Known locally as ‘the Nasho’ or simply ‘the Royal’, the Royal National Park is just under 30 km south of Sydney and yet surprisingly few people venture there.
Established in 1879, it’s the world’s second oldest national park after Yellowstone and offers plenty of activities, including hiking, bird watching, canoeing, whale watching, surfing, swimming and cycling. There are 16,000 ha of rainforest and beaches to explore and, given its close proximity to the city, there really is no excuse not to visit.
The Royal National Park also contains Aboriginal sites and artefacts, which are best explored on a guided tour. While the most obvious route is the 26 km Coast Walk from Otford to Bundeena, there are over 100 km of tracks within the park.
The transport links to the Royal National Park from Sydney are pretty good. If you own a car, there are plenty of carpark spots throughout the park that you can use as your access point to some beautiful beaches or picnic areas. Note that there is a vehicle entry fee of $11 per day.
Otherwise, you will need to take a train. To reach Otford, catch a train from Central Station to Waterfall (54 mins). From Waterfall, it’s another 16 mins to Otford by train. The full journey from most stations in the city costs $6.80.
To get to Bundeena, take the train from Central to Cronulla (50 mins; also $6.80) and walk for about 5 minutes to the ferry terminal. The ferry will get you to Bundeena in 30 minutes. The ferry fare is $6.40.
For more information on transport in Sydney, visit the Sydney Buses website.
FINDING YOUR WAY
The coastal track from Otford to Bundeena is fairly well signposted. Add to that the fact that you are pretty much following the coast the entire way and it’s difficult to go too far wrong. Having said that, there are a few points where the route isn’t obvious and if you’re not paying attention you could take the wrong path. It’s also good to know roughly how far along you are and when to expect rougher terrain, especially if you intend to complete the entire route in one day and don’t want to find yourself by the side of a cliff after dark.
This guide and map is incredibly useful. It describes the route in just the right amount of detail, enabling you to plan to take breaks at scenic spots and assess whether or not a detour is worth the effort. While there aren’t many facilities along the footpath, it also points out the few existing kiosks and toilets.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Royal National Park Coast Track from Otford to Bundeena is just under 30 km over rough terrain. It is a challenge to do it all in one day, but by no means is it impossible. Experienced trail runners can do it in around 3 hours. A more realistic time for someone hiking at a decent pace and not taking too many breaks is 8 hours.
You will want to take the time to appreciate the views. There are plenty of scenic spots by small waterfalls, atop cliffs and beside sandy beaches.
Near Wattamolla Picnic Ground is a great spot for swimming and rock jumping. Swimming at some of the beaches is dangerous though. The sea is particularly turbulent, with massive waves and a lot of white water.
Camping is currently only permitted at North Era Beach and there is very little there. The campground is much closer to Otford than Bundeena, so a two-day walk is best done north to south. One night costs $10 for two people plus $5 for each additional person.
It’s worth noting that transport links between the city and the park are not too reliable. I reached Bundeena in time for the 4 pm ferry only to find that it had been cancelled due to heavy swells. Rather than getting to Cronulla at 4:30 pm as anticipated, I had to wait for a replacement bus at 6 pm that took an hour to reach Cronulla. Getting back to Manly took me 5.5 hours in total!
You might not be able to walk the day after you do this – or at least you will probably have to use your arms to lower yourself down into chairs. Also, if you get as covered in multicoloured mud as I did, you’ll receive some strange looks on the commute home.
Burning Palms Beach: This beach is small but very beautiful;
Garie Beach: A large and popular spot for day trippers from Sydney, with toilets, a kiosk, showers, a carpark and a surf life saving club;
Eagle Rock: A section of cliff jutting out over the ocean that looks like an eagle’s head. There is also a waterfall here;
Curracurrang Cove: A popular rest spot for weary hikers, this small cove is where the creek meets the ocean and it’s very pretty;
Wattamolla Dam and Lagoon: Great places to cool off, where the water is much safer than the ocean;
Cliffs just south of Bundeena: Walking along the cliff edge south of Bundeena there are some interesting rock formations. Look out for one section that is almost pure white cube-shaped sandstone.
WHAT TO TAKE ON THE OTFORD TO BUNDEENA HIKE
If you intend to do the route in one day, you should have a reasonable level of fitness. The track is fairly tough, following the coast up and over many headlands, some of which are a steep climb. The track is slow going over sandy beaches. Sometimes you’ll be clambering over boulders and others you’ll be balancing precariously on stepping stones or wooden beams, or negotiating thick mud. Check the weather before you set off and dress appropriately.
Consider packing the following:
Sturdy shoes: Trainers if you intend to run, or walking boots if you’re hiking only;
Comfortable clothing: Since I intended to run most of the track, I wore breathable running gear from Outdoor Look, which would definitely be suitable for hikers too.
Plenty of water: 4 or 5 litres on a hot day. You should be able to buy more at Garie Beach or Wattamolla Picnic Ground, but don’t rely on it. There are also some natural sources, but you would need to treat the water before drinking it;
Sunscreen: This is Australia. Even if it’s not sunny, you should wear sunscreen;
Food: You’ll be burning a lot of calories walking or running almost 30 km, so snacks with carbs are a good idea. However, there are some stores and takeaways in Bundeena if you think you’d prefer to save yourself for the end. Going the opposite way, there’s not much at all in Otford;
Spare warm clothing: Even if it’s a sunny day, it may take you a while to get home and the temperature drops significantly after dark;
Music: This isn’t vital, but if you’re alone, you may want some entertainment – not that the views aren’t enough;
Kindle: Pack your Kindle or a good book because you’ll be spending a few hours on public transport getting there and back;
Camera: The scenery is stunning.
FANCY SOMETHING MORE UNIQUE?
If you’re not keen on exploring the Otford to Bundeena track independently, or if you’re looking for something more unique, Understand Down Under is a company that offers off-the-beaten-track tours within the park, covering a range of themes including Aboriginal culture, European history, plants, wildlife and geology. For the past few years, they have been running a sunset to sunrise ‘Moonwalk’ tour during the summer months, which includes a candlelit dinner followed by a night photography session involving glow sticks and coloured lights. There is also time for enchanting stories, a hike and some star gazing before you sleep in the park overnight.
Whether you choose to use a tour company or go it alone, the Royal National Park is a part of Sydney you can’t afford to miss. It’s incredible that somewhere so beautiful and ecologically diverse is located so close to such a major city, and because it’s so accessible, I’d recommend it to both locals and tourists with limited time in the area.
COMPARE ACCOMMODATION DEALS
HotelsCombined aggregates the results of hotel searches from over 40 travel sites to bring you the best deals in the quickest time.
CONTINUE THE ADVENTURE
Sydney is the first stop off point of the fantastic BEACHES AND REEFS tour run by Contiki. This two-week trip is filled with fun and adventure and includes surfing, kayaking, skydiving, bungy jumps, scuba, a dracula show, barn dance karaoke, whip cracking, overnight sailing, plenty of parties and much, much more. It’s without a doubt the most fun I’ve ever had on a tour! Why not arrive in Sydney a few days before your tour group is due to meet so you can do the Otford to Bundeena track too!
FOLLOW AUSTRALIA’S EAST COAST WITH CONTIKI…
AND HAVE NO REGRETS!