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.
There are many bushwalking options packed into the park, and for most the coastal walks will be the highlight. The classic one to two day Coast Track takes in all of the coastline, and is highly recommended. I’ve done it twice, and you can view my blog post here. Nevertheless, at 27-30km one way you’ll need two cars, or else plan ahead to access via public transport.
Another option is to sample each section of the coast in a series of shorter day-walks. I’ve selected six below that take in all sections of the Coast Track. Four of them are circuit walks that take you inland on the return leg for variety. You can click on the titles to see my original post on each walk.
Southern End of the Royal National Park
I’ve done the Burning Palms Circuit multiple times, and it remains one of my favourite walks around Sydney. Starting at Otford Lookout on the southern edge of the Royal National Park, you walk along steep coastal cliffs, descend into a palm jungle, and pass through windswept grassy plains on way to the very picturesque Burning Palms Beach. From there you can climb 300m on the Burgh Ridge track and return across the tops to the start.
This walk also provides access to the popular tourist attraction Figure of Eight Pool. And Burning Palms Beach is patrolled on summer weekends in the school holidays.
The views from 110m high Garie North Head are some of the best in the park. You can drive to Garie Beach, and from there it’s a short but steep walk to these views. But if you want to visit the area on a bushwalk then one good option is to start at Garrawarra Farm car park on top of the escarpment. You descend down the Burgh Ridge spur towards the sea, and then walk north along the Coast Track. You’ll pass by a number of attractive beaches and over other headlands on your way to Garie North Head. There’s a kiosk at Garie Beach, so you might stop to get an ice cream. And the beach is patrolled on summer weekends in the school holidays, so you could have a swim too.
This slightly less travelled section of the Royal National Park Coast Track includes the famous Eagle Rock, and nearby you get views of two waterfalls that enter the sea. You could turn around here, but if you continue to Garie North Head there are elevated views down the coast (better photos from there in the post above).
An alternative route to visit Eagle Rock is on the Curra Moors Circuit. The walk starts inland, and passes through heathland on its way to join the Coast Track at Eagle Rock. You then walk south until a tracks takes you back inland to the start (or it’s not far to visit Garie North Head for those views).
Northern End of the Royal National Park
Many rugged cliffs and interesting rocks are a highlight of the coastline between Wattamolla and Marley Beach. There are also windswept beaches and bays, and a large variety of wildflowers in spring. The vegetation is predominantly heath, and you’ll get plenty of that by taking fire trails inland to make a partial circuit. An alternative circuit to this one starts inland, and would be a good choice if the car park at Wattamolla is full, as it often is on summer weekends.
Bundeena to Marley Head is one of my favourite sections of the Royal National Park coastline. 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.
Wedding Cake Rock is on this route, a real tourist draw card that brings in the crowds rather. You can leave these behind on the way back by taking a little known inland route. This route may lack the views, but the heath vegetation is interesting. And you can extend the walk by doing the worthy Jibbon Head Circuit (see below).
The Jibbon Head Circuit is the shortest walk in this list, although it can be extended by walking to Marley Head (see above). 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 a series of attractive beaches and rocky sections. You can also see aboriginal rock engravings.
If you are ending your walk at the sleepy suburb of Bundeena, then this is a good place for a swim, or for fish and chips and an ice cream after your walk. And if you are driving out of the Royal National Park going north, then you might like to stop off at Audley for refreshments or a picnic.