2020 is becoming the year of local travel and outdoors exploration as we emerge from the restrictions associated with covid-19 lockdowns. In Sydney, we are spoilt with options for scenic getaways and last weekend my friend, Gaiti, introduced me to a new hike in Royal National Park – Garie beach to Eagle Rock and Carracurrong falls.
The dramatically beautiful coastline of Royal National Park is best explored on the iconic two-day Coast Track that runs from Otford to Bundeena. But if you don’t have two days for a hike, you can do smaller parts of this track that take 3-5 hours to explore. And since the park can be reached by a 1-hour drive or train ride, these smaller coastal tracks make for a perfect day out in a spectacular natural setting.
Garie Beach to Eagle Rock and Carracurrong falls trail, on the other hand, covers a part of the middle section of the Coast Track. And the key attraction of this part of the track, for me, at least, is Carracurrong Falls that plummet from the clifftop to the churning surf below. It is one of the very few waterfalls in Australia that drop directly into the ocean.
The track at a glance
- Distance: 7.7 km return
- Grade: 4 because of the steep ascent from the beach to the headland
- Walking time: 3 hrs
- Amenities: There are bathrooms at Garie Beach and a kiosk that opens on weekends
Garie Beach to Eagle Rock track can’t be accessed by train, so we drove to the National Park and parked at Garie Beach car park. While there were quite a few cars parked in the lot, there were hardly any people around, only a few surfers out among the waves and a couple of fishermen on the beach.
The hike starts with a stroll across the expansive Garie Beach towards the towering headland. Like most beaches in Australia, Garie beach is home to silver gulls and crested terns, one of which was so nonchalant that I was able to walk right up to it.
Garie Beach to Garie Beach Lookout
At the northern end of the beach your way is blocked by an almost sheer wall of the headland and this is where the track becomes quite strenuous. It climbs the endless succession of the beautifully-hewn sandstone steps quickly ascending 105 meters via a 510-meter track. I have to admit, I needed quite a few ‘photo’ stops to catch my breath during the climb, while Gaiti cruised through it, slowing down only to wait for me.
Garie Beach Lookout
The climb ends at Garie Beach Lookout that gives panoramic views of Garie beach, forest-covered undulating headlands of Royal National Park, and the blue-green expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
Garie Beach Lookout to Eagle Rock Lookout
The longest (2.7km) part of Garie Beach to Eagle Rock track meanders along a metal broad-walk through the coastal scrub across the headland. In July, many shrubs were in flower and gigantic shoots of grass trees towered over the scrub. There was so much new life to discover that I could’ve spent half the day on this section alone.
And all this emerging life was set against the dramatic backdrop of the rugged coastline and the bright blues and greens of the ocean. In the shallows, near the foot of the cliffs, the water was brilliantly blue-green. In Russian, we have a term for exactly this colour, literally translated as “colour of the sea wave”.
Before reaching the Eagle rock lookout, the trail crosses a gully with a little creek at the bottom. If you are not prone to vertigo, you can scramble to the edge of the cliff here and see the creek tumbling over the lip of the cliff towards the ocean. From this vantage point, you can only see the top of this waterfall, but you can see it in its entirety from Eagle rock. This is not Carracurrong falls, however.
Carracurrong Falls and Eagle Rock
You get the first view of Carracurrong falls from an unsignposted Eagle Rock lookout further down the trail. From this lookout you can see the cliff face formation known as Eagle Rock in the context of the surrounding landscape. The formation looks amazingly similar the the shape of an eagle’s head, complete with an eye socket. Although from the anatomical perspective, it would’ve been the bird’s nostril.
Most people pause on this flat clifftop to enjoy the view of Eagle Rock, but if you inch your way to the edge of the cliff, you will see the entire drop of Carracurrong Falls. A word of warning: the falls are visible only from the edge of the cliff and you need to be VERY careful approaching the edge of a 100-meter high cliff. Rockfalls are not common, but they do happen.
Continuing on the trail, we soon came to a creek crossing with stepping stones over its narrowest part. This is Carracurrong creek that feeds Carracurrong Falls.
Once you cross the creek, it is a short walk to Eagle Rock itself. You are level with the rock here, so the rock is not visible from the trail. But there is a small rough track that ducks into the bush from the main trail and emerges on the clifftop next to the top of Eagle rock. Here, if you face south, towards Wollongong and approach the edge of the cliff (with caution!) you will get an amazing view of Carracurrong falls, and the smaller falls in the distance.
As you watch Curracurrong Falls, keep in mind that it is one of only three waterfalls in Australia that flow straight into the ocean. The other two are in Waterfall Bay in Tasmania and at King George River in Western Australia.
How to get to Curracurrong Falls
Curracurrong Falls can only be reached by walking either from Garie beach, like we did or from Wattamolla for a more gentle walk
Return to Garie Beach
The return journey follows the same trail back. And just as we were thinking that the top highlights of the day were behind us, we spotted a Humpback whale incredibly close to the coastal rock shelf. We watched it go into a dive as it raised its tail above water before disappearing for a few minutes. Royal National Park is one of the best places in Sydney for whale watching from the shore.
After that little bit of impromptu whale watching, we re-traced our steps to Garie beach stopping to photograph the multicolored flowers now and then. By the time we reached Garie beach, our feet were getting tired, so we opted for a barefoot stroll along the beach stepping in and out of the waterline.
Even after seeing a large part of Royal National Park’s coastline, I found Garie beach to Eagle rock and Carracurrong Falls track to be absolutely spectacular. And the falls themselves make this track a must for any nature lovers in Sydney.
Each time Gaiti and I venture into the epic nature, we reproach ourselves for not doing this more often. So my post-covid resolution is to take at least one outdoor adventure in Sydney every couple of weeks.
What are your favourite natural escapes? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below