UPDATE: On the 29th of July 2022, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) permanently closed access to the Pink Caves. Please respect the wishes of NSW NPWS and do not visit this area. This article was written well before the closure was announced.
In today’s world of viral content spreading on social media, it’s rare to have unknown natural wonders close to populous cities. Known to locals of Lake Macquarie on New South Wales’ Central Coast, is a genuine hidden gem. Tucked away in the underrated Munmorah State Conservation Area, located between Budgewoi and Catherine Hill Bay, is a truly spectacular natural phenomenon – the Pink Caves, otherwise known as the pink sea caves, pink boulder sea caves, and most recently, the cotton candy caves. As part of an extended Moonee Beach Trail adventure, they are easily found, if you know where to look!
Online information about the incredible Pink Caves is scarce (prior to 2021). Given their natural beauty and relative closeness to Sydney, that’s surprising – you’d expect them to be well known. Of course, it’s quite a shame when a cherished locals spot becomes a tourist hotspot. The Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park is a prime example. It was once a hidden gem, but now there are hoards of Sydneysiders and tourists swarming to this photogenic spot – doing it for the ‘gram.
Of course, our intention isn’t to seal the Pink Caves with the same fate. Hopefully, being located outside of Sydney makes this attraction that little bit too far away to make it a tourist hotspot. But this natural gem is too beautiful and enchanting to not be known to Sydneysiders, let alone the world.
The Pink Caves via Moonee Beach Trail Hiking Guide
On their own, the Pink Caves are a sensational natural attraction. But finding them as part of the Moonee Beach Trail is the ideal way to see them. After some effort hiking and taking in the surrounding coastline, locating the Pink Caves is an even more wonderful experience! Much more than merely trying to find the closest parking spot and locating them from there.
In fact, the Moonee Beach Trail is one of the best walking tracks in the Munmorah State Conservation Area. Traditionally, it’s a 4km return walk, taking approximately one hour. It’s on a management trail overlooking Ghosties, Timbers and Moonee Beaches. But strictly speaking, the Moonee Beach Trail doesn’t take in the amazing Pink Caves. However, with some extra exploring, you can easily add an excursion to and around the Pink Caves. Plus, adding the Timbers and Ghosties Beach walk afterwards, allows you to take in another amazing cave – the Rainbow Caves.
So not only will this guide help you get to the Pink Caves, but it’ll thoroughly review the trail you should embark on to get there and enjoy afterwards. Please note that accessing the Pink Caves should only be attempted at low tide and the swell is slight. So for safety, make sure you check the tide and swell before you set off on this adventure.
Moonee Beach Trail Options
As mentioned before, according to NPWS, the Moone Beach trail on its own is a Grade 2, 4km return coastal walk. Sure, sticking to this route description affords lovely coastal views. But, you’ll miss out on the Pink Caves, and also the Rainbow Caves!
Basically, when exploring the Pink Caves, you have two options. The short and long route. The short version involves simply accessing the Pink Caves via the northern end of Moonee Beach via the rock platforms on the coast. Then, after seeing the main attraction, you’d reverse your steps back to Moonee Beach. From there, you’d either return onto the trail back to your car to finish or continue on the beach southwards to Timbers Beach for the Rainbow Caves. If returning to your car, you’re looking at 1.5-2 hours for this adventure.
The Longer Route
However, our trail recommendation not only takes you to the main Pink Caves but also back around and above the caves via the headland. So once you return to the northern end of Moonee Beach, you will continue north on a trail slightly inland. This takes you around the Pink Caves, providing you with an opportunity to explore more of the rugged coastline further north. By doing this, you’ll see an even less explored section of the majestic pink coloured sea caves, but only from a distance. Additionally, this longer route provides views of the historical Catherine Hill Bay.
We actually went around the main Pink Caves initially. That was because we had some time to kill before it was officially low tide. Of course, we returned to the northern end of Moonee Beach and accessed the main Pink Caves straight after.
