The Pink Caves are an extraordinary natural attraction located between Budgewoi and Catherine Hill Bay on the Central Coast in New South Wales (NSW). As part of a modified and extended version of the Moonee Beach Trail, you can explore the spectacular Pink Caves and also the Rainbow Caves on Ghosties Beach.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the Pink Caves. We’ll focus on how to find them doing a modified version of the Moonee Beach Trail. But, for those who are just visiting for the ‘gram, we’ll also talk about the shorter route option, which involves the quickest way to access them. As you can imagine, this shorter route option is the most popular way to visit.
UPDATE – PINK CAVES CLOSED: 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. For more information, read The Pink Caves Close Due to Deaths: Here’s What Happened.
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What to Expect at the Pink Caves In Catherine Hill Bay, Central Coast
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 Catherine Hill Bay and Lake Macquarie on NSWs’ Central Coast, is a genuine hidden gem known as the Pink Caves. You’ll find this spectacular natural phenomenon tucked away in the underrated Munmorah State Conservation Area. The Pink Caves are 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 more 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. Indeed, when it comes to NSW caves, the Pink Caves near Catherine Hill Bay on the Central Coast, are one of the best sea caves in Australia.
Visiting the Pink Caves from Sydney actually makes for an epic day trip. While you’re in the area, make sure to also explore the Munmorah State Conservation Area in Lake Macquarie.
How to Visit the Pink Caves Safely
Before we dive into the nitty gritty details about visiting the Pink Caves in Catherine Hill Bay, let’s go through some important safety information. Accessing the Pink Caves should only be attempted at low tide and when the swell is low. So, make sure you check the Central Coast tide times and swell before you set off on this adventure. To make that perfectly clear, you must check information about Pink Caves swell and Pink Caves tides before heading out. This will help to prevent injuries and Pink Caves deaths.
Similar to that of the Figure 8 Pools in the Royal National Park, visiting outside of low tide is irresponsible. You’ll be putting yourself in danger and the lives of others when you need rescuing.
With that said, extreme care and caution must be taken even during low tide and a slight swell. 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 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.
Shorter Route Option (The Most Popular Way)
Personally, Beck and I chose to explore the Pink Caves on the Central Coast as part of an extended Moonee Beach Trail walk. That’s because we wanted to explore more of the area. But, we understand that many people aren’t too keen on any additional walking and exploring, other than what’s required to reach the Pink Caves. So, we thought we’d start by telling you about the most popular way to reach the Pink Caves, which doesn’t involve any additional effort.
Essentially, the quickest and easiest way to reach the Pink Caves involves parking on Hooey Street in Catherine Hill Bay. From this street-side parking spot, you’ll see a ‘Beach Access’ sign. From there, follow the track onto Moonee Beach. Then, via the northern end of Moonee Beach, you can access the Pink Caves via the rock platforms.
After seeing the Pink Caves, you’d simply 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 Ghosties Beach to scope out the Rainbow Caves. If you’re simply doing the out and back walk, you’re looking at an approx. 1.7km walk, taking around an hour.
The Pink Caves via the Modified Moonee Beach Trail: The Longer Route
On their own, the Pink Caves are a sensational natural attraction. But finding them as part of a modified version of the Moonee Beach Trail is an adventurous way to see them. After some effort hiking and taking in the surrounding coastline, finding the Pink Caves is an even more wonderful experience!
The Moone Beach Trail is one of the best walking tracks in the Munmorah State Conservation Area. The traditional route is a Grade 2, 4km return walk, taking approximately one hour. It’s on a management trail overlooking Timbers, Ghosties and Moonee Beaches. But strictly speaking, the Moonee Beach Trail doesn’t take in the amazing Pink Caves. But, with some extra exploring, you can easily add an excursion to and around the Pink Caves. In addition, you can visit Ghosties Beach afterwards, which will allow you to take in another amazing cave – the Rainbow Caves.
So not only will this guide help you get to the Pink Caves in Catherine Hill Bay, but it’ll review the trail you should embark on to get there and enjoy afterwards.
Modified Moonee Beach Trail (Pink Caves and Rainbow Caves Extension): Map and Stats
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 12km
- Time: 3–4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 115m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Moonee Beach Trailhead
- Map: Wikiloc
Travel Made Me Do It have personally rated this trail
Modified Moonee Beach Trail Description
Start by parking 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 Google Maps 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 finally arrive at Moonies Beach, where the trail officially ends.
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.
Accessing the Pink Caves From Moonee Beach
As mentioned before, the breathtaking pink sea caves on the Central Coast can be accessed from the northern end of Moonee Beach. To get to these otherworldly sea caves, simply continue your walk onto the rock platforms at Moonee Beach.
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.
Inside the Pink Caves
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.
Another Great Spot Nearby: More 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 Ghosties 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!
Our Experience Doing the Longer Route
Personally, we explored Deep Sea Cave before going to the main Pink Caves. That’s 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! But, still, we enjoyed the 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 that others will miss out on.
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. Overall, the additional hike isn’t too physically demanding. But beach walking and the gentle slopes of some of the trails mean you’ll get a decent workout.
