Things to See and Do on Marley Beach, Including a Visit to Little Marley

Marley Beach and Little Marley Beach are two gorgeous and fairly secluded beaches tucked away between the headlands of the Royal National Park coastline. The Little Marley, particularly, is my favourite beach in the park. Here is what you can see and do at these two beaches.

Marley Beach

Marley beach in Royal National Park
Marley Beach

Marley Beach is a beautiful stretch of sand transacted by a creek and bookended by 20-30 m high sandstone headlands of the Royal National Park coastline. The only way to get to Marley is by hiking for several kilometres, so it is not a crowded beach. It retains a wonderful wild atmosphere that is enhanced even further by some epic sand dunes behind the beach. It’s the kind of place that invites exploration.

signage at Marley beach
Welcome to Marley Beach

Of 11 beaches in Royal National Park, Marley is considered the most hazardous. It is exposed to southeast swell and southerly winds which together create strong rip currents.

But while it is dangerous for swimming, Marley Beach looks incredibly inviting. At 360m in length, it is one of the largest beaches in the Sydney metropolitan area. It appears even larger because of the sand dunes lying behind the beach and covering 130,000 square meters.

How to get to Marley Beach

Little Marley beach in Royal National Park
View of Little Marley Beach from the trail

There are several trails that take you to Marley Beach, including the 8-km return Bundeena Drive to Marley Walk that runs via Little Marley and the 8-km return Big Marley Firetrail. These two trails meander through the coastal heath, eventually arriving on the coast.

The more scenic options are the 9-km return Bundeena to Marley Beach Walk, and the 9-km return Wattamolla to Marley Beach. These two trails follow the dramatic coastline with spectacular views.

I personally prefer the Bundeena to Marley trail. Not only does it go by the Wedding Cake Rock, but it also hides a gorgeous waterfall concealed among the cliffs at Water Run.

Marley Creek

Marley creek
Marley Creek

Like many beaches in Royal National Park, Marley beach is discected by a creek. And yes, it’s called Marley creek. Just back from the surf the creek pools into a little lagoon (not to be confused with Marley Lagoon behind the dunes).

Because the lagoon is very shallow, its water is always warm, so it’s fun to wade in. You can wade all the way to the end of the dunes. It’s a very atmospheric way of exploring the dunes.

Marley Sand dunes

Marley creek on Bundeena to Marley beach walk
Marley Creek

The extensive sand dunes behind Marley Beach are the remnants of the ancient super-beaches that stretched along the base of the cliffs some 7,000 years ago. In places, these giant beaches reached as high as cliff tops and deposited large amounts of sand several kilometres inland.

sand dunes on Marley beach
Marley sand dunes

Given their impressive size, the sand dunes are not so much a hidden gem as an often-missed area of Marley Beach. And they are certainly worth a visit. They are vast enough to make you feel like you are in the middle of the Sahara Desert or at least somewhere among the Port Stephens sand dunes.

As I mentioned above, the best way to explore the dunes is by wading through the warm and shallow Marley Creek from the beach into the dunes. If you don’t fancy getting your feet wet, you can always walk along the bank of the creek. This part of Marley Beach is good for spotting waders, like this little Black-fronted dotterel I came across on my last visit.

Black-fronted dotterel on Marley beach
Dotterel on Marley Beach

The deeper you follow the creek into the dunes, the more unexpected the landscape becomes. And if you climb one of the dunes, the view below will surprise you again. It is a really fun area to poke around.

When you reach the end of the dunes, climb to the top, and you’ll see Marley Lagoon glistening below. There are no trails to the lagoon from the dunes, but if you are lucky, you can spot some Black swans among the reeds. And in spring and summer, they may even have signets with them.

Wildlife on Marley Beach

Crested terns
Crested terns

Nature lovers will love Marley Beach. Apart from the spectacular scenery, there is always plenty of wildlife action going on.

Pick a spot on the sand or on the rocks and spend some time watching garnets and terns as they dive-bomb into the surf to catch some lunch. Most of their fishing attempts fail, but now and then you’ll see the bird emerging from the water and shooting into the air with a fish in its beak. You’ll need some patience to witness a sucessful dive.

When not busy catching fish, gulls and crested terns quarrel on the rock shelf. Occasionally, a White-bellied sea eagle soars overhead. And in the sand, dozens of crabs scurry around on some crab business.

Welcome swallow at Marley Beach
Welcome swallow on Marley Beach

The small and super fast birds tearing through the air are the Welcome swallows. If you are lucky, one might land and sit still for a few seconds, so you can have a look at it’s handsome face.

Marley to Little Marley Beach

White-faced heron between Marley and little Marley beaches
White-faced heron on the rockshelf between Marley and Little Marley beaches

The walk from the Big Marley to the Little Marley takes only about 20 minutes. The trail goes along the bottom of the headland, past the multitude of rock pools filled with all kinds of aquatic organisms, from tiny crabs to starfish.

If you plan to go poking into the rock pools, watch out for Blue-ringed octopi. These guys are highly venomous and can be concealed under shells and seaweeds.

Little Marley Beach

Little Marley beach
Little Marley beach

Little Marley Beach is the hidden gem of the Coast Track. It is a much more gentle bay with calmer water. Although, the currents can still be dangerous here. So don’t let the tranquility fool you into diving in.

Little Marley is also not a good surfing beach, so it remains largely deserted and has a distinct wild feeling to it. Framed by the towering walls of the headlands on both sides, Little Marley feels a thousand miles away from civilization.

Creek on Little Marley beach in Royal National Park
Creek on Little Marley Beach

There is a very picturesque creek, lined with rocks and driftwood, running across the southern end of the beach. If you come here in the morning, your’s might be the first footprints on the sand.

More on Exploring Royal National Park

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