Royal National Park: The Complete Guide

Royal National Park, New South Wales, Australia. Wattamolla
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Royal National Park

Address
Royal National Park NSW 2233, Australia

The Australian government designated the world's second oldest national park in 1879. At 16,000 hectares (almost 40,000 acres), the diverse landscape of the Royal National Park changes from beach to grasslands to rainforest. Located just south of Sydney, New South Wales, in Sutherland Shire, Royal National Park (the Royal to locals) captures some of the most breathtaking views in Australia. Wildlife ranging from possums to wallabies, bats to reptiles, live in the park environs and more than 300 bird species have been documented.

The Royal National Park is generally a safe place, but you should still exercise some caution and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Don't walk on the edges of precipices, or in any place, a landslide could happen. When boating, wear an appropriate safety flotation vest. On longer or steep walks, bring enough drinking water to avoid dehydration. And if there have been fire bans or extreme fire-danger warnings, refrain from walking on trails situated away from roads or main visitor areas.

Things to Do

In Royal National Park, you can go bushwalking and whale watching in the same picturesque location. With a range of activities, including bird watching, hiking, fishing, surfing, and camping, you control the tempo of your vacation. Mountain bikers can enjoy one of two 6-mile (10-kilometer) trails, either the one-way Lady Carrington Drive or the Loftus Loop Trail. Swimmers can visit coastal spots like Garrie Beach or riverside areas like Wattle Forest for a dip or a paddle. Beyond the beaches, some of the park's most notable sights include Wedding Cake Rock and the Figure Eight Pools. You can also visit the Jibbon Aboriginal Engravings Site to see indigenous artwork that dates back 1,000 years.

There are barbecues and fireplaces available for public use within the grounds of the park, and you can also bring your own portable gas barbecue. Particularly during the dry Australian summer between December and February, it’s important to follow any rules in place regarding fire bans or warnings.

Best Hikes & Trails

Royal National Park offers many different trails—or "walks" as the Australians call them—through its varied landscape. You should have no issue choosing one appropriate for your wishes and skill level, whether you're looking for an easy beach stroll or an ambitious overnight hike.

  • The Forest Path: This approximately 3-mile (4.5-kilometer) loop is an easy path suitable for all levels and also happens to be one of the oldest trails in the park, passing through the Hacking River and Bola Creek.
  • The Coast Track: Most visitors don't walk all 16 miles (27 kilometers) of the coast track, but you can get some amazing views by exploring the first part of the path. The path can be done in sections, but if you plan to hike the whole thing you'll need enough supplies for two days and a reservation at North Era Campground.
  • Karloo Track: Finishing at Uloola Falls, this moderately difficult trail is about 6 miles (10 kilometers).
  • Figure Eight Pools: The unique tide pool formation in the rock shelf near Burning Palms Beach can be dangerous depending on the weather and tide conditions. Approximately 4 miles (6.1 kilometers) each way, this trail is steep and slippery.
  • Bundeena Drive to Marley: This 5-mile (8-kilometer) return hike offers a rewarding way to get to Little Marley Beach while passing through forests and Deer Pool if you want to go for a mid-hike swim. From here, you can connect to the Coast Track.

Where to Camp

Despite the size of the park, camping options are quite limited and can only be reached by hikers. You should only plan to camp in this park if you have all the necessary gear and supplies to be self-sufficient for an overnight stay. All reservations must be made in advance.

  • North Era Campground: Accessible via the Coast Track, overlooking Garie Beach, this campground has toilets, but you will need to bring your own drinking water and there is a one-night maximum stay.
  • Uloola Falls Campground: This shady campground can be reached either by the Uloola or Karloo trails. There are toilets, but you'll need to bring your own drinking water. The campsite is situated near the waterfall, but note that it can dry out from time to time if there has not been enough rain.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you don't plan to return to Sydney but are not prepared for an overnight camping trip in the park, consider booking one of the heritage cottages that are located inside the park at remote and serene locales. Competition for bookings can tough so if you are on a last-minute visit, you can find more accommodation options in the nearby town of Bundeena or back in Sydney.

  • Hilltop Cottage: Up to six people can sleep in this three-bedroom cottage, from which you can easily reach the Coast Track. Views overlook Port Hacking.
  • Reids Flat Cottage: This four-bedroom cottage can house eight people and is situated near the Audley Boatshed where you can rent a boat or easily access Lady Carrington Drive for some mountain biking.
  • Weemalah Cottage: Six guests can stay in this three-bedroom cottage that sits on the riverbank near attractions like Winifred Falls and the Warumbul picnic area.

Read more about the best Sydney hotels.

How to Get There

From Sydney, there are many different ways you can get to Royal National Park, with or without a car. To use the train, take the Illawarra Line. This transports you to Loftus, Engadine, Heathcote, Waterfall, or Otford, and then through the walking tracks and into the park. On Sundays and public holidays, a tram is available from Loftus. You can also reach the park by boat along the coast and through the Hacking River below the causeway. Ferries come from the beachside suburb of Cronulla to Bundeena.

By car, the drive from Sydney takes less than an hour. From Downtown Sydney, you can take the Princes Highway/A1 south and then choose between one of three road entrances into the park. The first takes you via Farnell Avenue off the Princes Highway south of Sutherland (about 18 miles (29 kilometers) south of the Sydney center). The second is through McKell Avenue, off the Princes Highway at Waterfall, just more than 20 miles (32 kilometers) east from Liverpool. The third is through Wakehurst Drive in Otford, or about 17 miles (28 kilometers) from Wollongong.

Accessibility

The Visitor Centre and Audley Dance Hall Cafe are both accessible, but wheelchair users also have limited options when it comes to accessible trails. Bungoona Lookout is the only accessible trail in the park, thanks to the paved pathway. The view overlooks the Hacking River. For other accessible hikes in the Sydney area, but outside of the national park, you can check out the official list on the New South Wales Government official website.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Spring is one of the best times to visit, bringing wildflowers, however, March tends to be the wettest month.
  • All Aboriginal sites and rock formations, including fauna and flora present in the park, are protected and may not be taken out of the park.
  • Park management prohibits firearms and spearguns.
  • You must leave your pets at home, to protect the wildlife.
  • Be sure to pack out everything you bring in, including trash.
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Royal National Park: The Complete Guide