Great Southern Walk

Come on an amazing journey along the south coast from Sydney to Wollongong.

Royal Coast TrackThis 67-kilometre walk from Kamay Botany Bay National Park, through Royal National Park and into the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area will take visitors through stunning coastal landscapes and places of national heritage significance.

Featuring dramatic coastal views, a range of stunning natural environments and opportunities to stay overnight, this new walk has an abundance of experiences for individuals, couples, groups and families.

What is the Great Southern Walk?

In June 2021, the NSW Government announced the Great Southern Walk, a 67-kilometre track extending from Sydney's south to the Illawarra.

The Great Southern Walk will incorporate existing walking tracks through the Kurnell peninsula, the iconic Royal Coast Track and tracks through the Illawarra Escarpment, with some new connecting tracks in both Royal National Park and the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area and upgraded tracks in Kamay Botany Bay National Park.

The Sydney section of the walk will start at Kamay Botany Bay National Park at Kurnell, crossing the peninsula to Cronulla, through Royal National Park from Bundeena to Bald Hill and then through the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area. Camping is already available at Bonnie Vale campground, while new small sustainable camp locations will be provided at Wattamolla and Garie. A mix of camping platforms, basic hiker huts, amenities and camp kitchen are proposed.

The Illawarra section of the Great Southern Walk will link from Bald Hill and Stanwell Park, adjacent to the southern entrance to Royal National Park, and through the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area to the Southern Gateway Centre at Bulli Tops. Locations are being explored for an overnight opportunity.

New South Wales's coastal national parks between Sydney and Wollongong are some of the most popular in the state, with high visitation and diverse environmental and cultural values. We aim to provide sustainable access to these parks for a range of visitors. This investment will enable visitors from independent walkers to small, guided groups to experience Sydney's southern coastline and the Illawarra Escarpment.

What can visitors expect?

This walk allows visitors to immerse themselves in a multi-day walk along the Sydney and northern Illawarra coastline.

Accommodation will be available at both new and existing campgrounds. Bonnie Vale campground, which has welcomed campers for decades, offers powered and unpowered sites and upgraded amenities.

Two new campgrounds are proposed for Royal National Park at Wattamolla and Garie, where camping platforms, basic hiker huts, amenities and camp kitchen are proposed. Both sites have water with sewage treatment systems upgraded in 2018 to cater for the existing high day visitor demand in these sites. These sites also have previously disturbed areas suitable for small campgrounds.

A walk-in campground and basic hut accommodation are proposed to be built in the Maddens Plains area of the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area. The proposed campground site would support walkers on the Great Southern Walk, and the design of the infrastructure will be subject to environmental and cultural heritage assessments. An amendment to the current plan of management is required and is currently on exhibition for public comment. The amendment also includes the closure and rehabilitation of the Austinmer Camp. The site receives little use, has been subject to antisocial behaviour and has impacted nearby residents.

What's special about this walk?

This new walk will provide visitors with an iconic experience on the NSW south coast, including the ability to camp in our coastal national parks. Visitors will be able to enjoy the national parks and conservation areas along the coast south of Sydney:

  • Kamay Botany Bay National Park is Dharawal Country. The land is important to the Gweagal people of the Dharawal language group and other Aboriginal family groups with an association of Kamay (Botany Bay) such as the Bidiegal (Bidjigal) and Gadigal peoples. The Kurnell side of Kamay Botany Bay National Park is significant for its association with HMB Endeavour and Lieutenant James Cook, who arrived on these shores in 1770. This park is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, and the Kurnell Peninsula is registered on the National Heritage List for its natural and cultural values.
  • Royal National Park is located on the southern fringe of Sydney. It is Australia's oldest national park and one of the busiest in New South Wales. Royal National Park has recently seen a significant and sustained increase in visitors coming to enjoy the beaches, sandstone cliffs, wetlands meet grassy woodland, rainforests, coastal heathland and eucalypt forests, lagoons and waterfalls, especially on sunny weekends and holidays.
  • The Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area contains the most extensive area of rainforest in the Sydney basin. It forms a crucial natural corridor between Royal National Park and the South Coast. The area is an important refuge for species affected by environmental disturbances such as development and bushfires. The Wodi Wodi Aboriginal people occupied these lands for 20,000 years. More recent colonial heritage can also be found, including buildings, portals, rail tracks, and other features from former farming and coalmining.

This walking track will complement the important work we have been doing to upgrade infrastructure within these parks, including the Royal Coast Track, reopening of the Bonnie Vale campgrounds, improved facilities at Wattamolla, the new Cape Solander whale watching platform and the upcoming upgrades at the Kurnell area of Kamay Botany Bay including a new visitors centre.

Great Southern Walk map

Guided walking experience – operator opportunity

National Parks and Wildlife Service is seeking Expressions of Interest (EOIs) from either an Aboriginal owned business or an operator partnering with the Aboriginal community or business to operate guided multi-day walk experiences along the Great Southern Walk. The opportunity will provide one commercial operator access (under the Parks Eco Pass program) to deliver a guided walking experience for national and international visitors.

Respondents are required to have the capacity to manage and promote the experiences, deliver safe operations with suitably qualified and professional guides, and ensure environmental considerations are upheld across the operations.

Respondents must demonstrate they can deliver the experiences according to our principles, legislation, guidelines, policies and to the required standards.

The Expressions of Interest is open from 19 November 2023 until 30 January 2023. For more information, visit the NSW government eTender website.

