Middle Head Sydney – Lookout and Fortifications

Middle Head View

View of Middle Head across to North and South Head

Sooooooo I don’t know exactly what I thought I’d find at Middle Head. But it’s definitely not what I did! I think I was imagining a beautiful coastline with scenic views. Maybe a picnic table or two and a neat little BBQ spot.

Well it turns out I got some of these but not others. But what I did get was a look into a side of Sydney that I’m learning more and more about. And it truly is fascinating.

So if you are interested in Sydney history, fabulous views and love a day out with a difference, then read on to find out all about Middle Head Lookout and Fortifications.

A bit about Middle Head

Middle Head is managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and adjoins Headland Park. It is located in Mosman in Sydney’s North. It is one of the seven headlands of Sydney Harbour.

Today Middle Head is famous for its views and also for its military history. From Middle Head you get a sweeping panorama across to North and South Head. 

Originally occupied by The Borogegal Aboriginal Clan, Middle Head was first used as a military site in 1854 when a battery began to be built here. Whilst the battery was never completed, it marks the start of the use of Middle Head as a military site. From 1870 a range of military structures were constructed all around Sydney Harbour including at Middle Head.

Prior to and during WWI the site was fortified with a new battery consisting of two six inch guns in open circular gun placements. The site was designated a Close Defence Observation Post during WWII. After WWII the site was abandoned.

Middle Head then had a short revival during the Vietnam War, when it was used to train soldiers to prepare for torture in the event they were captured. The infamous ‘Tiger Cages’ that were used for this training are still on the site today.

The site was eventually handed over to NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1979.

Interestingly the main road through Mosman, Military Road, garners its name as it was used to bring cannons to Middle Head.

Historical Buildings

Middle Head Barrack No 1

Barracks 1 

As you enter the gate to Middle Head you will come to a fork in the road. To the left is Inner Middle Head (off Governors Road) and to the right is Outer Middle Head (off Old Fort Road).

You will also see a series of historical buildings. Directly in front of you is the Barracks 1 and Coal Store, to your left is the Sergeant Majors Quarters and to your right is the Former Guardhouse (and lock up for unruly members of the garrison). Dotted all around the site are other historical buildings and unfortunately in some cases just the remains of some sites.

Barracks 1 is now used as an administration office and outside you will find some brochures and maps of Middle Head. I recommend you grab a copy of the Middle Head Visitors Guide as it details a self-guided walk which encompasses the historical buildings and the two forts (Inner Fort and Outer Fort).  The signage around the site is not the best so a map is helpful!

Former Guardhouse and Sergeant Majors Quarters

Inner Middle Head Fort

Middle Head Inner Head Fort

See across to North Head and Manly

If you turn to the left as you enter the gate from the car park, you will see a bit of a rickety sign that points you to Inner Middle Forts. It’s a short walk in along a bit of a bushtrack to reach the fortifications.

Then you will come to the abandoned fortifications. First you will see a tunnel leading to a door. There is also a set of stairs that lead to a ledge. 

The abandoned fortifications are eerie 

You will then come to the site of one of the ‘Disappearing Gun Pits’. These pits were built so that the gun would lift up, fire then lower back into the pit. Unfortunately smoke released from firing gave away its location anyway.

You can get really close to the abandoned gun pits

Inner Middle Head View

The view is incredible

Outer Middle Head Fort

After exploring Inner Middle Head Fort make your way over to Outer Middle Head Fort. You can do this via a short bushwalk that links the two or cross the grassy area between the two roads.

It’s a short fairly easy walk into Middle Head and here you will really start to understand the extent of the fortifications. To your right you will see the battery that was built in 1871. You can enter this and walk around. Directly ahead there are also two circular gun placements that were installed in 1911.

Everywhere you look are more bunkers, tunnels and battlements. You can seemingly climb them and explore them but of course with due respect.

These abandoned buildings are truly fascinating

Of course one of the other main attractions of the area is the amazing views. You can see why the early colonists used these heads to protect the new colony.

The contrast between the views and the fortifications is stark

Headland Park

While you are here make sure to also visit the amazing delights of Headland Park (which adjoins Middle Head). There are some great things to do in Headland Park including exploring The Artists Precinct, visiting Chowder Bay and swimming at Clifton Gardens. For more information read our blog on Headland Park.

Top Tip – Go on a tour

If you want to know more about this fascinating area then you may wish to consider going on a tour. Tours are run by the  NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Check their website for tour dates and pricing. There are also tours run by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. Consult their website for full details.

Freedays summary

  • Entry: Free
  • Toilets: Yes
  • Wheelchair friendly: Yes, in parts
  • Free carparking: No
  • Free BBQ facilities: No, but you can bbq at George’s Heights
  • Time to spend here: 1 hour
  • Food available: No
  • Address: Old Fort Road, Mosman NSW 2088
  • Further details: Visit Sydney Harbour National Park directory listing


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