Formally proclaimed on 26 April 1879, the Royal National Park in Sydney’s south was Australia’s first official national park – and the second oldest national park in the world (after Yellowstone in the US). It was originally called National Park, and officially renamed in 1955 after Queen Elizabeth II visited on her way from Sydney to Wollongong. It’s one of the most popular national parks in Sydney, and is consistently in the top three most-visited NSW parks.
Royal National Park is popular for its pristine beaches (and secluded creek swimming holes), spectacular waterfalls and scenic coastal vantage points. The national park also protects many Aboriginal heritage sites, including a signposted site at Jibbon Head which includes depictions of a whale and Baiame (a sky spirit). There is a large variety of walks – but also some family-friendly picnic areas – in particular around Audley where you can also eat at a cafe or rent a kayak, and Wattamolla which is one of the best swimming spots in the park.
- Beaches and Swimming Spots
- Picnic Areas
- Accommodation and Camping
- Getting there
Summary of Royal National Park bushwalks
There are over 50 bushwalks you can do in the Royal National Park; most of them are either listed below or they are slight variations of these walks.
|Providential Point Walk ^||1.3km||Easy||Short, family-friendly walk from Watamolla to scenic lookout||Map|
|Winifred Falls Trail||2.8km||Easy||Firetrail down to waterfall; off-track option to swimming hole||Map|
|Werrong Beach||3.1km||Easy/Moderate||Steep walk down to official nude beach||Map|
|Costens Point||4.0km||Easy||Shaded firetrail down to Hacking River||Map|
|Forest Path||4.5km||Easy||Family-friendly loop bushwalk along Hacking River||Map|
|Garie Beach to Era Beach ^||4.8km||Easy||Four beautiful beaches and some great coastal views||Map|
|Jibbon Head Loop||5.7km||Easy||Picturesque beaches, ocean views & Aboriginal engraving site||Map|
|Loftus Loop||6.9km||Easy||Popular bushwalking & mountain-biking loop in northern section||Map|
|Wattamolla to Little Marley ^||7.1km||Easy||Mostly follows top of cliffs to secluded surf beach||Map|
|Wattamolla to Eagle Rock ^||7.2km||Easy||Follows cliffs to rock formation and unique tidefall waterfall||Map|
|Palona Falls Loop||8.0km||Easy||Combines the Forest Path loop with side-trip to cave & waterfall||Map|
|Palm Jungle Loop ^||8.2km||Easy/Moderate||Varied walk – beach, great views and rainforest section||Map|
|Couranga Track||8.4km||Easy/Moderate||Walking track from Waterfall through rainforest||Map|
|Marley Trail||8.5km||Easy||Bundeena Drive to Marley Beach, via Deer Pool||Map|
|Wedding Cake Rock ^||8.9km||Easy||Follows top of cliffs from Bundeena to Wedding Cake rock formation||Map|
|Curra Moors Loop||10.2km||Easy/Moderate||Some of the best coastal scenery, including Eagle Rock||Map|
|Waterfall to Heathcote||10.9km||Easy||Popular and very pleasant walk; passes Uloola Falls & Karloo Pool||Map|
|Lady Carrington Drive||20.3km||Easy||Historic cycling & hiking trail from Audley||Map|
|Southern Coastal Loop||12.4km||Moderate||Long loop that covers southern section of Coast Track||Map|
|The Coast Track||30km||Moderate||Iconic coastal bushwalk between Otford & Bundeena||Map|
The best bushwalks in the Royal National Park
It’s hard to go past the iconic Coast Track, a long day walk (or overnight hike) that takes in the entire eastern coast of the national park; some of the recommended bushwalks cover shorter sections of this 30km (one-way) route. Other bushwalks explore some of the idyllic swimming holes and spectacular waterfalls of the park.
A firetrail descends from Warumbal Road to the picturesque Winifred Falls – it’s easy walking with just the last few hundred metres being fairly steep. Continue down the creek from the waterfall along a rough track to reach the beautiful South West Arm Pool.
Length: 2.8km return to waterfall, 3.6km return to South West Arm Pool
Grade: Easy to Winifred Falls, Moderate to South West Arm Pool
While not the most exciting bushwalk compared to the others, you’ll avoid the crowds with this easy walk that descends through tall forest in one of the less popular parts of the park. At the end of the mostly shaded firetrail is Costens Point on the Hacking River. (You can form a longer loop with an off-track section along the shore.)
