For anybody looking to improve their fitness, enjoy a little fresh air and savour some classically beautiful Australian scenery, there could be few better ways to do it than the 26 kilometre Coast Walk through the Royal National Park.
The track leads past idyllic beaches, superb lookouts, magical palm forests, rolling green hills and picturesque holiday homes. For all that, the hike from Bundeena to Otford is a strenuous one. Although the fit will be able to complete it in a single day, it is possible to take a tent and turn it into a multi-day adventure.
Start by taking the train to Cronulla. Upon exiting the station, follow the signs to the nearby wharf, which is a stroll of no more than two or three minutes. From there, catch the private ferry to Bundeena. Leaving the boat, head up Brighton Street (the main road), turn left on to Scarborough Street, turn right on to Beachcomber Avenue and then follow it to the end, all of which should take about 15 to 20 minutes. It is now that the Coast Walk truly begins.
The first destination is Marley, six kilometres distant. Advancing along the dirt track, a turnoff (second on the left) will soon appear to guide you to the coast. The view that awaits is extraordinary: tall, rugged cliff-faces disappear into the horizon, beckoning you on. Winding partly along the cliff-tops and partly through the bush, the path is predominantly flat, until it descends to Big Marley Beach. There you will find the perfect place to rest: a shaded overhang that not only provides views of the surf, but is also an Aboriginal sacred site.
The next leg goes to Wattamolla, 4.5 kilometres on. Although the coastal scenery continues to inspire, several testing hills mean that it has to be earned. Wattamolla is a good place to take a break, thanks to its picnic tables, taps, toilets and swimming hole.
It is then a further 6.5 kilometres to Garie. The combination of stifling bush, regular climbs and weakening limbs can make this a difficult stretch. But redemption comes the moment you reach the lookout over Garie. With a sparkling beach below, a series of green hills ahead and a chain of verdant mountains stretching off into the distance, this is a view to take the breath away. Sneak off the path and tramp your way to the ledge at the most leftwards point. Sit down and soak up the magnificence. You’ve earned it.
When, eventually, you resume, it will take 20 to 30 minutes to reach the taps, toilets and canteen (with unpredictable hours) located at the end of the beach. That is where the final nine kilometres to Otford commences. The path leads up and down several lovely hills, passing some cute holiday shacks and small beaches along the way. After at least an hour, it arrives at Burning Palms, which is where you first encounter the long stretch of enthralling palm forest. Having re-emerged into the open, the track re-enters the forest, before going up, up and up to Werrong Point. The reward for all this exertion is considerable: another expansive cliff-top lookout. From there, an hour of mainly flat walking is all it takes to reach Otford. Turn left on to the road and follow the signs to the train station.
While the Coast Walk is quite well signposted, some sections can be confusing, so buying a map would be advisable. There is a handful of places to stay along the way: the campsite at Providential Point (just above Wattamolla), the youth hostel at Garie Beach and the campsite at North Era (one kilometre south of Garie). All three must be pre-booked- for the campsites, phone the national park on 9542-0683; for the hostel, phone the Garie YHA on 9261-1111.
Still wondering if you should do it? They say a picture is worth a thousand words- so here’s a 5000 word advertisement for the Coast Walk: