Introduction to Bushwalking Around Sydney
Sydney is a cosmopolitan metropolis of almost 5 million people, the largest in Australia, yet is surrounded by national parks, wilderness areas and sandy beaches on all sides. It’s convenient to split the walks into three regions: south, west and north, and these regions are described below. Most of the walking is through eucalyptus forest, but there’s also heath and rainforest vegetation. There’s plenty of water in the north and south (to look at, not to drink), and deep sheer-sided valleys and cliffs in the Blue Mountains to the west. Read on for more info, or go straight to a list of the walks.
South of Sydney, including the Royal National Park
South of Sydney offers excellent coastal scenery, and a number of walks further inland. One of the world’s oldest national parks-the Royal National Park-sits conveniently on Sydney’s southern border, and is a highlight of the region. Environments in the RNP are varied, ranging from rainforest to coastal heath. The classic long walk in the park is the 27-30 km one way Coast Track; considered a two day walk, it actually makes an excellent long day walk for the moderately fit.
Other areas for walking include nearby Heathcote National Park, which is west of the RNP and sits within Sydney’s southern boundary; the Illawarra Escarpment, which starts at the southern border of the RNP and stretches south past the coastal city of Wollongong (where I went to high school); and the more distant NSW Southern Highlands region, south-west of Sydney.
West of Sydney, including the Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains is an extensive area bordering the western edge of Sydney, where the land gradually rises to over a thousand meters above sea level. There’s walks galore, many of them easily accessible off the Great Western Highway, and quite a few of these are also accessible from train stations (usually with extra walking required to pass through the suburbs). There’s also walks in the southern and northern sections of the park that are further away from Sydney, and generally a bit more remote.
The central section of the park is divided into the Lower and Upper Blue Mountains. Walks in the Upper Blue Mountains often start on high ground and may drop up to 600 m into deep valleys lined with shear sandstone cliffs, or else they’ll keep to the edge of these cliffs. Either way these walks represent Greater Sydney’s most spectacular hiking, and areas around the major town of Katoomba (1017 m elevation) are major tourist attractions (for example Echo Point and the Three Sisters).
The Lower Blue Mounains are less spectacular, but the walks are nevertheless atmospheric, and have the advantage of being around 20-40 minutes closer to Sydney. Most walking in the Blue Mountains is through eucalypt forest, with some areas of rainforest and heathland.
North of Sydney
Much of the walking north of Sydney is amongst the various tributaries and side arms of the Hawkesbury River, where it runs east towards the sea. There are also coastal walks to be had. Consequently there are lots of water views, and I would describe the scenery as pretty without being spectacular. Most of the walks pass through eucalypt forest.
Finding Track Notes
We’ve used the guide book A Day in the Bush (by Les Higgins and Tony Rodd) for most of our Sydney walks, but there are many other options as it is a well documented area. Amongst various internet guides is the national site Trail Hiking Australia, but Wildwalks is pretty comprehensive in the area. The Royal National Park has good maps at places like Audley at the northern end, and at intervals along the Coast Track. (There’s a cafe, gift shop and BBQ facilities at Audley, and you can hire peddle boats and row boats to frolic on the weir).
Sydney’s weather is pretty good, ranging from average daytime maximums of 28 degrees C in summer, to 18 degrees C in winter. The coastal regions escape the worst of the summer heat, but you may well be exposed to the sun for long periods, so a hat and sunscreen is highly recommended. There’s about a 2 degree C drop in average temperature with every 300 m change in elevation, so the Upper Blue Mountains have milder summers and colder winters than Sydney. It occasionally snows in the Upper Mountains, but it’s not that common and I’ve never experienced it. So the winters are chilly but definitely not alpine. Sydney’s weather gets more extreme (hot days and cold nights) the further west you go, and the Lower Mountains are subject to some of this weather; certainly warmer than the upper sections. The Southern Highlands are at about 600-700m elevation, so they can be pretty cool in winter.