Length: 4.0km return
Garie Beach to Era Beach
One of the more scenic sections of the Royal National Park Coast Track, this bushwalk visits four beaches and some great lookouts. From Garie Beach the walk passes Little Garie beach then climbs over Thelma’s Head to North Era and South Era beaches, before returning the same way.
Length: 4.8km return
Jibbon Head Loop
Starting at the family-friendly Jibbon Beach, this walk passes an Aboriginal engraving site and some great coastal views from Jibbon Head. There are a few variations; you can return the same way after doing a short loop around Jibbon Head, or continue south along the coast for a slightly longer and more challenging walk.
Length: 5.7km loop (up to 8km if returnng via The Balconies)
Wattamolla to Little Marley Beach
Another shorter section of the Royal National Park Coast Track, this walk passes the Wattamolla Dam before following the top of the coastal cliffs. It descends to Little Marley Beach, before returning the same way.
Length: 7.1km return
Palm Jungle Loop
Starting from Garrawarra Farm (or Otford if coming by train), this loop bushwalks offers some great coastal views, stops by the beautiful Burning Palms Beach and crosses a section of shaded rainforest (this part can be muddy after rain). Optional side-trip to Figure 8 Pool (low tide essential).
Length: 8.2km return
Curra Moors Loop
A good alternative to doing the full Royal National Park Coast Walk: this loop walk takes in some spectacular coastal scenery, inclding Eagle Rock, Curracurrong Falls and Curra Brook Waterfall as you follow the top of the cliffs. (Continuing to Garie Beach adds 3.2km to the total distance.
Length: 10.2km return (13.4km with Garie Beach)
Waterfall to Heathcote via Uloola Falls
One of the few easier walks you can do in the Royal National Park by public transport, this bushwalk goes from Waterfall station to Heathcote station via Uloola Falls and Karloo Pool. (A more challenging version of this walk follows Kangaroo Creek via a rough track up to Karloo Pool.)
Length: 10.9km one-way (12.7 km via Kangaroo Creek)
Grade: Easy (Moderate via Kangaroo Creek)
The Coast Walk
The iconic Royal National Park Coast Track is a popular long day-walk or overnight hike from Otford to Bundeena, which follows the coastline. The walk offers many stunning coastal views and passes all but one of the pristine beaches in the park, as well as some spectacular waterfalls. (The only campsite is at North Era, and must be booked in advance.)
Length: Approx 30km (depending on route)
Best Beaches and Swimming Spots in Royal National Park
Below are the best ocean beaches and wild swiming spots in the Royal National park, which are often a destination in their own right. Visit Wild Swimming in Sydney’s South for more beaches and swimming holes – or explore some of the pristine creeks and find your own secluded waterhole!
Burning Palms Beach
A beautiful surf beach in the Royal National Park, Burning Palms Beach can only be reached by foot – so while it can get pretty busy, it won’t be crowded. The beach is home to about 20 heritage listed cabins or shacks on the northern slope, and a surf lifesaving club that was founded in 1939.
Length: 3.8km return
Figure 8 Pool
The Figure 8 Pool has become one of the most popular attractions and Instagram spots in the Royal National Park. The small but picturesque natural pool can be reached via three bushwalking routes. Access is possible at low tide only.
Length: 6.5km to 16km return (depending on route)
Karloo Pool (and Olympic Pool)
Both the popular Karloo Pool and lesser-known but even more spectacular Olympic Pool are on Kangaroo Creek, and most easily accessed from Heathcote station. The large, natural rock pools are both deep enough to swim in, and have lots of shade around them.
Length: 5.5km return to Karloo Pool / 7.8km to Olympic Pool
Grade: Easy (Easy/Moderate for Olympic Pool)
South West Arm Pool
Regarded as “one of the best swimming locations in the Royal National Park”, the South West Arm Pool is a large and deep pool near the bottom of South West Arm Creek. It’s reached by a rough track from Winifred Falls.
Length: 3.6km return
Grade: Moderate (partly off-track / rough track)
Wattamolla Beach (and Lagoon)
The popular and picturesque Wattamolla Beach has both a protected ocean beach and a large sheltered lagoon, as well as picnic facilities and a kiosk. It can gets so crowded over the summer holiday period that the carpark is often closed by mid-morning.
