One of the best things about living in the Sutherland Shire is having the bush on our doorstep. I’ve written about the beaches at Cronulla and Bundeena, but the bush is just as much of a drawcard. A few of our favourite spots are in the Royal National Park, particularly where the bush meets the coast at some beautiful beaches. The old Nasho, or Royal, as we know her, is Australia’s oldest national park, and since she’s just minutes down the highway for us, we’ve spent a fair bit of time exploring this matriarch of Aussie conservation areas. (I’m going to run with the female personification. It makes sense for a national park – Mother Earth and all that.)
The park visitors’ centre is at Audley, only ten minutes’ drive from Sutherland. You can still rent a rowboat at the old boatsheds to explore the quiet freshwater areas of the upper Hacking River, or just picnic near the weir and feed the ducks. There are some great little trails around Audley, for kids who are keen on a walk. Just grab a map at the visitors’ centre. There are other great spots a little further afield. The Forest Path is an easy 4.5km loop track through the rainforest section of the park off Lady Carrington Drive. Enter the park via the Waterfall entrance, park at the entrance to Lady Carrington Drive (also a great track for cycling), just to the left once you cross the Waterfall bridge, and follow the signs. Take it easy, pack a lunch and make a day of it.
This post is about a few of our personal favourite spots in the park along the coast – some that we have ventured to with the kids, and some that we can’t wait to show them once they toughen up their hiking legs and can walk a little bit further.
The Coast Track
The full Coast Track is 26km and runs the length of the Royal’s coastline, from Bundeena to Otford. No, we haven’t made this trek with the kids. Yet. We are not COMPLETELY insane. One day we will, but in the meantime, there are some lovely spots along the track that are very accessible with kids.
The Coast Track from Bundeena
If you drive out to Bundeena and go right to the end of Beachcomber Avenue, you’ll find a fire trail that leads onto the Coast Track. Follow the relatively flat track for about a kilometre out through the scrub…
And end up here, with a beautiful view of the coast, looking south towards Wollongong.
We were there after rain, so rockpools had formed in the sandstone cliffs, and rockpools are always fun for poking around in. Just watch the edge, okay? And no shenanigans! (Maybe not the best place to visit if your kids are prone to running off…) I said, no shenanigans!
There are some little sandstone overhangs to explore. Kids love anything that resembles a cave, don’t they?
Explore the cliffs and go as far along the track as you like, but remember that you have to turn around and go back. We ventured about 1.5km in, so did a 3km round trip. Our kids are four, so I’d say this is a good walk for ages four and up, and a good little introduction to hiking; test out the whinge factor, if you know what I mean. There may have been a little bit of piggy-backing involved on the way back. Check out that cheeky face!
If you’re walking the full Coast Track, Wattamolla is about a third of the way from Bundeena to Otford, but this lovely beach and lagoon is better known as the perfect spot for a picnic and a swim, and is accessible by road. If you’re coming from the city, enter via the Audley entrance (it’s $11 per vehicle) and follow Sir Bertram Stevens Drive through the park. The Wattamolla turnoff is on the left just after the turnoff to Bundeena. As a kid, my family often picnicked at Wattamolla, and P and B love it, too. The car park can get full on weekends, and in school holidays in summer, though, so be warned. Find a grassy spot for a picnic. You might even find an icecream truck!
Or, head down the bush track to the beach. It’s about a 500m walk to the beach from the carpark. Wattamolla is a local Dharawal Aboriginal name, meaning “place near running water”. The waterfall that drops into the lagoon is a popular spot for rock jumping (not recommended for kids, or anyone, really), and the lagoon runs out into an attractive and protected bay.
You might need to wade through the creek that joins the lagoon to the bay, depending on the tide and recent rainfall. Once you’re down on the beach, choose to swim ocean-side or lagoon-side. We like the lagoon.
The lagoon is calm and protected, but the ocean-side, which Matthew Flinders named Providential Cove, is pretty special, too. Here’s a pic from Flickr that’s better than the ones I took. Just beautiful!
Garie Beach, Little Garie shacks, and North Era
Stephen and I have always loved Garie. Living in Sutherland, then Engadine, it was just as easy to head into the park and down to Garie Beach as out to Cronulla, and as a bonus, there are less crowds and more idyllic surrounds. You can drive right down to the Garie carpark, but come early on weekends and holidays in summer, or you’ll end up parking halfway back up the hill. Continue on Sir Bertram Stevens Drive past the Bundeena and Wattamolla turnoffs. The Garie turnoff is on the left a few kilometres south.
One of our favourite hikes, before kids, was Wattamolla to Garie and back along the Coast Track. This is the view of Garie from the hill at the northern end of the beach, reached via the Coast Track from Wattamolla.
The surf club and flags are at the southern end of the beach. The green Nasho sure beats a backdrop of concrete and towers on Sydney’s city beaches.
While Garie isn’t the best swimming spot for kids – it can be rough and messy – it’s a lovely spot to explore. With kids, take the track from Garie to the south around the point to Little Garie beach and check out the beach shacks on the hillside. Mostly built during the 1930s when families survived the Great Depression by escaping to the bush and living off rabbits and fish, or later by miners who escaped to the coast on the weekend, many shacks have disappeared over the years. To the relief of the owners, and lovers of a little bit of history, like me, since 2012 they have been placed on the NSW Heritage List, and protected. They remain in the families of the owners, who pay rent to the National Parks Service. I wish we had one! I’d love to head down here on the weekend to a cosy shack. Phoebe and Blake would LOVE it.
You can see a couple of shacks on the hillside below. This one is from the hill south of Little Garie, looking back at Little Garie and the rocky headland that leads back to Garie Beach. That’s Garie in the distance to the north. You can see my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award students from a couple of years ago battling up the hill with their backpacks. (I have taken a few groups down here to hike the Coast Track over the years.)
As for your kids, they will love the walk from Garie Beach around to Little Garie. It’s only 500m or so and totally flat. Stick to the track, or scramble across the rocks – just be aware of the tide and the waves crashing in over the rocks.
Once P and B are a little older, I CANNOT WAIT to head up the hill from Little Garie over to North Era, because here you find the Coast Track campsite. Once you climb the hill in the photo above, you are looking down at North Era Beach (below), accessible only by foot, and the North Era campground.
Above, you can see North Era in the foreground, and Era Beach and the Era shacks further south. Down the hill from here you find a grassy campsite. It’s only about a kilometre from the Garie carpark (you just have to scale the hill to get here). For older kids, what an amazing weekend adventure – pack a little tent and food, and pop over to North Era for a camp and a swim! (Be aware: drop toilets and no campfires.) Did I mention I can’t wait to bring my kids here? Look, we already have them practising in the backyard.
Here’s a view of the (mostly-empty) campground.
If you are camping, you need to book with the National Parks, and pay a fee per camper. We like the shelter in the trees up here at the back of the campground.
So there you have it – the Coast Track from Bundeena, Wattamolla, Garie, Little Garie and North Era.
Now, go exploring!
8 thoughts on “Royal National Park: Things to do with kids in southern Sydney”
Lisa you brought back some memories for me as I use to drive through the national park and visit Wattamolla a beautiful spot thanks for sharing your part of the world.
It is such a beautiful part of the world. Thanks, Kath.
Wattamolla is fantastic. I’ve only been once, but it was a great place to go with my friends and their kids. Also, I much prefer the lagoon swimming, less waves to battle.
The lagoon is excellent. Bring the floats, and relax!
lucky kids and lucky parents!
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What a great article. Thanks for the tips!