My husband likes to ‘call’ the end of winter every year. “That’s it! Winter is dead!” he says in a booming, authoritative voice, and he’s inevitably right every year.
He called it this weekend so to celebrate, we shook off our hibernation with a soul-warming bushwalk through our local national park, the Royal National Park, aka the ‘Nasho’, because Australians are classy.
An hour south of Sydney, the Royal National Park is the world’s oldest surviving purposed national park and is a vast natural haven for iconic Aussie wildlife and flora, hugging the east coast where whales swim past twice a year. It hosts rugged terrain of coastal heathland, rainforest, valleys, waterfalls, palm jungles and delicate little microclimate ponds and wetlands. You could visit this place every weekend for a year and explore a different spot each time, never repeating a trek.
A warm welcome
The Little Marley Firetrail starts at Bundeena Drive; a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it small post marks the way down. It’s a narrow trail that later fans out to a two-person wide walking track of yellow and white clay and soft sand. Banksia tree roots gnarl across the track, holding the delicate dusty path together. The earthy colours of Australia surround you, punched with the colour of (dare I say it) springtime floral bursts.
The pink and white bells of the native Fuchsia catch your eye, along with bright clusters of white wildflowers, the orange-red of the Heath Banksia, little mustard and ruby coloured ‘Eggs and Bacon’, magenta spiky-crowned Clustered Scent Myrtle, and purple Royal Bluebells sprout all the way to the horizon.
Always was, always will be
As we walked down, the path altered between white clay and yellow clay. Some areas baked hard in the sun, but most spots were submerged in an inch or two of recent rain. The ponds softened the clay, turning it into ochres, the traditional body and face ‘paint’ used by the first Australians in ceremony and dance. I scooped two fingerfuls at different spots along the track and smeared it on my skin. It dried beautifully, so soft in texture but intense in colour, and I remembered the first owners of this land – the Dharawal people. My respect for indigenous Australians is immense, and I am so grateful that our country has such rich, ancient and mystical Dreamtime beginnings.
Little Oasis: The Deer Pool
We arrive at the Deer Pool, a break in the forest created by trickles of rain and groundwater down through the rock over millennia. The water gathers at a rocky plateau before streaming down over a perfectly flat natural rock ramp, forming a small waterfall into a sandy pool. The water creates an oasis for ferns, grass trees and shiny vines to sprout around the shoreline, and shuffles the beige sand around the perimeter into ever-changing sand banks.If you’re a confident jumper you can leap onto the little sand island in the middle.
We’re keen on returning here in the middle of summer! A bit too cold to jump in right now…
Towards the Marley Track, past the little baby nursery
We carefully walk across the rock plateau where the waterfall begins (a feat in itself due to its super slippery mossy surface) and up over the ridge towards the sea. As we clamber over large natural steps on the trail, we look down into the little ponds that gather there and see fat tadpoles in the water, a good 5 cm long! Their rear ends are rounded, their hind legs are about to *pop* out. They try to sit very still, afraid we’ll snatch them up for lunch. Frog populations are a great indicator of ecosystem health, so I’m over the moon to see these little guys with a great fighting chance at growing up.
The Marley Track
The Marley Track is e-a-s-y. Big, wide, flat ….takes a bit of fun out of the adventure but it’s also got some gorgeous features. I was taken by the different colours of the rocks on the ground there. Why are they so different? Geologists, get in touch.The New Holland Honeyeaters are out in force. These flirty, high energy birds have a great distinctive call and spend their time catching insects on the fly, having territory wars, preening and flirting with my camera, but NEVER sitting still for long enough for me to get a good shot. Such teases.
Hitting the Coast
Soon, the panorama reveals itself over a rocky outcrop. You can walk down to the perfect and well-protected Little Marley Beach, to rest and swim and enjoy the 360-degree slice of heaven. We continued on further north on the Coast Track, and spotted whales tail-slapping and frolicking less than 100m off the shore. Just gorgeous.Keep walking north towards Marley Beach and the inlet for Marley Lagoon to see the view at Marley Head. Keep an eye out for The Coast Track trekkers with their big backpacks; they’ve probably been going for a whole day or two from Bundeena to Otford Falls. If you have any chocolate, offer some to make an instant lifelong friend :).
White Rock (aka Wedding Cake Rock)
When you start the Little Marley Trail you are trekking for the sake of a bushwalk. Everyone else is too. So at first you only encounter others in boots and shorts, with hats and backpacks and water bottles on carabiners.
Once you hit Marley Head, though, the vibe changes. Soon you’re surrounded by tourists in high heels, Gucci handbags, black glittered hi-tops (on guys) and day trippers that look like they were aiming for Darling Harbour, but got lost and ended up here instead.
They’ve all come down to this wilderness wearing their high fashion, camera phones in tow, for the Instagram craze of getting a dangerous photograph on Wedding Cake Rock.
It’s all a bit weird but to be honest, it’s a fantastic rock that also looks totally out of place, so maybe this whole thing works perfectly together. A 1.8m high metal fence has been installed all around the landmark because of one man falling, Darwin-esque, while taking a photo to close to the edge. (He was rescued.) Everyone jumps the fence now, or clambers around it, risking a $300 fine to be snapped and ‘grammed as they teeter on the edge. I’m not going to mention in this blog if we did the same or not, for obvious reasons, but here are some photos we took from the fence.
From this vantage point, we saw what I think is the MOST excited whale I have EVER seen. It splashed and frolicked like a wild Marlin for ages. Oh to be out there on the little yachts…
The return walk
We continued back through the Marley Trail, north-west for 6kms back to the car. We had left Wedding Cake Rock around an hour before sunset, and it took a good hour of walking up a wide, constant rising gradient to get to the car. Hubby and I had a giggle thinking of the Gucci girls trotting in their heels back up the never-ending rocky path in the dark. I hope the insta-shot was worth it!
The start of the track is here. There is a carpark at the entrance, across Bundeena Drive.
There is no cafe, food or drinking water – please bring your own and take all rubbish with you when you leave. If you litter, don;t make me find you and punch you in the face – because I will!
Take $12 for the national park entrance fee and pay at the front gate.
You can enjoy a meal afterwards in Bundeena or nearby Audley or Maianbar.