The Royal National Park is one of Australia‘s most beautiful national parks and also one of the easiest to access from a major city. Despite the proximity of Sydney, the wilderness feel while exploring its many walking tracks has stayed intact. Every time, I feel small and vulnerable when I admire the broken multicoloured and gigantic cliffs threatening to collapse into the crashing waves just below.
Not only is the Royal National Park remarkable for its beauty, but it is also of historical importance. It was established in 1879, making it Australia’s oldest national park and the second oldest in the world after Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
What to do in the Royal National Park?
Take your time. Explore everywhere if you can. It’s a stunning place.
But if your time is limited, I have listed below my recommendations. If you’ve been to the Royal National Park, I’d love to hear what you liked there: please leave a comment at the end of the article!
Although it’s one of the most popular spots in the Royal National Park, it shouldn’t be missed.
How often do you see a cascade flowing into a pool that becomes the ocean in the background? Plus, it’s the start of a few hikes, so you can check it out without wasting time at all in your exciting program.
Indeed, I never stay for long at Wattamolla Beach. There are too many people: not what I am looking for in a national park. But if you’re lucky to go there off-season and during the week, you may get a different experience.
Responsible Travel Tip: Take three for the sea. Have you ever seen those signs? It encourages people to pick up rubbish before they end up in the ocean. If every visitor picked up three items, it would make a real difference. And at Wattamolla, you shouldn’t have issues finding three items to pick up. In less than 10 minutes, I had my hands totally full…
Coastal Hikes in the Royal National Park
Walking along the cliffs is a must-do when visiting the Royal National Park.
I have walked the Coastal Track from Bundeena to Garie Beach, and the views are breathtaking. The path was very easy to follow, and I cannot remember any challenging part – except going uphill and downhill, and the length of course. Many hiking tracks are one-way only.
If you travel as a group with a couple of vehicles, I recommend leaving one at the end of the hike so you can finish the loop with the car and avoid coming back the same way.
For example, you can leave your car on Bundeena Drive and hike to Marley Walk (4km), then to Wedding Cake Rock (+1km) and finish in Bundeena (+7km).
That’s also what we did to hike from Wattamolla to Curracurrang Cove (1.5 km), then to Eagle Rock Lookout (+2 km) and finish at Garie Beach (+3 km). I recommend doing it this way rather than the opposite direction: it is more agreeable to go down the stairs to arrive on Garie Beach than to start with them!
It’s easy to organise an overnight hike from Sydney City to tackle the entire Coastal Track (26km). You can easily use public transport to reach Bundeena and then go back via Otford station.
Famous Instagram spots in the Royal National Park
The Royal National Park is a trendy place. The number of people on the hike increased in the last few years as its popularity increased on Instagram. Indeed, it hosts two one-of-a-kind landmarks that attract international Instagrammers: the Wedding Cake Rock and the Figure 8 Pool. I spent a few weekends exploring the area: I hardly stopped at the Wedding Cake, and I have never been to the Figure 8 Pool. Not because I don’t think these spots are worth it, but because there are many other places to explore without the crowd.
If you are interested in checking out Figure 8 Pools and Wedding Cake Rock, please read on to avoid disappointment.
Figure 8 Pools can be reached after what is described as a challenging hike where you have to scramble in the rocks. It can be a bad surprise for those more into Instagramming than into hiking. Instagrammers sometimes take risks to get the best picture. They regularly get injured at Figure 8 Pool as waves can suddenly crash on them. If you go there, stay alert and understand the risks you are taking.
Wedding Cake Rock is fenced. You can see it from the path, with an excellent natural lookout a bit further as you carry on walking towards Little Marley Beach. Despite the fence, the walk is still worth it as the coastline is spectacular and Wedding Cake Rock is the only blocked view you’ll get. When the number of visitors dramatically increased, the authorities found out the rock was (and still is) very unstable and will collapse soon. The warning on the fence could not be more explicit: “Do not risk your life for a photograph”. Most visitors (all of them but our group for our experience) jump the fence and take the risk. Do they enjoy the thrill as much as the funny-looking rock? Just know that the rock does look unstable from the other side. And during the Coastal Walk, we spotted stones that recently collapsed. It does happen. Plus, it’s a hefty fine if you get caught – and there are many other great spots to take impressive photos in the park.
These photos may help you make your own opinion on these two places.
3. Kayaking in the Royal National Park
Tired of walking along the coast? Give your legs a rest with a paddle adventure.
Renting equipment in Bundeena was easy and I enjoyed kayaking in the Royal National Park.
With a group of friends, we took a self-guided tour with transfers so we could kayak for two hours on the calm and lovely river. Then we hiked around 10km of the coastal walk from Bundeena to Wattamola. It was a great way to explore as much as possible the national park in just one day.
4. Waterfalls in the Royal National Park
Waterfalls were not my priority when I visited the Royal National Park – except for Wattamolla that I think is worth checking out. Although I’d like to see some waterfalls there, we always end up doing the coastal walks instead. It seems more logical in this National Park, but I may be wrong. If you’ve had enough of the cliffs (is that even possible?), you may want to explore a bit more inland.
Where to stay in the Royal National Park?
There is one campsite in Bundeena (Bonnie Vale campground) that you can book online. The other two campsites are not accessible from the road: you’ll need to hike the coastal walk to get there.
If you don’t want to camp, there are cottages in the national park (click for more info*) with three bedrooms. Another option is to stay in Bundeena* or Cronulla* (from where you can catch a ferry to Bundeena). I recommend having a look at Airbnb* offers, you will have more options than traditional hotels.
Have you been to the Royal National Park? Did you like it as much as I did? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is the Royal National Park?
The Royal National Park is located only 30km south of the heart of Sydney as the crow flies. It normally takes less than 90 minutes to drive there but you may get stuck in traffic during the weekend.
The Royal National Park is very easy to access via public transport. You can catch a train to Cronulla from Sydney City (Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line; one hour) and then, after a five-minute walk, you can catch a ferry from Cronulla to Bundeena. The Royal National Park starts in Bundeena, around 15 minutes away from the marina. Visit Transport NSW and Cronulla ferries websites to plan your trip.
If you do the Coastal Walk all the way from Bundeena to Otford (two-day hike), you can catch a train back to Sydney from Otford.
It’s one of the stops on my Australia’s East Coast road trip guide that you can download for free here.
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