Royal National Park
The Royal National Park is in on the southern fringe of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia around 35 km south from the city centre.
The Royal National Park is the second oldest national park in the world. It is easily accessible from Sydney and is popular for picnics, walking and other recreation. The picnic areas within the park are largely at Audley, next to the Hacking River. The Audley Boatshed and Visitor's Centre are there too. However, there are many other picnic areas within the park, and many other areas to explore.
Once a quiet and secluded part of Sydney is now well and truly on the international tourist trail. Sites like Figure Eight Pools, Wedding Cake Rock, and Wattamolla can attract crowds of all nationalities. And the park may reach capacity and close on summer weekends and holidays.
This is general guidance how to get in to the park. The park itself is large, so check your plan your itinerary carefully, especially if you are not driving, to ensure you can get to where you want to be. Information on accessing specific destinations within the park is contained within the destination information, below.
You can drive or walk through the park at any time, but the picnic areas close at sunset and people staying late will be ejected by the private security employed in the park.
- There are train services from Sydney City to , , , and stations which are on the western perimeter of the park (go on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line). From each of these stations you can access several signposted bushwalks. Given time, you can even walk between them. At each of these entry points there are shops to purchase food and drinks. However it is not straightforward to access Audley, the main picnic areas, or the coastal areas of the park from these access points. The services run to these suburbs at 30 minute frequency and take 45 minutes for the trip.
To access Audley from Loftus, walk east from Loftus following the tramline and the 45-minute easy walk to Bungonia Lookout over the river and Audley. Consider whether you want to walk down the hill to Audley (or more to the point, consider if you want to walk back).
To access Audley from Waterfall follow the Uloola track for 3 hours to Audley passing Uloola falls, follow the signs from the station carpark.
- There are hourly train services to on the southern boundary of the park. This is an access point to the southern end of the coast walk. It is a 10-minute steep uphill walk from the station to the park boundary at Bald Hill, it is signposted. It is about an hour walk to Werrong beach (nudist) or two hours to Burning Palms beach from this point.
- There are also train services to to meet a ferry to . This is an access point to the northern end of the coast walk. The trains run every 30 minutes and the ferries run every hour. Don't expect them to connect. Turn left out of the exit to the station, and then left through the railway underpass to get to the ferry. About 5 minutes walk. It is 15 minutes walk from the ferry wharf at Bundeena to the park. You will need to know where you are going, and consult a map.
Topographic maps of the park can be viewed online at the New South Wales Lands Department . Bundeena has a nice beach by the side of the wharf, and nice cafes. It is not in the park, but it is surrounded by it.
- Loftus Tramway Museum runs hourly trams from Loftus station to at the top of the hill at Audley every hour on Sundays. From the end of the tramline there is a 1-km sealed path (Bungonia Track) to walk to the lookout at the top of the cliff. It is a steep 30-minute walk (Honeymoon Track) down to the main picnic areas at Audley. The tram line is only about 2 km long, and it is possible to walk the length of the tram line from Loftus on the days the tram isn't running. However, you will need to take great care crossing the Princes Highway from the station - and you may choose a different walk for just this reason.
You can drive into the park at Audley, at Waterfall and at Stanwell Tops. Follow the signs from the Princes Highway. An entry fee applies for all cars taken into the park. Sometimes there are attendants at the gated entryways selling entry tickets. Even when these are not on duty you are expected to pay. Rangers check cars for displayed tickets in the parking lots. You can buy tickets from the Visitor's center and the kiosks. You do not have to pay if you are just passing through the park and do not stop. There are parking and picnic facilities within the park.
There are well developed roads to get around by car within the park, and these can be used to access the walking trails and the major picnic areas. There is plenty of parking at the main picnic areas.
Cycling is permitted on the trails but not the tracks unless marked (trails designed for ranger or fire access by 4wd, tracks are narrow, with steps, designed for walkers). Bicycles can access many trails that are closed to cars. The main sealed through roads through the park are steep and hilly, with many bends, and with cars that invariably exceed the speed limits and advisory corner speeds.
There are still many areas of the park can only be accessed by walking.
Maps of the park are available for purchase from the visitors centre in Audley, or many map and bookshops around Sydney. Individual brochures for the walks and beaches are available at no charge.
Audley Boat ShedThe historic boat shed at Audley dates from late 19th century. Audley was a popular spot for visitors from Sydney at that time.
Bungoona LookoutThe Bungoona Lookout is an easy to access, paved path walk, suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. The view over the Hacking River valley is impressive.
Flora and fauna
- Lyrebirds, Crimson Rosellas are common within the park. The Lyre birds tail fans out like a peacock, and they can often be seen in pairs. Crimson Rosellas common, some are used to being fed and they will eat out of your hand (although strictly speaking, you probably shouldn't feed them).
- Goannas can be seen around Audley (and elsewhere). Large monitor lizards.