Bush fires are a risk throughout the region during the warmer months, and on rare occasions homes are destroyed and people die. Just check the conditions before you go: they’re not that common. On a hot summer’s day you will get pretty sweaty regardless of where you walk around Sydney, so we don’t walk a great deal from December to February. Take lots of water if you do venture out. Or you might get into the surf instead.
And finally, it actually rains quite a lot in Sydney, but most of it comes in heavy downpours, so we have plenty of dry sunny days as well. Australia’s eastern seaboard is subject to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather patterns, and so in an El Niño episode you can expect it to be dry and hot, and in a La Niña episode it will be cool and wet: watch out for leeches!
The Walks Around Sydney
You can browse through a list of the walks around Sydney that I’ve posted on so far, limited to those roughly within a 2 hour drive from the city (give or take) :
The spectacular New South Wales Blue Mountains sit on the western edge of the greater Sydney area. They are easily accessible by car or train from the neighbouring metropolis of over 5 million people. More of a plateau, they gradually rise from the Sydney basin to over 1100m of elevation. The area’s largest town of Katoomba is perched high up at 1017m.
These upper sections are justifiably famous for their deep cut valleys lined by sandstone cliffs, as well as lush forests, impressive waterfalls and windswept heathlands. Thankfully this dramatic and rugged scenery has remained largely unaffected by urban or agricultural development. And since 1959 it has been protected in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park.(more…)
This walk near Mt Victoria offers some of the best views of typical Upper Blue Mountains scenery, but is relatively unknown so you’ll be able to enjoy the serenity without the crowds. The tracks visit some excellent vantage points on the edge of rather precipitous cliffs with views over the spectacular Grose Valley, and there’s also a few patches of treeless grassy plains (the swamps I presume) that make for a nice change of scenery in this heavily forested area. Add to this a handful of rocky outcrops along the way, some interesting trees, and a worthy side trip to visit a small historic mine. All this for less than 10km of flattish walking. (more…)
Butterbox Point is a shortish walk from the car park at the end of Mt Hay Road, but the views on offer are extensive, and there’s a few rocky outcrops that add to the experience. You can also do the walk up nearby Mt Hay in the same outing; we did on this day but because it was so misty we went back up Mt Hay two days later when it was gloriously sunny. Views are of the Grose Valley and the cliffs that line it. (more…)
Two reasonably easy going walks here on Narrow Neck Plateau in the Blue Mountains at Katoomba. They both offer sweeping views over the famous landmarks of the Jamison Valley from a different angle than the more famous vantage points, and there’s also views of the Megalong Valley. (more…)
This was another new walk for me in the Upper Blue Mountains that exceeded expectations. It starts on the edge of town, and passes steeply through a narrow and deep canyon (actually a gap in the cliffs) called the Devils Hole. As you drop down you can take a short side trip to the left for views of the cliffs lining Narrow Neck Plateau. At the bottom of Devils Hole you turn left to view a scenic waterfall, and can then continue on along the bottom of cliffs used by rock climbers. (more…)
Royal National Park
This walk is an alternative way to experience one of the more impressive stretches of the Royal National Park Coast Track. (The Wattamolla to Marley Beach Circuit is the other that I’ve done; lots more photos in that post). The walk starts inland in eucalypt forest, and then moves into heathland until it drops to the coast, where there are windswept bays and beaches, various interesting rock formations, and rugged coastal cliffs.
