I am a natural movement & outdoor enthusiast who is always on the lookout for ways to incorporate physical activity into my life. My perfect day would combine outdoor movement, great food & convivial company.
Published February 4th 2016
Discover what lies at the end of the path not taken
The other weekend, we set out on a beautiful sunny day headed for the Figure 8 pools in the Royal National Park. Our anticipation soon turned to disappointment however, as the 'Carpark Full' signs indicated that half of Sydney must have had the same idea. Sure enough, the carpark was chockers and many people had resorted to parking on the roadside, in spite of the park wardens who were very active in fining cars parked illegally.
So what to do then, after coming all this way? I suddenly remembered Palona Cave, which I had always wanted to visit, and which happened to be nearby.
We drove down Sir Bertram Stevens Drive until we reached the carpark. It is around 500m north of the intersection with McKell Avenue.
From there, it is a leisurely walk down Lady Carrington Drive. Despite its name, this path is no longer open to traffic, but is a wide level unpaved track which leads all the way to Audley if you followed it to the end. Lady Carrington Drive is a terrific walk for those who prefer a gentle easy stroll for their bushwalks, although if you are with young children, keep an eye and ear out for the mountain bikers who frequent the track.
After about 30 minutes you will reach the turnoff for Palona Cave. The turnoff is to your right, and is marked by a wooden sign saying 'Limestone Cave'.
Viewed from Lady Carrington Drive, the path to the cave looks steep but it levels out soon. The track from here is a grade more challenging than Lady Carrington Drive, as it is undulating, narrower and quite overgrown so you want to watch where you step. It is a lovely peaceful environment, shaded by the tall trees and surrounded by ferns. From the turnoff to the cave, it is a 1.6km return trip.
Royal National Park - look up occasionally to check out the birdlife, fairy wrens and lyrebirds if you're lucky
As you approach the Cave, you will hear the sound of a running brook and a distant waterfall, and you will know you are getting closer to the cave as the sound gets louder. And indeed, there is a pretty little waterfall right next to the cave.
When we reached the cave, we marveled at the rock and limestone formations, columns and stalactites, and appreciated the waterfall, before turning back the way we came. If you want to have lunch in the national park, you can picnic at the nearby Bola Creek picnic area which is located at the intersection of Lady Carrington Drive and Forest Island Track. (Note there is a picnic table and bench seat but no other facilities).
If you are feeling energetic, you can continue the walk down Lady Carrington Drive to the very end and take afternoon tea at the cafe at Audley Dance Hall, which is open 7 days from 8:30am - 4:30pm.
Remember that you will have to walk all the way back to the other end eventually if you are parked at the car park. If your party has 2 cars, you could park one at Audley before you begin the walk, to take the other driver back to the car at Sir Bertam Stevens car park.
Tip: Leeches have been sighted on this walk after periods of rain. The best way to protect yourself against leeches is to wear leather boots and long trousers with gaiters if you have some. Though repulsive, a leech encounter is not the end of the world (something I have to keep reminding myself).