If you can time the tides well, then you can go straight to the main Pink Caves immediately from the Moonee Beach Trail. The extra add-on around the main Pink Cave adds another 2-3km. This additional option to explore more of the awe-inspiring pink sea caves is totally up to you. You won’t get any closer to them, but you’ll see different parts of the coast that also have these mindblowing pink sea rocks. To follow our suggested walking trail, use our Wikiloc map below.
Overall, the hike isn’t too physically demanding. But beach walking and the gentles slopes of some of the trails means you’ll get a decent workout.
Moonee Beach Trail
Park your car at the small Moonee Beach trailhead parking area just off Snapper Point Road. Admittedly, only half a dozen vehicles can fit here. Arrive early to get a spot and use our Google Maps below for directions.
Immediately from the trailhead, you’ll have breathtaking views of the surrounding coastline. The first beach you’ll pass is Ghosties Beach. It’s a small golden sand beach that you’ll head to later to check out the Rainbow Caves. But for now, you’ll head north. You’ll also pass by Timbers Beach, before finally arriving at Moonies Beach, where the trail officially ends.
Given the trail is a wide one, there’ll be plenty of space for speed hiking. The terrain is that of a management trail – a rocky and uneven dirt trail. So just be careful on the bumpy surface to avoid rolling your ankle. The trail has gentle slopes up and down, so your views of the coastline will be partially obstructed by the coastal bushland at times. You’ll know you’re close to the end of this trail when it transforms from dirt to sand. There are a couple of offshoot trails to reach Moonies Beach from this trail – either one will suffice.
IS SPEED HIKING SAFE ON MANAGEMENT TRAIL TERRAIN? When doing any exercise at a faster pace, there is always an increased risk of injury. This holds true for speed hiking. However, if you are mindful of your terrain, speed hiking is safe to do on a management trail. As long as you decrease your speed if the terrain is uneven or unstable, you’ll reduce your risk of injury. Basically, use common sense and you’ll be a safe speed hiker.
Accessing the Pink Caves From Moonee Beach
The breathtaking pink sea caves can be accessed from the northern end of Moonee Beach. So to get to these otherworldly sea caves, simply continue your walk onto the rock platforms from Moonee Beach. As mentioned before, we chose to wander inland, around the main Pink Caves towards Catherine Hill Bay initially to kill some time before it was officially low tide. But if you’ve timed your speed hike well, feel free to head straight to the main Pink Caves.
Take care when negotiating the rock pools, puddles and varied levelled platforms – it can be slippery. The rock platforms are quite wide and spacious during low tide, so you won’t be forced too close to the ocean’s edge. Get ready for the constant but calming crashing of waves, seagulls screeching and an ocean breeze. It’s a popular spot for rock fishing, so watch out for fishing lines and equipment. Although, most of the people rock fishing will be at the water’s edge, so they won’t get in your way.
Before you reach the main Pink Caves, you’ll start to see some of the pink stained rocks in the many small natural ocean rock pools. The crystal clear water filling them produces a sensational turquoise complexion. The juxtaposition of colours is mind blogging. Before even seeing the main attraction, you’ll already be amazed and satisfied with the natural setting. Plus, on a hot day, you may even be tempted to go for a swim. But just around the corner, are the enchanting Pink Caves.
As you start to bend around the cliff face, you’ll approach a narrow but tall cave opening. The sound of the waves crashing increases as you near closer to the rock platform’s edge. You will start to see a fairly substantial gap in the rock platform. As you proceed, you’ll be steered into the cave to the left.
You’ll see rough and rugged edges of the split rock platform weaving its way deep into the sea cave. A brown coating of the rock gives way to this exuberant and unbelievable bright pink colour. Once the whitewash within the split rock settles, you’ll again have turquoise ocean water magnificently contrasting with the inner pink rock. Also, in contrast, is the top light brown rock layer and the white sandstone interior of the cave. It’s a fascinating natural festival of colours, illuminated at the cave’s edge, but dampened as you delve deeper into the cave.