NSW government eTender website

In 2022, we will undertake investigations and assessments for new track sections and proposed campsites.

Approvals for different project components (dependent on location) are underway, with the construction of new and upgraded walking tracks and facilities expected to start later in 2022.

This project is expected to be completed in 2024.

We are committed to conserving the ecological integrity and biodiversity of our national parks and reserves and providing sustainable visitor use compatible with the conservation of natural and cultural values.

The Great Southern Walk will allow visitors to explore and experience one of the most stunning coastlines in the country in a sustainable manner. Right on the doorstep of Sydney, this walk will make it easier for a range of visitors, from inexperienced walkers and guided groups to experienced independent walkers, to experience the thrill of achieving an overnight trek in the bush. Limits on numbers, and modest facilities, will ensure that environmental sustainability is maintained.

This walk complements the important work we have been doing to make national park experiences more accessible to everyone, including the upgrade of the Royal Coast Track, restoration of the Bonnie Vale campgrounds, improved facilities at Wattamolla, new whale watching facilities at Cape Solander platform and coming soon, a new visitor and education centre at Kamay Botany Bay.

Improved camping in Royal National Park is supported by the community, as demonstrated by the popularity of the Bonnie Vale campground and in feedback received during the public exhibition of the draft Plan of Management for Royal National Park.

A new campground that will provide camping platforms, basic hiker huts, amenities and camp kitchen is being explored for the Illawarra Escapement State Conservation Area to provide new recreational opportunities for visitors. This will require an amendment to the plan of management, which involves detailed assessments and stakeholder consultation to ensure facilities are low-impact and sustainable. Further information will be available in the coming months, including opportunities to provide comments.

The proposed walking tracks in the Illawarra will benefit local communities by creating new linkages and recreation opportunities. The project will deliver new missing linkages to join Royal National Park to the Illawarra walking tracks networks. Improving camping in Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area is also needed to support the overnight multi-day walk. The Illawarra Section is consistent with the Illawarra Escarpment Walking Tracks Master Plan.

We manage our national parks and reserves to protect their unique values and provide for sustainable visitor use and enjoyment. This includes providing visitor experiences and, where appropriate, new visitor facilities, including tracks and trails.

We are undertaking the appropriate planning and environmental assessment to ensure that the new facilities, either during construction or during operation, will have minimal environmental impacts – whether to biodiversity, Aboriginal sites, heritage sites or recreational values.

This walk will encompass existing tracks with a limited amount of new linkages (around 3 to 4 kilometres) in the southern section of the walk, including both on and off park. In addition, care has been taken to avoid unnecessary impacts. For example, new campgrounds proposed for Wattamolla and Garie in the Royal National Park are located in disturbed areas with necessary services already in place.

The Maddens Plains area of the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area has been proposed as a new walk-in campground site for the Great Southern Walk as it offers a suitable location to support overnight options for walkers on the track. The amendment to the current plan of management to allow camping and hiking huts is currently on exhibition until 28 October. Environmental and cultural heritage assessments will be conducted before any construction.

Have your say

There will be no change to existing access to the national parks that form part of the Great Southern Walk. Access to existing walking tracks will be unaffected though there may be temporary closes as we improve and maintain the walking tracks. Once the new walking track links in Royal National Park and Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area have been completed, they will open for use.

Access to the Bonnie Vale campground will be unaffected by this project – you can continue to book sites online.

Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area tracks will be subject to progressive closures to enable upgrades to sections of the track. These will be locally notified and updated on the National Parks and Wildlife website.

During the past decade, we have consulted with the community on the management of our national parks and on planning documents that inform this project:

  • Royal National Park Plan of Management Draft (2021)
  • Wattamolla Master Plan (2017)
  • Kamay Botany Bay National Park Master Plan (2019)
  • Kamay Botany Bay National Park Plan of Management (2020)
  • An amendment to the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area Plan of Management (2018) is currently on exhibition to authorise the development of a new campground at Maddens Area. It is on exhibition until 28 October.

Have your say

We routinely engage with Registered Aboriginal Parties on works that may affect Aboriginal sites, such as upgrading the Royal Coast Track and the remediation of Bonnie Vale campground.

This webpage will be the main source of information and will be regularly updated. This webpage will be updated as the project progresses. Questions and feedback are welcomed at any time by completing the online form below.

We will circulate project newsletters to our stakeholders. If you're interested in receiving this newsletter, please complete the online form below.

As the project develops, we will share with you via the webpage details of the plans for the new components of the walking track and the new campgrounds.

We will manage the planning, construction and establishment of these new campsites, ensuring all environmental and related considerations are carefully handled.

We will run an Expressions of Interest (EOI) process to find a suitable delivery partner to help run the guided walking and manage the new camping experiences using the new facilities. Royal National Park has a long history of using delivery partners to provide recreational experiences, such as the Audley Boatshed, the Audley Dancehall Café, the Royal holiday cottages and the Bonnie Vale kayak operation. This enables us to utilise people who are subject matter experts in their industry to design and deliver activities that best suit what the visitors want. It also allows us to get on with managing our visitors and conserving the natural and cultural values of the national park.

The EOI process will be open from 19 November 2023 to 20 December 2023. More information is available from xxxx.

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This will have no impact on visitor access to the Royal Coast Track. Walkers will continue to be able to use the Royal Coast Track.

National Parks and Wildlife Service will continue to own the new facilities.