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Published July 11th 2016
One of Sydney's best day walks
Sydney winter can be a bit gloomy at times with weeks of rainy weather on end. But when the sun finally comes out on the weekend, there is no better place to enjoy the fresh winter air of the great outdoors with spectacular scenery to boot. To beat the winter blues head south and spend the day hiking through Royal National Park – the second oldest National Park in the world, after Bogdkhan Uul in Mongolia.
Only an hour away from the city center, Palm Jungle Loop Track offers the best of all worlds: towering cliffs of the rugged coastline, eucalypt forest, rainforest gullies, beaches, grasslands and even a palm jungle!
When to go: on a sunny day Distance: 11 kilometres Walking time: 4 - 6hrs. Make sure to leave plenty of time for daylight on your return. It gets dark by 5pm in winter. Level of fitness required: moderate
The trail starts at the beginning of Cliff Track at Otford Lookout and immediately ducks into tall eucalypt forest. It meanders along the cliff tops over relatively flat ground and soon comes to a turn off to Werrong nudist Beach. This side trail is not a part of the main track and you will need to add another hour to your overall walking time if you wish to visit the beach. Otherwise continue following the main track.
After about 40 minutes you come to another fork with a signed-posted turn off to Burning Palms and Coast Track. Follow that track. Now you are walking along one of Sydney's best hiking trails. The full length Coast Track goes all the way to Bandeena with a camping stop at North Era Beach, but our trail will turn off long before that.
As you walk along this part of the track, don't miss the two cliff top lookouts. There are no signs announcing the lookouts, but they are clearly visible from the trail and well-worn side tracks lead to both of them. Visit at least one for dramatic views of the Illawarra coastline set off by the brilliant blue of the ocean that seems to stretch on for ever.
As you re-join the track, listen out for birds. When you hear their chirping, stop for a few minutes, let the forest get used to your presence and after a while you will find yourself surrounded by colorful wrens, robins, spinebills and thornbills busy chasing their lunch through the undergrowth.
Palm Jungle About 30 minutes after the turn off the track narrows and starts to descend into the cooler and wetter rainforest. You are entering the Palm Jungle – a unique forest of cabbage tree palms and tropical plants. Here the trail twists up, down and around, over lichen-covered boulders, through rainforest gullies and across small creeks. Now and then there are gaps in the canopy that allow you glimpses of the underside of the cliff that you are descending from.
Burning Palms Beach After about an hour the forest suddenly ends and the trail continues onto open grassland that stretches out all the way to the ocean. An elevated walkway leads across the headland towards Burning Palms Beach that is already visible some distance away. Coastal vistas open up in 180 degree panorama on the right and forest-covered escarpment towers on the left.
Burgh Ridge Track Once you are ready to start walking again, follow the track past the Surf Lifesaving Club and up towards the escarpment. As you climb higher, you are treated to more dramatic views of the beach and the surrounding cliffs. Further ahead, you soon reach the start of Burgh Ridge track. The top of the escarpment that you have been admiring from the beach is your destination, and the climb is quite steep. Forge ahead up the grassy slope and into the eucalypt forest until you reach Garawarra Farm.
View of Burning Palms Beach from Burgh Ridge Track
From the farm follow the sign-posted fire trail to Otford. This 5.5km stretch is a pleasant change from all the ascents and descents as it is almost completely flat. Here, at the top of the escarpment you are about 250 meters above the sea. And while you know that the cliff edge is just off to your left, you can neither see nor hear it from the trail. Yet again you are transported to a different world, one of tall eucalypt trees, primeval ferns and chirping birds. It is an incredibly peaceful walk through typical Australian bush.
As you continue towards Otford, you will walk past a turnoff to Lilyvale and shortly after past the turnoff to Coast Track, that you took earlier. About an hour after you set off from Garawarra farm, the trail ends where it started – at Otford Lookout.
If you came by train, walk along Lady Wakehurst drive and take right to Fanshawe Rd and follow it to the train station.