The sea caves an amazing bright pink colour, with perhaps even a purple tinge. It’s very much an impressive natural phenomenon. Honestly speaking, the sea cave on its own is an incredible natural site. The imposing cave features remarkable rippling textures with the odd collection of green moss. Even without the Pink Caves, it’s worth seeing. But when you add in the otherworldly pink rocks, you have a world-class natural site, barely known to the world, let alone Australian locals.
Are the Pink Caves Safe to Visit?
Yes, but only visit the Pink Caves during low tide and when the swell is slight. Similar to that of the Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park, to visit outside of low tide is irresponsible. You’ll be putting yourself in danger and the lives of others when you need rescuing.
But even during low tide and a slight swell, care must be taken. Due to natural erosion, the gap that has been formed in the rock platform within the sea cave, creates a passage for the waves to rush through. When this occurs, the gap is violently and quickly filled with water. The waves penetrating through will crash and splash within the sea cave. So even during low tide and a slight swell, it’s dangerous to get too close to the split rock platform.
Within the confines of the sea cave, a magnificent echo is produced when the waves roughly infiltrate the split rock platform. It’s enough to give you a fright if you’re unsuspecting. So when you’re in the sea cave, be alert and conscientious of the waves. Even from a safe distance, you can watch the marvellous show put on by the sea caves. Once the force of the wave diminishes, and the water drops, that’s when the sea caves come to life.
Other Pink Sea Caves
After enjoying the main Pink Caves, it’s time to continue this modified Moonee Beach Trail hike. Trying to cross the split rock platform is possible but would be risky business. You’d be heading deeper into the cave, where it’s dark, and then you’d be slippery rock scrambling to get on the other side of the platform. So for safety reasons, we don’t recommend it.
To that end, because the split rock platform is unsafe to cross, make your way back to Moonee Beach. Just around the corner where you entered the rock platforms initially, is a narrow trail heading inland. It’s a trail that isn’t maintained, so it’s overgrown and a bit wild, as is a lot of this trail. Although it has a narrow opening, it’s easy enough to find.
The trail will initially take you away from the coastline. It makes its way around the Pink Caves you have just explored. Eventually, the narrow trail set in coastal bushland opens up to a large open space. You’ll head down a wide and obvious track towards the ocean. Once again, you’ll approach more rock platforms. We recommend turning left initially to get a glimpse of Catherine Hill Bay. From here, it’s possible to head to the edge of the bay. From this vantage point, you can see the historic pier.
Just in front, you’ll also see very similar rock platforms, as you did at the northern end of Moonee Beach. In fact, it’s the same set of rock platforms, starting at Moonee Beach, which continues along the coast, around Hales Bluff, ending here.
Deep Cave Bay
Next, you’ll retrace your steps and head down onto the rock platforms at Hales Bluff. The rock platforms are much steeper in parts here, so be careful. It’s actually possible to follow the rock platforms north around to Catherine Hill Bay from this point. But instead, head down and to the right, almost in the direction of the main Pink Caves. You will then arrive at a horse-shoe shaped bay. It’s surrounded by cliff face, with several caved openings on its most outer edges.
Accessing this cave isn’t possible to do safely. But you can admire it from afar on the rock platforms above. The water enveloped in the bay is a sensational aqua blue. The submerged rocks littering the entrance of the darkened cave openings have the same astonishing pink colour. They’re only visible when the whitewash from the crashing waves settle. So timing your photography can be tricky. The rock face circling and enclosing the entire bay also reveals this pink colour, but again, only when the water drops.
Similar to the Pink Caves, there is no official trail along the rock platforms and there is unlikely to be many people around. So don’t try anything unsafe to get closer to these rocks. At least, the main Pink Caves can be seen from a much closer distance.
