I’ve done the Bundeena to Otford Royal National Park Coastal Walk twice now and loved it both times. It is ridiculously easy to get to from Sydney and is the most delightfully scenic path you can imagine.
Living in Coogee I’m fairly spoilt for intensely beautiful views of the pacific coast but I’m still overwhelmed – to the point of laughter and dancing – by how gorgeous the Royal National Park views are. Obviously the view out to sea is more or less the same as in the Eastern Suburbs (stunning) but it’s the wild open scrub and cliffs free of the trappings of human habitation that really set off those same endless blue seas, tall reckless cliffs with surging white foam at their feet, and long smiling golden beaches.
The whipping air from the ocean is no doubt the same down in the National Park to what we have only 30km north but it feels so much fresher and more open and invigorating. Somehow there is more space between your cells.
The walk is about 31km end to end but as it’s mostly flat it’s quite a comfortable day walk. Having said that, my experience of the walking times was quite variable. On both occasions we got the first ferry over from Cronulla to Otford, at 8.30am. You can drive down or get the train from Central. On the first walk (with five people, which is of course slower) we ran the last 2km of the track to try and make the 7.15pm train but missed it (the next and last train is at 9.30pm). The second time (only two of us) I really didn’t think we were going any faster (and there was certainly no running involved) but we somehow made the 5.15pm train, with almost an hour to spare.
Both times I’ve done the walk we stopped for quite a long and restful lunch as well as morning tea and a few ‘I’m tired and I think I want to sit down for a minute and enjoy the view’ afternoon stops. On the second trip my walking companion shared her top tip for a freshwater swim with me. It’s a bit past Wattamolla Beach – on the ocean side of the track there is a pool in the creek. If you follow this towards the sea you come to what looks like a natural infinity pool. A beautiful series of crystal clear pools float on the cliff edge and the eye connects them to the infinity of the sea beyond. It’s pretty amazing and demands a nudie swim. We timed ours pretty well – we only flashed one couple and were conveniently re-dressed by the time a party of 20 middle aged women decided they’d also like to stop for a little paddle.
This was one of two large groups we saw on our walk that day (excluding of course the road trippers at Wattamolla). The easy access from Sydney means that you’re sharing the track with many other people. The Park authorities seem to be in the middle of completely re-surfacing most of the track (well, at least from Bundeena to Wattamolla). This section is very eroded (on our first walk we were knee deep in water the whole of this section). Although I have no great love of walking on platforms or on sandstone stairs, it’s probably the only sensible thing to do.
Once they have finished the upgrade, the walk will be accessible for almost anyone who can walk. If you’re in a wheelchair that can take on the flat-but-still-very-bumpy clifftops, the new ramps will take you much further than before but you’ll eventually get stuck (I think about 1km in) where there are stairs and have to turn around.
There have also been ‘upgrades’ of a more dubious nature at the famous Wedding Cake rock. This section of cliff looks like a big slice of white cake, jutting out over the impossibly blue platter of the Pacific. The first time we did the walk I was hugely impressed by the view. Unfortunately, since then, someone has seen fit to put a hideous metal fence around the edge of the cliff (it’s becoming more unstable is will eventually slide off into the sea). This completely destroys the scenic value of the area and doesn’t stop people crawling under or jumping over the fence to sit on the edge of the cliff.
The cliffs smooth out closer to Otford into rolling green escarpment that, while not as immediately impressive as the soaring cliffs, has its own kind of beauty. In the folds of the hills there are clusters of coastal cabins which were built in the 1920’s and 1930’s. These are charming little houses, every one a unique specimen. Towards the end of the walk you also wend your way through the ‘palm forest’ (kind of dark and spooky and very ‘rainforest’ feeling) then have a bit of a climb up a more typical ‘bush’ hill. Near the top of this last climb there is a fantastic resting spot on a large flat sunny rock with a gorgeous view out across the sea and the side of the hills.
From that rest spot it’s only an extended stroll to the train station. And you’re done!
The walk would be a very pleasant two day adventure (there are a number of camping spots along the way) for a family with young children or for slow walkers. As you can drive in to some of the camp sites you could also have less mobile friends and family meet you there (with the added advantage that you wouldn’t need to carry your camping gear!).
Of course, you can also do the walk from Otford back to Bundeena which means you’d end the day with the most spectacular scenery. I might try this next time