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AWD camping adventure in Royal National Park, NSW

  • By Marcus Craft
  • 28 May 2018
  • 9 min read
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.
  • Light
    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

So, you’re feeling a bit stressed and you want to get away from the city rat race for a short camping break – just for a day or two – to recharge your batteries, lift your spirits, and get yourself back on track; an urge that is nothing unusual in this day and age.

Well, if you’re a Sydney-sider, the perfect bush and beach escape is only a stone’s throw away from the big smoke – and, as is the case with some adventures, you don’t even have to get your tyres dirty.

On this fast blast out of the city, we’re in a Ford Escape Titanium 2.0-litre AWD diesel, which is well suited to a trip of this nature. We aren’t tackling too much in the way of dirt-track driving and we’re only away for two days, so we aren’t taking a lot of gear – a swag, sleeping bag, pillow, camp chair, esky, beach towel and some clothes.

The Escape had plenty of room for the swag and chairs. The Escape had plenty of room for the swag and chairs.

The Escape, with one back-row seat folded down so I can slide my bulky swag all the way in, easily copes with the load.

Getting to Bonnie Vale Campground

Day one: from Sydney to Bonnie Vale Campground. Day one: from Sydney to Bonnie Vale Campground.

This fantastic water-side campsite is about 55km south of Sydney, but it feels like it's a million miles away. Heading south from the city on the A1, take Farnell Avenue*, on your left, into Royal National Park. (Farnell becomes Audley Road, then Sir Bertram Stevens Drive.) 

It's a circuitous drive along this road but if you love driving, you're going to love the route; even if steering isn't your favourite thing in the world, you'll still have loads of fun. About 10km after you pass Audley Weir, take a left into Bundeena Drive, then further along that road, take a left into Sea Breeze Lane and you've reached your short-break destination.

Bonnie Vale is a family-friendly accommodation at the northern end of the Royal National Park (or the Nasho as anyone south of Rockdale calls it), a grand expanse of bush and beach which covers more than 150 sq km along the coastline stretching towards Helensburgh and Stanwell Park to the south.

Bonnie Vale is known for its large sand spit, which makes it a great swimming spot. The campground itself has 74 sites including ones for tents, camper trailers or caravans. Facilities include picnic tables, barbecues, drinking water, hot showers and flush toilets. So, you don’t have to miss out on any modern conveniences.

Besides, you don’t need to bring in a lot of stuff; if you’re at Bonnie Vale and realise you’ve forgotten food and/or supplies; there’s no need to worry. The little village of Bundeena is a few minutes away and you can find pretty much anything there.

Bonnie Vale is a top place if you’re after a digital detox – because you don’t really have a choice; phone coverage is pretty patchy and besides there really is a whole world of stuff to do here that doesn’t involve obsessively checking your email or answering calls.

Bonnie Vale is a top place if you’re after a digital detox. Bonnie Vale is a top place if you’re after a digital detox.

The park was closed for five days in January this year due to two fires which razed 2194 hectares of bushland north-east of Helensburgh, but its flora and fauna are bouncing back now.

There is plenty to look at: plants and wildlife are abundant here: in the park there are possums, sugar gliders and wallabies, as well as more than 300 bird species – including sulphur-crested cockatoos, crimson rosellas, yellow-tailed black cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets – and more than 1000 plant species.

The Nasho is also a great spot for whale-watching; do a coastal bush-walk here between May and November and you’ll get a chance to see whales during their annual migration from some of the best vantage points around.

But if simply admiring nature isn’t exactly your thing, no worries. There are guided cultural tours, fishing, stand-up paddling (SUP) – you can hire kayaks and SUP boards here – boating, jet-skiing, fresh-water swimming, as well as ocean swimming and much more. 

Short bush-walks are popular here but if you're feeling gung-ho, have a crack at the Coastal Walk, stretching 26km one-way from Bundeena to Otford, and taking in coastal lookouts, secluded swimming spots, seasonal wildflowers and whale-watching. This two-day hike is a grade 5 walk, according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System, which means it takes in tracks which "are likely to be very rough, very steep and unmarked", and is only for "very experienced bushwalkers with specialised skills, including navigation and emergency first aid", as described by National Parks.

For surfers, there are often awesome waves on the coast at Garie Beach, around the corner from Bonnie Vale.

You name it, you can do it here in the Royal National Park; you can be as energetic, or as bone-lazy, as you want to be.

If you, during your stay, get the urge for a bit of Cronulla culture, you can always catch the ferry from Bundeena wharf – it’s a nice 40-minute ride across Port Hacking.

Bonnie Vale to Coledale

Day two: from Bonnie Vale to Coledale. Day two: from Bonnie Vale to Coledale.

Bonnie Vale campground is also a perfect base from which to explore this awesome region.

The coastline south of the Royal National Park is peppered with rock pools, cafes, art galleries, boutique shops, restaurants and more. Visitors can quite easily range up and down the coast for days – from Bald Hill, (where adrenalin-junkies can go hang-gliding if they get the sky-high urge) and Stanwell Park down to Coledale (with its great camping reserve), Thirroul, Bulli and more – and they’ll never be bored.

Coledale camping reserve is a top spot. Coledale camping reserve is a top spot.

Bush-walks anywhere along the coast and up into the Illawarra escarpment are popular attractions here; Sublime Point walking track – 700 metres one-way and nearly vertical in places – is a big drawcard for locals and tourists who love a challenge and being afforded the awesome views from the top upon arriving there.

There is a boat ramp at Little Austinmer Beach, 1km north of Austinmer Beach, where boaties can put in if they’re keen for a spot of ocean-fishing.

A few things to remember: Bonnie Vale is part of a national park, so pets are not permitted. Wood fires and camp fires are also not permitted here. Park entry fees and camping fees do apply and make sure you book your campsite to avoid missing out. Also, stay up to date with conditions closer to your time of travel as the park may be closed due to poor weather or fire danger.

Bonnie Vale really is a fantastic camping spot – beautiful surroundings, great amenities and not too far from anything. It’s also an ideal base for your adventures through the Royal National Park. All in all, a trip here makes for a nice getaway, a spirit-boosting break in the bush, and it's only 30 minutes from Sydney. Get out there; you can thank me later.

Note: thanks to Coledale Camping Reserve for their assistance.

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