Victorian Fortifications at Middle Head.

Cheapskate travel in Sydney!

I recently took a day trip from sunny Wollongong (best place on Earth!) to the big smoke of Sydney to check out the Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head. There is nothing quite like being a tourist in your own patch. You speak the language, know the lingo, and you don’t have to exchange any money. And you don’t have to self-isolate for 14 days afterwards!

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Verdigris – metal meets elements

I am living a Year of Zero and have given myself a strict travel budget to follow. It’s pretty close to zero! I factored in an allowance for some short local experiences to stop me from going completely crazy.  This expedition was cheap!  If you travel on a Sunday, your public transport fares will max out at $2.80, and if you bring your own food, you don’t need to spend anything else all while enjoying million-dollar harbour views. I went on a Friday, but still, the daily cap is just over $16.

It was an easy half-day excursion which I rounded off by heading over to another lovely harbour location – Cockatoo Island for the (free)  Sydney Biennale exhibition. I’ll write a separate post about that.

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One of the metal rails used to slide the cannon.

New “Old” Stuff in Australia.

While Australia may be the continent with the oldest human culture on Earth, it’s not big on castles, paleolithic excavation sites or massive cathedrals. The oldest building in Sydney, Elizabeth Farm, is only 227 years old. The oldest (non-indigenous) structure in Australia is a stone fort built by shipwreck survivors from the Batavia. The Batavia was wrecked in 1629 near the (now) town of Geraldton.

Prior to European settlement, Middle Head was home to the Borogegal People, the Traditional Custodians of Headland Park.  I acknowledge and thank them for their continuing care of the land that is, was, and always will be theirs.

While our indigenous culture is rich and old, our European culture is only a pup in global terms. None-the-less there are still some interesting things to see for those with an interest in history. The Victorian-era fortifications at Middle Head near Mosman are just such a place.

The first fortifications on the site were built in 1801 and the larger battery positions were constructed in 1871.

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Middle Head is, well in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and is a very good defensive point to prevent ships coming into the Harbour itself. In addition to the concrete fortifications, there are some old army barracks from the 1940s, most of which are currently empty, and crying out for gentrification.

The Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks rent out the Officers Quarters as holiday lettings. (Currently $400 – 600 for 2 bedrooms with  a total of 4 beds)

How to get to the  Fortifications at Middle Head:

  • From Taronga Zoo: Catch a ferry from Circular Key to Taronga Zoo and then walk along the headlands. Rather than cutting across to Balmoral Beach as shown in the map, walk downhill near HMAS Penguin on Middle Head Road or Chowder Bay Road. After you have finished at the fortifications, you can continue on to Balmoral Beach for lunch and coffee and then catch a number 245 bus back to Wynyard Station. The is a handy bus stop at the corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade. Be on the shop side of the road. The walk is about 8 km all up. Also, see Wild Walks for good directions.
  • Directly from Wynyard Station: If you don’t want such a long walk, catch the No. 244 bus from Stand A in Carrington Street, and get off at the stop just past HMAS Penguin. Then walk around to Balmoral Beach. It’s a relatively easy walk of about 1.5 km on a paved surface. Catch the No 245 bus back to Wynyard Station from the southern corner of Raglan Street and the Esplanade.

Word of Caution: Check the timetables before you go to make sure you don’t get stuck! The TripView App or the NSW Transport webpage will help here. Google Maps also has info about timetables.

Food, Water and Toilets!

If you decide not to bring your own food, there are two cafes (Middle Head Cafe and Burnt Orange). There are more places to eat at Balmoral Beach. The Bathers’ Pavilion is pretty swanky and definitely beyond my budget. (Set menu $110 pp!)  However, Balmoral Beach is a great place for a picnic, so I’d pack a healthy and more frugal lunch box if you are also keen on saving some money.

I went on this little excursion while some COVID restrictions were still in place and chose only to get a takeaway cup of tea. Things were still a bit awkward as you needed to book ahead, and there was reduced capacity, so it was hard to just rock up and expect service at the cafes. There are some fish and chip places which are not dine-in.

There are toilets at the entrance to the Middle Head Park just past the boom gates and at the building near the round-a-bout as you get off the bus. There are several sets of toilets along the Esplanade at  Balmoral Beach

There are water fountains on Balmoral Beach, or fill up at the taps at the loos.

PS: The Old Chooks made a comeback and travelled with me. Don’t tell Iain he’ll be furious he was left at home on the shelf!

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