The Royal National Park is a huge nature reserve right on Sydney’s doorstep, only 36km south of the city. Established in 1879, it was the second national park in the world (after Yellowstone in the USA). The railway between Sydney and Wollongong marks its western border, and from the train the scenery is fantastic. If you want to explore more closely, get off at one of the stations along the way – Loftus, Engadine, Heathcote, Waterfall or Otford – all starting points for walking trails into the park. On the eastern side, from Jibbon Head to Garie Beach, the park falls away abruptly to the ocean, creating a spectacular coastline of steep cliffs broken here and there by creeks cascading into the sea and little coves with fine sandy beaches; the remains of Aboriginal rock carvings are the only traces of the original Dharawal people.
You can also drive in at various points: so long as you don’t stop, cars are allowed right through the park without paying, exiting at Waterfall on the Princes Highway or Stanwell Park at the start of Grand Pacific Drive.
Approaching the park from the north, stop 3km south of Loftus at the easy, concrete Bungoona Lookout nature trail (1km return; 20min; flat) with its panoramic views, or continue 1km to the NPWS Visitor Centre (t 02 9542 0648), at tiny Audley. Here, beside the Hacking River, you can rent a bike or canoe or just laze around with a picnic.
Deeper into the park, on the ocean shore, Wattamolla and Garie beaches have good surfing waves; the two beaches are connected by a walking track. There are kiosks at Audley, Wattamolla and Garie Beach.