Not many areas of Sydney have a huge natural playground as their backyard. In the Cronulla area we have the original and best – the Royal National Park (so named after Queen Elizabeth II visited the site in the 1950s).
The National Park was created in 1879 – the first gazetted in the world – at a time when the bustle of city life was far away. Now, the magic of the Park is in the contrast between the busy suburbs of the Cronulla/Sutherland area and the tranquillity outside. There aren’t many places you can be in the thick of daily life and only a short drive or ferry trip from some of the most pristine natural wilderness in Australia.
The foresight of then NSW Premier Sir John Robertson told him that Sydneysiders would need an escape from urban living. Mudflats and mangrove stands around Audley were replaced with grassed parklands and (although dubious by today’s environmental standards), foxes, deer and rabbits were introduced into the area.
The Park covers 16,000 hectares of virtually untouched land. It’s a roughly triangular shape from Jibbon beach at the south of Port Hacking to the Grays Point area and Bulgo Beach on the coast next to Otford. The park is bound by Port Hacking, the Pacific Ocean and the Princes Highway.
The land slopes gently upwards from the tip of Jibbon Beach (Port Hacking point) until the coastal cliffs above Garie, Era and Burning Palms reach hundreds of feet high.
Even amid the land’s rise, the park is a series of deep valleys and troughs and craggy hills. The main north/south drive through the Park (Sir Bertram Stevens Drive) takes you along the high road beside Wottamolla and Garie, and also leads you through shadowy valleys of thick Eucalyptus forests, such as at the Audley Causeway and park Visitors Centre.
The Royal National Park is unique in that it contains so many different environments that make up Australia’s biological backdrop, from rocky coasts to low scrubland to deep, thick bush. As such, almost all the native wildlife in Australia is represented in the Royal National Park, its waterways and the surrounding seas.
Beaches & Swimming
As the Park lies along the coastline, some of the best beaches in Sydney are to be found there because of their unspoiled surroundings. The closest to Cronulla are Jibbon and Bundeena (a short ferry ride from Gunamatta Bay) but for the more serious beach-goer or surfer, the oceanside beaches are a must.
Garie is a popular spot but sometimes not for the faint hearted. Wottamolla is a beautiful and family-friendly spot because of the geography. The beach is set far back from the heads, so waves break several hundred metres out and the beach itself is like a wading pool. Wottamolla Lagoon stretches behind into beautiful bushland.
Another lesser-known beach is North & South Era. Inaccessible by car, you have to walk around the rocks from Garie, well worth the walk just for the scenery. There’s also freshwater swimming available in the Park’s many waterholes.
The spot to see the remnants of ancient Aboriginal culture is at Jibbon. Tour information is available on 9542 0649. Aboriginal communities work in close conjunction with the National Parks & Wildlife Service to better manage the Royal National Park, an invaluable contribution.
Camping, Bushwalks & Picnics
The Royal National Park is the place to go whether you want to discover nature on a relaxing walk, let the atmosphere soak into you for a few days of camping, or just relax with a glass of wine and a picnic by a lazy river.
Camping space is provided at several designated campgrounds, although facilitated/car camping is only available at Bonnie Vale. Permits are essential for all camping and remember that no log fires are allowed in the park, so take a gas barbecue.
There are over 150 km of walking tracks in the park that show some of the most stunning scenery in Australia and make you feel a million miles from the city.
Canoeing and boating are available in the Hacking River downstream from the Audley causeway. Cycling is allowed on designated tracks separate from the main walking tracks. Contact the Visitors Centre for all information on staying or touring in the park.
The best way to enjoy nature in its purest form is to leave it alone. The park is there for us to use and enjoy, but respect your surroundings. All plants and animals, soil and rocks are protected. Bins aren’t generally provided so please take your rubbish with you. Pets aren’t allowed within the Park and you’re also advised to bring your own drinking water. Fires are only permitted where barbecues are provided to visitors.
The most pleasant and relaxing way to get to the Royal National Park is by ferry from Cronulla, which will take you to Bundeena. Contact Cronulla & National Park Ferry Cruises on 9523 2990 for timetable information.
If you’re driving, head for Sutherland and towards the Princes Highway. Turn left into the Park on Farnell Road, and the Visitors Centre is a few hundred metres down on the left. The same road will lead you down to the Audley Causeway and then all the way to Otford and Stanwell Tops beyond.