Getting Back to Moonee Beach
Once you have finished admiring the bay, trace your steps back up the rock platform and onto the dried grass area. There is actually another trail to follow that skirts the coast, making a loop back to Moonee Beach. It’s another narrow and poorly maintained trail. It does get close to the cliff’s edge at times, so again, be careful.
SIDE NOTE: These trails leading around the pink caves are of moderate difficulty. That’s because they are poorly maintained and not signposted. Also, negotiating the rock platforms throughout this hike, however flat they are around the main Pink Caves, isn’t totally straightforward. So that’s why we rate this trail, as a whole, as moderately difficult. However, the beach hiking involved and the actual Moonee Beach trail itself is very easy to follow.
Eventually, you’ll begin to descend the bluff. Basically, you’ll continue to head south until you reach Moonee Beach. From here, we recommend continuing on Moonee Beach towards Timbers Beach. Further along this strip of beaches is another magnificent sea cave! We figure, if you’ve come this far, you may as well see another stellar cave!
Timbers & Ghosties Beach
With the cessation of speed hiking on the rock platforms to ensure safety, you can pick up the pace again on the safety of the beach. But it’s hard work of course! Try and follow the shoreline to find some harder sand. That’ll make walking much more energy efficient.
Soon enough, you’ll be speed hiking your way onto Timbers Beach. To your left, you’ll see even more rock platforms meander their way out to the ocean. It’s tempting to go and explore. But to get to the Rainbow Caves, you’ll continue up a small sandy hill and around the bend to your right. You are now on Ghosties Beach.
From here, simply shoot straight to the end of the beach. It’s this southernmost part of Ghosties Beach where the Rainbow Caves are located. For reference on where the Pink Caves and Rainbow Caves are located in relation to each other, check out Google Maps below.
Is it Safe to Enter the Rainbow Caves?
Much like the Pink Caves, it’s ideal to visit the Rainbow Caves at low tide and when the swell is slight. However, obviously, you can’t be at two places at once. So by the time you reach the Rainbow Caves after prioritising seeing the Pink Caves, the water may already be making its way back in. It makes accessing the Rainbow Caves impossible without getting soaked. Of more concern, is that it can be quite dangerous. That’s because waves can be crashing around the cave’s opening, making entering difficult and unsafe.
Admittedly, even during low tide, accessing these caves via foot is tricky business. Waves can also be penetrating and filling roughly inside the cave. So trying to move within the thin cave corridor is very much a hazard. You’re bound to be knocked against the cliff walls.
However, each low tide is different. We’ve seen online that sometimes during low tide, the cave and the entrance is actually cleared of the ocean. Making entrance and movement inside the cave much easier and safer. But there is always a risk. Tides and ocean conditions can change unpredictably and suddenly.
Pink Caves or Rainbow Caves?
At the end of the day, it depends on how much time you have to spare in this gorgeous part of the world. Because both the Pink Caves and Rainbow Caves demand to be visited at low tide and slight swell, you basically need to choose one over the other on a single day trip.
Perhaps, if you had more time, you could visit the Pink Caves one day at low tide/slight swell and then the Rainbow Caves another day at low tide/slight swell. This would make two equally special return day hikes from Moonee beach trailhead.
We’ve read online that experienced divers make their way into the caves, by accessing a larger opening on the other side. So perhaps leave it to the experts. The Rainbow Caves can still be admired and enjoyed from afar, from the beach.
The Rainbow Caves are even lesser known than the Pink Caves! Experienced divers, those blessed with a perfect low tide and slight swell, and even silly souls have somehow found their way into these caves, often reporting injuries from being battered around in the caves. Besides that, we’ve read that an array of colours can be seen inside the cave, but the colours are not as vibrant as the Pink Caves. Because the caves are not exposed to sunlight, photography of the interior of the cave is often too dark to see any outstanding colours.
Even from afar, you can see a thin slither of an opening through the cliff wall – it’s truly epic. The rock seems to be white sandstone with orange ripples throughout. Inside looks daunting and treacherous.
