Time taken: 3-4 hours including rests and exploring!
USP: Wide open ocean views
The train from Bondi Junction to Otford station takes just over an hour and is the closest station to the Royal National Park while still being accessible from central Sydney. There’s just enough time to daydream as the landscape changes from skyscrapers, to suburbs, to factories and finally thick forest, blanketing rolling hills. Stepping off the train is like entering a different world to the one you started in. As the crowd of eager walkers dissipates and the train lumbers out of sight, the silence is deafening.
A short climb up the station steps, through a gate, up an even steeper paved pathway through the trees and you arrive at Lady Wakehurst Drive. Cross the road (watching out for over enthusiastic motor bikes), jump the crash barrier and follow the dirt path left towards Otford Look-out.
The view from the look out is truly breathtaking. Hidden from view as you approach by trees and shrubs, it hits you all at once. An uninterrupted vista stretches to the south. Exposed cliffs, crashing waves and the endless forest. If there is a downside it’s the crowd of similarly gob smacked walkers, cyclists and motorists, all stopping to take in the experience.
Time to get off the road and into the bush.
The walking trail continues north of the look out onto a thin dirt path that hugs the cliff top. Cliffs and ocean on one side and Gum Trees the other. Any feelings of being swept along with the crowd are quickly lost as each group falls into it’s own rhythm and everyone starts to thin out. After half an hour we were on our own. The next human could have been miles away for all we knew. Perfect.
The path continues slightly downhill for several kilometers through forest and bush. Every few hundred meters the path winds round to meet the cliff top and unveils another mind blowing view. Sometimes to the north, sometimes the south but always exposing storm battered cliffs and the moody Pacific Ocean. At a fork in the path, we took a right, following the Coast Track and changing onto a thinner trail, overgrown with spiky ferns.
As the trail starts to point downhill, the sounds of the plunging waves below filter through the trees and into our consciousness. Thick palms and Gum trees provide snatched glimpses of the twinkling ocean as we descend slowly to sea level. The thick canopy only permitting shafts of light to knife their way into the understory. Dust and insects dancing in and out of the light beams.
After ducking under and stepping over the hundredth fallen palm log we’re suddenly out of the forest. Standing in the dazzling, full glare of the sun, we’re staring at waves pushing up against the stiff offshore wind and white water tumbling over rocky platforms below us.
From here we leave the forest behind and follow a raised walkway that sweeps along the bottom of the cliff through a wide grassland. The wind creating a soft rustling as we walk and chat. Huge headlands loom ahead of us and we can’t help commenting that this is like a scene from Jurassic Park.
Right where the walkway begins, hikers have the option to drop down a steep rocky trail to the right and visit the famous Figure 8 Pools. A natural phenomenon created by ocean currents over one of the rock platforms. The pools range in size, but some are big enough to sit in like a natural bath. It’s worth highlighting that the rock platform and access in and out is only possible on the lowest tides and calmest seas. There are numerous records of people getting injured by rogue waves and trapped by rising tides. They’re a nice side show, but not worth risking your safety for.
Follow the purpose built walkway for another kilometer and you arrive at the beautiful Burning Palms Beach. Thanks to the relatively limited access to the area, the beach is often quiet and feels secluded. Masked Plover wander around on the sand chasing miniscle flies. During our visit, a single Wallaby was cropping the short grass behind the beach. For surfers who are willing to hike their gear through the forest the reward can be uncrowded and powerful peaks, all to yourself.
From the beach, the trail starts to wind it’s way back up the cliffs. We walk through a cluster of wooden huts. Part shed, part mobile home. They’re apparently handed down through families and always look meticulously maintained. Not easy when they have to face the full force of the winter southerlies, year after year.
Even in the cooler temps of Autumn, the stomp back up the cliff gets the heart racing and the T-Shirt clinging under heavy backpacks. We stick to the trail until we reach Garawarra Farm car park, where we swing left onto the wide fire road that leads us along the cliff top, back to Otford Station now 4 kilometers to the south of us.
The walking from here is easy. Wide and relatively flat, it’s the perfect opportunity to keep an ear and eye out for wildlife. As we paused to grab snacks from our bags a Lyre Bird went through a full repertoire of mimicry just out of sight. Covering off Whip Bird, Currawong and Australian magpie at maximum decibels.
We arrived back where we started just as the light started to fade. Otford Look Out is a great place to watch the sky go through it’s change of wardrobe as dusk falls and the temperatures drop.
The trains back to Sydney are more sporadic in the afternoon, so it’s well worth planning ahead. If you miss the 1715, you could be stuck there for several hours. A small cafe on Lady Wakehurst Drive was just closing up as we emerged from the trail head at 1630, giving us just enough time to grab some much needed fluids while we killed 45 minutes before our train.
The whole circuit is 13km but thanks to the constantly changing views, dipping in and out of the forest, it flies by easily. On a hot day you could easily tack on a swim at Burning Palms to cool off and make a whole day of it. But if visiting in the cooler months, make sure you pack some extra layers in case you have a wait for the return train.