyards that used to be here, decided to plant a garden. This garden has been said to rival Claude Monet’s (not that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Claude’s – yet).

Wendy's Secret Garden Wendy's Secret Garden Wendy's Secret Garden Wendy's Secret Garden

I took quite a few more photographs of the garden, but I think I’ll just leave it at that. Anyway, I spent some time wandering around the garden and taking in its artistic beauty before I decided to make my way back up to Lavender Street and continue my journey towards Milson’s Point.

8. Bradford Park

Bradfeild Park

Okay, to be honest with you, this place is nowhere near as impressive as Wendy’s Secret Garden, but it’s still a nice park in and of itself, and it does bring back some enchanted memories that I had when I was younger. Anyway, the park itself runs along the western side of the freeway that comes off of the bridge and down to the harbour shore where you can look out over the city. The park itself was named after the guy who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge (as is the freeway that leads onto it). Okay, as I said, there isn’t anything that fantastic about the place, that is until you get down to the harbour shores, especially at night, where you have some magnificent views. Unfortunately I don’t have any decent photos from the harbour side (especially at night) but here are a couple of other ones from the park itself.

Bradfeild Park Bradfeild Park

As for the memories, well, a girl brought me down here one Sunday evening years ago. I was in Sydney on a, let’s say, church camp (it was actually a convention organised by AFES, an organisation that runs Christian groups at university, and the convention was one week of Bible teaching and another week of working out of a church) and on the Sunday night, when the church we were at was having it’s evening service, I looked around and saw a familiar face – a young lady that a good friend of mine had introduced to me when she was on holidays in Adelaide – I had caught up with him earlier in Canberra and he had passed a message onto her that I was in Sydney and she decided to pay me a visit. After church, and the traditional coffee at some random cafe, she dropped a bunch of us off, with the exception of myself, and took me down to Bradfield Park. Needless to say the next morning everybody wanted to know what we had been up to the night before – yeah, we just went down to Sydney Harbour and went for a walk.

9. Kirribilli Hotel

I’ve got a thing for pubs near famous bridges. Well, okay not really, but ever since John Howard decided to move the Prime Minister’s residence from the Lodge in Canberra to one of the most sought after properties in Australia (Kirribilli House) the name Kirribilli has always been on my mind. So, when I discovered that there was a pub called the Kirribilli Hotel I wanted to go and check it out. Anyway, I’ve already written a review of the place on True Local and Yelp, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that it is a pretty cool craft beer bar. Anyway, here is a photo of the pub.

Kirribilli Hotel

Creative Commons License

Balls Head Reserve – A Harbour Side Bushwalk by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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