Royal National Park: Walks, Beaches, Waterfalls and Swimming Holes

One of the best things about living in Sydney is its proximity to big, striking nature. Royal National Park on the southern fringes of the city is the world’s second oldest national park, after Yellowstone.

It stretches over 16,000 hectares and contains over 27 kilometres of spectacular coastline, 11 beaches, a plethora of tranquil creaks, swimming holes and waterfalls. The park is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife that you can observe if you know when and where to look.

I’ve been lucky to have a friend who knows Royal National Park as the back of his hand and often leads specialized wildlife tours in the park. We’ve seen all kinds of animals on our ‘critter walks’ in the park, from sugar gliders and pythons to dolphins and lyrebirds.

Waterfall on South West Arm Creek
Northern Territory? Kimberley? Nope. Royal National Park, Sydney

This guide is intended as a broad introduction to Royal National Park’s walks and the key sights these walks lead to, including beaches, waterfalls, and swimming holes. If you’d like to learn more about any of the walks, I provide links to more detailed guides.

If you are visiting Sydney and don’t have your own set of wheels, you could explore Royal National Park on an organised tour.

Royal National Park Coastal Walks

The dramatic coastline of Royal National Park stretches for over 27 kilometres, and walking trails cover almost every inch of it. The famous 2-Day Coast Track takes in most of the park’s coastline, starting in Bundeena and ending at Otford (or vice versa). But you don’t have to commit to a 2-day walk – the track is divided into a number of shorter trails that can easily be explored in a few hours.

Bottlenose dolphins in Royal National Park
Bottlenose dolphins seen from the cliffs at Royal

The coastal walks are all fantastic for spotting humpback whales during their annual migration from May to October, and bottlenose dolphins and white-bellied sea eagles at any time of the year. Occasionally other, rarer species of whales cruise past the park’s coastline.

If you have the time, bring a picnic chair and some coffee in a thermos, find a secluded spot along the cliffs and spend your morning reading or dreaming and watching whales and all other critters that happen to pass by.

Bundeena to Marley Beach walk

Marley beach in Royal National Park

Distance: 9 km / Time: 3 hrs / Grade: Easy

Starting at the northern end of the park, Bundeena to Marley Beach walk follows the first section of the Coast Track. It formally starts at the Balconies – a weathered formation on the top of the cliff. The trail hugs the coastline travelling along the clifftop. It is almost entirely flat, except for a single section where it descends about halfway to sea level at Water Run and then climbs back up.

Don’t miss the Water Run waterfall – it’s a gorgeous little hidden gem of the Bundeena to Marley trail.

You can end this walk at Marley Beach or continue for another 20 minutes to Little Marley. Big Marley has some striking sand dunes, easily accessible by wading in Marley Creek, which runs across the beach. While Little Marley is even more secluded and has a better, gentler beach for a dip before starting the return walk. More details on all the hidden gems along the way are in my guide to Bundeena to Marley Beach Walk.

Wattamolla to Little Marley Beach walk

Little Marley beach

Distance: 7 km / Time: 2 hrs / Grade: Easy

This trail starts behind the Wattamolla waterfall at the Wattamolla picnic area and, first, travels through the forest and then emerges on top of the cliff and continues to Little Marley Beach.

There are some lovely cascades at the start of the trail, where you cross a creek following the signs to Little Marley. Once you get to Wattamolla Dam, about a kilometre away, you may be tempted to have a swim before continuing to the beach. Wattamolla Dam is one of the prettiest swimming holes in Royal National Park.

Back on the trail, after a few hundred meters, you leave the thick vegetation behind and continue walking along the clifftop, with the park’s famous coastal views keeping you company until you arrive at the beach. You can find more images and details in my guide to Wattamolla to Little Marley Beach walk.

Wattamolla to Curracurong Falls Walk

Distance: 7.2 km / Time: 3 hrs / Grade: Moderate

Wattamolla to Curracurrong Falls trail is one of the most spectacular coastal walks in Sydney. Not only does it take you along a spectacular coastline, but it also leads to Sydney’s most unusual waterfall past a virtually unknown swimming hole.

