August 14, 2018
While multi-day inn-to-inn walks are more well-known in Europe (think the increasingly popular Camino), Sydney's Great Coastal Walk is putting Australia on the global walking map.
It stretches from Barrenjoey Lighthouse and Palm Beach in the north, via the laid-back northern beaches and Manly to the city, onwards to Watsons Bay and Bondi in the east and through to Cronulla and Royal National Park in the south.
It is nearly 200km of continuous walking track along Sydney's coastline.
You can walk it in either direction but to have the sun on your back (rather than in your face), it's best to hike Sydney's Great Coastal Walk north to south.
While it's easy to complete one or more sections as Sydney day walks, there are multiple itinerary options to walk the city's entire coastline end to end.
Here are our itinerary suggestions to complete the entire Sydney Great Coastal Walk in between five and 14 days, with ten days being the perfect amount of time.
Ten Day Itinerary for The Great Coastal Walk
- Total Walking Distance: 192.5 km / 120 miles
- Total Walking time: 60 hours
- Average Walking Distance Per Day: 19.25 km / 12 miles
- Average Walking Time Per Day: 6 hours
This is the ideal itinerary to complete Sydney's entire Great Coastal Walk so you won't miss anything.
- Day 1: Barrenjoey to Narrabeen Lakes. 25km / 15.5 miles, 7.5 hrs.
- Day 2: Narrabeen Lakes to North Head, via Manly. 26km / 16 miles, 7 hrs.
- Day 3: North Head to Balmoral Beach. 18.5km / 11.5 miles, 6 hrs.
- Day 4: Balmoral Beach to The Rocks. 21.5km / 13.5 miles, 6.5 hrs.
- Day 5: The Rocks to Watsons Bay. 25km / 15.5 miles, 6 hrs.
- Day 6: Watsons Bay to Coogee. 14km / 8.5 miles, 3.5 hrs.
- Day 7: Coogee to La Perouse. 18km / 11 miles, 4.5 hrs.
- Day 8: Kurnell to Cronulla. 14.5km / 9 miles, 4.5 hrs.
- Day 9: Bundeena to Wattamolla. 14km / 8.5 miles, 7 hrs.
- Day 10: Wattamolla to Otford. 16km / 10 miles, 7 hrs.
- Day 1: Barrenjoey to Narrabeen Lakes. Start your great coastal walk by doing the Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk loop. Sure, you're starting a ten day walk by walking up a hill that you have to walk back down again, but the view is well worth the short, steep climb. You also get a real sense of standing on Sydney's northern tip as you look across the Hawkesbury to the Central Coast.
The rest of the day involves walking over a few smaller headlands on roads and tracks and walking some beaches and suburban streets to NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park (check availability).
- Day 2: Narrabeen Lakes to North Head, via Manly. This is the longest day in distance but a lot of it is over long, flat stretches of sandy beaches. Walk in the wet sand at the water's edge where it's easier walking. If you take your shoes off remember to dry your feet thoroughly and remove all traces of sand. Even a couple of grains between your toes is enough to give you blisters.
Finish your day with your first views of Sydney Harbour before a short walk to Q Station (check availability) for a night of luxury.
- Day 3: North Head to Balmoral Beach. A short stroll via Collins Beach (keep an eye out for Fairy Penguins) will bring you to Manly Wharf for the start of the Manly to Spit Bridge Walk, more often called Spit Bridge to Manly Walk or Manly Scenic Walkway. This is the first of three days walking Sydney Harbour on a mixture of bush tracks, elevated timber pathways and concrete walkway. Find yourself a nice AirBnB by Balmoral Beach for the night.
- Day 4: Balmoral Beach to The Rocks. Get your blood pumping with a few stairs to start the day and enjoy harbour and ocean views from Middle Head. (Gubbah Gubbah, it's original Aboriginal name, sounds so much nicer don't you think?) Explore the military history on Middle, Georges and Chowder Heads before rounding Bradleys Head for city views to take your breath away. Continue past Taronga Zoo, exit Sydney Harbour National Park and walk suburban streets before crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge to The Rocks for a well earned rest.
