Around Sydney

Federal Pass & Prince Henry Cliff Walk Circuit, Blue Mountains NP

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

Garie Beach from Garie Head, Royal National Park, Sydney
Garie Beach from Garie Head, Royal National Park, Sydney

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.

Eagle Rock, Royal National Park, Sydney
Eagle Rock, Royal National Park, Sydney
Marley Beach, Royal National Park, Sydney
Marley Beach, Royal National Park, Sydney

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.

Sophia next to giant Gymea Lilies, Heathcote National Park
Sophia next to giant Gymea Lilies, Heathcote National Park, Sydney

West of Sydney, including the Blue Mountains

Wentworth Falls via National Pass
Sophia standing in front of Wentworth Falls, in what I like to think of as a North Korean propaganda style photo. Compare this with the individualistic selfie, which is usually taken from above 🙂 . On seeing this photo she said “I’m a giant!”; she’s actually quite short.

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.

Lockleys Pylon / Du Faur Head, Blue Mountains
Looking down the Grose Valley towards Mt Hay.

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 Three Sisters, Blue Mountains National Park
The Three Sisters, Blue Mountains National Park
Devils Hole Track, Katoomba, Blue Mountains
The Devils Hole in Katoomba.
Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains National Park
Leura Cascades, Blue Mountains National Park

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

Cockle Creek, on the Gibberagong Track near Bobbin Head, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
Cockle Creek, on the Gibberagong Track near Bobbin Head, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, 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.

A Waratah, the NSW state flower, on the Sphinx Track, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney
A Waratah, the NSW state flower, on the Sphinx Track, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney
Cowan Creek, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney NSW
Cowan Creek, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, Sydney NSW
Bobbin Head Marina, Sydney
Bobbin Head Marina, Sydney

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). 

Royal National Park sky
Royal National Park sky

Sydney’s Weather

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!

Sophia dwarfed by an extremely tall tree fern, Ruined Castle/ Mt Solitary Track, Blue Mountains National Park
Sophia dwarfed by an extremely tall tree fern, Ruined Castle/ Mt Solitary Track, Blue Mountains National Park

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) :

Blue Mountains

Evans Lookout/Pulpit Rock/Popes Glenn/Braeside Walk, Blue Mountains

Cliffs galore on this longish walk on the edge of the Grose Valley near Blackheath. The spectacular views are at least a match for those over the Jamison Valley near Katoomba.

Federal Pass & Prince Henry Cliff Walk Circuit, Blue Mountains NP

A classic Blue Mountains circuit walk at Katoomba. There are extensive views, spectacular cliffs, numerous impressive waterfalls, and a variety of vegetation and bird life. Perhaps best done on a weekday to avoid the crowds at popular and accessible spots.

Fortress Ridge Track, Blue Mountains

An undulating walk through heath in the Upper Blue Mountains, with spectacular views of the Grose Valley and Lockleys Pylon at the turnaround point.

Grand Canyon Circuit, Blue Mountains

A unique and atmospheric walk through a narrow, shaded canyon in the Upper Blue Mountains near Blackheath.

Katoomba Landslide Circuit, Blue Mountains

A circuit walk taking in one of the better and yet less frequented sections of the Federal Pass at Katoomba, and also all of the most touristy areas for some contrast!

Royal National Park

Heathcote to Waterfall and back, Heathcote NP and the RNP

Combining two shorter walks into one, there are multiple swimmable pools on this long circuit in the Royal National Park and Heathcote National Park in Sydney’s south.

Jibbon Head Circuit, Royal National Park

A short circuit walk in the Royal National Park near Bundeena, taking in beautiful coastline, and you can extend it by continuing along the classic Coast Track to Marley Head or beyond.

Burning Palms Circuit, Royal National Park, Sydney

Cliffs, sandy beaches, rock formations, lagoons, heathland, wildflowers and more, on six of the best day-walks in Sydney’s Royal National Park.

The Coast Track, Royal National Park

One of Sydney’s classic bushwalks, the 27-30km Coast Track is a smorgasboard of coastal scenery, including plenty of sandy beaches, cliffs, weathered rocks, prominent headlands, lagoons, and heathland.

Wallumarra Track & the Forest Path, RNP

A variety of vegetation on this walk as it passes at first through heath, then woodland, and finally into subtropical rainforest.

Southern Highlands

Mermaids Pool & Tahmoor Canyon, Southern Highlands NSW

An excellent walk that passes through the atmospheric Tahmoor Canyon, and also visits the particularly scenic Mermaids Pool.

Starlights Trail, Nattai National Park

This walk, in the lesser known Nattai National Park, starts on fire trails, but eventually descends into the cliff lined Nattai Valley. You can have lunch next to the picturesque Nattai River at the turnaround point.

West Rim Track, Fitzoy Falls, Morton NP

Spectacular valley and waterfall views on this easy walk at Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park, a longish day trip from Sydney.

Wombat Hill Track (maybe), Morton National Park NSW

This route follows a long fire trail to extensive views over a river valley at Wombat Hill Lookout in Morton National Park.

Illawarra 

Wodi Wodi Track, Stanwell Park NSW

The Wodi Wodi Track is a short but sometimes steep walk in the northern Illawarra. It passes through forest, and visits a number of viewpoints over the coast on optional, (but worthwhile), side trips.

North of Sydney

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Suburban Sydney

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Clickable map of Australian walks…