I’ve done the Royal National Park Coast Track walk many times, always starting at Otford in the south, and finishing at Bundeena at the northern end. The start of the Coast Track is about 800m from Otford railway station (although the signs state that it’s only 550m), with the route partly along roads and partly along the Station Road Firetrail.
The Royal National Park Coast Track (this section is also called the Cliff Track) starts on the coast, near the Otford Lookout, with nice views north along the Royal National Park.
The Coast Track is initially a bushwalking trail as it passes a junction with the Werrong Beach Track, before it joins the Garawarra Ridge Management Trail. About 2km from the Otford Lookout, the Royal National Park Coast Track (this section is also called the North Era Track) veers to the right towards the coast, while the Garawarra Ridge Management Trail continues along the ridge. Soon after this second junction is the unmarked Werrong Lookout: from this small rock platform you can see Werrong Beach below, and views northwards up the coast.
The Coast Track track now descends through the “Palm Jungle”, a littoral rainforest of cabbage tree palms and sub-tropical plants which is stark difference from the previous eucalyptus forest. The track can get a bit muddy here after rain. Eventually the forest ends, and the track enters a section of open grassland as is continues to descend towards the coast.
Shortly after passing a rangers hut, the Royal National Park Coast Track reaches Burning Palms Beach. As well as a Surf Lifesaving Club, there is a small “shanty town” of cabins scattered around the beach. There may be drinkable water at the southern end of the beach, but in recent years it’s been increasingly unreliable.
You can continue along the track behind the beach, or walk along the sand and re-join the track at the far end of the beach. If you have time (and it’s low tide), you can also access Figure 8 Pool from here Burning Palms Beach.
|Figure Eight Pool is one of a number of rock pools on a large rock platform, formed by two circular sinkholes merging. Although quite small, it’s very photogenic and has become an increasingly popular attraction. Accessible from Otford via the Coast Walk or from the Garrawarra Farm car park, at low tide only.
More info: Figure Eight Pool blog post
The track climbs up the headland at the end of beach to Burghs Ridge, passing a number of shacks before reaching a junction with the Burghs Ridge Track (which climbs steeply up to the Garrawarra Farm carpark). After traversing the headland, the Royal National Park Coast Track passes some more shacks as it descends to South Era, crossing Cutty Gully just behind the Era Surf Life Saving Club. The track then skirts around the back of South Era Beach (which is often referred to as just Era Beach).
The track traverses the low headland between South Era and North Era beaches to reach North Era Beach (at low tide you can just follow a rocky ledge between the two beaches). North Era has the only official campground on the Royal National Park Coast Track, set well behind the beach (bookings required).
The track now ascends fairly steeply over Thelma Head, the next headland. There’s a nice view back over North and South Era beaches, and the coastline to the south.
As the Royal National Park Coast Track reaches the top of the Thelma Head, there’s also a great view to the north over Little Garie Beach and Garie Beach. You can clearly see the Coast Track following the base of the next headland. There are more shacks at Little Garie Beach, with the track passing a few of them as it descends to the beach.
Little Garie Beach is, as the name suggests, a tiny beach that’s surrounded by rocks and is enclosed by steep headlands at both ends.
From Little Garie Beach, the Royal National Park Coast Track follows the base of the headland, wedged between the steep cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other.
At the end is Garie Beach: the long and sometimes wild surf beach is accessible by road, so it can get fairly busy. The beach often has strong rips and currents, but it is patrolled on weekends and public holidays (during surf season). There’s also a kiosk here. Unless you need the kiosk (or toilet), continue along the beach to the far end, where the Royal National Park Coast Track resumes.
At the northern of the beach, the Royal National Park Coast Trackascends pretty steeply up North Head, to reach the top of the high cliffs. You won’t see another beach for a while – but this next section has great views from the top, looking back over Garie Beach and down the coast.
The track follows the top of the cliffs, passing the Curra Moors Track (you can do this cliff-top section as the shorter Curra Moors Loop). It crosses Curra Brook, with cascades off the top of the cliff into into the ocean.
Soon after this is Curracurrong Creek, which has a small cascade and a rocky overhang before it plunges off (or up from) the cliffs…
…on a windy day, Curracurrong Falls doesn’t so much plunge off the cliffs, but blows back over the creek. Behind Curracurrong Falls is the distinctive “Eagle Rock”, a piece of the cliff line that juts out in the shape of an eagle’s head.
After about 1.5km from the Eagle Rock lookout, the Royal National Park Coast Track descends to Curracurrang Gully (where Curracurrang Creek flows into a rock inlet), before ascending again above the cliffs. Middens and rock shelters here are evidence of Curracurrang Gully having been used as a regular campsite by the Dharawal (Aboriginal) people.
Another couple of kilometres and the Royal National Park Coast Track reaches Wattamolla, a sheltered inlet formed by the junction of two creeks (Wattamolla Creek and Coote Creek). “Wattamolla” means “place of running water’ in the local Aboriginal language.
Wattamolla is always a popular spot in summer, with the deep and sheltered lagoon accessible by road and offering a safe place to swim. The lagoon flows out to Providential Cove. There’s a kiosk here that’s open on weekends; like Garie Beach, it’s another place where you can get a cold drink.
The Royal National Park Coast Track follows the length of the Wattamolla lagoon, crossing Wattamolla Creek near a sandstone dam that creates a shallow pool.
