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Royal National Park's Forest Path Walk

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by Barry J (subscribe)
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Published November 23rd 2018
The Best Things in Life are in the Forest
The Royal National Park's Forest Path is a family-friendly walk of rainforest highlights.

This 4.5km circuit makes for an easy 90-minute stroll, leaving time to spare for a picnic lunch or another hike onto the nearby Couranga Walking Track. The Forest Path was opened to walkers and horse riders in 1887 and remains a top pick for first-time visitors.

Bola Creek
Bola Creek (by William at Flickr)

To get started from the city centre, follow this guide:

By car, starting from Central Train Station, drive south for 50 minutes to the park's entry at the Pacific Hwy junction with McKell Ave, near Waterfall Station. Entry per car is $12. Continue east along McKell Ave, crossing the Hacking River and turning left at Sir Bertram Stevens Dr. As the road curves right, look for the car park at the intersection with Lady Carrington Dr.

On public transport, you can catch the train if you tackle this walk after completing the Couranga walk. Board the train at Central Station on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line for the hour's ride south to Waterfall Station. The 5km, 2-hour Couranga Track begins east of the station exit.

At the starting point to the Forest Walk, you can circle clockwise to the north or counter-clockwise to the west. The walk tracks along a road, then a creek, and finally, a river. Head north to breeze through the road section, leaving the pleasant Hacking River as a finale.

Continue for 600 metres along the flat path, reinforced with logs to prevent the hilly terrain from tumbling into a trip hazard. Look over the rising rainforest, marked by the diversity of native plants and trees, with different species thriving along each strata of the incline. This ascent is part of 'Forest Island', a distinct area bordered by streams the Bola Creek which you can hear to your right, and the Hacking River along the north, west and south sections.

Hacking River
Hacking River (by Poyt448 Peter Woodard at Wikipedia)

Native casuarinas are named for the soft leaves which resemble the texture of cassowary feathers. The leaves have spread into a green carpet of moist foliage along this section.

Tall cabbage-tree palms shoot almost 30 metres skyward, opening to form shiny, dark green umbrellas.

Gymea lilies dapple the forest with spears of bright red flowers, becoming glowing beacons against the streaks of sunlight piercing through fern leaves.

Gymea Lily
Gymea Lily (by Eug at Wikipedia)

The island has a distinct collection of trees, in part from the legacy of logging in the 1920s. The first loggers sought the royalties for clearing the forest of "over-mature" trees, including turpentines and blue gums.

If you drove to the park, you rode over McKell Ave, built to give access to logging trucks. Protesters succeeded and the logging was banned. It returned for a brief period during World War 2, as timber was used for charcoal burning as a fuel source.

Bassian Thrush
Bassian Thrush (by Sammy Sam at Wikipedia)

During rest breaks, especially in spring when wildflowers are in blossom, look closely for the bassian thrush, camouflaged with mottled olive, cream and black feathers. The shaking tail feather of a superb lyrebird or the luminous red and blue feathers of an azure kingfisher are much easier to spot.

Azure Kingfisher
Azure Kingfisher (by JJ Harrison at Wikipedia)

You'll veer to the left as Lady Carrington Dr continues, with the creek tucking between it and your path.

After 400 metres, you hit Hacking River, forcing you to turn left and walk westward. Continue as the river winds south, leading you south to the crossing with Couranga track.

Shortly afterwards, the track turns east, pushing away from the river and leading you to the car park and the start/finish line.

What was your best moment on the Forest Path? Please let us know with a comment.

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Why? An Easy Introduction to the Royal National Park
When: Open 7am - 8.30pm, 365 days a year
Phone: Royal National Park Visitor Centre (02) 9542 0648
Where: Waterfall Station, McKell Ave entrance to the Royal National Park
Cost: Free on foot, $12 per car
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