The Royal National Park Coast Track is one of the best day hikes in New South Wales. Better yet, it’s located in Sydney, making it easily accessible. Despite being highly visited, the Royal National Park remains a hikers paradise. Even on the well-walked Coast Track, you’ll find calmness and tranquillity.

There’s many a guide on the Royal National Park Coast Track. So why should you spend time to read this one? Well, for starters, it’s comprehensive, detailing all of the main attractions and landforms, that other guides might skip on. Plus, we’ll detail how to get to and from the start and finish points of the trail, with a car, by public transport or a combination of both.

But what’s particularly unique, is that it’s a speed hiking guide. For those well versed in the activity, or are raring to give it a crack, we’ll give you the guidance and confidence needed to smash out this rip-roaring adventure.

For other Sydney based coastal walk speed hikes, check out our Maroubra to La Perouse and Cronulla to Kurnell guides.

There's plenty of wildlife on the Royal National Park Coast Track. A sea eagle is perched on the rock, with the ocean in the background.
There’s plenty of wildlife on the Royal National Park Coast Track.

Royal National Park | Coast Track Guide

Being Sydney’s most popular national park, you may have visited before. Perhaps you did one of the many shorter trails in the Royal National Park. Maybe you’ve just wanted to scope out Wedding Cake Rock or the Figure 8 Pools. These are all phenomenal natural attractions in their own right. But the experience of completing the entire Royal National Park Coast Track should give you an even higher feeling of elation and accomplishment.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s a fairly gruelling affair. You’ll be looking at almost 1k of accumulated elevation gain throughout the hike. Plus, the hike is 30km+, well if you follow our guide, it’s about 30.5km. That’s without taking three of the main side-trails (more details to follow). This was contrary to the 28 and 29km we had read elsewhere. Although, really, when you’re hiking this far, does it really matter?

In recording our GPS directions, my watch didn’t start properly recording until we were about 800 metres into the walk. So, it’ll read as 29.69km. In fact, if you check our Wikiloc, it even places us, as starting in the water, as if we were walking on water! Oh, technology. Just to clarify though, we are just speed hikers and not otherworldly creatures with superpowers.

Anyway, feel free to use our directions below for a rough idea of directions on the Royal National Coast Track.

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Royal National Park Coast Track Preview

  • Type: One-way
  • Distance: 30.5km
  • Time: 6.25 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 900m
  • Difficulty: Grade 5
  • Trailhead: Bundeena or Otford Lookout

As graded by NSW National Parks using the Australian Walking Track Grading System

Highlights of the Royal National Park Coast Track

The Coastal Walk Track map seen on the trail, adapted from Weekend Notes.
The Coastal Walk Track map seen throughout the hike, adapted from Weekend Notes.

Bundeena

Head to the bottom of our guide on details about how to start and finish the hike in terms of parking and public transport options. As recommended by NSW National Parks, we started the hike from Bundeena. Beck had previously hiked from the Otford Lookout to the Figure 8 Pools, so we opted to start at Bundeena, an area she was less familiar with.

In fact, there’s contradictory information about where, in Bundeena, the Royal National Park Coast Track actually starts from. The NSW National Parks website shows that the hike starts at the end of Beachcomber Avenue, which takes you directly to the Balconies. This means you miss out on the wonders of Jibbon Beach and Jibbon Head. So we recommend following the actual trail signs, and our guide, which includes the Jibbon Beach Loop Track.

But anyway, Bundeena’s a pleasant and gentle start to a long day’s speed hike. Bundeena itself is a small and quiet community, set atop of the Royal National Park. Specifically, the Royal National Park Coast Track begins on Jibbon Beach – a charming and serene bay. Expect a few locals out walking their dogs or paddling in the shallow, calm waters. At the eastern end of the beach, you’ll trade sand for a coastal bush path, via a small assemblage of rocks, heading towards Jibbon Head.

Jibbon Beach, Bundeena. A small bay covered by the shade of the surrounding trees, has calm and shallow waters.
Jibbon Beach, Bundeena

Jibbon Head

Also known as Port Hacking Point, Jibbon Head will present you with your first decent vantage point to enjoy the coastline. Quite soon after exiting the beach, you’ll be speed hiking in some relatively thick bushland. Although, you’ll hike in and out of areas of bush around Jibbon Head. This includes a more exposed section of the track early on, that gives you nice views of Little Jibbon Beach. Afterwards, the trail meanders and winds its way along the coast, and eventually spits you out onto an exposed and expansive rock platform area.