The Royal National Park Coast Track climbs up the ridge, passing a junction with the Little Marley Fire Trail and following the top of the cliffs to Little Marley Beach.
Little Marley Beach is fairly sheltered, although waves breaking over the southern reef generate a permanent rip flowing out of the bay – so take care if swimming.
The track continues above the low cliffs to Marley Beach; at low tide you may be able to walk long the rock shelf between Marley and Little Marley beaches. The picturesque beach has a rock platforms at the southern end of the beach (which is a popular fishing spot) and has extensive sand dunes behind the beach. It’s another tempting spot for a swim but beware – Marley Beach is considered the most hazardous unpatrolled beach in the Royal National Park by Surf Life Saving Australia, with hazards including topographic rips**, bluebottle and shark sightings.
(** hadn’t seen this word before – it means a rip that’s “usually semi-permanent in location as their occurrence is related to fixed features in the surf zone such as headlands and man-made structures such as groynes”.)
The Royal National Park Coast Track climbs up again above the cliff-line, past “Wedding Cake Rock”. A pure white rock (caused by iron leaching), Wedding Cake Rock juts out from the high cliff like a slice of cake. It’s prone to collapse and has been fenced off, after becoming another Royal National Park Instagram hotspot that attracted people to perch on the edge.
The Royal National Park Coast Track continues another two kilometres along the cliff line through high heath before reaching a junction with an asphalt management trail, marked with a ‘Coast Track’ sign. If you’ve had enough, this is your exit route: it takes you to the Bundeena ferry wharf via Beachcomber Ave, Scarbourough St and then Brighton Rd. If you’ve got time, follow Scarbourough St to the end (turn left) to reach the Bundeena Bowling and Sports Club, for a cold beer or drink before the ferry.
Alternatively, continue along the coast along the Jibbon Track. Once you reach the secluded Shelley Beach, you can continue all the way around Jibbon Head via the Jibbon Loop Track, or cross the headland to reach the protected Jibbon Beach. This allows for a final swim, before a short walk to the ferry terminal.
If you’re doing the Royal National Park Coast Track by public transport, a ferry runs every hour or so across Port Hacking to Cronulla, for connecting train services. Just make sure you don’t miss the last ferry…
This is a great walk any time of the year: in summer there’s lot of opportunities for a swim, and in winter you can look out for whales migrating along the coast from the cliffs.
0.0km Otford Railway Station (106m asl) 0.8km Otford Lookout / start of Coast Track 1.1km Junction with track to Werrong Beach 2.7km Veer right onto North Era Track (Coast Track) 3.1km Werrong Lookout 6.1km Burning Palms Beach 7.3km South Era 8.0km North Era. Campsite. 8.8km Little Garie Beach 9.5km Garie Beach [car access but no public transport] 13.7km Curracurrong Creek & view of Eagle Rock 15.4km Curracurrang Gully 17.7km Wattamolla [car access but no public transport] 21.2km Little Marley Beach 22.1km Marley Beach 23.7km Wedding Cake Rock 25.8km Junction with management track to Beachcomber Avenue 2.3km to ferry wharf via Beachcomber Ave & Scarbourough St 28.8km Jibbon Beach 29.5km Loftus Street 30.4km Bundeena Ferry Wharf
Which direction should you do the Royal National Park Coast Track?
Starting at Otford means you can enjoy a cold beer or a swim at the end, with the ferry across to Cronulla a nice way to finish the walk. There’s slightly less total ascent starting at Otford, although this is not a big difference in the scheme of things… The ferries also run every hour so as you get closer to to Bundeena you can figure out whether to slow down and stop for a swim, or keep up the pace! It’s the direction I’d recommend.
The main reason for doing the Coast Track from Bundeena is that the last ferry is 6pm (June to August) or 7pm (September to May). The trains are less frequent, but run until much later – so if you think you need more time, this direction is better. Just remember you’ll have a long ascent at the end.
If you’re camping, then it’s more about whether you prefer a short Day 1 or Day 2 – the only official camping site is 8km from Otford, so if you walk south to north you’ll have a very short first day. If it hasn’t rained for a while and there’s no water in the creek at the campground, coming from the north (Bundeena) allows you to fill up with water at Garie Beach.
Should you do the Royal National Park Coast Track in one day, or two days?
This is very much a personal question… I’ve always done the Coast Track as a day walk, mainly because I’ve never been attracted by limitation of having only one place you can camp – which is generally fairly popular. As the Coast Track has multiple access tracks and two roads (into Wattamolla and Garie Beach) as well as multiple shacks along the way, it also doesn’t really feel like you’ve left civilisation. It doesn’t mean I don’t love this walk, just that camping just doesn’t seem appropriate!
I walk relatively fast, so with an early start I’ve got plenty of time to stop a few times for a swim, and to take photos, and it’s nice to travel light (you can even buy a drink or food along the way, at Garie Beach or Wattamolla). But there is a lot of things to see, and places where you could easily linger for an hour or more – so I also understand the attraction of stretching this over two days. If you’re comfortable walking 30km in a day then that’s that way I’d do it – but if that’s a challenge then take two days, don’t rush, and make sure you have time to explore all the sights. Just try and avoid peak times when the track and the campground are going to be super-busy!