Royal National Park - Places to See

Activities in the Park

The Royal National Park is an example of a day out from Sydney which offers a rich diversity of activities. Most people who travel to the park have a specific leisure activity in mind. They want to go surfing, or lagoon swimming, at Wattamolla or Garie Beach. They have a 'special spot' along the coast and go to the park to do some quiet ocean fishing. They simply want to have a picnic and know that the flat, grassy parklands around the Audley Weir are ideal and safe. They want to spend a day rowing or paddling on the small lake above Audley Weir. Or, being keen bushwalkers, they know that the National Parks and Wildlife Service have maintained the hundreds of bush trails which were developed in the park in the 1920s.

Bushwalking in the Park
It does not matter what your favourite leisure activity is, the Royal National Park caters for just about every taste. The bush walker can catch the Bundeena ferry and walk to Jibbon Point which is at the end of a one kilometre beach track from Bundeena. The appeal of this walk is that it passes some fascinating Aboriginal rock platform carvings of sea creatures. Given that most of the Aborigines had left the area nearly a century ago, and that just across the water the suburbs of modern Sydney can be seen, this is a powerful reminder that long before Europeans arrived the Aborigines lived an idyllic life in this area. Pause for a moment and reflect on a life which was ruled by fishing and catching crustaceans in the shallow rock pools. Imagine a life where the local Aborigines slept under the gum trees or in the caves, woke with the sunrise and, having caught their meals from seas rich with fish, spent most of the day sitting and talking and enjoying themselves. It must have been as close to paradise as anyone could reasonably imagine.

The Coast Track
For people wanting to explore the coastline there is the 'Coast Track', a marvellous 30 kilometre walk from Bundeena to Otford. This track runs the length of the park¹s coastline passing through Little Marley and Marley Beach, Wattamolla, Burning Palms and Garie. Unless you are fit, fast and foolish it is too long to attempt in one day. The real bushwalking enthusiasts tend to complete the walk in two days while daytrippers, happy to do the first section, walk for two hours, reach Little Marley and Marley Beach, and then return to Bundeena.

Of all the trails in the park the Coast Track is the most spectacular. The walk follows the sandstone cliff line which affords beautiful, panoramic views over the Pacific Ocean. In winter and spring the low scrubland and heath is alive with magnificent displays of wildflowers.

The smell of the wildflowers, the tang of the winds blowing up from the ocean, the sculptured sandstone of the headlands and caves, the sandy beaches, and the sounds of the birds, all contribute to make the Coast Walk an unforgettable experience.

Day walkers should recognise that Marley Beach is dangerous for swimming (an unfortunate characteristic of many of the beaches south of Sydney - be warned!) but Little Marley Beach, which is further south, is a popular swimming and fishing spot. Little Marley has a freshwater stream. The walker can then take the track up onto the plateau and head back to Bundeena.

All walkers in the National Park should pay particular attention to the park's rich diversity of fauna and flora. The park has six major vegetation regions. Spread throughout the park are substantial pockets of rainforest. Rainforest most commonly occurs in the valleys of the Hacking River and along the coast south of Garie and can be easily identified by the stands of cabbage tree palms, coachwood and sassafras as well as wonga-wonga vines, wombat berry, settler¹s flax and shiny fan ferns.

Along the beaches, in the sand dunes and on the rocky cliff faces walkers will find hairy spinifex (a typical dune grass designed to withstand the severe southerlies which blow on this coastline) guinea flower, coast rosemary, and, on the back dunes, the ubiquitous coastal tea-tree.

Beyond the rainforest and coastal areas are stands of blackbutt and Sydney blue gum surrounded by hopbush, blady grass and a twining creeper with dark red flowers called dusky coral-pea. Further from the coast is an area of grassy eucalypt woodland which characterises the slopes of the National Park. This area is notable for its red bloodwood (a gum with a very distinctive urn-shaped gumnut), gnarled and twisted scribbly gums, and the distinctive grass trees with their spear-like flower spikes and their leaves that splay out at the base of the plant like a grass dress.