This is your first opportunity to explore the larger sandstone formations scattered along this stunning stretch of coast. There will be ample opportunity throughout the hike to explore the similar yet subtly different sandstone cliff walls.

Beck had been looking forward to doing the Royal National Park Coast Track for some time. She was pumped. Beck stands by the Port Hacking trail sign, with a stretch of sandstone cliff walls, ocean and clear sky in the background.
Beck had been looking forward to doing the Royal National Park Coast Track for some time. She was pumped.

As you follow around the headland, you’ll continue to hike in and out the surrounding coastal bushland. Sections of this trail are less pronounced, but navigation is simple enough, with the coast to your left. You’ll eventually arrive at Shelley Beach, which signals the end of the Jibbon Beach Loop Track. After enjoying views of this well-concealed beach, you’ll continue on the similarly named Jibbon Track, and head towards the Balconies.

Shelley Beach - a quiet, secluded beach is framed nicely but surrounding coastal bushland and heathland. The sky is clear, whilst waves rhythmically roll in onto shore.
Shelley Beach

Jibbon Engravings

Given we had been to the Jibbon Engravings previously, we didn’t complete the small side-trail on this occasion. However, this side-trail is only a slight detour, possibly adding on less than 50 metres, and easily re-connects to the Jibbon Beach Loop Track.

So you may as well add on this side-trail if you haven’t seen the Jibbon Engravings before. The engravings are restored on an ongoing basis. But they date back around 2,000 years, thanks to the Tharawal people – the traditional owners of the land.

To see the Jibbon Engravings, at around the time you first catch a glimpse of Little Jibbon Beach, you’ll notice a side-trail to your right, heading slightly away from the coast. Soon enough, the side-trail transforms into a boardwalk, which takes you onto a purpose-built platform, over the rocks. Besides protecting these Aboriginal sites, the platform provides a great viewpoint for the engravings.

Jibbon Engravings side-trail on the Jibbon Beach Loop Track.
Jibbon Engravings side-trail on the Jibbon Beach Loop Track, adapted from the Royal National Park website.

After seeing all of the different engravings, simply descend the steps, and the boardwalk almost immediately guides you back onto the Jibbon Beach Loop Track. You’d then continue towards Jibbon Head (Port Hacking Point) as mentioned above.

SIDE NOTE: On its own, starting and ending in Bundeena, the Jibbon Beach Loop Track, including the Jibbon Engravings side-trail is around 4km.

The Balconies

The Jibbon Track slowly peels away from the coast, heading back in-land. It’s an exposed track including sections of sand walking. So get ready for your calves to be burning, as well as your skin if you haven’t slipped, slopped, slapped and wrapped! With mostly dry and arid coastal heath by your side, you’ll be glad to meet the coastline once again for a more refreshing and vibrant ambience.

The Jibbon Track ends at a junction that signals the alternate start of the Royal National Park Coast Track. At this point, sharply turn left to re-join the coastline, and head towards the Balconies. Otherwise, there’s an alternate trail, for the Wedding Cake gawkers, that cuts further inland, skipping the Balconies, taking you towards the Waterrun.

SIDE NOTE: We shouldn’t talk though! We’ve completed the smaller Wedding Cake Rock out and back trail from here before. But even so, you should at least add on the Balconies to this shorter trail, as your first main attraction.

In line with Jibbon Head, the Balconies is an even vaster stretch of sandstone platforms. It’s a playground for nature enthusiasts and geology nerds alike. The whiteness of the sandstone is truly awe-inspiring. It’s one of the major highlights of the entire Royal National Park Coastal Trail.

The Balconies. Mostly flat white sandstone platforms, splay over a large area, with the ocean and clear sky in the distance. Dan walks towards the camera.
The Balconies

Following the Balconies, you’ll join another boardwalk that guides you further south. With track upgrades over the last decade, we’ve heard people dismiss the boardwalks as spoiling the adventure and wildness of the hike. But in protecting the land, such infrastructure maintains the integrity of the trail, benefiting the many people who will speed hike here in the future.

One of the many boardwalks that make up the Royal National Park Coast Track. A boardwalk winds its way through coastal heathland, with the ocean, clear horizon and cloudy sky aove,
One of the many boardwalks that make up the Royal National Park Coast Track.

