Royal National Park
Royal National Park, Australia’s oldest national park, has a rich cultural heritage, both European and Indigenous. It combines magniﬁcent untamed sandstone country with Victorian-era gardens and memorable views to make it one of the state’s favourite parks.
By road from Sydney via Princes Hwy then Farnell Ave, just south of Loftus, or McKell Ave at Waterfall; by train to Loftus, Engadine, Heathcote or Waterfall (easy access to walking tracks); or ferry from Cronulla to Bundeena
32 km south of Sydney CBD
- NSWNPWS 1300 361 967
- Visitor Centre, Audley Heights (02) 9542 0648
Drivers require vehicle day pass; fee applies
15 091 ha
Sydney (02) 9240 8788
Featured Activities in the National Park
Stop at the visitor centre to pick up a detailed map
Join an Aboriginal ranger for a Discovery tour
Relax at one of the park’s beautiful rocky coves
Swim in the briny at picturesque Garie Beach
Bring a field guide and look out for some of the 200-plus bird species
Tackle the spectacular two-day Coast Track walk
- Royal National Park, Recreational Wildlife-watching, Recreational Wildlife-watching
A look at the past
Royal National Park was dedicated in 1879 as ‘The National Park’ and for many years embodied the spirit of the Victorian era. Natural vegetation was swept away to make way for exotic species and landscaped gardens, exotic animals such as deer and rabbits were brought in for sport, and extensive ‘pleasure gardens’ were installed. By the 1930s, however, conservationists were lobbying to retain the natural landscape. Areas were reserved and managed by volunteers and the National Parks and Wildlife Service ﬁnally took over the management of the park in 1967.
People of the Dharawal nation have lived in this region for thousands of years and the park guards important Indigenous sites and artefacts. The Dharawal and their neighbouring tribes had been ﬁshing in the bays and estuaries for 6000 years when Captain Cook arrived at Botany Bay in 1770. Today Aboriginal guides offer an insight into their cultural and survival knowledge on regular Discovery tours (details from the visitor centre). Those interested in Aboriginal art can join a guided tour of the rock engravings at Jibbon Point near Bundeena. For bookings, contact (02) 9542 0648.
The park is situated on a sandstone plateau that is deeply dissected by valleys and in many ways epitomises the distinctive Sydney landscape, both in its landforms and vegetation.
Well over 1000 plant species have been recorded here. Heathlands comprising a wealth of nectar-rich, ﬂowering species such as banksias, hakeas, grevilleas and tea-trees, and shrubby eucalypt woodlands sprawl across the plateau. July to November is the time for brilliant wildﬂowers. The valleys are clad in open eucalypt forests, and in more sheltered aspects small pockets of rainforest survive. Near the coast are littoral rainforests with shaggy Australian fan palms, while salt- and wind-battered coastal scrub clings precariously to exposed headlands.
More than 40 species of mammal are known to inhabit the park, but Australia’s notoriously shy wildlife is difﬁcult to spot. Recorded mammal species include the brown antechinus, the common brushtail possum and eastern pygmy-possum, the swamp wallaby, koala and various species of bats. Birdlife is abundant, however, and often highly visible. Rainbow lorikeets, crimson rosellas and yellow-tailed black-cockatoos ﬂash by in the eucalypt forests; in the rainforest listen for the echoing call of the whipbird and look for the meticulously constructed nest of the satin bowerbird; and see honeyeaters and wattlebirds feeding in the ﬂowering heath. The eastern curlew, bar-tailed godwit, great egret and other migratory species feed along the estuarine waters in season. Brown snakes, tiger snakes, death adders and red-bellied black snakes – all venomous – are among the 40 reptile species found in the national park.
Sydneysiders ﬁnd endless activity and amusements in the park. There is a kiosk, picnic pavilion and restored 1940s Dance Hall at Audley, and picnic locations scattered through the park. The gates to all areas of the park are locked daily at 8.30pm.
More than 100 kilometres of walking tracks traverse the park. Follow the Coast Track (26 km, 2 days, medium difﬁculty) that snakes along the cliffs and beaches from Bundeena to Otford, through a range of environments – the views along the way are a highlight. The track can be walked in sections, or it is possible to camp (you will need a permit to camp overnight at North Era). Forest Path (4.5-km loop, 1.5 hours, easy), a circuit that starts just south of Bola Creek, is a ﬁne introduction to the park’s subtropical and warm temperate rainforests. Karloo Track (10 km return, 4 hours, medium difﬁculty) is more demanding, winding from Heathcote Station to Uloola Falls; on the way you pass Karloo Pool, a favourite swimming venue and a pleasant place for a picnic.
Canoeing and boating
You can bring your own boat, or hire a canoe or rowboat at Audley boat shed, paddle up river and stop for a picnic – Ironbark Flat and Wattle Forest are well-known spots.
Anglers can drop a line from the coastal rocks or beaches and in the Port Hacking River estuary, but freshwater ﬁshing is not allowed in the park. A ﬁshing licence is required for ﬁshing in New South Wales. Contact NSW Fisheries 1300 550 474 or visit its website (www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/ﬁsheries) for more details.
There are some splendid views – Bungoona Lookout and Wattamolla Lookout are favourites – and a network of roads makes car touring and cycling easy. The roads allow you to see the diverse plant environments at a leisurely pace and also offer access to many of the park’s highlights and attractions.
Swimming and surfing
A number of small, unspoiled beaches nestle in rocky coves along the coast. Bonnie Vale, Wattamolla and Little Marley offer sheltered swimming and there are also freshwater swimming holes. Surfers should head to Garie, North Era, South Era and Burning Palms beaches, on the park’s southern coast, for sublime breaks.
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