Otford to Figure 8 Pools Circuit | Royal National Park

Jono and I have been hiking almost every other weekend in the last couple of months in preparation for our upcoming 4-day hike on the Inca Trail. Time has flown by and we are off to Peru next week! To make the most of our last weekend of hike training, we decided to up the length of our walk and headed out to the Royal National Park to attempt the Otford to Figure 8 Pools Circuit. The Royal National Park located 29 kilometres south of Sydney CBD is the world's second oldest purposed national park (after Yellowstone in the United States) and the first to use the term "national park". There are numerous walking trails in the park with the most popular being the 2-day coast walk from Bundeena to Otford (or vice versa); the walk we have chosen only covers a small portion of the coast walk - a 6-hour circuit walk which begins and ends at Otford train station.

After a quick breakfast, we got changed into our hiking gear, packed up lunch and some snacks, and by 8.30am was on the train headed towards Otford, a northern suburb of Wollongong. The train ride took slightly over an hour from St Peters Station with one train swap required at Sydenham Station to get on the T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line. For a Saturday morning, I was surprised to find the train was quite full though perhaps it seemed so because there were only four carriages on the train.

On arrival at Otford Station, we began the circuit walk following the sign towards the Royal National Park up a flight of stairs and then climbing a steep concrete path approximately 50 metres to the top. The climb was REALLY steep, and by the time I arrived at the top, I was quite out of breath! The walk continued left onto a flat dirt road followed by a gradual climb up Fanshawe Road to Lady Wakehurst Drive. Across the road lies a large green ‘Otford Lookout’ sign marking the start of the bush track. From the lookout, the walk headed up some steps, winding uphill along the narrow path with fenced off cliffs. It was slightly windy and a bit nippy in the shade but the walking got my blood pumping making the cool coastal breeze a much welcomed relief.

"Deer!" shouted Jono who was ahead of me and I saw a deer pranced across the walking trail, heading full speed off the side of the cliff. Both Jono and I were puzzled where the deer went (apparently Jono saw three while I only briefly glimpsed the last one) - it was a sheer drop down the cliff and we couldn't see any deer from the nearby lookout. Surely they couldn’t have plunged into the water...where on earth did they disappear to??

Hike training on the Otford to Figure 8 Pools Circuit at Royal National Park

The Gymea Lily, a flowering plant native to the coastal areas of south Sydney

We continued on the Coast Track along the bush, winding up to the top of the hill to a flattened area that proceeded on to a section of fern. The walk then followed the 'North Era' arrow through thick bushland and back down the hill. Good thing we wore long hiking pants for we had to 'brush' through the bush that were at times up to neck level. We headed into the Palm Jungle, weaving through the rope-like branches and walking on a floor of dried up palm leaves for sometime before emerging into the open grasslands with the view of the coast visible again on the right. Some of the grassland paths were very narrow and we had to walk in a single file, carefully threading one foot in front of the other. With me carrying the camera bag and tripod, I kept losing my balance and falling off to the side when walking through the trench-like path :/

Hmm, unclad bathing...

Walking the grasslands with magnificent views of the coastline

A key highlight on this walk is the optional side trip to the Figure 8 Pools which can only be attempted safely at low tide and swell. We had purposely timed the start of our walk to coincide with today's low tide and wave times, arriving at Burning Palms Beach around 11.30am. From the beach, we followed the rocky passage passing by two prominent headlands before arriving at the Figure 8 Pools. Mollusks of different shapes and types can be seen on the rocks with large areas of the rock surface covered with oysters; small crabs scuttled away as we approached. Looking at the watermark on the rocks, this rocky passage would be totally submerged during high tide - I strongly advise to check the tide and wave times before attempting this side trip to avoid disappointment. 

Rangers' hut in the bush

Burning Palms Beach

Walking along the rocky passage towards the prominent headlands in search of the Figure 8 Pools

Large areas of the rock surface covered with oysters

Holding onto my cap while walking the rock shelf to check out the sinkholes - very windy!

The safest time to visit the pools is during low tide and swell

There were a number of figure eight-shaped pools but only one that truly looked the shape and stood out from the rest - these pools are actually sinkholes in the rocks and a few have joined up over time to form the delightful ‘8’ shape. The pools are deep enough to fully submerge in, its clear blue-green waters making them very inviting. Shame we couldn't enjoy the pools this time as we were quite exposed to the cold wind and the water was pretty chilly when I dipped a foot in. We will have to return in summer for a dip in these pools!

Figure 8 Pools

The water was pretty chilly when I dipped my foot in

Baby 8 :)

A wee crab enjoying his private pool

We gradually backtracked towards the beach and found ourselves a nice green patch of grass where we stopped to have our lunch of toasted artisan bread with canned tuna, carrot sticks with hummus, and a fruit and nut muesli bar to share for a sweet finish. Our little spot had an awesome view of the beach with the soothing sound of waves lapping on the shore and a nice cool breeze. The short post-lunch lie down in the sun was just lovely :)

Around 1.45pm, we packed up our stuff and left our lunch spot continuing on the walk from Burning Palms Beach onto a metal walkway passing several small cabins and proceeded uphill into the bushland away from the sea. Magnificent views both up and down the coast can be seen from between the clearing of tall trees on the trail - Jono and I had a short Tarzan yell attempt at one of the clearings. Up and up we went on until we arrived at the end of the path where Garrawarra Farm car park was located. The circuit loops back south via a wide management trail - for about an hour or so, we mindlessly walked through this boring section that offered no panoramic views, just native trees lining both sides of the path, returning to the fenced cliff track that took us back to Otford Lookout

We completed the circuit walk within the 6-hour suggested timeframe AND still had time for our lunch break - pretty good effort, I say! Unfortunately with us finishing the walk at 3.30pm, we had just missed the train home and the next train wouldn't arrive at Otford Station till 5.15pm (trains depart for the city every 2 hours). With nowhere to go, we spent our time refuelling on our remaining fruit and snacks, and read books in the sun at Otford Lookout before heading to the station. The temperature was dropping significantly as dusk fell - I SO want a hot shower and warm food right now! To add insult to injury, the train ride home took longer than normal due to signal failure resulting in a missed connection and eventually we arrived home around 7.30pm. What a long day it has been - I’m totally beat!

Back at Otford Lookout at the end of our 6-hour walk

We obviously have way too much time to spare...

View down from Otford Lookout

Personally, I would recommend driving to the Royal National Park (you can park your vehicle at the carpark by Otford Lookout) over taking the train so you have more flexibility with time and not restricted by the train schedule. For more details on the Otford to Figure 8 Pool Circuit, check out the track notes from the trusty Wildwalks site here. Happy walking!


  1. Great post! I found your blog while researching this walk, which I hope to try tomorrow. Sounds like you had a great time, despite the trains.


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