The Waterrun

If anything, the superior tread and traction of the boardwalk makes speed hiking even easier. You’ll wind away from the coast, and then back towards it, multiple times, crossing undulating terrain. The meandering boardwalk cuts a sharp feature in the landscape, making for epic coastal hiking photography.

Eventually, you’ll descend a series of damp stone carved steps and stepping stones. The Waterrun briefly provides some shade, so stop here for a drink. When speed hiking on exposed trails, particularly in the warmer months, take any opportunity to rehydrate in the shade.

As you cross the tranquil stepping stones, you’ll have incredible views over the Pacific Ocean, framed by the opposing headlands. The puddles of water surrounding the stepping stones leak over the cliff’s edge. With many people purely walking to Wedding Cake Rock and back, expect this part of the trail to get busy.

Beck enjoys the shade during the Waterrun. Shaded stone carved steps, descend to stepping stones with ocean views and a clear sky in the distance.
Beck enjoys the shade during the Waterrun.

Wedding Cake Rock

After ascending the Waterrun, you’ll come across more marvelously bright sandstone rock platforms and cliffs. You’ll know you’re approaching the Wedding Cake Rock, as the rock sandstone gets even whiter. Unfortunately, you’ll know Wedding Cake Rock is approaching for two other reasons.

One, sadly, mindless people have graffitied some of the rock platforms leading up towards Wedding Cake Rock. Two, there is a life sized sign of an emergency rescuer, discouraging you from jumping the fence to stand atop Wedding Cake Rock. Even sadder, are the rescues and even suicides that have taken place here. So no matter what, don’t jump the fence.

What awaits you, from behind an ugly but necessary fence, is an amazingly shaped white sandstone cliff formation. The mystic formation, resembling layers of a wedding cake, has grown significantly in popularity over the last five years. So don’t expect to have this place to yourself. There’ll likely be puddles around. So be mindful of where you place your backpack if you’re keen to take the weight off for a breather.

Wedding Cake Rock. One of the main attractions of the Royal National Park Coast Track is the well known Wedding Cake Rock. It's an amazing white sandstone cliff formation, resembling a wedding cake.
Wedding Cake Rock

Marley Head

Following Wedding Cake Rock, the trail should quieten again. For those only doing the Wedding Cake Rock return walk, they’ll miss out on some extraordinary coastal views and hidden beaches a little further south. The next major viewpoint is Marley Head. The boardwalk will lead you onto a rougher trail with loose rock underfoot. Pockets of coastal heathland surround you as you breathe in the sea breeze and take in the aspiring coastline.

Views of the Marley beaches from Marley Head. A rock platform surrounded by coastal heathland is in the foreground, as beaches, bushland and a partly cloudy sky is seen in the distance.
Views of Marley Beach, and then Little Marley Beach further in the distance, from Marley Head.

To your right, you’ll see Marley Beach, with Little Marley Beach seen further in the distance. Following a dirt trail, you’ll descend from Marley Head onto Marley Beach. As far as beaches go, this one is hard to beat. A seemingly untouched beach with gorgeous crystal clear waters and golden sand awaits you. The sand walking is challenging terrain for speed hiking, but your beautiful surroundings do more than enough to distract you.

After sand walking your way across Marley Beach, you’ll ascend out of the beach, and up onto its southern headland. The trail briefly flattens out, before descending once more onto Little Marley Beach. Very similar to Marley Beach, its gorgeous features will provoke a sense of chi.

Little Marley Beach. Turquoise waters, golden sand, surrounding bushland and a mostly clear sky provide a feeling of calmness.
Little Marley Beach

Not long after ascending from Little Marley Beach, there are even more brilliantly coloured sandstone rocks. Oddly shaped and vividly coloured red, orange, yellow and white rock formations protrude from the sandstone floor. If you think the sandstone around Wedding Cake Rock is epic, wait until you hike this part of the Royal National Park Costal Track!

Wattamolla

Soon enough, you’ll be greeted by more boardwalk. Large sections of boardwalk leading to Wattamolla are downhill. As far as long distance speed hiking goes, Beck and I, taking advantage of momentum, jog down these sorts of trails. It’s a time and energy efficient way to cover stretches of trail on long distance hikes. By using your body in a different way, jogging descents surprisingly refreshes and rejuvenates your legs. Think of an Olympic racewalker who strides out into a run once they cross the finish line!