Of course, if you can time the tides well, then sure, head straight to the main Pink Caves immediately from Moonee Beach. But, as always, having some flexibility with your plans to ensure safety is the key, which might mean delaying accessing the Pink Caves.
After leaving the rock platforms of Moonee Beach, 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 hiking your way onto Ghosties 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.
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.
Rainbow Caves (Ghosties Beach Cave)
The Rainbow Caves are even lesser known than the Pink Caves! Unfortunately, we weren’t blessed with a low tide and slight swell when we arrived at the Rainbow Caves. We’ve heard much about silly souls going into the caves outside of low tide and slight swell, often reporting injuries from being battered around in the caves. So, on this occasion, we couldn’t enter and explore. We’ve read that an array of colours can be seen inside the cave, but the colours are not as vibrant as those found at the Pink Caves. Because the caves are not exposed to sunlight, photography of the interior of the cave is often quite tricky.
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 outside of low tide.
Once you’ve explored Rainbow Caves, 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.
Find out more: Ghosties Beach Caves (Rainbow Caves) – The Ultimate Guide
How to Visit the Rainbow Caves Safely
Much like the Pink Caves, you should only explore inside the Rainbow Caves at low tide and when the swell is low. Obviously, you can’t be in two places at once. So by the time you reach the Rainbow Caves after prioritising seeing the Pink Caves at low tide, the water may already be making its way back in, which makes accessing the Rainbow Caves quite dangerous and not possible. 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 on foot is tricky business if the swell isn’t slight. Waves can penetrate and fill roughly inside the cave. So trying to move within the thin cave corridor is very much a hazard if the swell isn’t slight. In that case, you’re bound to be knocked against the cliff walls.
However, each tide and swell is unique. Sometimes, the cave and the entrance are cleared of the ocean during low tide and a slight swell. This makes entrance and movement inside the cave much easier and safer. But, sometimes it’s still unsafe to explore inside the cave even during low tide and a slight swell. Tides and ocean conditions can change unpredictably and suddenly. Sometimes, you won’t know if it’s safe to explore until you explore and assess the safety situation yourself.
FYI – we’ve read online that experienced divers make their way into the caves, by accessing a larger opening on the other side. Either way, thankfully, the Rainbow Caves can still be admired and enjoyed from afar, from the beach.
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 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 day trips.
Pink Caves Recap
Safe to say, the Pink Caves on the Central Coast are the highlight of the modified 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 in Catherine Hill Bay 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 and what hiking equipment we used on the day, please read on.
How to Get to the Pink Caves
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.
If you’ve got a car and are looking for other hiking and outdoor adventures around Sydney, check out our Top 10 Waterfalls in Sydney and our Northern Illawarra Day Trip Guide.
Please find a few of the most frequently asked questions about the Pink Caves in Catherine Hill Bay on the Central Coast.
Where Are the Pink Caves?
The Pink Caves are located in Catherine Hill Bay on the Central Coast of NSW. To that end, no, the Pink Caves (Cotton Candy Caves) aren’t located in Sydney. The official Pink Caves (Cotton Candy Caves) NSW location address is Catherine Hill Bay, NSW, 2281, Australia.
How Do I Get to Ghosties Beach?
It’s easiest to access Ghosties Beach by parking at Catherine Hill Bay and walking to the beach via Moonee and Timbers Beach.
Why Are the Pink Caves Pink?
The microalgae crustose coralline make the pink caves pink. Here’s the basic science behind it. Basically, red seaweed deposits algae in the ocean, which can form a thick calcified crust on the surface of rocks. This is what causes the incredible pink colour to form. What’s more impressive, microalgae like this, produce around 50–75% of the earth’s oxygen and absorb around 25% of its carbon dioxide.
Five Hiking Gear Essentials
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
These are five hiking gear essentials we recommend when exploring the Pink Caves in Catherine Hill Bay on the Central Coast. 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.
- Start early: to beat the heat and to ensure you get a park, arrive early.
- 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!
- Food: we packed our own snacks and lunch for this epic half day trip. Generally speaking, travelling in Australia is quite expensive. We shop at Aldi for the lowest prices. But, we recommend Woolworths or Coles for an improved variety of products.
- Trail navigation: it can get a little bit tricky and tedious at times when exploring north of the pink caves. So consider downloading an online map before you set out. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS-guided directions.
- Caves Beach ocean swim: if you’re looking for a great ocean swim nearby, other than at Ghosties and Moonee Beach, head to the beautiful Caves Beach (guide coming soon).
Finally, a comprehensive guide on how to see the Pink Caves on the Central Coast. Share on Facebook to spread the word!
Awesome detail guys, love it! I’ve lived in Newcastle my whole life and I’ve never heard about these before haha, might have to get my butt down to check them out! Thanks for sharing
It’s great to hear from you.
Thanks for the feedback, it’s much appreciated.
It’s surprisingly a fairly unknown attraction. It definitely deserves more attention.
I hope our guide helps you get there.
Cheers mate, Dan