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) :
Lincolns Rock: The Scenery
We’ve done the Lockleys Pylon / Du Faur Head walk many a time. Walking through attractive heath vegetation allows for open views for the most part from start to finish, taking in the shear sided cliffs of the impressive Grose Valley from the opposite side of the valley to walks near Blackheath (such as walking to Pulpit Rock). Definitely a good scenery to effort ratio. (more…)
This walk in the Lower Blue Mountains is more attractive than my photos suggest; basically it’s more atmospheric than photogenic. It passes through various forest types and takes in numerous pools and waterfalls. The steep side trip (and mini circuit) to Martins Lookout is worth it, and a good spot for lunch. (more…)
A short walk with lots of climbing, starting up high at Martins Lookout, dropping down steeply to Glenbrook Creek, and ending up high again at Bunya Lookout and later Lost World Lookout. The views are good if not mega, and there’s a few interesting rocks and plants along the way. A good option in the lower mountains for half a day’s walking with some decent climbing (about 500m of ascent/descent all up). (more…)
It took us a while to do this walk for the first time because the nearby Lockleys Pylon Track is so great that we kept doing that. Ascending Mt Hay is a really excellent walk though, and quite short. It’s a longer drive to the start than Lockleys Pylon, but visiting nearby Butterbox Point is another excellent short walk that can be done in the same outing. You can also continue past Mt Hay to visit the more remote Venus Tor. Views of cliffs and deep valleys on all of these walks. (more…)
Royal National Park
Most sections of the classic Royal National Park Coast Track can be visited as day walk circuits, however the section between Wattamolla and Eagle Rock cannot. We did this and continued on to Garie North Head for great views down the coast, then returned back along the Coast Track to Wattamolla. On this occasion the highlight for me was the novelty of seeing this area after substantial fire damage. The colours were intense blacks, blues, oranges, whites, browns, greys, pinks and greens, and we could see rocks and topography usually hidden by vegetation cover. (more…)
The Royal National Park Coast Track is pretty special from start to end, and this section from Wattamolla to Marley Beach is no exception. There are many cliffs and interesting rocks, windswept beaches and bays, plus a large variety of wildflowers in spring. And you can make a partial circuit by taking fire trails inland for a while. The vegetation is predominantly heath. (more…)