If you usually have knee pain when hiking downhills, try jogging or even running (on flat and even trails of course). Because you spend less time loading each leg, there is less bending and natural compression of your knee joint. So you might be surprised that running downhill feels better than walking downhill! But of course, be honest with yourself and your current fitness levels to judge whether this is a good idea or not.

Well, that’s enough of the physio chat! Either way, the boardwalk will guide you to an immense natural swimming hole. Being a small body of water, it’s easily warmed by the relatively long hours of daylight in this part of the world. Expect people having a swim with some of the most amazing views out towards the ocean.

Natural swimming hole near Wattamolla. A clear swimming hole is surrounded by rocks and bushland with a mostly clear sky above.
Natural swimming hole near Wattamolla.

Following further descents, you’ll reach Wattamolla, which brings a definite change of ambience. There is a picnic area, a large car park and recently built bathrooms. Expect families around this section of the trail, picnicking or swimming at Wattamolla Beach. In addition, people will do the Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls out and back hike from here, so that’ll explain the extra hikers around.

Wattamolla Falls

From the Wattamolla Picnic Area are nice views of Wattamolla Falls. After periods of minimal rainfall, as we had experienced, a small waterfall and surrounding trickles will pour over the vertical cliff wall. During drought, it can dry up completely, but after consistent rainfall, it will look more spectacular. There are fences preventing exploration of the top of the falls for obvious safety reasons.

Wattamolla Falls as seen from the Wattamolla Picnic Area. A small waterfall and other small trickles are framed nicely by bushland in the foreground.
Wattamolla Falls as seen from the Wattamolla Picnic Area.

There are a few different trails at this point which can be a bit confusing. In the past, there was a trail cutting through the picnic area that would lead you to Wattamolla Beach. As of late 2020, this trail is closed.

Instead, after seeing the waterfall, head across the picnic area on a paved path leading you past the car park and bathrooms. To stay on the Royal National Park Coast Track, follow the signs and continue straight, leading away from the car park.

Trail options around Wattamolla, adapted from the Royal National Park website.
Trail options around Wattamolla, adapted from the Royal National Park website.

Providential Point

Alternatively, if you’re interested in adding on the Providential Point side-trail, instead, after the bathrooms, turn left. On the trail, you’ll immediately be surrounded by bushland and then you’ll enter an exposed grassy area. Turn left in order to access Wattamolla Beach. Continue straight to head towards Providential Point. You’ll arrive at a boardwalk to advance to this additional lookout.

Signage for Providential Point. A dirt trail transitions into a boardwalk leading into bushland.
Signage for Providential Point

We didn’t add on this side-trail as we had visited previously when doing the Wattamolla to Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls return hike. Admittedly, the views from Providential Point aren’t the finest on the Royal National Park Coast Track. As you ascend away from Providential Point, your views slightly improve as you get above the bushland. But still, your views of Wattamolla Beach will still be impeded.

From this point, it’s a surprisingly steep hike that eventually flattens out to re-join the coastal trail.

Views from Providential Point on the Royal National Park Coast Track. A gloomy sky brings shade to the bushland covered headland and dark ocean waters.
Views from Providential Point.

Curracurrong Gulley

Onwards from Wattamolla, is more of the same – a truly idyllic coastal setting with epic sandstone cliff walls. This stretch of the Royal National Park Coast Track will be one of your favourites. Partly, because there are several gulleys and creeks, creating an array of pristine cascades and one magnificent waterfall – Curracurrong Falls.

But first, you’ll pass Curracurrong Gulley. It’s a fitting preview of what is to come. As you pass this small gulley, you’ll enjoy calm and soothing streams of water, flowing towards and into the ocean. The theme of running water begins!

Curracurrong Gulley. A stream of water winds its way, from a rock landform, towards and into the ocean, seen in the distance, below a mostly clear sky.
Curracurrong Gulley

Then, the trail transitions, again, into a boardwalk, that ascends up and out of the gulley. Despite the gulleys and creeks, the surrounding coastal bushland looks fairly arid and dry at points. With the thought of the astonishing Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls ahead, your pace will lift a notch, as the boardwalk gives you stable terrain to speed hike on.

Before reaching Curracurrong Creek, you may notice a faint, unmarked side-trail leading off to the left. This unofficial dirt trail leads you to the top of Eagle Head Rock, where you won’t have views of it, but rather, views of Curracurrong Falls. There are no safety fences, and the cliffs nearing the edge of Eagle Head Rock could be unstable so be careful if you take this side-trail.