Length: 300m from carpark to beach & lagoon
One of the more remote beaches in the Royal National Park, Werrong Beach is reached via a steep trail down from Otford. An official nudist beach, it’s not great for swimming due to strong rips and currents.
Length: 3.1km return
Grade: Easy/Moderate (trail steep in places)
Best Waterfalls in Royal National Park
The park has some spectacular waterfalls – especially after rain. The waterfalls below are the best ones in the Royal National Park which flow year-round – but there are many more cascades and waterfalls along the creeks in the park. (For more waterfalls in and around the Royal National Park visit Waterfalls in the south of Sydney.)
One of the more remote waterfalls in the Royal National Park, Anice Falls is quite picturesque – but you can only see it from above (without a challenging scramble down to the bottom).
Length: 4.1km / 6km return depending on route
Curracurrong Falls is a unique waterfall in the Royal National Park, and one of the very few in Australia that it plunges directly off the cliffs into the ocean (this is called a “tidefall”). On windy days, it’s also known to blow back up as mist, becoming a “reverse waterfall”. The waterfall can be seen from both sides, with the best view from the top of Eagle Rock.
Length: Approx 8km (from Garie Beach, Wattamolla or Sir Bertram Stevens Drive)
Arguably one of the most spectacular watefalls around Sydney, National Falls drops over the cliff on two separate levels, with three different viewpoint. An unofficial bushwalking track takes you to two wide overhangs were you can stand behind the plunging water.
Length: Approx 0.4km
Grade: Easy/Moderate (rough walking track)
A relatively easy to reach and picturesque waterfall and swimming hole in the Royal National Park. It’s fed by South West Arm Creek, a pristine river which originates within the national park.
Royal National Park has a number of easily accessible picnic areas and BBQ facilities; all have picnic tables, most have toilets and and many have gas BBQs…
- Audley Weir – the historic Audley Weir precinct (established in 1893) has muliple picnic areas as well as a cafe (Audley Dance Hall Cafe). You can also hire canoes, kayaks, rowboats and mountanis bikes from the Audley Boatshed.
- Currawong Flat Picnic Area – family-friendly riverside spot. Toilets, gas BBQs, tables, water.
- Ironbark Flat Picnic Area – family-friendly riverside spot. Toilets (at Visitor Centre), gas BBQs, tables, water.
- Pool Flat Picnic Area – on the bank of river. Toilets, picnic tables..
- Bonnie Vale Picnic Area – situated just outside Bundeena on the tranquil Cabbage Tree Basin, it’s ideal for swimming, liloing or kayaking. Toilets, gas BBQs, picnic tables, water. Open 7am to 8.30pm daily.
- Garie Beach Picnic Area – located near the popular Garie Beach, this picnic area is great for swimming, whale watching, fishing, surfing and bushwalking. Toilets & picnic table. A kiosk is open on weekends.
- Gunjulla Flat Picnic Area – A basic picnic area next to McKell Avenue near the entrance to the park. Picnic tables only.
- Red Cedar Flat Picnic Area – A basic picnic area next to Lady Wakehurst drive. Picnic tables only.
- Reids Flat Picnic Area – a grassy area on the banks of the Hacking River and close to a river beach, not far from Audley. Toilets, gas BBQs and picnic tables are available. You can also swim in the river or launch a kayak here.
- Upper Causeway Picnic Area – basic picnic area surrounded by rainforest near the Couranga walking track and Forest Path.
- Waterfall Flat Picnic Area – Grassy picnic area near entrance to Royal National Park on McKell Avenue.
- Warumbul Picnic Area – a bush picnic ground with scenic water views across Port Hacking. Toilets, picnic tables and drinking water.
- Wattamolla Picnic Area – The coastal Wattamolla picnic area is very popular, and the carpark can fill up by mid-morning. Enjoy swimming at the beach or lagoon, snorkelling, fishing and bushwalking. Toilets, gas BBQs, picnic tables, water, and a kiosk (open weekends).
