The Coast Track // Royal National Park (NSW)

The Coast Track, from Bundeena to Otford, is the Royal National Park’s premiere multi-day hiking track and one of the best and most accessible hikes near Sydney. Explorer Adrian Mascenon has hiked this epic coastal walk more than 20 times and he’s just dropped a knowledge bomb.


Australia’s first National Park, and Earth’s second. Originally named ‘National Park’, because Aussies suck at naming things (e.g. Brown Snake, Blue Mountains, Cockle Bay), it became known as the ‘Royal National Park’, when the Queen happened to pass by on the train to Wollongong. Riveting stuff.

The Royal boasts a cool 15,000 hectares to play around with. Everything from coastal heath and headlands to Littoral and Riparian rainforests, waterfalls, beaches, streams and swimming holes.

Best of all, it’s all situated right by the southern border of Sydney; easily accessed by car or public transport. However it’s this incredible ease of access that has lead to this park being often the most overlooked and underrated. Along with it, one beauty of a walk.

adrian mascenon, the coast track, royal national park, nsw, track, sunrise

Highlights

  • Rugged ocean cliffs to golden beaches, palm jungles to grassy plains – and everything inbetween.
  • Well maintained track, with plenty of facilities along the way.
  • Easily accessed by public transport from Sydney city.
  • The perfect introduction to hiking solo.

The Coast With The Most

The Coast Track, as its aptly named, is 30km of awesome that winds down and through the entire length of the Royal National Park’s coastline. Along its heaving landscape you’ll pass through immense diversity; and not just in the environmental sense either.

There are times where you’re alone in the centre of a vast untouched land, yet mere minutes later you’re surrounded by day trippers swimming at the beach, caressing their ice blocks as they throw you confusing looks as to why you’ve brought a 60L pack, hiking boots and a tent to the beach.

Most of the track north of Wattamolla is a boardwalk in an attempt to negate the track widening that occurs when hordes of tourists pass through. However the surging popularity of certain areas is certainly not without reason.

Wedding Cake Rock, Eagle Rock, Wattamolla, Figure Eight Pools, Garie Beach, Burning Palms. These are only a handful of the Insta famous landmarks (that ironically have little to no mobile reception) along the track.

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Which Way?

The walk can be completed in two directions, both one-way, both of which are easiest done via public transport.

If you complete the walk heading south (Bundeena to Otford) you’d be catching the train to Cronulla station and then a cute ferry to the sleepy town of Bundeena (NOTE: Cronulla Ferries DO NOT run on the Opal card system that NSW Transport uses. It is an independent service, tickets are cash-only onboard). Here’s the Ferry Timetable.

You can extend the trip by walking around Jibbon Head, or just follow the street signs through the back streets of Bundeena towards the start of the Coast Track. Walking south to Otford (where you’d catch the train back) has the advantage of the sun being at your back, however the majority of the uphill climbs are at the end of the walk.

The other way (Otford to Bundeena) is to start at the southern end, Otford, and walk north to Bundeena, catching the ferry, then train, back to the city (via beer).

Either way has its ups and downs (walking south has about 100m more ‘up’) however it also depends on how you complete the walk. The manner in which this walk is done has enough dispute in itself to divide nations…

2 days… or 1?

One party honours the classical approach. Two days, camping overnight at North Era Campground. The other school of thought is to pump it out in one ‘fast n lite’ push.

Doing it fast in a single day has the advantage of not needing to carry overnight gear, yet often sacrifices the detail and nuances that are so often sought after by outdoor adventurers.

A one day push, depending on your fitness and speed, can range from 8 hours of good pace with quick stops along the way, to a 5 hour nonstop slog, to a 3 hour Ultra Marathon training run.

My favourite? Two days and one blissful night hearing the waves crash by the campsite. Doesn’t that sound more relaxing?

The direction you walk for an overnight hike is mostly dependent on which day you want to bide your time. North Era Campground (the only permitted campsite along the track – bookings essential) is situated about 20km into the walk heading south, yet only 8km into the walk heading north.

This means you can start at the Otford end (South) after lunch and have set up camp by sundown if you’re heading north. In the morning of day two, rise early, pack up shop and start moving as the sun blinks into daylight. You’ll be greeted by a chorus of birdsong and edged onwards by the glowing warmth of the sun, feeling eager to tackle the big day ahead.

adrian mascenon, the coast track, royal national park, nsw, beach, sand, hiking

An Introductory Overnighter

This track makes for the perfect introductory overnight hike. It’s virtually impossible to get lost if you stay on the track and facilities along the way mean you’re unlikely to need to poo in the bush. This track is also the perfect introduction to hiking solo – but make sure you know what you’re in for.

Note: Unless you have a means of purifying water, make sure you carry all the water that you need.

Popular For A Reason

The Coast Track rivals the Bondi to Coogee walk for being one of the most popular, and iconic walks for visitors. You’d be hard pressed to be on this track and NOT see a group of backpackers heading towards one of the many Insta worthy hotspots the track offers, with their phones and cameras out ready for #adventure; and it’s this, that often leads people to avoid the park all together.

As someone who’s done this walk more times than I’d care to admit and as someone who has a real soft spot for this track, I implore you: ignore the naysayers and come decide for yourself. You don’t have to go as far as you think to feel the wild.

adrian mascenon, the coast track, royal national park, nsw, stairs, sunrise

How To Get There

Walking South: Train to Cronulla, ferry to Bundeena (Note: Cronulla Ferries is cash only and does not utilise the Opal system), hike to Otford Station and train back home.

Walking North: The opposite of the above.

Skill Level

Intermediate

The AS2156.1 standard rates the track as Very Hard (4/6) mainly due to the steeper sections. It’s not really that bad.

Extensive track notes are readily available online.

Essential Gear

  • Good walking boots and all overnight hiking gear (Tent, mat, sleeping bag, layers etc).
  • Stove to cook food (no fires are permitted at North Era Campground).
  • ALL food and water supplies, or a method of treating water.
  • Cash for Bundeena Ferry.
  • First Aid and Emergency supplies, including spare torch and batteries.

Distance/Elevation

~30km. The walk itself is 27.4km one way, however it’s another 2km or so from the track head to Bundeena wharf, and 1km or so from Otford Station to the southern track head.

Elevation is approx. 1351m of climb walking south, and 1244m walking north.

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More South Coast Goodness

Kiama Coast Walk // Blowhole Point to Kiama Heights (NSW)

Secrets of the South Coast (NSW)

Whale Bonanza in the Royal National Park // Wattamolla (NSW)

Mountain to Sea // Is this a Perfect Day on the South Coast? (NSW)