Bundeena to Marley Head is one of my favourite sections of the classic Royal National Park Coast Track, although choosing a favourite section is a bit like choosing a favourite child. It’s got what you want from a coast track: cliffs, beaches, heath, and interesting rock formations. You can keep going as far as you like, but the views from Marley Head are very satisfying, so we usually turn around there and head back. (more…)
I’ve done the Burning Palms Circuit multiple times, and it remains one of my favourite walks around Sydney. It starts at Otford on the edge of the Royal National Park, and you soon pass by steep coastal cliffs, descend into a palm jungle, pass through grassy plains, then arrive at the very picturesque Burning Palms Beach, backed by the beginnings of the Illawarra Escarpment. There were very choppy seas on the day I took these pictures (…and I’ve now put a few extra pics at the end from a different day just a month later). (more…)
The Curra Moors Circuit passes through heathland in the Royal National Park. There are views of Eagle Rock at the halfway point, and with just a little bit of exploring, views of two waterfalls that enter the sea. (more…)
There are a number of walking options in the Royal National Park that take in a section of the classic 30km Coast Track. One good option is to start at the Garrawarra Farm car park on top of the escarpment, walk east down Burgh Ridge towards the sea, then walk north as far as Garie North Head for excellent views back down the coast. And in the summer holidays Garie Beach is patrolled so you can safely have a swim before heading back. (more…)
I’d seen Belmore Falls on Instagram, and was surprised I hadn’t visited them before, because they are a very attractive two tier waterfall. The walk to see them is very short (1.8km return), and in fact we visited with my 81 year old mother-in-law in tow, and did an even shorter walk than that described on the NPWS site (just a couple of hundred metres from the car park probably). They are well worth the visit if you are in the area (Robertson in the NSW Southern Highlands), and were particular good when we visited, as there had been heavy rainfall in the preceding few days. (more…)
The Box Vale Circuit is a lesser travelled walk in the Southern Highlands near Mittagong. It follows an old mining railway cutting at first, with valley views on a short side trip. It then descends very steeply into wilderness, follows a river, then climbs back out, passing the attractive Forty Foot Falls on the way. You may well meet other walkers, but probably not in the middle half of the walk, which skirts a section of the Nattai River and feels a bit more remote. (more…)
The main highlights of this walk are the views over Bundanoon Gorge and adjacent valleys from three viewpoints, all accessed on the first half of the walk. The route is mostly flat along forestry management roads, and passes through eucalypt forest and pine plantations. This kind of walking isn’t the most interesting, but I think I was just happy to be outside after time off in part due to a leg injury, so I enjoyed it nevertheless. The views from the lookouts are good, and there were sections of many wattle trees, so early spring is a good time for this walk. (more…)
Bungonia National Park was a new find for me, and its spectacular karst landforms make me wonder why it’s not more famous. Without a great deal of time I did a fairly easy circuit walk, the Green Track, taking in the main lookouts over spectacular canyon and gorge scenery. A short side trip along the White Track added one more excellent lookout over the Shoalhaven River Valley.
This partial circuit in Budderoo National Park takes you to the top of the impressive Gerringong Falls, with views of the falls just a side trip off the main track. The falls are apparently 150-180m high. There’s heath vegetation and a section of tall forest along the way. I’d say you’re unlikely to meet many (or possibly any) other walkers; we didn’t at least. (more…)
Barren Grounds Nature Reserve is situated at the southern end of the Illawarra Escarpment, inland from Kiama. There’s a few easy to moderate walking options that we’d done in the past (based on the Griffiths Track loop), but the route depicted here is a longish (19km) walk along the Kangaroo Ridge Trail, which continues to the edge of the escarpment for views over the NSW South Coast. The area is notable for its bird life, and contains a combination of heath and forest vegetation. (more…)
The pleasant coastal town of Kiama, at the southern end of the Illawarra region south of Sydney, is best known for its blow hole. Swell direction dictates whether or not the blowhole does its thang, but you are guaranteed an excellent coastal experience on the underrated Kiama Coast Walk. This undulating track hugs the coastline on the edge of farmland, and the relative lack of vegetation makes for an open windswept feeling, with views of cliffs and boulder strewn beaches along the whole route. You can access rock platforms in a few places for closer views of the cliffs. The tracks ends at Werri Beach in the also very pleasant village of Gerringong. (more…)
Two short walks starting at roughly the same place in Macquarie Pass National Park, on the escarpment inland from Kiama on the NSW South Coast. Both walks are through rainforest or similar vegetation. Macquarie Rivulet is reasonably scenic, and there is a swimmable pool up stream. Cascade Falls are a small but scenic waterfall accessed on a track starting on the other side of the Illawarra Highway. The water features on these walks are nice enough, but the rainforest vegetation is probably the highlight. (more…)
I don’t think I’d ever visited Minnamurra Falls before, or if I did it was a very long time ago when I was young. I’d driven past a few times and perhaps missed it out because the walk is quite short, an easygoing 4 kms roughly. I’m glad I stopped by with family though, because it’s a very charming and picturesque walk. Although the falls are the main reason to visit this patch of remnant rainforest, I actually found the rainforest itself to be the highlight.