Starting at Wattermolla, the trail climbs to the clifftop and meanders along the tops of the headlands. When you get to the first creek crossing at Curracurrang Creek, take the faint trail running into the bush alongside the creek. In about five minutes you’ll arrive at a tranquil swimming hole with the lovely Curracurrang waterfall flowing into a rocky pool from the clifftop.

To save you further confusion, I’ll clarify the names. There are two waterfalls within a few hundred meters of one another, one is called Curracurrong (the big one) and the other Curracurrang (the tranquil one).

So once you leave Curracurrang Falls and return to the main trail, you’ll be walking towards Curracurrong Falls. The trick is not to walk past Curracurrong. The waterfall is not visible from the trail. You can only see it from the edge of the cliff. Or, from Eagle Rock (you can’t miss it, it really does look like an eagle’s face). You can find more details in my guide to Wattamolla to Curracurrong Falls Walk.

Garie Beach to Curracurrong Falls Walk

Royal National Park walks: Garie to Curracurrong

Distance: 7.7 km / Time: 4 hrs / Grade: Hard

Garie Beach trail to Curracurrong is very similar to the trail from Wattermolla with the exception of a steep climb from the beach to the top of the headland. This short but strenuous climb is the reason this walk is graded as hard. Once you climb to the clifftop, the rest of the trail is easy.

The main appeal of this trail over Wattamolla is the stunning Garie beach. The beach at Wattamolla is nothing to write home about, but Garie Beach is epic and there are never many people around. The lack of crowds on the trail is another plus to walking to Curracurrong Falls from Garie Beach.

Don’t miss the beautiful cave-like overhang under the cliffs at the end of the trail. Find the details in my guide to Garie Beach to Curracurrong Falls Walk.

Curra Moors Trail

Heath vegetation along Curra Moors loop track

Distance: 10 km / Time: 3 hrs / Grade: Moderate

Curra Moors Trail is much less-trodden than the other two trails leading to Curracurrong Falls. Unlike these other two trails, Curra Moors starts inland and travels towards the coast. And it happens to be the best coastal trail for bird watching.

I’ve explored Curra Moors with Steve a couple of times and we saw many species that are difficult to spot elsewhere in the park. Even though I refuse to start my walks at 6.30 am as a proper birder would.

The trail runs through coastal heath for most of its length meeting the Coast Track just before Curracurrong Falls. You can find more images and detailed description in my guide Curra Moors Trail.

Garrawarra Farm to Burning Palms Beach & Figure 8 Pool

Burning Palms Beach on Otford to Burning Palms Beach trail

Distance: 4 km / Time: 3 hrs / Grade: Hard

The trail to the Burning Palms beach from Garawarra Farm is a hard track. It descends steeply from the top of the escarpment to a beautiful beach below.

The reason most people take this trail is to venture further, to the Figure 8 pool – Sydney’s most popular swimming hole. But keep in mind that the Figure 8 pool is located on the coastal rock platform and can only be accessed at low tide and in mild sea conditions. And unless you visit the pool early in the morning, you will have to wait your turn to photograph it and take a dip.

The Burning Palms beach is a gorgeous spot worth visiting in its own right. Apart from the sand, the waves, and the views, the beach is also home to rustic fishing shacks that have been built in the 1930s before the area was gazetted as a National Park. You can find more details in my guide to Garawarra Farm to Burning Palms Beach guide.

Palm Jungle Loop Track

Palm jungle in Royal National Park

Distance: 10 km / Time: 5 hrs / Grade: Hard

Palm jungle loop track is one of my favourite walks in Royal National Park. It has everything you could ask for: a trail through the woods, abundant bird life, a palm jungle, a coastal trail, a beautiful beach and just enough physical challenge.

This trail marks the end (or the beginning) of the Coast Track. It finishes at Otford Lookout within an easy walk to Otford train station. From the lookout, the trail meanders through the eucalypt forest and then descends along the side of the cliff through a section of rainforest dominated by palm trees – the palm jungle. It emerges onto the coastal cliffs just before Burning Palms beach, meanders along the beach and then climbs to the top of the escarpment the same way as the Garawarra Farm trail does.

From Garawarra Farm is an easy 5km walk along a wide fire trail back to Otford train station. You can find more details in my guide to Palm Jungle Loop track.

