Royal National Park is famous for its spectacular coastline and walking tracks that cover different sections of that coastline. But most of Royal National Park’s 150 square kilometres lies away from the coast. And one of the best ways to explore the interior of the park is by walking the Karloo walking track and Uloola track. These two tracks are often combined under the name of the Uloola track.
This beautiful walk features a stunning swimming hole at Karloo pools, one of the prettiest wildflowers walks in the park, and Uloola falls that you can check out from the top of the falls or climb down to the base of the falls for some stunning views and blissful solitude.
It is also a perfect walk to take if you don’t want to drive, as it starts and finishes right near two train stations – Heathcote and Waterfall. You can take this walk in any direction, but most people prefer to start at Heathcote and finish at Waterfall.
I am not a fan of steep uphill climbs, especially late in the walk, so I prefer Heathcote to Waterfall direction as well.
Track at a glance
Distance: 11.3 km one way
Time: 4-5 hrs
Start Point: Heathcote train station
End Point: Waterfall train station
Karloo Walkign Track – Heathcote to Karloo Pools
The first part of the walk follows Karloo walking track from Heathcote train station. To find the start of the track, walk across the carpark on the eastern side of the station and turn right onto Wilson Parade. Almost straight away you will see Karloo Pools signpost. Turn left and follow the track through the forest, past the Emergency Services building and some houses.
Once you leave the houses behind, the track continues downhill crosses Heathcote Brook and meanders through beautiful bushland peppered with giant Gymea Lilies that shoot their huge red flowers on epic stalks towards the tree tops. These lilies must be the most pre-historic looking Australian plants.
After a while, the track starts a gentle climb and becomes a fun obstacle course obstructed by rocks, boulders, and protruding tree roots. It is not a hard track to walk, but you’ll want to watch where you put your feet.
After a few hundred meters, the trail emerges on the top of the ridge, opening up views of the surrounding landscape. It is a largely flat walk along the ridge top past flowering bushes and eroded sandstone walls.
Once the trail starts to descent again, you’ve reached the most challenging section of Karloo walking track. The descent becomes steeper and steeper the closer you get to Karloo Pools. It’s not hard (on the way down), but it takes some navigating. In places, the boulders are so large that I found it easier to use my arms to lower myself into the narrow passages between them. The steep section is not very long though and soon you start hearing the gurgling sound of Kangaroo Creek as it flows into two large swimming holes.
Karloo Pools – an oasis in the forest
Karloo Pools are an unexpected oasis in the bush. There are actually a couple of pools on Kangaroo Creek at Karloo Pools, but one obviously stands out because of its size, depth and the emerald-colored water. The color of the water immediately draws you in. Deep emerald and crystal clear set against the dark forest and sandstone ledges. You can see every rock on the bottom of the pool.
The main Karloo Pool is about 40 meters long and 15 meters wide. You can go for a swim if you don’t mind (very) cold water or wade in the shallows. Most walkers choose to perch on the ledge and dangle their feet in the inviting water of the pool.
If you are a keen photographer, climb onto one of the higher ledges for the best views of the pool. You may have to wait for some picnickers to depart for a clear shot, but this is a very scenic spot to while away some time.
Once you are ready to move on, you have a few options. If you are keen for a strenuous walk, take the 2.5 km Karloo walking track back to Heathcote station. Taking the steep section uphill will certainly get your blood pumping. Or if you prefer to do more exploring, take the 2.3 km walk to Uloola Falls.
Karloo Walking Track – Karloo Pools to Uloola Falls
This is by far the prettiest section of the walk. Possibly the prettiest bush walk in Royal National Park. It starts with a short ascent from Karloo Pools to the ridge top through tall eucalypt forest filled with birdsong and wildflowers.
Once you reach the top of the ridge, the forest is replaced with shrubs – the shorter bushes like Wattle and Banksias. And everywhere you look there are wildflowers in all colors of the rainbow from small delicate flower stalks to thick flowering bushes.
Among this multicoloured pallet, the white gnarly trunks of scribbly bark eucalypts stand out like alien invaders. New Holland honeyeaters and Little wattlebirds dart erratically between the bushes. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about this walk is absolutely mesmerizing.
At on point the trail emerges on the flat rocky surface at the top of the ridge and you can see the city skyline more than 50 kilometers away. It’s hard to remember that you are only an hour’s train ride away from the city centre.
As you continue along the trail, it soon starts to descent and within a few minutes you arrive at the lovely Uloola waterfall..
Uloola Falls from above and blow
The trail brings you to the top of Uloola Falls. These falls are made up of the upper falls and the lower falls. The upper Uloola falls are a lovely cascading set of falls while the lower falls is a single drop.
The nearby Uloola campsite is a lovely spot for a summer camping adventure. Facilities are limited to a toilet block, but the creek is a good swimming spot.
The ledges around the falls are great spots for a picnic or a rest stop during the walk. For a good view of the falls, walk along the rocks of the ledge until you get a clear side view.
What not many people know is that you can follow unmarked trails down to the bottom of the upper Uloola falls. There is a trail on each side of the falls. If you are standing on top of the falls facing in the direction of the flowing water, the easier trail is on your left. Start heading left, cross the creek, and continue walking until you see a trail heading downhill. Once you get to the bottom, cross the creek again at the bottom of the pool and you find yourself in a cool secluded spot with beautiful views of the waterfall.
This is another chance to wade through the crystal clear and bitingly cold water. And after a couple of hours of hiking up and down the rocky paths I was certainly ready for it. You are probably not going to last long but even a few minutes of standing in the water is amazingly invigorating.
Once you are done exploring the falls, you have a few options again to continue your journey. You can head back the way you came (5km to Heathcote), keeping in mind that the climb from Karloo Pools to Heathcote Station is the steepest part of the track. So, gauge your energy levels.
You could also take the Uloola track that runs between Waterfall train station and Audley and follow it to the Waterfall train station for about 6 km. This walk follows Uloola firetrail – a wide easy trail over largely flat ground.
Uloola Track – Uloola Falls to Waterfall Station
Of course the beauty of following Uloola trail is that you see more of Royal National Park. And in the spring this trail is studded with wildflowers. There are some open grassy areas where you’ll see mini fields of flowers. Something that you don’t see along the more enclosed Karloo walking track.
The NSW Parks give a generous estimate of 2hr 50min for this walk, but unless you prefer to waddle, you’ll probably reach the train station in 1.5 hours. This is by far the easiest section of the entire Karloo-Uloola track.
Overall, this is an incredibly picturesque walk and a great way to explore the different side of Royal National Park, away from the coast.