Otherwise, for views of both Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls, continue past this side-trail, via the stepping stones, taking you through the creek. Although, there is the option to explore Curracurrong Creek itself, as it has mini-cascades and falls. But admittedly, I’m always too excited to see Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls, that I don’t explore the creek.

Eagle Head Rock & Curracurrong Falls

When speed hiking the Royal National Park Coast Track on this occasion, we didn’t go ”off-trail” for the best views of Eagle Head Rock and Curracurong Falls. Having been here before, we were full of adrenaline and so decided to just crack on with the hike. However, strictly following the Coast Track means missing views of two of the finest attractions on this hike!

To avoid missing out, after climbing out of the creek, the trail briefly heads towards the ocean, before it bends to the right to follow adjacent to the coastline. It’s not very obvious, but at this bend of the boardwalk, is loose rock, coastal heathland and a series of rock platforms creating natural steps, to your left.

If you climb down them, carefully, you’ll be led closer to the cliff’s edge. Around the corner to your right, is a pseudo-cave and rock platforms replicating seats, a safe distance from the cliff’s edge. It’s literally the best seat in the house and a decent spot of shade. Regardless of the volume and size of the falls, any waterfall thundering into an ocean is a rare and special natural phenomenon. And then there’s a rock shaped like an eagle’s head. What more can I say?

Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls. With tourquoise ocean waters below, and clear sky above, the cliff wall is dominated by a long waterfall poring into the ocean, and a rock shaped like an eagle's head.
Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls

Garie Beach & Little Garie Beach

After a short distance, you’ll pass Curra Brooks. It’s yet another beautiful array of cascades, a feature of this stretch of coastal track, which really defines it. Despite the magnificence of the preceding creeks and falls, this set of cascades are still really mesmerising.

After passing through Curra Brooks, you’ll be well over halfway through the hike. Again, expect the trail to be a little quieter following Eagle Head Rock. Although, some people will hike to Eagle Head Rock from the opposite direction (Garie Beach Car Park), instead of starting from the Watamolla Car Park. So the drop-off in hikers won’t be as obvious as when you passed Wedding Cake Rock.

What follows is a fairly long stretch of boardwalk, which for this eventful hike, is comparatively uneventful. Of course, the brilliant coastline is always on show, displaying its beauty, whilst the ocean powerfully crashes into the base of the cliff walls. But then, almost out of nowhere, you’ll begin to see sensational stretches of beach. This is Garie Beach, followed by Little Garie Beach. Get ready for a steep climb down a winding collection of naturally carved steps to reach Garie Beach.

Once you’ve reached the bottom, at about 21-22km, it’s time for lunch. Find a shady spot on the beach to refuel and rehydrate! It’s a large beach, so there should be plenty of space. There’s a large car park here, so expect it to be busy on weekends.

Beck enjoys the views of Garie and Little Garie Beach. Long stretches of beach are surrounded by bushland, golden sand and clear blue skies.
Beck enjoys the views of Garie and Little Garie Beach.

North Era Beach & South Era Beach

After some tough sand walking across Garie Beach, you’ll continue on a rough dirt trail, by the shoreline. You’ll then pass Little Garie Beach, with many rocks littered along the shoreline. It’s a tough climb out of Little Garie Beach, up and over the next headland.

It’s hard to believe, but there are equally incredible beach views still to come. After reaching the peak of this headland, you’ll set eyes on more glorious stretches of beach. The ocean waters of North Era and South Era beaches are immensely turquoise and spectacular. Among all of the other fantastic viewpoints on the Royal National Park Coast Track, this is easily one of the best!

Dan speed hiking towards North Era Beach. More long stretches of turquoise ocean water and golden sand creates one of the best vantage points of the entire Royal National Park Coast Track.
Dan speed hiking towards North Era Beach.

Again, there is a steep descent to North Era Beach. As you reach the bottom, you’ll briefly cross a grassy area. You’ll then continue sand walking across the beach which reaches a grassy hill, taking you to South Era Beach. Both of these beaches are larger than Little Garie Beach, but smaller than Garie Beach. Regardless, the Era beaches are a little harder to reach, so they’re a bit quieter and that’s only a good thing!