Unfortunately, we aren’t aware of any trail leading back to the trail from Ghosties Beach. So you’ll need to retrace your steps back through Timbers Beach and back to Moonee Beach. You’ll then rejoin the Moonee Beach Trail and triumphantly make your way back to the car.
Pink Caves Recap
Safe to say, the Pink Caves are the highlight of the Moonee Beach Trail! We were totally gobsmacked by the colours on display in the sea caves. You’ll certainly want to see the Pink Caves before they become too popular. Currently, this trail and attraction doesn’t get too busy, particularly during winter. But you never know what the future holds once the Pink Caves do the rounds on social media! Checking out the Pink Caves exceeded our expectations, but so did the entire modified Moonee Beach Trail!
To that end, you shouldn’t just come for the Pink Caves only. Complete the entire extended Moonee Beach Trail for the ultimate adventure. Plus, there’s much more beauty to explore in this part of Lake Macquarie. So make sure to check out our Munmorah State Conservation Area guide to make a day trip out of it. For more recommendations on hiking in the area, read our 16km Bather’s Way Guide and also the 4 Best Walks to do in Lake Macquarie.
We hope this guide helps you discover the amazing Pink Caves on the Central Coast. For more information on how to get to the Munmorah State Conservation area, total costs and hiking equipment we used on the day, please read on. For information on Lake Macquarie based accommodation, please check out our Munmorah State Conservation Area guide.
Getting to/from Munmorah State Conservation Area
The Pink Caves are located in the Munmorah State Conservation Area in Lake Macquarie on the Central Coast. From Sydney, it’s a 1.5-2 hour drive. From Newcastle, it’s approximately an hour. Given its convenient location, it makes for an epic day trip from either city. But set off early as parking at the Moonee Beach Trailhead is limited.
To explore the Munmorah State Conservation Area, you’ll need a car. There are no public transport options for accessing this park. Using RentalCars.com is a fantastic search engine for finding the cheapest car hire. It’s what we use to hire cars in Australia. The park consists of many unsealed roads. But when dry, they are fine to drive on with a 2WD. Feel free to use our link to find the car you’re looking for.
We packed our own snacks and lunch for this epic half day hike. Generally speaking, travelling in Australia is quite expensive. We shop at Aldi for the cheapest prices. But recommend Woolworths or Coles for an improved variety of products.
- Petrol: $10AUD ($7USD)
- Food: $15AUD ($11USD)
= $25 ($18USD) for 2 people
If day tripping from Sydney, Newcastle or other areas of the Central Coast, costs will be low. However, for those travelling from interstate or overseas, you’ll also need to consider car hire and accommodation costs.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials
These are five hiking gear essentials we recommend when exploring the Pink Caves. For a more comprehensive list of hiking gear and equipment, read 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. For a more general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex Hiking Boots – given the uneven management style trail terrain and at times slippery rock formations, wear hiking boots with decent traction.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof Jacket – it can get fairly windy when exploring the exposed rock formations by the ocean.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – for a long day of walking, this spacious but lightweight backpack is perfect.
- Karrimor 1L Clear Water Bottle x 2 – during summer, you’ll need plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Ray-Ban Polarised Clubmaster Square Sunglasses – sunnies will come in handy when exploring the coast.
Trail navigation can get a little bit tricky and tedious at times when exploring in and around the pink caves. So consider downloading an online map before you set out. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS guided directions.
For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- Start early: to beat the heat and to ensure you get a park, arrive at this trailhead early.
- Our extended Moonee Beach Trail is much longer: the traditional Moonee Beach Trail is only a 4km trail only taking an hour. Even if you only added the Pink Caves extension to this, make sure to give yourself at least 1.5-2 hours. The Pink Caves are just too good to rush.
- Check the tides and swells: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, make sure to always check the tides and swells when doing any coastal walk by the ocean. It could save you and your buddies from harm!
Finally, a comprehensive guide on how to see the Pink Caves on the Central Coast. Share on Facebook to spread the word!
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