Less than an hour south of Sydney lies the world’s second oldest, and Australia’s oldest national park, the Royal National Park. Known affectionately as the “Nasho” and “the Royal” to the locals, it’s where you’ll find Instagram famous spots including Wedding Cake Rock, Figure 8 Pools and Eaglehead Rock – but with 16,000ha to explore, there’s something new to see every time you go.
Of all the hikes in the Royal, the most breathtaking is definitely the Coast Track, a 26km hike from one end of the park to the other following the coast most of the way. Some people hike it in a day, but I think it’s best done in two days with an overnight stay at North Era campground.
You can hike it from Bundeena to Otford or Otford to Bundeena with pros and cons for both. If you choose Bundeena to Otford the views are more dramatic, the sun will be behind you and the uphills aren’t as steep. The hike from Bundeena to North Era campground is 18km and North Era to Otford Lookout is 8kms. This is the way we hiked.
As the hike is from one end of the park to the other, unless you have someone who can pick you up from the other end and take you back to your car, the most convenient way to get there is public transport, and it’s pretty easy. Take the train to Cronulla, then it’s just a quick walk to Cronulla wharf where you can get the ferry across to Bundeena.
From Bundeena it’s a 1.6km walk to the start of the Coast Track, and you pass an IGA which is great for any last minute snacks! In less than 1km you’ll get your first look at the coastline when you arrive at the Balconies and the view is spectacular.
A few sections of the Coast Track have a boardwalk, and they’re currently adding more sections. For the other sections there’s signposts along the way which are quite easy to follow. As you continue along the track you’ll come across sandy beaches, coves, forest, sandstone cliffs and waterfalls, so pack your bathers as there’s plenty of options for a refreshing dip.
Not only that, but if you hike between May and October you may even spot some whales during their migration season. Don’t forget to turn around every now and then to take in the views behind you and see where you’ve come from.
Just over 3km in and you’ll arrive at wedding cake rock, a pure white sandstone formation perched on the cliff face. It’s extremely fragile and at risk of collapsing at any time. Authorities have built a fence around it to stop people from climbing on the rock for that Instagram selfie, but it’s easy to enjoy its beauty from behind the fence.
The first beach you will come across is Marley Beach and soon after Little Marley Beach. Neither beaches are patrolled, but if you fancy a dip Little Marley is the safest of the two. If you would rather save your swim for a safer spot, Wattamolla beach is a good choice, there’s also toilets at Wattamolla.
From Wattamolla to North Era campground you’ll pass the famous Eaglehead Rock, Garie Beach which is a popular surf beach, and many other scenic spots. If there’s been some rain, keep an eye out for the pair of waterfalls that plunge into the ocean near Eaglehead Rock.
The are so many unique and beautiful things to enjoy in the Royal, but probably the most unique of all are the three shack communities within the park, Little Garie, Era and Burning Palms. The shacks were built between 1910 and 1950, with many of them built during the Depression by miners facing hardship. With no road access, the shacks could only be built by carrying everything in by hand. Around 200 shacks remain to this day, and because there’s still no road access, those lucky enough to be in possession of one must still carry everything in, and all rubbish out.
The next beach after the Little Garie community is North Era, your resting spot for the night. This is a paid campground and the only one along the Coast Track, so best to book before you go. There’s a few drop toilets but no fresh water and no bins. It’s worth getting up for the sunrise over the ocean, and if you’re lucky enough you may spot some deer around the camp or even on the beach.
Day two covers 8kms and starts off by taking you through the Era shack community then Burning Palms. From there you start to head away from the coast and the terrain begins to change. Not far past Burning Palms you’ll head further inland through the Palm Jungle where it’s almost like another world compared to the one you were in the day before.
From here it’s quite steep in parts and although the coast isn’t visible the whole time there are still a few lookout points and the forest itself is stunning. Once you exit the park, it’s roughly a 1km walk to Otford Train Station. If you’re finishing the hike on a Sunday, best to try and time the last stretch with the train so you’re not waiting too long.
If you’re not up for the full 26kms of the Coast Track, there are a few sections that make lovely half day or day hikes, so if you haven’t checked out Australia’s oldest national park, do yourself a favour and go.
I have hiked the Coast Track once in completion but done sections of it many times, and no matter how many times I visit, the beauty of the Royal National Park captures my heart every time. It’s a feast for the eyes that can only be experienced in person, and after completing the full Coast Track, albeit stiff and sore the next day, I couldn’t wait to go back and explore more of this magical place. It’s not just the coast either, the whole park is filled with hiking trails and even a few mountain bike tracks as well!
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