Werrong Beach Trail

Werrong Beach in Royal National Park

Distance: 4 km / Time: 2.5 hrs / Grade: Hard

Werrong Beach is one of the prettiest wild beaches in Royal National Park. But before you get too excited, keep in mind that it is a nudist beach. So if you are not comfortable around nudity, try to visit it in winter.

Because Werrong Beach gets considerably less traffic than the other beaches in the park, it remains largely undisturbed. The sand is peppered with driftwood and fringed by a wide stretch of polished pebbles. And right behind the beach, the massive walls of the escarpment provide a solid sense of seclusion. It’s a steep trail down to the beach and you get all the details in my guide to Werrong Beach trail.

Royal National Park Bush Walks

Where the coastline is all about the wow factor, the interior of Royal National Park is a more tranquil world of towering gum trees, gushing waterfalls, serene creeks, and secluded swimming holes.

Winifred Falls

Winifred Falls in Royal National Park

Distance: 2 km / Time: 1 hrs / Grade: Moderate

This is a short, but in parts steep, walk to a beautiful waterfall that cascades over a rock shelf and flows into a plunge pool.

The trail starts on Warumbul Road and follows a well-signposted Winifred Falls fire trail. Before long, it starts descending steeply downhill.

Your hard work will soon be rewarded before too long. When you reach an intersection, turn left and the waterfall is just a few meters away.

Take a walk around the pool at the bottom of the falls to get a better view. There are a few faint trails running into the bush along the creek that lead to nice viewpoints of Winifred Falls.

Lady Carrington Drive

Lady Carrington Drive

Distance: 8.6 km / Time: 3 hrs / Grade: Easy

The southern end of Lady Carrington Drive in Royal National Park is probably the best section of the temperate rainforest that can be easily accessed in the park. It is an incredibly atmospheric forest with moss-covered logs, towering tree trunks, bird’s-nest ferns, and a palm tree understory. It is also one of the best places in the park to look for lyrebirds and some cool rainforest birds like the adorable logrunners.

The entire Lady Carrington Drive is 9.7km long, about a 3-hr walk (1.5hr cycle). And unless you have two cars, or booked a Park Connect shuttle out of the park at the end, you’ll have to walk 9.7km back to your car. A good compromise is to walk to Calala clearing (4.3km each way) – this is where the best rainforest is. You can find all the details in my guide to Lady Carrington Drive walk.

Forest Path

Bola creek along Forest Path

Distance: 4.4 km / Time: 1.5 hrs / Grade: Easy

Located in the same patch of rainforest as the southern end of Lady Carrington Drive, Forest Path is one of the oldest walking trails in Royal National Park and one of the prettiest. It follows the Hacking River as it winds its way through the lush temperate rainforest.

The path is an easy walk in a magical landscape that takes you around Forest Island – a hill in the forest that is encircled by Bola Creek and Forest Island. You can find some images and a video in my guide to the Forest Path.

Karloo Pools and Uloola Falls

Top of Uloola Falls

Distance: 11.3 km / Time: 4.5 hrs / Grade: Hard

Karloo Pools and Uloola Falls track combines a waterfall and a gorgeous swimming hole on an adventurous trail that starts at Heathcote train station and ends at Waterfall train station. So it is easy to access without a car.

The section to Karloo Pools gets quite steep and the path is uneven, so you’ll need to watch where you put your feet. But your reward is a stunning swimming hole surrounded by monolithic rocks and a thick forest.

Continuing to Uloola Falls, the trail runs through thick bushes that erupt in gorgeous blooms in winter and spring. You’ve never seen such an abundance and variety of wildflowers! Once you get to Uloola Falls, don’t miss the climb to the base of the falls. You can find more details in my guide to Karloo Pools and Uloola Falls walk.

Lower Kangaroo Creek

Confluence of Engadine and Kangaroo creek in Royal National Park

Distance: 3.8 km / Time: 2 hrs / Grade: Moderate

The swimming hole on low Kangaroo Creek is one of the most atmospheric swimming spots in Sydney. The trail to Kangaroo Creek starts at Audley, climbs to the top of the ridge and then descends to the creek on the other side. This area is incredibly photogenic (see image above).

The swimming hole is located about a kilometre down the creek. The trail is not frequently used, but it’s not difficult if you don’t miss the turn for the creek crossing. Check my guide to the Secret swimming hole on Kangaroo Creek. Make sure not to wear sunscreen if you plan to swim in this pristine spot.

