Stage 1 - Royal National Park Coast Track

Bundeena to Garie Beach

Under a cool overcast sky, we took our first steps from the pier at Bundeena. Our hearts were light, but our packs were heavy. We soon settled down to a regular walking rhythm as we climbed steadily through the streets of the village, and it was not until we reached the entry of Royal National Park and started to follow the sandy track across the low heathlands that the trip seemed really underway.

Whenever we passed through heathlands we were accompanied by the twittering of a miscellany of small heathland birds. Soon this gave way to views of the ocean and a soaring sea-eagle greeted us as we reached the cliffs and turned south, directly into the face of a southerly buster - welcome to the South Coast of New South Wales! A test of optimism - to complain "bloody wind" or appreciate experiencing the full wildness of the coast as we followed the path along the cliff edges. We chose the latter and, fuelled by the abundance of negative ions, continued on in fine spirits past the Water-Run, where a stream brings fresh water down a gully eroded into cliffs with splendidly ragged profiles carved by wind and sea.

Heathland track to the coastal cliffs

Cliff face near the Water run

Multicoloured sandstone cliffs stretch to the south ....

..... the highlight being this block of dazzling white

The ochre coloured sandstone

From the Water-Run, the path continued through a section of exposed sandstone, ranging from pure white to all the colours of the ochre rainbow. I am an unashamed sandstonophile and love its texture colour and eroded forms. The cliffs in this section were superb against a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, whipped into a sea of whitecaps by the Southerly Buster. Eventually we dropped down to Big and Little Marley Beaches, where the wild seas drove foaming breakers onto the shore - not a place for swimming today!!


Looking north across the beach at Big Marley

The luminous glow of banksias

More magnificent cliffs appeared south of Marley before the path deviated inland and descended through taller banksia heath and eucalypts to arrive at the quiet and protected waters of Wattamolla Inlet - a chance to rest, eat and take some respite from the southerly winds.

We continued on up and over to the inlet at Curracurrang (where we had camped 4 years earlier), before climbing up to the heathlands of Curra Moors. Here, at Curracurrong, a gentle brook draining from the moors has created a series of shallow pools that invite you to stop and soak tired feet. We accepted.

Wattamolla Inlet

The moor is also the site of one of nature's phenomena; the upward flowing waterfall. The stream flowed from the pools to the edge of a 40 m cliff, where, instead of falling gently to the ocean, whipped upwards into a fine mist that blew back inland to soak the curious onlooker. Nothing can resist the force of a good Southerly Buster!

Nello soaking her feet in Curra Brook

The upward flowing waterfall

Eagle Rock


From Curracurrong and the enigmatic profile of Eagle Rock, we steadily climbed up through taller heath, where several species of banksia were just coming in to flower and gymea lilies were sending up their tall flower spikes, to reach the highest point of the walk at North Garie Head (114m). From here, we took in the magnificent view of Garie Beach below and the long stretch of coastal headlands fading southwards into the sea mist. A steep descent down to the beach, short stroll across the sand, and small climb into the forest saw us at our stop for the night; the secluded YHA hut at Garie Beach, in a clearing surrounded by eucalypts, cycads and cabbage palms.

Curra Moors

Creek flowing over the cliff in Curra Moor

Looking south from North Garie Head

Our sense of achievement was high when we realised that we had probably completed the hardest stage of our entire trip on our first day; 18.6 km with a pack load of 34 kg between us (some lessons in packing efficiency were hard learnt). Here we passed a convivial first night in the pleasant company of fellow walkers, the young doctors and Thomas the lost German, aided by the bottle of red and good food that we had stashed at the hut two days earlier.


We spent our second day reading and relaxing in the peaceful setting of the hut, as our feet and backs recuperated under the calming influence of the white noise of the bush; the wind rustling in the trees above, the distant sound of the surf and the rise and fall of the song of cicadas. In the evening we strolled back down the track to Garie Beach for a natural spa bath in a rock pool with the surf breaking over us. The trip had started well.

YHA Hut at Garie Beach

Time for a little reading

Garie Beach and North Garie Head

Garie Beach to Stanwell Park

The sun was shining and a gentle southeasterly blew as we strolled across the sand of Garie Beach on our next stage. The National Park Service has done a great job of upgrading and realigning the track where it had eroded or become dangerous. However, we did not appreciate the change to climb 80m over Edna Head that replaced the old flat walk around the rock platform below it. The climb was a sign of things to come.


Rock platform near Garie Beach

Heritage shacks at South Era

The heathlands of the northern headlands had given way to lomandra and tussock grass as we crossed the communities of beach shacks at Era Beach and Burning Palms. These shacks are heritage listed and reflect the recent history of human usage of this coastal area. The large shell middens at North Era, built by the Dharawal people over thousands of years, reflects a much longer history of human usage that we unfortunately tend to forget.

Burning Palms Beach

Lunch at Burning Palms was accompanied by several curious skinks and bearded dragons; constant acquaintances along the track and reminders that all humans are but a very recent part of this landscape.

After Burning Palms, the long hard climb to the top of the escarpment began, at first gradually through deeply eroded tracks cut into the lomandra covered slopes, then becoming steeper as we passed through the palm groves and densely forested area known as Palm Jungle. Here is an excellent example of littoral rainforest, whose dark canopy contrasts dramatically to the open heath or grassy headlands and where low hanging woody vines try to trip unwary hikers or snag their packs as they pass.

Track beneath the palms

Palm Jungle where rainforest meets the sea

Bneath the giant tree ferns

Looking down on to Hell's Hole

Gradually the climb became less steep and the rain forest plants merged into temperate eucalypt forest as we reached the rocky outcrops near the top of the escarpment, and took a break overlooking the green slopes leading down to a small beach at the base of Hell Hole, 240m below us. We realised why we had walked this track from south to north four years ago and, having hauled our heavy backpacks up from the coastal strip, developed a great admiration for Sherpas.

We continued on down to the road near Otford, where we finally came to the end of the Coast Track. We had completed this track for a second time and its magnificent and diverse scenery had impressed us just as much now as before.

For the next 2 km, we were obliged to follow the bitumen to Bald Hill, much loved by the world's hang-gliders. The breeze was evidently perfect, as the sky was full of multi-coloured gliders. We took our boots off, sat on a grassy slope and watched with envy for an hour and dreamed of gliding down to our destination of Stanwell Park beneath the cliffs of Bald Hill.

Track through the escarpment forest

Hang-glider launching pad at Bald Hill

Soaring the grand blue

Dreaming over, we rebooted and continued along the road for another 2 km, descending rapidly into the village below. Stanwell Park is a gem, with friendly residents and multilevelled houses perching on steep rainforest slopes above a sandy beach. We checked into one such charming house, the Ocean Blue B & B, had our first hot shower for 3 days, and lounged on the veranda next to a rainforest gully.

Stanwell Park

View over Stanwell Park from Bald Hill (left)
and our B & B (above)