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Published August 1st 2016
Sydney's most scenic walk
Inspired by the magnificent scenery along the southern portion of Royal National Park's Coast Track via the Palm Jungle trail, I decided to explore the track's northern end that starts at Bundeena. Unlike Palm Jungle trail, that traverses a number of different habitats, this section of the track follows the coastline and the views along the way are consistently spectacular.
When to go: on a sunny day Distance: 9km Walking time: 3 – 4hrs Level of difficulty: easy
If you come by ferry from Cronulla, follow Brighton Street from Bundeena wharf, turn right on Scarborough Street and then left on Eric Street that will take you all the way to the park. It is a pleasant 1.5km walk through the laid-back community of Bundeena. If you come by car, there is plenty of parking on the streets near the park gate.
From the gate, a fire trail runs across a typically Australian habitat of coastal heath. This is probably what the coastline of ancient Gondwana looked like. The flowering shrubs produce copious amounts of pollen and nectar that attract scores of nectar feeding birds, like the ever-present New Holland honeyeaters.
The first turn off you come to leads to Jibbon Head trail. This is an optional side trip that you could also take on the way back. A few meters ahead, another turn-off leads to the start of the Coast Track. Take this turn off following the signs to Marley Beach ,that at this point is 4.4km away.
The Coast Track starts in a spectacular fashion at the geological formation known as the Balconies. Here the cliff top has been eroded by the weather over thousands of years into a series of irregular jagged layers of sandstone. If you are not prone to vertigo, you can take a sit on one of the balconies jutting out from the cliff and soak in the scenery as your feet dangle 30 meters above the thundering surf below.
From The Balconies, the track continues south over largely flat ground all the way to Marley head, which makes for an easy walk. The only place where the topography change is a good-looking ravine that cuts the headland in half almost all the way down to the ocean. Here the trail climbs down the side of the ravine, crosses the creek bed below and climbs back up the other side.
Shortly after climbing out of the ravine, you arrive at the Wedding Cake Rock. Bleached white by the sun and eroded by the elements into an almost perfect cube, this striking rock formation is one of the major attractions to the northern part of the park. Unfortunately, last year the rock was fenced off amid concerns over the stability of the structure. Later geotechnical assessment revealed that the entire structure of the Wedding Cake Rock is 'precariously balancing on the edge of the cliff' and is certain to collapse any time within a decade. Amazingly this does not stop a large number of visitors from climbing over the fence to get a better view for a selfie.
To see the rock in context of the surrounding landscape follow a rough trail to an impromptu lookout from the main track a few meters south from the fence.
If you are in the park between June and August keep an eye out for humpback whales as they pass through on their northerly migration. The tell-tale fountains of watery mist breaking the monotony of the ocean will let you know where the whales are. There are plenty of cliff top lookouts along the track that are perfect for whale watching.
As you continue south along, the track you soon reach Marley Head. This is another area showing signs of dramatic weather erosion that moulded the sandstone into a series of surrealistic shapes and patterns.
From the head, the trail descends to Marley Beach. Little Marley Beach is also visible a short distance away. These sandy beaches are the remnants of the ancient super-beaches that thousands of years ago lay along the cliff base. In places, these giant beaches reached as high as cliff tops and deposited large amounts of sand a few kilometres inland. The dunes behind Marley beach are the remnants of these ancient super-beaches.
From Marley Beach it is possible to return to Bundeena via Big Marley fire trail and Beachcomber Road Service trail, if you do not wish to re-trace your steps. But I couldn't tear myself away from the dramatic scenery of the coastline and decided to go back the way I came.
This turned out to be a good decision, as the coastline looks markedly different in the opposite direction. If the scenery was not enough of a reward, a humpback whale came very close to the coast surprising half a dozen people that happened to see it.
Another perk of staying on the coastline in the afternoon is seeing the scenery transformed by the golden light of late afternoon. As the sun gets lower in the sky, it emphasises the surrealistic shapes and colours of the weathered limestone formations.