- Day 5: The Rocks to Watsons Bay. Is there a better way to start a day in Sydney than walking around Circular Quay, past Sydney Opera House and through the Royal Botanic Gardens to Mrs Macquarie's Chair? Today isn't all walking harbour foreshore however. It's predominantly a suburban walk interspersed with waterside walkways to enter Sydney Harbour National Park again briefly at Nielsen Park before continuing through suburbia to Watsons Bay. Well, ‘suburban' may not be the kindest term for Australia's most expensive real estate but it's not coastal walking. Watsons Bay Hotel has a cold drink and a warm bed waiting for you.
- Day 6: Watsons Bay to Coogee. If you're going to catch sunrise at any time on your great Sydney coastal walk, this is a pretty good option. It's only a five minute walk to Gap Bluff and a 20 minute walk to Hornby Light. They're both on the Watsons Bay Walk loop that you'll be walking anyway and you'll see the sun rise over the ocean and Sydney come alive behind you. The reveal of Bondi Beach later in the day is pretty special before completing the Bondi to Coogee Walk to end your day. After yesterday's suburban day, you're spoiled with coastal sights today.
- Day 7: Coogee to La Perouse. Today gives you your first taste of undeveloped coastline. With the exception of North Head, Sydney's eastern and northern coastlines are full of houses. South of Maroubra is less developed and is a good introduction the pristine coastal cliffs of Kurnell and Royal National Park. It's not possible to walk around Botany Bay from La Perouse to Kurnell. We recommend a water taxi to avoid a 2.5 hour public transport journey involving at least two buses and a train.
- Day 8: Kurnell to Cronulla.Check out Captain Cook's landing place and Kurnell Visitor Centre in Kamay Botany Bay National Par. This is the site of the first known interaction between Aboriginal people and Europeans on the east coast of Australia. Interactive displays interpret this significant event in Australian history. Walk around Cape Solander, one of the best whale watching places in Sydney before continuing along the cliff edge to catch sight of Cronulla. Finish you day walking the longest continuous stretch of golden sand in Sydney.
- Day 9: Bundeena to Wattamolla. Catch a public ferry from Cronulla to Bundeena in the morning and include the walk to Jibbon Aboriginal Carvings. Enjoy city skyline views to the north and reflect on how far you've come. Continue walking along Sydney's most pristine stretch of coastline to Wattamolla for a swim. You'll need to pre arrange a shuttle bus transfer from Wattamolla to your Bundeena accommodation (your Bundeena B&B host might do this for you). There is a secluded beachside campground at North Era 7km further along the Royal National Park Coastal Walk but it's a long day from Bundeena. You probably won't want to bring your camping gear just for one night, either. So stay in Bundeena and get picked up and dropped off at Wattamolla.
- Day 10: Wattamolla to Otford. Now it's getting emotional! Your last day walking Sydney's Great Coastal Walk and one of the best. If you like bushwalking, this is the icing on the cake. The second day on the Royal Coast Track is more up and down than the first day but hills mean views, especially on the coast. You also get to walk through some of NSW's last surviving coastal cabins. Say G'day on your way past, they're a friendly bunch. If time and tide (very important!) is on your side you might be able to visit Figure 8 Pools before the steep walk to the top of the escarpment at Otford Lookout.
Five Day Itinerary for The Great Coastal Walk
- Total Walking Distance: 112.5 km / 70 miles
- Total Walking time: 33 hours
- Average Walking Distance Per Day: 22.5 km / 12 miles
- Average Walking Time Per Day: 6.5 hours
The ideal itinerary for this walk is ten days. However, if you only have five days this is the best way to walk the great coastal walk.
- Day 1: Barrenjoey to Narrabeen Lakes. 25km / 15.5 miles, 7.5 hours.
- Day 2: Narrabeen Lakes to Balmoral Beach, via Manly. 26km / 16 miles, 9 hours.
