Despite having lived within 20 minutes of the Royal National Park
Just a short drive from Sydney, the Royal National Parkthe oldest national park in Australia, and the second oldest in the world after Yellowstone, so it’s historic as well as beautiful. The Coast Track runs from the town of Bundeena in the north to Otford in the south, crossing sandstone cliffs, a waterfall, beaches, lush palm forests and grassland. There’s even a mini village with shacks and a church that were built before it officially became a park.
Initially I planned to do the walk in early April, but a friend recommended waiting until late May/early June when humpback whales would be migrating north. ‘They’ll come in close to the shore to avoid the East Australian Coast Current,’ he said, whereas when they return south in October they surf the current, staying well away from the shore.
That was all the excuse I needed to delay a little longer. I penciled in the first weekend of June, based on the highly scientific logic that my aforementioned mate had counted 48 whales on the walk on that weekend a decade earlier.
Then June came, and the rain came with it, as did an influx of freelance work, creative inspiration and social invites. More excuses. The walk is relatively easy and well-trodden, so I’d planned to do it all by my lonesome. But after sleeping in on three separate occasions, I had to acknowledge I was lacking in motivation.
So I roped in a friend. Mid June, on what turned out to be one of the only dry days of the month, we rose before the sun came up, parked a car at Otford lookout and shuttled the other vehicle to Bundeena, dodging a sundry of cyclists on the bendy road. We were on the trail by about 7:30 a.m. and walked at a moderate pace with plenty of photo-and-snack breaks to finish at about 3:30 p.m..
Our verdict: Absolutely stunning.
As for the whales we so carefully timed the trip to see: well, the sea was rough and windy and the swells were high. We didn’t see a single one!
Next year, maybe:)
If you go:
- The Coast Track is traditionally done over two days, north to south. If you're moderately fit you can easily do it in one day as we did. The opposite direction is doable if you don’t mind some uphill slog.
- The trail is relatively well-marked, though there are a few ambiguous junctions. We did lose the track at one point, but found it again without too much hassle.
- If you walk on a sunny weekend, you will almost certainly see others, but mid-week or when the weather is less welcoming, you can often go long sections without encountering a soul.
- You can camp at North Era, but you need to organise a permit first.
- Bring plenty of water.
- There’s a kiosk at Garie Beach where you can purchase unhealthy snacks.
- Leeches frequent the area. Bring salt if it’s been raining.
- Check the tides if you plan on detouring to the Figure 8 pools near Burning Palms.
- The walk is accessible by public transport from Sydney and Wollongong. Just take the train to Cronulla, and catch a ferry to Bundeena. When you arrive in Otford, it’s about 1.5km to the train station.