Australia is blessed with stunning coastlines… Long stretches of golden beaches, gentle bays, steep rugged cliffs, wild bush, tracks, dunes, lagoons and breaking surf.
Sydney’s Great Coastal Walk, stretching from Barrenjoey in the north and south to the Royal National Park, has it all. It connects two of the world’s oldest National Parks – Royal and Ku-ring-gai Chase. As well as stunning views, the walk offers a wonderful insight into the geography, geology and history of Australia.
I joined Phil Jenkyn of Walking Volunteers to see some of the highlights. The group formed in 2004, and to realise their vision, they worked with 18 councils, four government departments and a federal body. They developed, mapped and prepared brochures depicting the walk.
There are no rules – it can be done as a 7-day adventure, broken into comfortable distances and heading in either direction. From Barrenjoey to North Head takes four days and the southern section three days. Combined, the walk covers around 100 kilometres. Some road is involved along the way, but the vast majority is on tracks or sand, in parks and reserves.
Starting at Palm Beach you have fabulous views of headlands and beaches from Barrenjoey to Narrabeen, West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the gentler side of Pittwater, home to Snapperman and Clareville beaches, Winnererremy Bay and Church Point.
There are loads of things to see on the Narrabeen Lakes to Manly section of the walk: four lagoons, Long Reef Headland, rock shelves, Reef Point and McKillop Park, complete with a statue of Duke Kahanamoku who helped introduce surfing to Australia in 1914.
There are cliff-top pathways, wonderful isolation, the tranquil bushland of Manly Dam Reserve and revegetated green link corridors.
From Manly Lagoon, you go to North Head which dominates the entrance to Sydney Harbour and The Spit. The section takes in the famous Manly and Shelly Beaches. North Head is home to one of the city’s best kept secrets – The North Fort Museum. The old fortifications, tunnels and guns were closed to the public between the 1930s and 1990s as it was an army barracks. Now it is open for everyone to explore and there are informative tours.
Every stretch of the walk offers something different, and from Manly, you make your way around the coastline through Mosman and Kirribilli and over the Harbour Bridge for the southern part of the walk.
From the city, the walk goes around the harbour, through Rushcutters Bay to Bondi Beach.
The walk from Bondi to Bronte is a local favourite. It then heads to Maroubra and on to Cronulla, Sydney’s only beach accessible by train.
From Cronulla, there is a pleasant 20-minute ferry ride across the Port Hacking River to Bundeena and the last stretch of the track.
Bundeena is well known for its monthly Art Trail and is a great place to hire a houseboat or runabout to enjoy the marvellous surrounding bush.
There are three main beaches – Jibbon, Gunyah and Horderns – all safe for swimming and perfect for picnicking. A stroll in either direction will take you to secluded bays and good fishing spots. A track takes energetic surfers to Big Marley and Little Marley Beaches. Just beyond all this beauty are thousands of hectares of National Park.
If you do just part of the coastal walk or the entire distance, you will no doubt be amazed at the variety and beauty along the way.
From Barrenjoey in Sydney’s north to the Royal National Park in the south.
WHAT TO WEAR
Comfortable is best – choose sturdy closed shoes and don’t forget hat and sunglasses. Aim for clothing that will keep you cool and give you adequate sun protection.
To make the walk the best it can be wear your most comfortable shoes, hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. There are cafés and restaurants along the way, but take along water and some snacks. Don’t forget to charge your camera before you leave. It will get a big workout!