By guest Craig Doyle, Sydney.

WOW!!! My wife and I just finished the Royal Coast Track, Bundeena to Otford, with Sydney Coast Walks. Two days of views, delights and challenges. This is the way to bushwalk.

The first day is 15.5 km of picture postcard Royal National Park… the dramatic sea cliffs, the rich millennia of indigenous culture, and the wildlife that observes, curiously, the development of “civilisation”.

Carrol, our guide, was an absolute delight. Not only was she, lovely and extremely knowledgeable, she carried our lunch and cooked dinner… and breakfast… how good is this?

She showed us wonderful natural features that took our imaginations into the land of desserts and delicacies with names like the wedding cake and creme brulee and exotic locations of “secret caves” with million dollar views that were converted into living spaces during the depression.

The end of the first day finds us arriving at our campsite. Now, let me say, I don't walk 15k's every day… so I am not the picture of exuberance at this point. I am “in a place” that needs some spiritual maintenance.

As the sun is setting over Wattamolla we turn the corner to find our private setting… tents pitched, gazebo erected, CHAIRS!!! and tables with white, starched, linen, COLD water, tea, coffee, BEERS, freshly cooked bread and exotic cheese, the day's papers, and some lovely REDS and WHITES. This is something out of a Leo Sayer song.

Rest rooms (toilets and showers… cold) are here and as the daytrippers leave the park before the gates are locked we settle in to discover some of the inner secrets of our trek mates. Being the only male in the troupe… what's said on the trail stays on the trail.

Next morning, greeted by a rosy sunrise, we are up and rearing by eight. Realising that maybe we should have taken Carrol's advice to stretch the evening before, the scent of the 15+ sunscreen is enough to prepare us for the delights ahead.

What lays before us on the second day are some of the beauties that only the determined will experience.

Curracurrang, a beautiful protected inlet, was heralded by a flock of rare black cockatoos.

The sound of Eastern Whipbirds calling and responding took us to the icon of the “Royal”… Eagle Rock, resplendent with its waterfall veil misting into the ocean nearly 30 metres below.

Passing through the Depression-hut speckled hamlets of Garie, Era, and Burning Palms gave us the chance to hoover up lunch (beautiful gourmet wraps) and give our feet respite by walking, sans shoes, through the refreshing waters of the Pacific. Some were tempted to take a swim not for this Queensland born and bred lad.

Ahhh! Burning Palms… Palm Jungle is this for real? Certainly surreal. After walking the best part of two days through what is broadly described as dry sclerophyll and heath we find ourselves in a place described by one of my trail mates as something out of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings… speckled shady groves, dangling vines, eight metre high palm cathedrals, walking on a carpet of palm fronds… I know that this has been a robust walk for me but I know I am not hallucinating. Surprising glimpses of the great southern coastline stretching down to Kiama take your breath away before you brush through another curtain of palm leaves plunging you back into the land of Lord of the Rings.

This magic wonderland does not come without cost. This is the start of your climb back up the… what? You mean we have to climb back UP THAT ESCARPMENT!!! Maybe Burning Palms should have been called Burning Thighs.

Look, I am sure that the wonderful people of the Royal National Park endured a far greater hardship when they built those 50 plus stairs, but I wasn't thinking of them when, head down, I found myself singing that song that hadn't left me all day as I went headlong into the battlements of the beautiful sandstone foreheads gracing the vistas of the world heralded southern coastline… dig deep… surely there's not much more up in this!

Burning thighs, burning calves, burning lungs… thankfully no burning palms… when, looking up you start to see sky. This has got to be the top hasn't it? The people around you… ahead of you… are in their own world of… whatever. All the time Carrol is telling us that it is not far now before we reach a breathtaking outlook and a lovely walk along a fire trail to the Golden Fleece. At this stage we are told not to fall into the trap of trail-end euphoria.

Understand this… Carrol is carrying a huge pack with the leftovers of our lunch, trail snacks, and water if anyone wants a refill. We have no reason to moan. She is always cheerful and supportive.

The last couple of k are a chance to reflect on the last two days that were the Royal Coast Track and the unique experience that Sydney Coast Walks brought to our adventure. Yeh, camping for my wife and me is so 20th Century… now guided walking with amenities works for us. When you can enjoy a world treasure by having an expert with you… you got me.

We saw epic vistas of coastline and the delicate flora of the Royal and we saw and heard exotic bird life and iconic creatures of the Australian ethos. Our Swedish com-padre loved the echidna that she saw up close and personal and dolphin gamboling in the bays as we strode through.

So when we arrived at the end of the trail and COLD water and hot coffee and TIM TAMS were waiting what else could you ask for???

WHALES HO!!! Just out there no more than a kilometre off the coast whales greeted us at the end of our adventure. Breaching and blowing like a New Year's Eve celebration.

We dropped and lay exhausted as Carrol ran around taking pictures of us feeling very pleased with ourselves. 34.5 Kms… that's a long walk to the shops!

Gotta say, hats off to Carrol, our guide. Nothing was too much or too little.

AND THANKS!!! to Ian and Tara Wells, the Principals of Sydney Coast Walks, whose inspiration and determination made it an unforgettable celebration for my wife and I. I hope they are graced with many more guests.



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