This walk from the pretty suburb of Austinmer to Coal Cliff first climbs steeply up the Illawarra Escarpment to Sublime Point, where there are excellent views down the coast towards Wollongong (although a bit hazy on the day we did it). There’s a restaurant/cafe here in case you’re already hungry and/or thirsty. You then take the Forest Walk north, with more coastal views along the way. There’s attractive forest scenery throughout, including rainforest and open forest. (more…)
North of Sydney
Not really a views walk, the descriptively named 11km Walking Track in Dharug National Park near Wisemans Ferry offers a variety of attractive forest scenery instead. There’s tall trees, big grass trees, nice banksia flowers, and lush forest at the end of the walk. The picture below is quite a nice view but is in fact from the drive in. You cross over the Hawkesbury River (from Sydney) on the vehicle ferry to get to the start this circuit walk. (more…)
This walk starts at Cowan Station north of Sydney, and at first follows a track to the very pretty Jerusalem Bay, passing mostly through typical Hawkesbury Sandstone country. The track then climbs quite steeply, and after a bit more up and down it joins a fire trail for the second half of the walk. This might be a bit of a let down, only there are really excellent views across the Hawkesbury River at a point when the fire trail turns 90 degrees right and starts the long descent to Brooklyn. You need to walk about 20m to the left across rocks. Brooklyn is a nice village in a great spot on the water (but no photos because I was pushed for time). (more…)
My wife Sophia did the first section of this walk, the Gibberagong Track, at the start of a 50km charity walk. She thought it was really pretty and so when her legs recovered she suggested we go back to do it as a circuit combined with two tracks we’ve done in the past, the Sphinx and Warrimoo Tracks. It’s a very picturesque walk predominantly along two salt water creeks with steep sided banks. We’ve done it twice to date: in spring there were many wildflowers out, and in late autumn conditions were so calm that Cowan Creek at the end of the walk was like a mirror, making for some nice photos. There’s a couple of cafes at Bobbin Head so you can have food and tea/coffee at the end of the walk in pleasant surrounds. (more…)
Our first time doing this walk from Mt Kuringai to Berowra via the Benowie Track in Berowra Valley National Park. I tend to think I’ve already done the good walks around Sydney so I didn’t expect all that much, but it exceeded expectations. There’s very picturesque scenery along Calna Creek and Berowra Creek, a variety of forest types, water views including dark reflective pools, and other environments like salt marsh and mangroves. There are also steep sided hills along the creeks, which I like. (more…)
I’d never been to Patonga before, a sleepy village at the southern border of the Central Coast, just over the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney. It’s a very pretty and chilled out area, with one restaurant/bar on the waterfront. There’s also a bushwalking track that ascends about 160m over 2 to 3 kilometres from the beach to a trig point. The forest is nice, and there’s a couple of spots along the way with good views, including an official lookout, Warrah Lookout.(more…)
This short walk around historic Lake Parramatta in the geographical heart of Sydney, is quite nice for where it is, but don’t go out of your way. Parramatta is the city’s second CBD, and also Australia’s second white settlement after Sydney City. Probably a walk for those who live locally or for a long stroll if you are passing through the area. It’s also nice for a BBQ or other family recreation. (more…)
Oatley Park is a suburban bushland haven situated on the Georges River, about 20km south of the Sydney CBD. An hour long circuit takes in wetlands, mangroves, and views of the saltwater Georges River and a couple of its side arms. There are plenty of shorter options however, and you can just wander through the park if you like; it’s not big enough to get seriously lost in. (more…)