Not many people would associate Sydney, Australia, home of the opera house and 42 Sherman Wallaby Way, as an avid hiker’s paradise. While there are many cool restaurants, clubs, and places to sightsee in the city there are countless unreal hikes less than an hour outside of the city!
Sydney is surrounded by several massive national parks each offering a variety of hikes, waterfalls, and unique views of eastern New South Wales part of Australia. I have been to Sydney many times and explored both the city and the natural offerings of the region. In this post I have compiled five of my favorite places to explore outside of the city, and they should definitely be on your itinerary in the event you get bored with all of those opera house tours.
Figure Eight Pools | Wedding Cake Rock | Wattamolla Falls | Mahon Pool | Blue Mountains
1. Figure Eight Pools
The figure eight pools are a natural tide pool shaped like an 8, located along the rocky shelf coastline on the east coast of the Royal National Park. The figure eight pools took over social media a few years ago and they are really as spectacular as they seem. To get to the pools requires about an hour drive from Sydney, and a hike down to the coast. The shortest trail to the pools begins at the Garrawarra car park totaling around 7 km round trip, approximately 3 to 4 hours. We ended up choosing another route, parking our car at the Otford lookout and trekking almost 9 km to the pools. This route is backpacker friendly because it is completely accessible by train, so fear not intrepid travelers. Online sources say this trail will take you about 6 hours round trip, but we did it in about 4 hours, as it is all downhill to the pools.
Make sure you only go here when it is low tide, or arrange your trek down so you arrive when it is happening. At high tide the water covers the pools and you will be disappointed, especially if you just walked 9 kilometers. The waves can be dangerous depending on the season so pay attention to your surroundings while inside the pools. Rogue waves can appear quickly and plenty of videos show the unfortunate results as tourists get absolutely wrecked.
2. Wedding Cake Rock
Wedding Cake Rock is an AMAZING geological sandstone rock formation that is a pure white color, and stark contrast with the surrounding blue ocean and Australian bush. The color is caused by iron leaching out of the sandstone, unfortunately making it extremely soft and prone to cracking. It is illegal to walk on the slab as it could collapse at any time, but there are plenty of vantage points around its boundary fences to access awesome photography angles. The cliff on the other side of the rock is a sheer drop-off to the ocean, littered with jagged boulders, and debris from previous shelf collapses. The rangers can monitor the lookout from a ranger station, and will respond if they see people trespassing. The hike is a relatively easy coastal walk, and you can see whales depending on the season.
3. Wattamolla Falls
Wattamolla Falls, Watta-waterfall! This 6 meter tall waterfall is another attraction inside of the Royal National Park, spilling over a high cliff into a sprawling lagoon. The lagoon is quite deep close to the falls and many people jump off the top during summer. There is a fence and sign prohibiting jumping, but if you are going to make sure you depth check first! This waterfall is a must see while you are in NSW as it is easily accessible by car, and you will also be treated with dramatic coastline views, a coastal walk, wading lagoon, and often solitary access. I have been to the waterfall in June and March, and both times we were only accompanied by a few other small groups.
There is a massive sandbar separating the lagoon from the ocean and during the summer you will see many people enjoying the cool waters in the calm lagoon. The concrete path will lead you to the sandbar and a shallow section of the lagoon that can be walked across to reach the soft white sand on the other side. This is a great place for a picnic, photo op, chill sesh, watteva you want.
4. Mahon Pool
Ok you got me this one is not really a hike besides walking from your car, but I bet your legs will enjoy the break from all the other hikes on this list. Mahon Pool is one of many salt water pools that line the Sydney and NSW coast. This pool is easily accessible by coastal walks, public transportation, and car. I liked Mahon Pool because it is not as crowded as the other pools closer to the city, and it offers a really great view for sunrise. This pool is located at Maroubra Beach, carved out of the rock flats great for sunbathing and watching the waves. We went for sunrise and were only joined by morning regulars doing laps in the frigid 5 am water. The pool is exposed to waves at high tide so the best time to swim and relax is at low tide. Make sure you bring your swimsuit, even if you think you are not going to jump in, you will regret if you did not have the option to change your mind. Sometimes there are fish, crustaceans, algae, and other ocean critters common in salt pools on this coast.
5. The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are one of the best nature attractions you can access in New South Wales, about a 90 minute drive from Sydney and completely accessible by public transportation on trains. The region is west of Sydney and populated by many townships, Aussie bushland, steep cliffs, waterfalls, glow worm caves, and dense forests. My favorite place in the Blue Mountains is a 1 hour hike to a rock feature called the Hanging Rock. This geological feature is an astounding 100 meter high cliff that extends to a dramatic point overlooking the valley below.
You can actually walk out to the point if you are brave enough, but to do that you have to leap across a 1 to 2 meter crevice stretching to the valley floor below. Then you have to climb up to the top of the rock and walk across the point which is less than a meter wide, and bordered by sheer vertical drops.
Directions: Park your car at the end of Ridgewell Road and follow the fire trail past the locked gate for about 45 minutes to the Baltzer Lookout. From the lookout you will be able to see the hanging rock and peer over the edge of the cliffs. This was also a great sunrise and I definitely recommend doing it then, because you are more likely to have the cliffs all to yourself. There are many other attractions in the area so head over to my Ultimate Guide to the Blue Mountains for more detailed information and ideas.
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