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 Trail Hiking Australia.
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). Take a Walk in Southern NSW & the ACT (by John & Lyn Daly) covers the south of Sydney and beyond; they have more walks than most guide books, but note that their track notes tend to be a bit briefer, and they are sometimes optimistic regarding the reader’s ability to navigate suggested off-track alternatives.
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) :