Royal National Park in Sydney is not just Australia’s oldest national park, it’s actually the second oldest national park in the world, surpassed only by Yellowstone National Park in the U.S. From jagged coastlines, to river valleys, and a traditional Aboriginal heritage, Royal National Park is truly diverse.

Royal National Park Royal National Park cliffs

Royal National Park is a unique spot for nature lovers in Sydney. It’s perhaps the only place that you can see a creek turn into a waterfall and flow over a cliff into the ocean from your perch on a slab of sandstone. The natural landscape also supports an abundance of wildlife including whales, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, and rosella. For those interested in another type of wildlife, Royal National Park also hosts one official and many unofficial nudist beaches.

Royal National Park

What drew me to the park, though, was the Coast Track, a 26 kilometre (16 miles) hike along the Pacific Ocean coast. While it can be experienced through multiple trips or a strenuous one day trek, the most enjoyable way is through a two day excursion. The Coast Track runs between Bundeena and Otford and hikers can decide which end to start at.

River Royal National Park

Royal National Park Day 1: Bundeena to North Era campground

18km (11.2 miles)

In order to get an early start, we camped in Bundeena the night prior to beginning our hike. Bonnie Vale campgrounds, located right next to Simpsons Bay, is an ideal spot due to its proximity to the trail and the adjacent beach, which is perfect for enjoying a sunset.

The trail’s entrance is about a 20 minute walk from the Bonnie Vale campgrounds. As soon as you start walking on the trail, you can see sheer cliffs that are literally the edge of Australia. It is quite awe inspiring to look out past the cliffs knowing that the next major piece of land is South America. The trail dips down into the cliffs and rises back up again, providing incredible views and plenty of opportunities for stunning photography.

Royal National Park Marley Beach

With the trail winding its way up and down along the coastline, you’ll pass by many beautiful beaches. As you’ll be tempted to stop at each and every one of them, I recommend that you start the trek as early as possible on day one. The first beach to visit is Marley Beach, followed by Little Marley. Both beaches have a wild and remote feel as they are set in amongst the cliffs, yet the blue-green colours of the ocean make you feel as though you are somewhere tropical.

Royal National Park Marley Beach

From here the trails start to slowly move inland and the dramatic coastline changes into coastal scrub with the ocean always slightly in view. You will cross through creeks and eventually arrive at Curracurrong Falls. This spectacular waterhole flows over the cliff and cascades into the ocean. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a rest and some lunch to refuel for the journey ahead to the North Era campground.

From here, the trek heads off the coastline and into dense coastal bush. It is here you see and hear birds, many of which are not shy, so make sure you have your camera ready. The trek elevates over a couple of hours hiking and when you arrive at the next headland, you’ll have a spectacular view of the ocean and Garie Beach below. If carrying a lot of gear, be prepared for a slightly arduous trek down to the beach.

Royal National Park Garie Beach

Garie Beach is a well known spot for surfing. Due to heavy waves, strong rips, and the remoteness of the beach, swimming is not recommended. Fishing is popular, however, as are family picnics and other beach activities. From Garie Beach it’s only a 45-minute hike to the North Era Campground. With only twelve campsites available, booking in advance via phone or the NSW National Parks website is essential. Once you have found a space, pitch the tent facing the ocean, light a campfire, and enjoy the sunset – your reward after a full day of walking. There are toilets near the campsite but no showers.

Royal National Park second-day

Day 2: North Era Campgrounds to Otford Station

9km (5.6 miles)

The trek from North Era Campground to Otford Station is a moderate hike. There are some steep areas, however, overall it is fairly even and not as undulating as day one.

The start of the hike takes you through the old shacks, also known as coastal cabins, some of which were built as early as the 1920s. They were used primarily as weekend cabins and showcase an era of Australian history. While we did not check out the inside of any of the shacks, many still retain the same furniture and fittings from when they were first built.

Royal National Park Shacks

Following the shacks, you walk up to a headland and take in the expanse of the ocean and the cliffs. Then you enter a shady forest that takes you up a ridge and on to Otford Lookout. You will walk through dense forest and come out of the ridge to coastal terrain. It’s about a 20 minute walk from the end of the hike to Otford Station, definitely the quaintest train station that I have ever been to. From the station, you can board a train to return to Sydney.

Royal National Park Deer

The Coast Track was my number one motive for visiting the Royal National Park and it was an incredible experience. As soon as I completed it, I began planning my next visits and cannot wait to go back.


Royal National Park Photography courtesy of Theresa Lord


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Theresa Lord

Theresa Lord

Theresa has a background in travel consultancy and has spent the last ten years saving her pennies and travelling off the beaten track to remote destinations. Growing up on the island of Tasmania, Australia, she has an interest in visiting islands, and her favourites are Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands. Theresa has travelled extensively throughout USA and Latin America. Her other interests include cooking (mainly Thai), hiking and being in the ocean. You can follow her travels on her travel blog: “The Beauty Hiker

Departful is a travel magazine that provides accessible, relevant, and thoughtful travel tips and ideas to inspire people to explore the world around them. We feature travel articles, travel tips, and photography based on our own experiences from over 100 countries covering all things adventure, culture, food and drink, technology, and gear. Made with ❤ in Toronto.