- Kangaroos and Wallabies, are rarer in the park then they used to be before the last bushfire. Wallabies can be seen in the bush by the Hacking River. Kangaroos on the open plains around Era.
- Turtles and fish can often be seen in the rocks from the weir at Audley. If you are canoeing up Kangaroo Creek from the boatshed, look on the logs that have fallen on the waters edge.
- Kookaburras, Cockatoos, and Galahs are common all over the park, as in most of Sydney.
Stay safe. Carry enough water for your trip, water is not usually available in the park, and what water there is often not safe to drink. Let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Although the park is not of the scale of other Australian National Parks, it is still possible to become lost.
The park is one of the best places to do day walks from Sydney. You can walk along spectacular sandstone cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean with views to the north to Sydney or to the south to Wollongong. Alternatively you can walk in the river valleys behind the headlands. There you will find tall rainforest trees such as the Lilly Pilly Acmena smithii or the fragrant Celery wood Polysias elegans.
- Lady Carrington Drive from Audley or Forest Island. This is a well marked trail from Audley, and probably the most popular walk in the park. You can cycle this trail as well with a mountain bike. It is mostly flat, wide and follows the Hacking River.
- Coast walk. The Coast walk is a 30km walk starting at Bundeena and ending at Otford. See the section above on how to access these points. Along the way it passes most of the Park's significant beaches, including Wattamolla, Garie, Era and Burning Palms. It climbs headlands, goes along sandstone cliffs and around rocky foreshores. It passes depression-era huts set in a valley with deer at Era, and no shortage of kangaroos. This walk is recommended to take 2 days. You can camp at North Era with a permit. If you are fit and keen the walk can be done in one day. If you plan your walk during the migration of the humpback whales you might get lucky and see a mother and her calf.
Figure 8 PoolsDeep figure-8-shaped pool on a shelf of rock in a spectacular setting, below the second headland south of Burning Palms. The pools are accessed by clambering over rocks for 20 minutes from Burning Palms Beach, and both the pool and the path are only safe if the tide is low (below 1m) and the swell is relatively low. Signs along the way show photos of an enormous wave crashing over tourists who turned their back on the sea.
Uloola FallsA relatively easy walk from Waterfall station, mostly along a fire road.
A comprehensive list of the walks available, and details of the routes can be obtained from the Visitor Centre.
Wattamolla BeachWattamolla lagoon and surf beach is a popular safe swimming spot that you can drive to. It is a truly beautiful spot and the combination of lagoon and surf swimming between rugged cliffs is fantastic. However you will not be the first person to discover the location, and it is quite popular on summer weekends. At many times Wattamolla is simply a paradise lost, now with too many people, tourists, groups and crowds to truly relax. Try a weekday evening to have more space to yourself, arriving at 4PM during the summer still gives you 3 full hours to enjoy the beach. You will no doubt see people jumping from the cliffs into the lagoon below, and swinging from ropes and jumping. The lagoon is very variable depth, and people have had serious injuries jumping here, and needless to say the activity is not allowed. The surf beach is not patrolled, and is not really suitable for surfing, due to the cliffs to either side of the beach. Wattamolla is also around the halfway point on the Coast Walk from Otford to Bundeena.
Garie BeachGarie is a surf beach also accessible by road. It is patrolled on weekends in summer from 10AM. There is a kiosk selling ice-cream, coffee, etc., on weekends in summer.
North Era BeachNorth Era is patrolled Sundays in summer. You can camp there, right on the beach, with a permit. The shortest walk to car access is to Garrawarra Farm, around 30-45 minutes down the hill. Most people camping there are doing the coast walk from Bundeena to Otford.
Burning Palms BeachThe quickest way to access Burning Palms by car is to park at Garrawarra Farm and walk down the hill to the beach. The walk will take around 30 minutes or so, but its a steep hill on the way back up. Alternatively you can walk from Otford along the coast walk in around 90 minutes. Burning Palms is patrolled on Sundays in summer. The short walk ensures that Burning Palms is always nice and uncrowded.
Werrong BeachWerrong is a beautiful nudist beach, accessible in about 20 minutes walk from the Otford trailhead. The hike down takes you thru a variety of amazing forest habitats, including a "tropical" rain forest. The back of the beach includes some lovely soft grassy areas for sunbathing. The beach is not large but is big enough to have space and not feel crowded. Enjoy the sheer carefree pleasure of walking or swimming nude where nobody minds what you do as long as you don't bother others. But take care if swimming as there are strong rip currents. There are nice rock pools for bathing depending on the tide; in summer these are best in the afternoon. Be sure to bring everything you need as there is nothing available on the beach except what Mother Nature provides. That's Werrong's magic: this is the perfect place to connect with nature! And for that reason, please leave it as pristine as you find it. Enjoy!
Big Marley BeachBig Marley and are unpatrolled beaches, and can be subject to rips, so take care. There is a lagoon behind Big Marley, but its not as nice as Wattamolla and not really suitable for swimming. These beaches are only accessible by walking, and you can usually expect to have them to yourself.
