Sydney is arguably one of the luckiest cities when it comes to the natural environment – it hugs the glorious east coastline and is surrounded by some of New South Wales’ most lush and varied national parks. Having had a tumultuous relationship with nature so far in 2020 – what with bushfires and a pandemic keeping us indoors – it’s time to stretch those legs again and reignite a passion for this city and its surrounds on foot. We’ve rounded up some of the best day walks within easy access of Sydney to get your post-lockdown nature fix.
Glenbrook Gorge Track, Blue Mountains National Park, three kilometres return
The lower Blue Mountains is home to many underrated walks, and a stop at Glenbrook offers just the right amount of country air. Starting two kilometres from the train station, the descent down into Glenbrook Gorge is steep yet rewarding as you take in the grandeur of the expansive mountain range and the Nepean River. On warmer days, retrace your steps and stop for a dip at Jellybean Pool. Find quality caffeine fuel near the station at local Kickaboom, by Reuben Hills and Paramount Coffee Project alumni. Find more info here.
Bundeena Drive to Little Marley Beach, Royal National Park, eight kilometres return
The Royal National Park’s great sandstone cliffs and extensive bushland give a real glimpse into what the coastline would have been like for the traditional owners of the land, the Dharawal people. The world’s second oldest national park is a 40-minute drive south from the CBD and has a bunch of trails to explore. The section from Bundeena Drive to Little Marley Beach, though, is one of the easiest to access.
The eight-kilometre-return walk passes by bushland and freshwater pools to the beautiful, remote Little Marley Beach. If you’re after a longer hike, take the 26-kilometre one-way trail to Otford, best experienced as an overnight trip. It goes via the popular Wattamolla waterfall and picnic area, and the Figure Eight Pools of Burning Palms Beach, one of Sydney’s best ocean pools. You can get a coffee and snack at Driftwood cafe. Find more info here.
Northern Beaches Coastal Walk, 36 kilometres
A walkway links the northern beaches coastline from Manly to Palm Beach, providing a headland-to-headland route. We love the humble beauty of North Curl Curl, while Barrenjoey Head offers whale-watching opportunities in winter. Uninterrupted views at North Mona Vale Headland overlooking Bungan Beach are particularly special, even in the rain. The final section between Newport and Avalon is expected to be complete by 2021, linking the entire 36-kilometre walk. Pick a spot to start and head north. If you start in Manly, hit up the new outpost of Berkelo bakery for Single O coffee and a miso, beef and potato pie served with a side of house-fermented chilli sauce. Find more info here.
Or there’s Armchair Collective a few steps off Mona Vale beach. This relaxed cafe and lifestyle store has shared outdoor seating perfect for a smoothie or brunch stop.
America Bay and West Head, Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park, 1.8 kilometres return
Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park is only an hour north of Sydney, but it feels much more remote. The America Bay track is a moderately easy 1.8 kilometre walk surrounded by Australian bushland. Following a sandstone ridgeline, the walk reveals Indigenous rock engravings and gorgeous views toward the Hawkesbury River. The small cascades alone warrant bringing a picnic lunch and chilling out here a while.
Also check out the West Head lookout. From here you can follow the Aboriginal Heritage walk, a 4.4-kilometre loop that uncovers the significance of the area for its traditional owners, the Guringai people, through rock carvings and a historic occupation shelter. There’s walking access to West Head Beach, too. Get supplies at busy Turramurra bakery Flour Shop. Its best-selling caramel croissant is fabulous. Find more info here.
Taronga Zoo to Spit Bridge, 10.4 kilometres
Any section of the 80-kilometre Bondi to Manly Coast Walk promises unique Sydney landmarks, Indigenous heritage sites, coastal paths and plenty of spots for a rest or ocean swim. The segment from Taronga Zoo to Spit Bridge is a beauty. One minute there are views of Sydney Harbour and the city from the bushwalking track at Bradleys Head. Then at Georges Head and Middle Head, you’ll find military fortifications and tunnels. At Balmoral Beach, finish up with a coffee or some Mediterranean-leaning takeaway from Bathers’ Pavilion Kiosk, or continue onto Spit Bridge, where you can take a bus heading to the city.
The NSW government has restricted public gatherings and recommends minimal social contact to minimise the spread of coronavirus. Some parks and tourist destinations may still be closed, or operating at reduced capacity. If you’re concerned about travel or visiting public spaces, or have questions about self-isolation and coronavirus testing, check out the latest from NSW Health.
You can also check with NSW National Parks for alerts and closures before embarking on any walk.