Who said that no car means no exploring? There’s a tonne of hikes that are accessible via public transport around Sydney and working around train timetables adds to the adventure.
A few weeks back, my mate Ruby and I spent our Sunday hiking from Otford to Bundeena along the 27km coastal track in the Royal National Park. It was a bloody delight and something I’d been meaning to do for many years since living in the Gong.
A few of our friends were walking the track on the same day to raise money for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. As part of the challenge, they were attempting to spend the whole day car-free, instead utilising public transport to get to and from the track. In support of their efforts, Ruby and I endeavoured to do the same. We didn’t however, plan to mimic their departure time. 5:00am! On a bloody Sunday! We figured we could pump out the walk in around seven to eight hours, so planned to leave at 9:30am instead.
Don’t Start With A Sleep In
It had been blowing a gale the whole week leading up to the walk, and our enthusiasm for walking along gusty ocean cliffs was waning as we messaged each other from the comfort of our beds that morning. We eventually reignited the fire in our bellies, but our hesitation put us an hour behind.
As we live in two separate Wollongong suburbs, we met on the all-stops train to Otford, which on a Sunday, only goes once an hour. The train took about half an hour from Woonona (45 mins from Wollongong or North Wollongong Stations).
The short, but near vertical hill from Otford station to the main road was certainly a rude awakening to the day of hiking ahead. We spent a few minutes marvelling the view of our sweet home from Otford Lookout before setting off, bang on 10:30am. Yikes.
And We’re Off!
We knew we weren’t giving ourselves a whole lotta time to hike a track that most people do over two days, but we were both keen to pump through the first few kilometres as quickly as possible. It took us just about an hour to reach Burning Palms Beach where we indulged in our first snack break.
We obsessively studied each map that popped up, calculating how far we’d walked and how quickly. The plan was to be in Bundeena in time to catch the last ferry over to Cronulla, catch a train from Cronulla to Sutherland and then finally, catch another train from Sutherland back to our respective home ‘burbs. Everything relied on us making that last ferry, as there’s no other public transport out of Bundeena, very few people and a road that winds back through the national park before coming out onto the highway.
The other factor was, we weren’t entirely sure what time the last ferry actually left. From five minutes of Googling, I’d deduced that it was 6:00pm, but our friends who were ahead of us on the track thought it was 5:00pm. Hmmmmmmm. No time to stop and think about it. Gotta keep walking!
As we trudged on, down hills, across sandy beaches and back up over the headlands again, Ruby started putting a contingency plan in place. ‘We could always just hitch out.’ She’d actually come prepared for this plan all along and had brought a cardboard sign reading ‘Sutherland Station’ in case we became stranded. ‘Hmm, let’s see how we go.’
We pushed ourselves to get onto the easy going clifftops before we stopped for lunch. Ruby spoiled me with some leftover roast veggies and even a cold lamb chop to dine on. I fed her some red frogs. We marvelled how lucky we’d become with the weather. No gale force winds as predicted. Barely even a breeze! That would be nice right about now actually. Damn.
Taking A Wrong Turn
A few times along the trail we were so wrapped up in conversation, we lost track of the path. We’d wandered a good few hundred metres in the wrong direction before we realised and retraced our steps. I reckon we added an extra kilometre onto our walk just by not paying attention. Not ideal when you’re on such a tight schedule.
It was too risky to spend time stripping off to go for a swim, but luckily the humidity was low, so we weren’t busting for a dip. Plus with the size of the swell, we may have ended up in a rip and we’d have definitely have missed the boat then.
We ticked off each major milestone along the track with delight – North Era Campground, Wattamolla, Wedding Cake Rock. Getting closer, getting closer.
There wasn’t a lot of time to stop and smell the wildflowers – which were in full and bountiful bloom – but we still certainly appreciated the changing landscape, the crashing of the waves against the cliffs, the glory of spending a whole day on the coastline.
Would We Make It?
As the sun started to turn the sky a soft pastel pink, a little bit of panic set in. We were nearing the end of the track, but still needed to walk the last few kms into town and down to the jetty. Our aching legs were begging us to stop, but we stumbled through the streets of Bundeena, chatting about whether we should indulge in a pub feed.
Darkness was descending as we finally made it to Bundeena Wharf and checked the ferry timetable.
Last ferry: 6:00pm.
It was 5:40pm.
We’d bloody done it!
We immediately collapsed in a sore and sorry heap and munched on our remaining snacks. We checked the train times from Cronulla to Wollongong and realised just how late we’d be getting home.
15 min ferry from Bundeena to Cronulla.
20 min train from Cronulla to Sutherland.
At Sutherland Station we ran into our mates who had been walking the track ahead of us. It had taken them 10 hours, but they managed to get a pic of nearly every single wildflower along the way. We jumped on the train home and complained about how tired we were all the way home.
I stumbled in the front door at about 8:40pm. Sore, sleepy, but stoked.
And We’d Do It Again
The Otford to Bundeena track is bloody stunning. The changes in landscape and vegetation in such a short distance truly emphasises the diversity we have in Australia. Walking the whole track in one day is certainly a physical challenge (some people even run it, show-offs) but it can be done.
The multiple times I’ve attempted to walk the track in two days, lack of time, equipment and company has always got in the way. Smashing it out in one day meant that I could still fill my Saturday with activities, save a lot of time on organisation and even a bit of back strain. I’d still love to spend a whole weekend on the track, but knowing I can walk it in one day certainly feels like an achievement. Especially forgoing the car and making use of public transport instead!
Leaving the car at home and catching the train and ferry adds a wholesome feel to the day. It’s nice to be out in nature knowing that you’ve taken some small action to help look after it. Plus being able to just collapse on the train rather than concentrate on driving along highways at night is certainly a load off!
Next time I’ll be sure to leave myself more time to enjoy the entire walk and not be low-key freaking out that we’d miss the ferry and end up in Ivan Milat’s car.