A freelance writer living and loving in the northern beaches of Sydney...travelling, writing, outdoor activities, gardens, and Pilates are a few of my favourite things. Visit me www.potpourritravels.wordpress.com or www.facebook.com/potpourritravels/
Published June 26th 2017
Panoramic picnic spots and a headland full of history
Sydney has so many picturesque vantage points from which to view the beautiful blue harbour, and Georges Heights Headland Park is one of them. So I was amazed recently when an artist-friend took me to see a Ceramics exhibition at the Artist Precinct in Headland Park, Mosman - a place I never knew existed.
Travelling through the main shops of Mosman, at the Military Rd/Middle Head Rd roundabout instead of veering right to go to Taronga Zoo, we veer left onto Middle Head Road. Within minutes we're turning right into Suakin Drive and have no trouble finding parking in a vast village of historic buildings formerly occupied by six Defence bases.
This former strategic military post, now under the care of Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, has had its buildings restored for public use, and the surrounding headland - Headland Park - is covered in native bushland and walking trails. A road leads down the slope towards the water and the Gunners Barracks. Originally built to house artillery, the sandstone building now houses a tea room and has views over the harbour.
The slope is steep but the tracks are well-marked and sign-posted so we decide to follow Bungaree's Walkway. The path, named after an Indigenous tracker who was granted farmland here, meanders through restored bushland, with harbour glimpses the whole way down to Chowder Bay. It takes us about 10-15 minutes to walk down and the views at the bottom across the harbour are sensational. Named after whalers who made chowder from the bay's abundant seafood, Chowder Bay is a protected beach, flanked on one side by the harbour and a steep escarpment of bushland behind it. The track continues around the headland to Taronga Zoo, or back the way we came to Balmoral Beach.
There's a bundle of former military buildings, restored and now utilised by small businesses, including several places to eat such as Drift Cafe, where we grab a takeaway coffee from their kiosk housed in an old incinerator-type building and right on the beach front. If you're feeling a little more indulgent, choose from Ripples, on the deck of the former Submarine Miner's Depot, or East Coast Lounge which is a unique blend of a retail homewares store and wine bar.
outdoor seating at East Coast Lounge Wine Bar & Homewares
Making our way back towards Headland Park, we follow Chowder Bay Road for a while and notice Bus No. 244 from Wynyard services this area. Not surprisingly, it takes us a little longer to walk back up the hill to Georges Heights Lookout, but we're in no hurry and stop along the way to enjoy the fresh air and the sound of kookaburras in the towering gums around us. Back at the top historical plaques offer plenty of information about the gun-pits still in place and just how important the site was for the Sydney's survival during the war. Sitting for a rest on the handsome sandstone lookout platform, ferries scoot by and views go all the way to Manly, Vaucluse, and the city.
From the lookout, it's a ten-minute walk or a couple of minutes drive to the Artists' Precinct, where wooden historic buildings are now artists' studios. Sculptors, photographers, painters and potters are in residence, holding regular exhibitions, open studio sessions and art classes. We meander around the rooms this fine sunny day, chatting with artists-in-residence, before finding a picnic seat facing the water to take in the view and enjoy the silence that envelopes this peaceful place. Interesting works of art are dotted around an expansive grassy area, and broad rocky outcrops add a sense of majesty to the headland.
We're pretty peckish by now and seems the Harbour Trust has thought of everything. Subtly sited on the edge of the nearby bush within a historic heritage clubhouse is Frenchy's Cafe serving French-style home-made food. Open every day from 7.30am-5pm, the relaxed outdoor undercover seating is inviting and comfy. Some toys are provided to keep children occupied and dogs are also welcome. The menu is extensive, with plenty of sweets to choose from, and we settle for a simple sandwich and coffee. I notice it's also licensed and think all the places we've seen today would make a fabulous spot for a special lunch.
There's quite a lot to see and do here, including tours of the former WWI military hospital, hire a barbeque and picnic, or self-guided tours of the parkland (brochures can be obtained from the Trust Office at 28 Best Avenue, Mosman). You could spend an hour, a day, or a week exploring. Note: The park is open during daylight hours. Water taxis can pick up and drop off at Clifton Gardens Wharf.