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Sydney’s most scenic walk
Only an hour’s drive from Sydney, Bundeena to Marley Beach track in Royal National Park is one of the most scenic wild escapes out of Sydney. It is the northern end of Sydney’s beloved two-day Coast Track and unlike the full track, it can be easily completed in half a day.
The track starts at the National Park gate at the end of Beachcomber Avenue in Bundeena. From the gate, a fire trail runs across a typically Australian habitat of coastal heath. This is probably what the coastline of ancient Gondwana looked like: towering sandstone cliffs, flowering coastal shrubs and scores of nectar-feeding birds, like the ever-present New Holland honeyeaters.
The first turn off you come to, leads to Jibbon Head trail. This is an optional side trip that you could also take on the way back. A few meters ahead, another turn-off leads to the start of the Coast Track. Take this turn-off and follow the signs to Marley Beach, which at this point is 4.4km away.
The Coast Track starts in a spectacular fashion at the geological formation known as the Balconies. Here, the cliff top has been eroded by the elements into a series of irregular jagged layers of sandstone. If you are not prone to vertigo, have a seat on one of the balconies jutting out from the cliff and watch your feet dangle 30 meters above the thundering surf.
And if you visit between June and October, keep an eye out for the Humpback whales that cruise past Sydney on their epic annual migration between Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef. Check out this guide to whale watching in Sydney.
From the Balconies, the track continues south over the largely flat ground all the way to Marley Head. The only place where the topography changes is the dramatic cut in the landscape that runs from the top of the escarpment all the way to the ocean below. Here the track descends sharply, crosses the creek below and ascends just as sharply on the other side.
Wedding Cake Rock
Shortly after, you arrive at the Wedding Cake Rock. Bleached white by the sun and eroded by the elements into an almost perfect cube, this striking rock formation is one of the major attractions of Bundeena to Marley Beach track.
Unfortunately, a few years ago, the rock was fenced off amid concerns over the stability of the structure. Later geotechnical assessment revealed that the entire structure of the Wedding Cake Rock is “precariously balancing on the edge of the cliff’ and is certain to collapse any time within a decade”.
Amazingly this does not stop a large number of visitors from climbing over the fence to get a better view for a selfie.
To see the rock in context of the surrounding landscape follow a rough trail to an impromptu lookout from the main track a few meters south of the fence.
If you are in the park between June and August keep an eye out for humpback whales as they pass through on their northerly migration. The tell-tale fountains of watery mist breaking the monotony of the ocean will let you know where the whales are. There are plenty of cliff top lookouts along the track that are perfect for whale watching.
Marley and Little Marley beaches
As you continue south along, the track you soon reach Marley Head. This is another area showing signs of dramatic weather erosion that moulded the sandstone into a series of surrealistic shapes and patterns.
From the head, the trail descends to Marley Beach. Little Marley Beach is also visible a short distance away. These sandy beaches are the remnants of the ancient super-beaches that thousands of years ago lay along the cliff base. In places, these giant beaches reached as high as cliff tops and deposited large amounts of sand a few kilometres inland. The dunes behind Marley beach are the remnants of these ancient super-beaches.
Nature lovers will love Marley beach. Apart from the spectacular scenery, there is always plenty of wildlife action going on. Garnets and terns dive-bomb into the water to catch some lunch, gulls quarrel on the rock shelf, crabs scurry in the sand.
From Marley beach, it is possible to continue to Little Marley Beach or to return to Bundeena via Big Marley fire trail and Beachcomber Road Service trail, if you do not wish to re-trace your steps. But I couldn’t tear myself away from the dramatic scenery of the coastline and decided to go back the way I came.
This turned out to be a good decision, as the coastline looked markedly different in the opposite direction. And if the scenery was not enough of a reward, a Humpback whale came very close to the coast and surprised half a dozen people that happened to see it.
Another perk of staying on the coastline is seeing the scenery transformed by the golden light of the late afternoon. As the sun gets lower in the sky, it emphasizes the surrealistic shapes and colours of the weathered limestone formations.
All in all, the walk from the Balconies to Marley beach is no doubt Sydney’s most scenic walk and it also happens to be one of the easiest, as it travels over flat ground for most of the way.
For a more challenging walk, try the Palm Jungle Loop Track that follows the southern end of the Coast Track.
The track at a glance:
Time to complete: 3-4hrs
Directions: Catch a ferry from Cronulla to Bundeena. From the wharf follow Brighton Street and turn right on Scarborough Street. Turn right again at Beachcomber Avenue and follow to the end.
Parking: Park on any of the streets near the park gate