Royal National Park

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Eagle Rock at Royal National Park
Visitors can enjoy the stunning Eagle Rock

As grey nomads, we all like to get off the beaten track. So a national park barely an hour’s drive from Sydney’s business district might not quite seem the ticket. But don’t be fooled. Royal National Park is not, as you might suspect, overrun with Sydneysiders escaping the city.

There is a surprising seclusion and wonderful crowd-free coastal walks that are well worth checking out as you head south from the New South Wales capital. Established in 1979, The National Park as it was originally named – before ‘Royal’ was added in 1954 following a visit from Queen Elizabeth – can lay claim to be one of the world’s oldest, behind Bogdkhan Uul in Mongolia and Yellowstone in the US.

It spans 16,300 hectares, rises from sea level in the north at Jibbon Point to more than 300 metres in the south, and boasts an array of plant life, birds, heathland, grassed parkland, creeks, beaches – and the aforementioned coastal scenery – that would give many of Australia’s more feted national parks a run for their money.

The main visitor centre is found at Audley, around 35km from Sydney, a tiny historic town at the northern entrance of the park. From here, you can head to Bundeena, the starting point for the Coast Track, a two-day, 26km hike to Otford at the park’s southern end.

The trek takes walkers past beaches and bays, magnificent sandstone escarpments and through patches of coastal heath and rainforest. Bush camping is allowed, provided a permit is obtained, with the secluded bush camp at North Era highly recommended.

The track is described as of medium-hard difficulty, but grey nomads who do don their walking boots will be rewarded with spectacular scenery, including The Waterrun, a 16-metre waterfall which drops into the ocean, stunning views from Marley Head and, further south at Garlie North Head, and the iconic, and aptly named, Eagle Rock.

If that all sounds too much like hard work, there are a number of other shorter walking tracks – around 150km worth in fact – many of them taking in the park’s principal sights. They include the 11km Ulooola Track, which takes walkers past the waterfalls of the same name, and the 5km Couranga Track which takes in the old sawpits where loggers used to cut valuable bluegum, turpentine and rainforest timber.

Wildflowers pepper this track which is also a mecca for birdwatching.  In the southeast of Royal National Park, cabbage tree palms are in abundance, particularly in Palm Jungle on the eastern slopes of the Garawarra Ranges where a rainforest is located. In total, there are more than 700 species of flowering plants in the park, which combine to create an explosion of colour between July and November.

The park is also dotted with picnic areas, with canoeing and fishing also available. Royal National Park may be close to the urban jungle that is Australia’s largest city, but often – particularly during the week – the only noise you’ll find here is the twittering of the birdlife and the waves crashing against the cliffs.

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