Secret Trails

south west arm creek waterfall

The beautiful thing about Royal National Park is that it has a plethora of old trails that were trodden decades ago but have been abandoned since. These trails lead to pristine creeks, waterfalls, caves, and Aboriginal rock art. Finding these trails is usually hard work but the joy of finding your own hidden gems outweighs the effort.

Royal National Park Beaches

There are 11 beaches in Royal National Park, and most of them are only accessible on foot. Burning Palms, Garie and Era beaches are surf beaches with strong rip currents, considered to be hazardous for swimming. Marley, Little Marley and Little Garie have a more wild and secluded feel to them. While Jibbon Beach is the most popular with families.

Burning Palms Beach

Burning Palms Beach on Otford to Burning Palms Beach trail

Burning Palms Beach is an idyllic 500-meter-long surf beach that can only be reached on foot by either the Garawarra Farm trail or the Palm Jungle Loop trail.

The beach is home to about 20 shacks, mostly painted in bright blues and greens. At the north end of the beach, there are some photogenic rock platforms and a lovely pond that fills with water after a period of heavy rains.

Little Marley Beach

Little Marley beach in Royal National Park

Little Marley is one of my favourite beaches in Royal. It feels wild and secluded. You’ll never find many people on Little Marley. The surf is gentler here than on Marley Beach which makes it easier to have a dip. It is an unpatrolled beach, however, so be sensible and don’t dive in if the sea looks rough.

Little Marley can be reached by coastal trails either from Wattamolla or Bundeena.

Marley Beach

Marley creek on Bundeena to Marley beach walk

Little Marley’s big brother, Marley Beach is backed up by epic sand dunes. These are some of the most impressive sand dunes in the Sydney region, reminiscent of the massive Stockton sand dunes in Port Stephens.

But at Marley, there is a little creek running at the foot of the dunes and the blue water of the creek provides a striking contrast to the yellow sand of the dunes. It’s a very interesting area to explore. I have an entire guide to exploring Marley and Little Marley Beaches.

Marley can be reached by the same trails as Little Marley – from Bundeena or from Wattamolla.

Jibbon Beach

Jibbon beach in Royal National Park

Jibbon Beach is a 700-meter-long curving stretch of sand. It is a protected north-facing beach which means it has gentler surf than the other, mostly south-facing beaches in the park.

Lying adjacent to the town of Bandeena it is popular with families and local boatmen – the boats anchor right at the beach, thanks to the deep water inshore.

Jibbon Beach is another starting point for the Coast Track so don’t be surprised to see honkers carrying their backpacks up and down the beach.

Era and North Era Beaches

North and South Era beaches in Royal National Park
Era Beach. Image by Jenny Mealing via Flikr

There are two beaches at Era next to one another, North and South Era beaches, respectively. Both are lovely. And both are good places to see swamp wallabies early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

There are also a few beach shacks on Era Beach. Together with Burning Palms and Bulgo beaches, there are about 200 beach shacks in Royal National Park – the largest shack community in NSW

Both beaches can be reached by a walk from Burning Palms Beach or from Garie Beach. Their proximity to Garie Beach makes them easily accessible since you can drive to Garie Beach.

Garie and Little Garie Beaches

Together these two beaches comprise 1.3 kilometres of sand and surf. Garie Beach is the giant of the two stretching for 900 meters between two headlands. But while the sand looks inviting, the beach has strong rip currents and is considered treacherous for swimming. Garie has its own Surf Life Saving Club, so… stay between the flags.

Little Garie is more sheltered, although the rocks in the surf and boulders on the beach can spell trouble for unaccompanied children.

You can park right next to Garie Beach and it is a short walk to Little Garie on the way to Era Beach.

Werrong Beach

Werrong Beach in Royal National Park

Royal’s only nudist beach, Werrong is a stunning little gem. Tucked in at the bottom of a towering escarpment and framed by two forest-covered cliffs, it has a distinctly wild feel to it. Weathered driftwood is scattered among the massive boulders that mark the line between the grassy slope and the sandy strip of the beach. The sand is peppered with multi-coloured pebbles polished by the elements. Eroded sandstone mounds rise out of the shallows here and there.