Other unusual plants in the grassy eucalypt areas include false sarsaparilla (its deep purple flowers add to the colour of the park between August and December), hairy spider flowers and the eggs and bacon shrubs (characterised by yellow flowers with red centres).

At the edges of the plateau there is a feast of wildflowers. The black ash is the dominant tree in this area but bushwalkers marvel at the range of banksias (both the 'Old Man Banksia' and the glorious red 'Heath Banksia') and the paperbark, dwarf apple, shrub oak and Port Jackson mallee.

On the plateau, an area which at first sight seems grim and inhospitable, walkers brush past the mountain devil shrub with its red tubular flowers, cone sticks, drumsticks, the finger hakea with its dense clusters of white flowers and its egg-shaped fruit that splits to release winged seeds, and stands of black she oak.

Walkers who pass the freshwater swamps in the park will see Christmas Bells with their red and yellow flowers (they appear between December-February), needle bush, bottlebrush, pink swamp-heath, coral-heath and paperbark shrub.

Just as the park offers walkers a rich diversity of flora, so it also offers birdwatchers and animal lovers an unusual combination of native and introduced species of fauna. On the coast the ubiquitous silver gull (an aggressive scavenger who will always hang around when you are having a picnic) is everywhere. More rare, but much more interesting, are the white-breasted sea-eagle, the crested tern, the black cormorant and the white-faced heron.

In the forests and woodlands the alert birdwatcher can see wedge-tailed eagles, black-shouldered kites, white-naped honeyeaters, crimson rosellas, pee-wees, red wattle-birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos, and bronzewings. People who are very lucky, or very patient, can see satin bower-birds and lyrebirds in the rainforests. Around the swamps and lagoons the azure kingfisher, welcome swallow, New Holland honeyeater and black duck can be observed.

Native mammals in the park include black rats, bush-rats, New Holland mice, a range of gliders, bandicoots, ringtail possums, dunnarts, lizards and goannas. There are also a number of snakes who live in the park. Summer walkers should be sensibly careful as many of them are poisonous. It is unlikely that day visitors will make contact with any of these animals which are either very shy, nocturnal or both.

Introduced species in the park include the red fox and feral cat.

While any national park offers bushwalkers and people who want to explore the natural beauties the greatest rewards, it is true that the Royal National Park offers much more than flora, fauna and landscape. The beaches at Garie, Burning Palms and Wottamolla are, for example, places of exceptional beauty. Burning Palms, a hideout for fishermen since the turn of the century, has a number of small cottages which have been tolerated by the park authorities. The difficulty of building and maintaining the cottages is obvious. Every piece of timber, and all food supplies, had to be carried by hand down the steep slopes to the cottages.

The entire 19 kilometres of coastline which forms the eastern boundary of the park is noted for its excellent fishing. Apart from the hardy fishermen who are lucky enough to have shacks at Burning Palms there are regular day fishermen who find spots at the base of the cliffs where they catch a variety of fish from the rock ledges and beaches.

Audley Weir
One of the most popular picnic spots in the park is the grassy area to the south of the Audley weir. Here, beside the dammed Hacking River, is a pleasant area of parkland where boats can be hired and where picnics can be held under the willow trees and beside the cool waters of the river. Such relaxation is a far removed from the bustle of the city which lies to the north.

Picnickers and sightseers tend to stop at Audley and spend the day playing games and relaxing. The more adventurous cross the weir and continue on to the beaches. Perhaps the greatest reward of all awaits those who travel right through the Royal National Park and, passing through Otford, arrive at Stanwell Tops. The view from Stanwell Tops is worth travelling all day for. On a clear day you can see down the coast to Wollongong. The jutting headlands of Coalcliff, Scarborough and Clifton make this ruggedly beautiful stretch of coastline one of the scenic jewels of the entire Australian east coast.