STORY TIME: You’ll notice a bunch of huts or shacks scattered across the hills, surrounding North and South Era beach. These are heritage listed, so they are protected against demolition, whilst there are strict rules in terms of modifying them. Luckily enough, one of my best mates’ family owns one of these original stone shacks. So I’ve been lucky enough to stay overnight here and wake up to wallabies and deer at the front door, kindly moaning for some BBQ leftovers!

Burning Palms Beach

Hiking up and out of South Era Beach is one of the toughest parts of the hike. The naturally carved stone steps seem to carry on for an unfair amount of time. But keep in mind, there’s more amazing landscape and natural attractions that aren’t too far away. In fact, what you’ll find is a complete change of scenery and environment as you pass Burning Palms Beach. It’s like transcending into a tropical rainforest. One minute there’s harsh coastal heathland, the next, palm trees, with their large evergreen leaves.

Burning Palms Beach, with the Figure 8 Pools far in the distance. A beach is framed by tropical looking palm trees. The sky is covered in a light array of clouds
Burning Palms Beach, with the Figure 8 Pools far in the distance.

As a result, Burning Palms Beach feels like a very different beach compared to the Garie and Era beaches. Not only does it seem more tropical, but it seems more secluded and undisturbed. Alongside Marley Beach, Burning Palms Beach is one of our favourite beaches on the Royal National Park Coast Track. If there’s any beach to spend additional time on during this speed hike, it’s this one!

There are several trails leading onto Burning Palms Beach. You’ll notice the edges of the sand are covered in stripped and fallen palm leaves. They look bare and lifeless, compared to some of the green leaves and surrounding forest. It’s the southern end of the beach that provides a gateway to the infamous Figure 8 Pools.

Figure 8 Pools side-trail, adapted from the Royal National Park website.
Figure 8 Pools side-trail, adapted from the Royal National Park website.

Figure 8 Pools

On this occasion, we didn’t venture to the Figure 8 Pools. We had visited previously and given it is a bit of a tourist hotspot, we decided to avoid it. Of more importance though, you really have to perfectly time your visit to the Figure 8 Pools with low tide.

There have been many injuries and resultant rescues that have taken place here, with irresponsible people visiting at any time they please. Visiting at any time other than low tide is dangerous because the waves can easily and unexpectedly sweep you off your feet. With that said, even at low tide, sometimes the swell and ocean conditions are still too rough to explore the rock pools at low tide. So you have to be prepared to turn around and accept defeat if this is the case.

Of course, the Figure 8 Pools are an absolute word-class natural phenomenon. So we encourage you to visit. But this may be better as a shorter hike from the Garawarra Farm Car Park where it’s easier to time your visit with low tide. You could also hike to the Figure 8 Pools from Garie Beach or the Otford Lookout, but these options would be nearly double the distance, and so, harder to time with low tide.

Is It Sensible To Add the Figure 8 Pools Side-Trail?

Timing your visit, whilst doing the entire coastal trail is difficult and puts too much pressure on you to get there at a pre-planned time. So although it’s possible to add on this side-trail, we don’t recommend it. But if you really wanted to, you could do the Royal National Park Coast Track in reverse, starting from the Otford Lookout, to make it slightly easier to time your hike with low tide.

Keep in mind that getting to the Figure 8 Pools from Burning Palms Beach can take around 20-30 minutes. Then, of course, you might be tempted for a swim and photo. That’s another 30 minutes at least, maybe even an hour if it’s really busy. So with the return walk to Burning Palms Beach, that could be an extra 2 hours to add on, to an already long day of hiking. So the ball is in your court!

Either way, thanks to Instagram, the Figure 8 Pools, similar to Wedding Cake Rock, have also suffered an increase in visitation, particularly over the last five years. Unfortunately, it takes away from the experience.

Palm Jungle

If you skip the Figure 8 Pools, you’ve made a wise choice. You can continue to thrive in the solitude and peacefulness of the actual coastal trail. Following Burning Palms Beach, a boardwalk leads you further south, towards Otford. With the stunning coastline ahead of you, you’ll be in awe of the green-topped hills, the rhythmic movement of the ocean and by the tropical plants beside you. The boardwalk then transitions into a dirt trail, leading you into the dense Palm Jungle.

