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) :
This walk takes in some of the best bits of the Blue Mountains near Katoomba, and is highly recommended. You’ll enjoy views of cliffs, waterfalls and lush forest along much of the route, and definitely visit Bridal Veil Falls and Leura Cascades on your way down to or up from the Federal Pass. (more…)
There are a number of excellent walks which start on the unsealed (and rough) Mt Hay Road, near the Blue Mountains town of Leura. Over 12 years of regular bushwalking in the area I had often noticed cars parked at the side of the road about half way to the end, and wondered whether there was a track there. Well, Sophia and I finally checked it out and discovered the really excellent Fortress Ridge Track. Better late than never. The track undulates through heath and occasional tree cover to a view point over the Grose Valley and Lockleys Pylon, which is quite spectacular from this angle. (more…)
The Grand Canyon Circuit offers a fairly unique Blue Mountains experience, passing through the shadowy recesses of a narrow canyon carved out by Greaves Creek, near the town of Blackheath in the upper mountains. There’s lush rainforest vegetation, tall and dark cliffs, as well as more open sections with dryer vegetation. There’s also excellent views from Evans Lookout of the Grose Valley, looking like a smaller, forested version of that other (slightly more famous) Grand Canyon. Evans Lookout is outside of the canyon, but a part of the circuit walk. (more…)
The Katoomba Landslide section of the Federal Pass in the Blue Mountains appears not to get that much traffic, and I hadn’t done it before this trip in June 2019. Turns out though it is one of the most spectacular sections of this longish track beneath sandstone cliffs, as a landslide in the early 1930’s has opened up views over a nice corner of the cliff lined Jamison Valley. (more…)
Royal National Park
Two walks and two national parks for the price of one here, easily accessible in southern Sydney. Not really a views walk, there are instead a number of picturesque pools on this long circuit walk, most of them swimmable in warm weather, and on the day I took these pictures there were some very healthy Gymea Lilies in flower. You can walk between Heathcote and Waterfall train stations as one way walks with a return trip by train. (more…)
The Jibbon Head Circuit is the shorter section of a longer walk we’ve done from Bundeena to Marley Head in the Royal National Park. It’s a mostly flat walk at the northern most end of the park, and offers very attractive coastal scenery for relatively little effort, including secluded looking beaches and rocky sections. When combined with the section of the classic Coast Track between Bundeena and Marley Head it makes for an excellent coastal walk of moderate difficulty, and all within easy reach of Sydney. (more…)
The Royal National Park is the world’s second oldest, established in 1879. It sits on the south-eastern border of Sydney, encompassing about 30km of picturesque and often dramatic coastline. The coastal sections are dominated by unique heathland, cliffs, rock formations, headlands, lagoons and sandy beaches. Further inland there are eucalypt forests and patches of rainforest.(more…)
The Royal National Park Coast Track is a classic 26-29km walk along the full length of the park’s coastline, just south of Sydney. There are unspoilt sandy beaches galore, shear cliffs, prominent headlands, interesting rocks, heathland, lagoons, pockets of forest, and even a palm jungle. There are a bunch of shorter day walks that take in sections of this walk, but only the full walk allows you to properly overdose on quintessential NSW coastal scenery. (more…)
This walk in the Royal National Park combines two tracks, the Wallumarra Track and Forest Path, and takes in a variety of vegetation including heath, woodland, and finally subtropical rainforest. There are no sweeping vistas on offer but a satisfying enough walk nevertheless; the tall palms and rainforest scenery of the Forest Path are particularly attractive. This section can be done as a shortish circuit walk from the stone gates where Lady Carrington Drive meets Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. (more…)
After 13 years of bushwalking around Sydney we are still doing new walks that exceed expectations. The Southern Highlands circuit visiting Mermaids Pool and passing through Tahmoor Canyon was one such walk. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it was fairly popular so it’s evidently not a secret. Mermaids Pool is probably the most scenic pool I’ve seen in NSW, and Tahmoor Canyon was deep and very atmospheric in places. Definitely recommended. (more…)
The Starlights Trail is in a less frequented area of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. The walk starts on fire trails, but eventually drops down into the cliff lined Nattai Valley, ending at the picturesque Nattai River. The area was a lot dryer than I remembered it, possibly a result of the recent drought. It’s a good walk if you want to get away from the crowds, as I don’t remember ever seeing anybody on this trail. Perhaps this is why we saw a goanna along the way, who stopped on a tree in a convenient spot for me to get a good picture. (more…)
The West Rim Track is a mostly flat 4km return walk passing multiple lookouts with views down a side arm of the Kangaroo Valley, and of a few waterfalls, particularly Fitzroy Falls situated at the start of the walk. (more…)
When I posted this walk in my personal Facebook account I didn’t mention the track name, so I’m not entirely sure where it was. Nevertheless, I’ve found pictures online of the same view as we saw, and that was labelled as Wombat Hill Lookout, so I think this is the same walk. It’s near the picturesque town of Berrima in the Southern Highlands, because we stopped there on the way back to Sydney. The walk was a bit monotonous as it followed a fire trail for most of the way, but the views were nice at the turnaround point. (more…)
When Sophia and I first tried to do this walk many years ago it was overgrown, and on that day we discovered the nearby Forest Walk, which goes to Sublime Point. I saw on Facebook that a friend had done the Wodi Wodi Track recently though, so I thought we would give it a go. It’s a fairly short circuit walk through eucalypt forest and rainforest, with some steep climbing and walking on roads. If you take a side trip near Stanwell Park station there are viewpoints over the suburb of Stanwell Park and the coast. (more…)