- Day 3: Balmoral Beach to The Rocks. 22km / 14 miles, 5.5 hours.
- Day 4: Watsons Bay to Coogee. 14km / 8.5 miles, 3.5 hours.
- Day 5: Cronulla return via Bundeena and Wedding Cake Rock. 26km / 16 miles, 7.5 hours.
Day 2: This itinerary doesn't include North Head, near Manly. Although the view back along the harbour from Fairfax Lookout is breathtaking, it's not the most inspiring walk there and back and it's a similar view from South Head, near Watsons Bay.
Day 4: A bus from The Rocks to Watsons Bay will eliminate a lot of the suburbs on the southern side of the harbour, which – unlike the northern side – aren't beautiful national park walks. Cutting out the Malabar and La Perouse sections will also save time. It's quicker and easier to take the bus and train from Coogee to Cronulla which, with its access to Royal National Park, is essential on any great coastal walk. This day starts and ends with public transport rather than walking in and out of your accommodation, but it makes walking Sydney's Great Coastal Walk in five days possible.
Day 5: Kurnell has towering sandstone cliffs but they're similar to those you'll see in Royal National Park. Royal National Park is more pristine so it's included instead of Kurnell. Due to limited time in this itinerary, we suggest walking the Coast Track as far as Wedding Cake Rock, then turning around. But if you're super keen and have great walking fitness, you could walk the entire Coast Track in one day to Otford.
Fourteen Day Itinerary for The Great Coastal Walk
- Total Walking Distance: 197.5 km / 123 miles
- Total Walking time: 62.5 hours
- Average Walking Distance Per Day: 14 km / 8.5 miles
- Average Walking Time Per Day: 4.5 hours
If you have two full weeks to complete this walk, lucky you! You get to have a couple of rest days. Well, they're sightseeing days, not rest days but only involve a short walk. Just so you don't seize up.
- Day 1: Barrenjoey to Bungan Head. 20km / 12.5 miles, 6 hrs.
- Day 2: Bungan Head to Manly. 20km / 12.5 miles, 5 hrs.
- Day 3: Manly via North Head. 10km / 6 miles, 3 hrs.
- Day 4: Manly to Balmoral Beach. 14.5km / 9 miles, 5 hrs.
- Day 5: Balmoral Beach to The Rocks. 21.5km / 13.5 miles, 6.5 hrs.
- Day 6: Sydney City Walk. 10km / 6 miles, 3 hrs.
- Day 7: The Rocks to Double Bay. 12km / 7.5 miles, 3 hrs.
- Day 8: Double Bay to Watsons Bay. 13km / 8 miles, 3 hrs.
- Day 9: Watsons Bay to Bondi. 8km / 5 miles, 3 hrs.
- Day 10: Bondi to Coogee. 6km / 4 miles, 2 hrs.
- Day 11: Coogee to La Perouse. 18km / 11 miles, 4.5 hrs.
- Day 12: Kurnell to Cronulla. 14.5km / 9 miles, 4.5 hrs.
- Day 13: Bundeena to Wattamolla. 14km / 8.5 miles, 7 hrs.
- Day 14: Wattamolla to Otford. 16km / 10 miles, 7 hrs.
Days 1 and 2: The long northern beaches section are broken up
Day 3: A leisurely exploration of North Head, near Manly. You might also like to laze around Manly Beach.
Day 6: There is a whole day to explore Sydney's highlights linked by the city's green spaces on the Sydney City Walk.
Day 8: Watsons Bay Hotel has a cold drink and a warm bed waiting for you.
Days 9 and 10: A couple of half day walks to experience Watsons Bay, Bondi Beach and Coogee Beach in all their relaxed glory. Check availability for Bondi Beach Accommodation
Day 11: It's not possible to walk around Botany Bay from La Perouse to Kurnell. A water taxi is fastest but you have plenty of time for the 2.5 hour public transport journey, involving at least two buses and a train.
More About Walking in Sydney
Images courtesy of Destination NSW