Don’t forget that Werrong is a nudist beach, and don’t be surprised to see people a la natural even on the trail to the beach.

Wattamolla Beach

view of wattamolla beach from the trail

Wattamolla Beach is located about halfway along the coastline of Royal National Park. There is a sheltered beach and a lagoon here that adjoins the ocean.

It is a very popular spot, especially on weekends. The car park at Wattamolla may fill up as early as 9 am. We often see people walking to the beach from Sir Bertram Steven Drive in the summer heat because the car park at Wattamolla is full and the rangers stop the cars from entering Wattamolla Road.

If you decide to embark on this walk, keep in mind that it is a 3.6km walk each way. And there are no shops at Wattamolla, so you’ll need to carry everything you need with you.

Bulgo Beach

Bulgo beach fishing shack village

Bulgo Beach gets an honorary mention on this list as it is technically just outside of the National Park. The beauty of Balgo Beach is its fishing shack community – an aggregation of the Heritage-listed rustic fishing huts, some of which are still occupied while others the owners visit only occasionally.

It is a short but steep walk to the beach from Otford Lookout on Lady Wakehurst Drive. You can actually see the shacks from the lookout.

Royal National Park Waterfalls

Royal National Park is home to numerous waterfalls, some of which flow into the ocean, others into tranquil plunge pools. A few of the waterfalls offer secluded swimming holes – you can check them out in the next section.

Curracurrong Falls

Curracurrong falls in Royal National Park

Curracurrong Falls is the most famous waterfall in Royal National Park. It is one of only 3 waterfalls in Australia that flow directly into the ocean. The best spot for admiring Curracurrong Falls is Eagle Rock – a rock formation at the edge of the coastal cliff that looks like… you guessed it, a head of an eagle.

Curracurrong Falls lies within equal hiking distance from Wattamolla and Garie Beach, so you can reach it from either starting point. The walk from Wattamolla is easier on the legs. The walk from Garie Beach involves a steep climb from the beach to the top of the headland but then becomes reasonably flat.

Uloola Falls

Bottom of Uloola Falls

Uloola Falls is a very pretty single-drop waterfall surrounded by bushland. The main viewpoint for Uloola Falls is located at the top of the waterfall. It is a beautiful view. But what not many people realise is that you can make your way down the slope to see the falls from the bottom. You can find the details in my guide to Karloo Pools and Uloola Falls trail.

There are two ways to get to Uloola Falls. The more scenic way is the full trail from Heathcote train station to Waterfall train station via Karloo Pools. Alternatively, you can start and finish the walk at Waterfall train station. It is not as scenic, but an easier walk along the fire trail.

Curracurrang Falls

Curracurrang Falls in Royal National Park

Lying within a few hundred meters of the Curracurrong Falls, Curracurrang Waterfall is a small waterfall that flows into a secluded plunge pool. It is a very atmospheric swimming hole on a hot summer day.

To find Curracurrang Waterfall you need to know where to look – it lies at the end of a faint trail off the busy Coast Track. You can find the details in my guide to Wattamolla to Curracurrong Falls walk.

Water Run Waterfall

Water run falls on Bundeena to Marley Beach walk

The true hidden gem of the Coast Track, Water Run Waterfall doesn’t actually have a name. I named it after the area where it is located – the Water Run. To be fair, Water Run itself is not signposted, so the name without directions is not particularly useful.

It lies approximately halfway along Bundeena to Marley Beach track. Most of the track is quite flat, but there is one area where you have to climb down the cliff, cross the creek and climb back up to the top of the next cliff. That’s the area known as Water Run.

To find the waterfall, you’ll need to get off the trail at the creek crossing and walk towards the edge of the cliff. It is a flat rock shelf, so don’t worry about tumbling off the cliff. The waterfall is formed where the creek falls down the rock face. So while this waterfall doesn’t flow all the way into the ocean, it certainly takes a shot at it.

Winifred Falls

Winifred Falls in Royal National Park

Winifred Falls is a lovely waterfall reached by a short but steep trail from the Warumbul Road car park. The falls are quite a popular swimming hole in the summer months since it is one of the few waterfalls in Sydney that you can swim under. And because the Winifred Falls trail is only a kilometre long.

