My favorite exciting and beautiful landmarks in the Royal National Park, just south of Sydney, Australia.
The Royal National Park is a true gem of New South Wales.
Located directly south of Sydney, it’s easily accessible from the city and from smaller towns along the South Coast. The best way to get around is by car, so if you’re a traveler I recommend renting one. If you really want to save money, venture an hour south of Sydney and rent a car in Wollongong for half the price of renting in Sydney.
Once you have a car, get some comfortable walking shoes, a camera, and a bathing suit (or swimmers as the Aussies call them) and you are ready to explore the Royal National Park. If you plan on spending the whole day, also bring snacks and water, as there isn’t anywhere to buy food in the park.
Driving through the park is incredible, with towering eucalyptus and gum trees creating a canopy over the road. Most hiking trails and lookout points are clearly labeled, though it can be helpful to have a GPS or to look up directions to a certain place before hand as the internet is spotty here.
Though there is plenty of the Royal National Park that I haven’t yet explored, I’ll briefly describe a few of my favorite spots that I recommend exploring. You can also check out the official Royal National Park website for more detailed information.
“The Balconies” is a large stretch of cliffside where erosion has caused the rocks to twist and curve into interesting formations. The multiple layers of rocks look like little white and tan balconies resting on top of each other, all framed by the rich blue of the Pacific Ocean below.
Most people only pass through this area because it’s on the way to the Wedding Cake Rock, but I found this spot to have one of the most amazing views I’ve seen in NSW. To get here, drive to the little town of Bundeena and follow signs for the Royal Coast Track.
The Wedding Cake Rock
After passing the Balconies, continue on the Royal Coast Track for just under an hour. The pathway is relatively flat with a few inclines here and there, but the views stay impressive the entire way.
Upon the reaching the famous Wedding Cake Rock, you’ll find the actual rock has been recently fenced off. You can see how the giant, chalky white slab of rock appears to be detaching from the cliffside, so I guess its a safety precaution to keep tons of tourists from standing on the rock in case it were to tumble down into the ocean. The fence doesn’t always stop the occasional daredevil from jumping over the fence to get a close-up shot of the magnificent rock, however.
While driving along the winding main road in the Royal National Park, turn onto Garie Road and head down to this gorgeous beach. There is a $12 parking fee, and if you don’t pay it you may or may not get fined, so up to you if you want to risk it. If you do get a fine, it’s also just $12 though.
This beach is incredibly popular among surfers, as the rippling waves can get pretty big here. For those who don’t surf, you can head either north or south from the beach for a hiking trail that snakes up the surrounding hills and ends with spectacular views over the vibrant landscape.
North Era Campground
After hiking over the hill that lies to the south of Garie Beach, continue on the path down the other side to find North Era Campground. This is the perfect, peaceful, off-the-grid camping spot, with a wide grassy area surrounded by dense forest on one side and the clear, refreshing ocean on the other. It’s free to camp here, though you’ll need to park your car at Garie Beach which is $12.
The only way to reach the campground is by hiking over the massive hill, so it’s best to pack light if you can. That being said, pack plenty of food and water to last you as there are no facilities in the area. Spend your days swimming, snorkeling, walking along the coast, exploring the forest, having campfires, and enjoying the serenity of nature.
Figure 8 Pools
Probably the most instagrammed spot in the Royal National Park, I found the Figure 8 Pools to be much smaller in person than they look in photos. But the little, symmetrical natural rock pools were refreshing to swim in, and luckily we went here early so no other tourists had crowded the area yet.
The most important thing to note when visiting the Figure 8 Pools is that you have to visit at low tide. The pools are set in a wide rock platform with the ocean just a few meters away. Not only are the pools hidden under the ocean at high tide, but the waves can crash over the rock platform and make the area dangerous and slippery. At low tide, however, the area was very calm.
To reach the Figure 8 Pools, park at Garrawarra Farm Car Park, and follow the clearly marked signs. The hike takes you through a pretty steep forest track, across Burning Palms beach, and over lots of rocks. One way the hike takes about 1.5 hours, and just remember to always be careful when walking along the rocks. Here is the official website with more information!
I only stopped here briefly because my boyfriend and I were too hungry to continue our adventures. But from what I saw, this place is epic for a fun day with friends in the summertime. A little lagoon lined with sandy beaches provides space for relaxation, and a decent sized jump rock sits beside the water. Tons of people were jumping off the cliffs, paddle boarding in the calm water, and having picnics in the spacious grounds. I definitely recommend coming here on a hot day with food, music, and friends, and hopefully one day I’ll have time to do this as well!