If meandering coastal paths, rugged cliff lines, and a campsite where you can hear the waves crash sounds like your kinda heaven, then the Coastal Track near Sydney should be on your bucket list.
This 28k hike from Bundeena to Otford (or vice versa) snakes along the coastline of the Royal National Park, or ‘Nasho’ as the locals like to call it thanks to Aussie’s endearing, and often hilarious, need to shorten everything.
It takes in some of Sydney’s most ‘insta-famous’ sights including Wedding Cake Rock, and the Figure Eight Pools. Although this hike is more than achievable in a day, many choose to do it as an overnighter and stay at North Era Campsite. And now I’ve done it…I can see why.
Myself, Joelle, and Jess (tackling her first ever overnight hike) headed to Bundeena on the train from Central one sunny Saturday morning in May. Our initial plan to get off the train at Cronulla and jump on a ferry was foiled when we realised we’d been talking too much and ended up missing our stop. Oops! One $50 Uber ride back from Waterfall to Bundeena and we were ready to start.
Day one – Bundeena to North Era:
The first day (if you hike the direction we did) is around 20k from Bundeena to North Era. You can make it longer if you go round the headland at Bundeena, but given we were late starting we decided to take the shortcut through the back roads to the start of the trail.
We were in good spirits, despite our accidental Uber ride, and this was definitely buoyed by the beautiful weather. For me, the contrast between the bright blue sky, the turquoise ocean, the sandy cliffs, and the emerald green of the bushland along New South Wales’ coastline is a view I will never tire of. And this walk has it in spades.
At the start of the hike you’ll probably be surrounded by day trippers, who all seem to be heading to one place, Wedding Cake Rock. Named because – well – it looks like a piece of wedding cake, this rock formation has actually now been fenced off and you’re no longer supposed to stand on top. Not that that stops people from climbing onto it of course.
After Wedding Cake Rock you lose most of the day trippers for a while, and get to enjoy the solitude of Eagle Rock on your own, plus some stunning waterfalls. Keep the ocean to your left and head across Marley and Little Marley beach, and then on to Wattamolla beach where the day trippers are out in force again.
It gets dark at around 5pm in May and thanks to our late start we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to swim as we wanted to try and make the campsite before nightfall. It’s such a shame though as every corner we turned made me want to run straight into the ocean! I guess I’ll just have to go back again. What a shame.
After Wattamolla, keep going and you’ll come to Garie Beach. Although legally you are only allowed to camp at North Era campsite you’ll see a flat grass area with some trees just before you reach the beach. There’s a fire pit so it’s pretty obvious that people camp here but you’ll need to keep an eye out for rangers and move along if you’re asked to. It’s unlikely though. I know multiple people who have camped there without incident. Just be respectful, pitch late, leave early, and don’t make a mess.
As we’d already booked our pitch at North Era ($12.50 through the NSW National Park website) we decided to soldier on. The sun was going down at this point and we knew that our chances of making it to the campsite before darkness was minimal. So what’s a girl to do? Slow down and enjoy the sunset of course!
We eventually made it to the campsite at around 5.30pm, hiking the last half an hour with the light of our headtorches. Tents up, sleeping bags out, it was time for dinner. I’ve done a lot of overnight hikes recently and always resort to dehydrated food or those sachets of pasta with the powdered sauce.
This time though, I’d knocked up a homemade sweet potato and black bean chilli, with salsa, sour cream, cheese, salad and wraps. I don’t even know how much extra weight carrying all of that added to my pack (a fair bit!) but it was worth it. I’m now a convert to real food and will be introducing a trail recipe to this section of the blog soon – so watch this space.
The campsite was just as beautiful as I had hoped, nestled on the grass behind North Era beach. If it wasn’t for the loud group playing music till 1am all we’d have heard was the crickets chirping and the waves crashing. Bliss.
Day two: North Era to Otford Train Station
Day two dawned with grey skies and the imminent threat of torrential rain. Although we managed to get the tents packed up before they got soaked, we had to abandon cooking breakfast as the skies opened.
With the rain pouring we were drenched in seconds. So, hoods up, and heads down, we powered through the 9k hike to Otford Train Station.
Today’s hike is a lot tougher, with lots of up and down over the headlands. It may lack the dramatic cliffs of the first day, but the bushland makes an interesting change of scenery, and gave us some much needed shelter from the rain.
There’s less beaches along this stretch too, but the one that most people will want to stop at is Burning Palms beach, home to the Figure Eight Pools. Named because – yep, you’ve got it – they look like a figure eight. You can spot a trend with the way Australia names its natural wonders right?
Like Wedding Cake Rock, the Figure Eight Pools have become a victim of their own success (read: Intsa-grammability). So much so, that NSW National parks is actually advising people not to visit, as so many people have been injured trying to reach them.
We gave them a miss due to the rain, but also the rough seas. Plus we had no idea about tide timings, which is a vital bit of information you need if you’re going to visit. Again, it’s just another reason to go back, right?
How to get there: From Central Station catch a train to Cronulla and a ferry to Bundeena. On the way back, there is a train direct from Otford to Central Station. They’re not that regular though so use the Trip View Lite App to get the timings right.
Cost: $12.50 for the campsite if you decide to stay at North Era which you can book here. It books up well in advance though so book ahead.
What to take: Everything you need for an overnight hike, with plenty of sunscreen and a hat, sunnies, and swimmers. Also take lots of water, or ideally a water purification system (I use a Lifestraw).
Top tips: Start early, take your time, and enjoy!