When I think of a backyard, I think of somewhere to relax, look at the flowers, the birds and inevitably, mowing the lawn. Thankfully, Australia’s oldest national park, the Royal National Park, offers all in spades. Well, all except the last one. Unless you’re a park ranger and have the job of mowing all the grassy picnic areas.
It is such a popular park it is easy to see why its often described as Sydney’s backyard. For many it offers a nice drive and a top picnic spot. For the motor heads it has challenging chicanes through winding valleys. Some enjoy an invigorating jog, bike ride or bushwalk or perhaps a relaxing canoe, while others it’s a surf or a chill on the beach.
For the nature photographer, the options are just as endless. The towering cliffs seen on the ocean walk are a stunning site, so to are the gorgeous tracts of rainforest along sheltered creeks. The smell and sight of flowering heath in spring is equally impressive. For the birder, a spectacular variety of birds can be seen in many of the parks different ecosystems.
If I was asked what my favourite spots are, I’d have to think about that one for a while. It depends on what you want. Here are my top five:
MOST DRAMATIC VIEWS – north end of the Coastal Track near Bundeena. Dramatic sandstone cliffs with pounding seas demands one stop and soak up the scene. This is also a good spot to see the heath in flower.
BEST BIRDING – that’s a tough one since the Royal is a well known birding hot spot. Using Eremaea Birds, Wattle Flat picnic area near Audley gets the nod with 91 different birds recorded. Bonnie Vale Campground near Bundeena is second with 78. However, there are many good areas to see a wide variety of birds. That goes for the hardcore birder looking for new ticks or the casual nature lover. If you’re near the Hacking River in summer, look out for the vivid blue of the Azure Kingfisher. Near the coast, look out for White-bellied Sea Eagles or Nankeen Kestrels. In the heath, look for the many honeyeaters often feeding or squabbling in their favourite flowering Banksias.
BEST RAINFOREST - Lady Carrington Drive southern end and two tracks which lead off it, Wallumarra and Forest Way. Both tracks are well worth exploring as they follow Bola Creek in different directions. The trees here are different, they crowd along the creek fighting for light. Leaves are dropped continously throughout the year, many fall into the creek causing it to have a warm, tea colour.
BEST WILDFLOWERS – for wildflowers one of my favourites is the Mount Bass Trail (off Bundeena Drive). However, this is only one of a number of tracks through heath. The Coast Track and the Curra Moors are also good for seeing heath. Heath vegetation is uniquely adapted to growing in poor soil often with constant buffeting ocean breezes. The best time to see the heath in flower is late winter through early summer, however some wildflowers could be expected any time of year particularly after good rainfall. One last tip: take insect repellent as those sandflies can bite!
BEST BEACH – Garie Beach when its not windy otherwise Wattamolla Beach is more sheltered and better for families with young children. I don’t have much else to add here. Really, Sydney is spoiled for beaches. In fact an entire blog could be written about our gorgeous sandy strips and what happens on them.
BEST PICNIC – if you’re like me you like your picnics minus crowds. For that reason I like the Upper Causeway picnic area right on the Hacking River. It’s located at the junction of McKell Avenue and Lady Wakehurst Drive. Even with crowds, there are plenty of other picnic areas to discover in many other areas of the park. Audley and Wattamolla are the most popular picnic spots so expect crowds if you’re heading there on a weekend.
When is the best time of the year to visit? Anytime is good. However, it really comes alive in spring when wildflowers abound and the summer migrants have arrived. During the warmer months dozens of different types of dragonflies can be seen anywhere in the vicinity of the Hacking River. There are also several waterfalls within the park. These of course will be more impressive after rainfall. In summer I’d strongly suggest staying in the shade during the middle of the day and plan any bushwalks early or late in the day.
How to get there? While you can get to the edge of the park by train (Waterfall station), car is definitely the best method. Failing that, book a tour.
NSW National Parks - information on entry fees, opening times and any fires, floods or maintenance.
Wildwalks – for maps, photos and details of most of the walking tracks in the Royal National Park as well as walking tracks for many other parks.
Avenza PDF Maps free app for iOS devices (Royal National Park map is also free).