If the preceding boardwalk was one of the most picturesque parts of the walk, the less defined trail steering you through the jungle is one of the most adventurous parts. There’ll be hanging vines, huge palm leaves splayed over the thick and damp forest floor, and various fruits and animal droppings littering the trail. This mini-jungle is full of life. With your legs tiring as you enter the final parts of the Royal National Park Coast Track, the jungle revitalises your senses and provides you with a boost of energy.

Nearing the end of the jungle, you’ll pass some secluded huts. The trail then leads you up a series of stone carved steps. There’s no two ways about it, this steep ascent is tough, even if you’re feeling rejuvenated from the jungle. With your speed hiking propelling you up the stairs, the landscape again transforms, gently, from jungle to more typical Australian bushland. Although, for the remainder of the hike, your surroundings blend together, like a tropical version of bushland.

Otford Lookout

Once you have climbed out of Palm Jungle, you’re on the home stretch. You’ll likely clock the magical 30km mark nearing the end of the flattened leaf-littered trail. As the trees become taller, you feel truly immersed in the surrounding landscape. Only every so often, you’re reminded that your coast-side, as a mini side-trail opens up to your left, providing sweeping views of the coastline.

A short side-trail near the Otford Lookout. The beach is nicely framed by the surrounding coastal bushland
A short side-trail near the Otford Lookout.

As you swing around the final bend, there’s a steep descent to the finish line. You won’t be able to speed hike here, as you carefully navigate your shaky legs down towards Otford Lookout. It’s a relief to reach the bottom, signalling you have conquered the Royal National Park Coast Track. We’re sure you’ll feel a sense of achievement after all of your hard work!

Otford Lookout. A beach, and some huts, are framed by the surrounding hills, covered in bushland. The sky is mostly cloudy.
Otford Lookout

Royal National Park Coast Track Recap

All in all, the Royal National Park Coast Track is one hell of a day hike. It’s physically demanding and strenuous, but it’s beauty and number of natural attractions provides great reward for your efforts. For those looking to do a long distance speed hike close to Sydney, this trail is hard to beat. There’s great variation in the trail to keep the legs guessing and your body working in slightly different ways.

We hope you have found this guide informative and helpful. For information on hiking gear and your public transport and self-drive options for co-ordinating this one-way hike, please read on.

Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls are easily some of the best natural attractions on the Royal National Park Coast Track.
Eagle Head Rock and Curracurrong Falls

Getting to Sydney

Flights: Of course, you’ll need to fly to Sydney to do this trip from abroad. If you’re travelling to Sydney from overseas, use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. When flying abroad, we always get the ball rolling with a Skyscanner search.

Also, if you’re based in the UK or US, you should sign up to Jack’s Flight Club for the best flight deal alert service. By simply subscribing to the free weekly newsletter or buying premium membership, you could save lots of money on international travel. If you’re interstate, subscribe to I Want That Flight for the best flight deal alerts to and from other states. You can usually find cheap flights with Jetstar or Tiger Airways.

Getting to, From and Around the Royal National Park

The Royal National Park is located in the south of Sydney. It spreads over a large coastal area, with its southern boundary nearing Northern Illawarra. For Sydneysiders and those living in Wollongong, it’s right on your doorstep.

The easiest way to start and finish this one-way hike is by doing a car shuffle from either end. But if you don’t have at least two people, and the luxury of two cars, you’ll need to consider other options. If you have just one car, you can park in Bundeena at either the:

  • the northern end of Eric Street to include the Jibbon Beach Loop Track
  • the southern end of Beachcomber Avenue to skip this track

Alternatively, you can park at the Otford Lookout if you decide to do the Royal National Park Coast Track in reverse. Keep in mind that it’s a small car park, with only enough spaces for a dozen cars or so.

Either way, you’ll need to use the Royal National Park bus service at the end of your hike to return to your starting destination. Services operate Thursday through to Sunday and tickets are $10AUD ($7USD). Check the timetable to organise your day.

It's not the greatest quality photo, as it was shot on an old iPhone a couple of years ago, but it's the best shot we have clearly showing the distinct features of Eagle Head Rock. The sky is mostly clear and the ocean is crystal clear. Coastal heathland is seen in the forefront.
It’s not the greatest quality photo, as it was shot on an old iPhone a couple of years ago, but it’s the best shot we have clearly showing the distinct features of Eagle Head Rock.