- Wattle Forest Picnic Area – One of the more popular picnic spots in Royal National Park located on the Hacking River, it offers easy access to walking and mountain biking trails. Toilets, gas BBQs, picnic tables, water.
|Audley – Currawong Flat||Y||Y||Y||Y||Canoe hire nearby|
|Audley – Ironbark Flat||Y||Y||Y||Y||Cafe nearby|
|Audley – Pool Flat||Y||Y||Swimming (river)|
|Bonnie Vale Picnic Area||Y||Y||Y||Y||Swimming (bay), kayaking, fishing|
|Garie Beach Picnic Area||Y||Y||Swimming (ocean), bushwalking. |
Kiosk (open weekends)
|Gunjulla Flat Picnic Area||Y||National Falls is nearby|
|Red Cedar Flat Picnic Area||Y||Near Couranga walking track & Forest Path|
|Reids Flat Picnic Area||Y||Y||Y||Y||Swimming (river)|
|Upper Causeway Picnic Area||Y||Near Couranga walking track & Forest Path|
|Warumbul Picnic Area||Y||Y||Y|
|Waterfall Flat Picnic Area||Y|
|Wattle Forest Picnic Area||Y||Y||Y||Y||Bushwalking, mountain-biking|
|Wattamolla Picnic Area||Y||Y||Y||Y||Swimming (ocean or lagoon), bushwalking|
Kiosk (open weekends)
Accommodation and Camping near Royal National Park
Most visitors coming to the national park are doing a day-trip from Sydney. However, there is enough to do in the park to keep you busy for several days and staying in or near the park not only gives you more time to explore – but makes it easier to enjoy the walks, beaches and lookouts before the crowds arrive…
Within Royal National Park the NPWS has three cottages you can rent, which are well-equipped and in beautiful locations – but they are not cheap!
- Hilltop Cottage – situated in the north of the park with sweeping bush views, this cottage is great for a relaxing break – a short drive is required to reach the bushwalking trails. The cottage sleeps up to six people in 3 bedrooms.
- Reids Flat Cottage – situated close to Audley on the Hacking River, the renovated heritage cottage sleeps up to six people in 3 bedrooms.
- Weemalah Cottage – located in a secluded riverside setting overlooking South West Arm Creek, the house sleeps up to eight people in 4 bedrooms.
There are a few campgrounds inside the natoinal park:
- Bonnie Vale campground – a family-friendly campground located between Bundeena and Maianbar at the north end of Royal National Park. There are 77 sites accommodating tents, camper trailers and caravans. Facilities include picnic tables, gas barbecues, drinking water, showers and toilets.
- North Era Campground – A remote campground (walk in only) and the only place to camp if doing the Coast Track as an overnight walk. Bookings essential. No facilities, other than toilets.
- Uloola Falls Campground – A bush camp near Uloola Falls on the Karloo Pools Walking Track, which can be used to make the Waterfall to Heathcote bushwalk into an overnight hike.
Outside the national park, there are some hotels and apartments in Cronulla to the north, and some holiday houses and boutique B&Bs in Stanwell Park and along the coast to the south.
Getting to Royal National Park
The Royal National Park is accessible by car via Farnell Avenue in the north (from Loftus), McKell Avenue near the middle (from Waterfall) or Lady Wakehurst Drive to the south (from Otford). You can drive to Bundeena, Wattamolla, Garie Beach, Garrawarra Farm and Otford Lookout, which all have carparks. During the busy summer holiday period, some carparks may be full by mid-morning and access by car restricted. A national parks fee is payable at all the vehicle entry points (if you don’t have a national parks pass).
You can also access the park by train, with the T4 (South) train line running along and through the Royal National Park, and stopping at four stations which provide access to trailheads:
- Loftus – access to Loftus Loop cycling and bushwalking loop, Bungoonia Lookout and a network of mountain-biking trails
- Engadine – track down to Olympic Pool on Kangaroo Creek, and onto Heathcote or Waterfall
- Heathcote – start/finish of popular Waterfall to Heathcote bushwalk and access to Karlo Pool
- Waterfall – start/finish of popular Waterfall to Heathcote bushwalk, and access to Couranga Track and Forest Path.
- Otford – access to trailhead for Royal National Park Coast Track, and shorter bushwalks to Burning Palms (Palm Jungle Loop), Figure 8 Pool and Werrong Beach.
You can also get to Bundeena by ferry from Cronulla – this provides easy access to Jibbon Beach and the start (or end) of the Coast Track. The ferry runs hourly – just make sure you don’t miss the last one back!
- National Parks (NPWS) – Royal National Park and Royal National Park Map [PDF]
- Cronulla Ferries – Bundeena Timetable