There is no swimming in the river at Audley.
Canoe, kayak and row
Private craft (canoes & kayaks) are allowed. The boat rental operator has put up signs saying they are not allowed, but on checking with Park Rangers, this is not so, March 2012.
You can use a mountain bike in the park on trails (wide roads with a barrier to prevent access by cars) except where signposted. Pick up the brochure on cycling in the park from the Visitor's Centre.
- Lady Carrington Drive is a popular family off-road easy cycling location, and bikes can be hired from the boatshed which is an easy cycle from the start of the track. They can give directions at the boatshed.
- If you have your own mountain bike you can catch the train to Waterfall and cycle along the Uloola Trail to the falls. Follow the cycleway south from the station past the primary school, and down the service trail. It is around 12 km return cycle along wide and mostly well graded trail. You can cool off by paddling in the water by the falls if they are flowing.
Kiosks and take-away
The cafe at Audley is a delight. Well prepared food on the deck overlooking the clearing and the river. It is open from 8AM for breakfast, and if the sun is shining you may not feel like going anywhere for a while. There is a kiosk at Wattamolla beach and at Garie beach usually open on weekends during peak times. Nice for an ice cream on a hot day, but don't rely on them being open for camping supplies as they seem to close up if the business isn't there.
There is a selection of coffee shops and take away places at Bundeena. There is a coffee shop and take away at Otford outside the park's southern boundary. On a sunny weekend you will likely find an ice-cream van or two at Bald Hill, near the southern exit of the Coast/Cliff Walk.
The park is an excellent place for a picnic.
There are free electric barbecues provided at Audley, Wattamolla, with many picnic tables provided. There are still some fireplaces left for wood fires
There are picnic tables at regular intervals along the roads through the park.
Whatever you want to drink, bring it with you. Water for the walk or beer for the barbecue.
Although the streams run clear through the bush and look refreshing, they are not recommended for drinking without boiling. There isn't a single stream in the park that can be relied upon to be running without recent rainfall.
CampingNational Parks and Wildlife Service, Farnell Avenue, Audley Heights, ph +61 2 9542 0648 (fax +61 2 9542 1420). Contact the NPWS for camping permits if you intend to camp in any of the campgrounds. Camping elsewhere in the park is forbidden.
- Bonnie Vale camping ground. This campground has 40 sites. It is in the north-eastern corner of the park near Bundeena. You access it by road off Bundeena drive. The campground has excellent facilities including drinking water, toilets and hot showers, but there is no power. You can camp in caravans. The fee is $14 per night for adults and $7 per night for children. Bonnie Vale is a 15-minute walk from the Bundeena ferry wharf. Much of the camping area is closed for asbestos remediation.
- North Era camping ground. This campground is accessible by walking along the coast track from Bundeena or Otford, or by walking the much shorted walk from the parking lot adjacent to Garawarra Farm. The campground has composting toilets, but no other facilities, and wood fires are banned. The fee is $5 per night for adults and $3 per night for children.
- Uloola Falls camping ground. This campground is accessible by walking along the Uloola Track from Waterfall, Heathcote or Engadine. The campground has composting toilets, but no other facilities, and wood fires are banned. The fee is $5 per night for adults and $3 per night for children.
- Mobile phone reception is very limited in the park. There are no transmitters in the park. If you need mobile phone reception move around, and try and get to the highest ground possible.
- Most trails within the park are well developed and well marked. However some trails, particularly the coastal trails, include rocky ground, sea rocks, and beaches, where following the trail on the ground is difficult.
- Eastern Brown snakes are sometimes seen sunning themselves along the less well traversed tracks or rocks next to the tracks. Sometimes they can even be seen on Lady Carrington's Drive. They are a shy snake, and usually waste no time getting out of your way. Don't do anything silly like try to touch one, scare it away with a stick, or corner one. Give them space, and they will get out of your way. Their bites can be dangerous, even deadly. If you do get bitten, get help.
- Leeches come out when it rains. They don't hurt, they do you no lasting harm, and will drop off when they have had their fill. They do leave you a bit bloody though if you try to pull them off. If you don't want them on you, avoid walking in the rain, or wear thick long socks and long pants, checking them occasionally and avoiding brushing against plants. Insect repellent will deter them, but it also washes off in the rain, so it is a bit hopeless, really.
Travel south along the coast road via the new Sea Cliff Bridge. A bridge built over the sea by the cliff edge, just south of the park and Stanwell Park.
Travel further south along the highway, and in around half an hour you will be in Wollongong.
Heathcote National Park is just to the west of the Princes Hwy, and without the coastal vistas or development of the Royal National Park. If you are looking for a natural landscape with walks, fewer people and no cars, then consider a bushwalk here. As you will have to park outside of the park, there are no admission fees either.