Public Transport

Without a car, you’ll obviously need to use public transport. You can get the ferry from Cronulla to the Bundeena Wharf. From there, it’s an additional 1.2km to get to Jibbon Beach, or 1.5km to get to the alternate start, suggested by NSW National Parks, at the southern end of Beachcomber Avenue. You’ll then need to walk to Otford train station from the Otford Lookout which is an extra 2km. Even if done in reverse, you’re looking at around 33-34km for the entire day.

If you’re wanting to save your legs from those extra km’s, use RentalCars.com to hire a car. It’s a fantastic search engine for finding the cheapest car hire. It’s what we use to hire cars in Australia.

Accommodation

Being based in Sydney, we didn’t need to look into accommodation. When searching for accommodation though, we always compare Booking.com and Airbnb, or use WikiCamps or Campermate for camping.

Using Airbnbif you are new to Airbnb, use our link to get up to $50-60AUS ($35-45USD) off.

Local Supplies

To get the most out of the day, bring a packed breakfast, lunch and maybe even dinner! It’s a long day, so you’ll need plenty of water and snacks. There are some small shops and cafes around Bundeena and Otford, but otherwise, the hike is in a national park, so be prepared. Our go-to grocery stores when travelling in Australia are Aldi and Woolworths. They will cover all of your needs.

Total Costs

  • Petrol: $20AUD/person ($15USD)
  • Food: $10AUD/person ($7USD)

= $55AUD/person ($41USD)

If you’re using public transport or the bus service, you’ll need to consider those extra costs. Otherwise, parking at Bundeena or the Otford Lookout doesn’t require a parking permit. But if you’re car shuffling, and passing through the Royal National Park, you may need to pay for a day’s pass at one of the manned offices, if you don’t have a NSW National Parks Annual Pass. You’ll undoubtedly make your money back from a one or two year pass are if you explore NSW national parks regularly.

Five Hiking Gear Essentials for the Royal National Park

For a more detailed summary on hiking gear, please check out 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a comprehensive packing list, check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

  • Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – the terrain and combined trails of the Royal National Park Coast Track is quite varied so having a versatile hiking boot is crucial. The Moab 2 is lightweight, so it’s great for speed hiking, whilst it does have waterproofing capability.
  • Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack – Beck swears by this backpack for speed hiking. It’s large enough to store food, equipment and clothes once you’ve warmed. But it’s slim, lightweight and compact design means you won’t be weighed or slowed down.
  • Hydration Bladder – in the warmer months, you’re going to need 3L+. Carrying that many water bottles don’t leave space for much else. So consider getting a Hydration Bladder to put in your Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack. It’ll slot in at the back, giving you easy access to water.
  • Anker PowerCore 10000 Portable Charger – if you’re using online GPS directions on your phone, your phone battery can drain quickly. This compact portable charger is robust, reliable and has an outstanding battery life itself.
  • Nikon DSLR Camera – a great entry-level camera for beginners. There are so many great natural landscapes and attractions to photograph. Don’t miss out!

Trail Navigation

Trail navigation is fairly straightforward, but GPS directions may be of help, particularly when you’re fatigued or adding on any unfamiliar side-trails. We recommend using our Wikiloc for GPS guided directions for peace of mind.

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.

Bonus Tips

  • Start early: you’ll have a long day ahead of you doing this hike, so to make sure you finish whilst you still have daylight, set your alarm early!
  • Practice speed hiking on smaller distance trails: if you’re new to speed hiking, doing it for the first time on a 30km+ trail can be very demanding. Practice speed hiking on shorter trails, before giving this one a crack.
  • Build up to longer hikes: if your fitness levels don’t allow you to hike such a distance, make a plan, to work up to it. This will involve hiking shorter distance trails, and then gradually hiking longer distances over time. As part of this plan, consider doing some of the smaller Royal National Park trails. There are many to choose from! But ones that specifically involve sections of the Royal National Park Coast Track include:
    • Jibbon Head Beach Loop Track: 4-5km | Elevation gain: 95m | 2 hours | Trailhead: Bundeena
    • Wedding Cake Rock: Out & Back | 7km | Elevation gain: 230m | 2-3 hours | Trailhead: Beachcomber Avenue, Bundeena
    • Eagle Head Rock: Out & Back | 8km | Elevation gain: 230m | 2-3 hours | Trailhead: Wattamolla
    • Figure 8 Pools: Out & Back | 7km | Elevation gain: 275m | 2-3 hours | Trailhead: Garawarra Farm Car Park

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