There are plenty of flat rocks at the top of the falls to settle in for a picnic. But to get the best view of the falls, walk down to the plunge pool and walk around. You’ll see some faint trails leading to the edge of the pool from where you’ll have a clear view of the falls.

Watamolla Falls

Wattamolla falls

Wattamolla Falls is not the prettiest waterfall in the park but it is the most easily accessible. It is right by the Wattamolla car park.

You can view the falls from the bank of Wattamolla Lagoon or you can walk along the top of the falls for a different view.

Royal National Park Swimming Holes

The same creeks that create thundering waterfalls also hide away tranquil swimming holes. With the exception of the famous Figure 8 Pools, which is a tidal pool. One of the most atmospheric waterfalls that you can swim under is Curracurrang Waterfall on the Watamolla to Curracurong Falls trails. Another is Winifred Falls, which is reached by a short trail from a car park. And if you’d rather not hike at all, then Watamolla Waterfall is the best option.

Some of the other popular swimming holes in the park are Karloo Pools, Lower Kangaroo Creek swimming hole, Olympic Pool and Deer Pool.

Figure 8 Pool

Figure 8 pool in Royal National Park
Image by Vern via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Figure 8 pools are Royal National Park’s Instagram sensation. There are actually several pools that look similar to this one along the coastal shelf in the park, but these particular pools are probably the most accessible.

Having said that, the Figure 8 pools are located on the tidal shelf, meaning that they can only be reached at low tide. And given their popularity and the narrow window of opportunity for seeing them, they get super crowded. So don’t expect a tranquil setting at these pools. Chances are you’ll have to stand in line for your turn in the pools for a quick Insta dip.

If you are not too confident judging the right time for visiting Figure 8 pools, you can visit them on an organized tour.

Lower Kangaroo Creek

secret swimming hole on kangaroo creek

The swimming hole on the upper Kangaroo Creek is a tranquil hidden gem that takes some navigational skills to get to. The trail along the creek is not signposted and if you miss the correct spot to cross the creek you’ll end up tearing your way through the bush and probably still won’t find the swimming hole.

If you are a reasonably seasoned hiker, follow the instructions in my guide to the Kangaroo Creek swimming hole trail. And if you do follow the trail, please make sure not to use sunscreen or any other chemicals on your skin before going for a dip in the creek. Let’s keep this spot as pristine as it is.

Karloo Pools

Karloo pools

Karloo Pools are well-known swimming holes with crystal clear water in a very picturesque setting. The pools lie at the base of a forested wall of the escarpment and have a wild feeling to them.

The trail to Karloo Pools conveniently starts at Heathcoate train station making it an easy adventure in Royal National Park to do by public transport. The trail is quite steep closer to the pools, so if you’d like to avoid climbing uphill on the way back, you can continue to Uloola Falls and finish the trail at Waterfall train station.

How to Get To Royal National Park

Royal National Park Map

Royal National Park is massive. And it’s a good idea to get a map of the park so you have a sense of the lay of the land. If you just want a basic map that shows the different areas of the park and locations of popular landmarks and trails, you can download a pdf map from NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service website.

However, if you are planning to do a few hikes and venture off the beaten path, it’s a good idea to pick up the topographic map of Royal National Park for a few dollars at the Visitor Center at Audley.

Drive to Royal National Park

The park has two main entry points along Princess Highway: Loftus (via Farnel Ave) and Waterfall (via McKell Ave). For anything north of Wattamolla, Loftus is more convenient. For attractions further south, including the southern end of Lady Carrington Drive, Foret Path, and Garrawarra Farm (Burning Palms and Figure 8) Waterfall entrance is closer. The park entrance fee is $12 per vehicle per day.

Shuttle bus

If you don’t want to drive and worry about parking, you can catch a Park Connections shuttle bus from Sutherland train station. Check their website for the current schedule. The shuttle covers all the main areas of the park including Bundeena, Wattamolla, Garrie Beach, and Lady Carrington Drive.

Best time to visit Royal National Park

Royal is spectacular at any time of the year. But keep in mind that the coastal walks are very exposed. So if you are planning to take any of these walks in summer, make sure to carry plenty of water and wear a hat and sunscreen. Alternatively, winter is the perfect time for taking coastal walks in Royal.

More Nature Adventures in Sydney

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