There’s nothing quite like the smell of a sausage sizzle on a summer day. Mingling with the ocean air, it will be the first thing that hits you when you land at Wattamolla car park.
Maybe you set up your picnic rug then and there. Or maybe you sprint straight for the water along the short path to Wattamolla beach. With the hot sand between your toes and sea eagles circling overhead, it isn’t hard to understand the appeal of this family weekend hub among the cabbage tree palms.
Nestled in the eastern end of the Royal National Park, Wattamolla is just over an hour’s drive south of the Sydney CBD. It is a hotspot on weekends and in school holidays for families wanting a scenic, active day out.
Wattamolla is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place near running water.’ The name is pretty apt, given that you can choose between fishing at the beach, swimming in the dam, splashing in the calm lagoon or looking out across the waterfall.
Although we recommend checking seasonal times ahead, the Royal National Park is generally open from 7am to 8.30pm. Pack plenty of food and sunscreen, and make a day of it!
Read more: best Aussie beaches for animal encounters
Wattamolla for littlies
Securing Wattamolla its family-friendly label, the seaside lagoon makes for an ideal swimming spot for smaller children. You still get all the beach views, as the lagoon is separated from the ocean only by a bank of sand. The water is warm and calm and great for snorkelling. The grown-ups can make the most of it too by lounging back and floating on an inflatable lilo.
The beach and lagoon are a hop, skip and jump from Wattamolla car park along a bush path. The track is only a few hundred metres long and suitable to little legs, although you will have to descend staircases to get to the beach. We recommend leaving the strollers at home, and packing buckets and spades instead.
Wattamolla for primary schoolers
Venture a little further afield with school-aged kids. And by further, we mean 800 metres and a few stairs from Wattamolla. Here, you’ll find Providential Point lookout and its astonishing views across the ocean and headland. In fact, if you visit between May and October, you may spot the odd whale. When nearing the beach from the carpark, turn off and go up to the lookout instead of continuing directly to the sand.
Shake up your day by hiring a paddleboat from Audley boatshed, which is within easy driving distance. Swap sand for rock pools and stunning forest views by cooling off in the Wattamolla Dam, or head off on the bushwalk from Wattamolla to Eagle Rock. This route is about 8 kilometres return along a mostly boarded walkway. It will take you past ocean views to where a waterfall flows directly into the sea.
Wattamolla for teens
Plenty more bushwalks await older families with active teens.
Wattamolla to Little Marley is a great route, covering about 7 kilometres of the famous Coast Track. You’ll pass Wattamolla Dam and jut out onto the clifftops with views out to the horizon. Little Marley Beach is pretty and less crowded, although strong currents make swimming difficult. If you’ve got more energy to burn, continue for another kilometre to Big Marley, or further still to Wedding Cake Rock. Better yet, conquer all 27 scenic kilometres of the Coast Track.
Teenagers keen on photography will find ample opportunity for selfies where bush meets ocean. The Wattamolla Falls are visible from the beach, and many of the walking tracks nearby pass the Royal National Park’s most famous vantage points.
Daredevils should take note that cliff jumping from the top of the waterfalls into the lagoon is both prohibited and unsafe, as it is difficult to ascertain water depth and there may be obscured debris beneath the surface.
Surfing is popular at the nearby Garie Beach for teens that way inclined.
- Access is via sealed roads, suitable for a 2WD vehicle.
- Park entry fees are $12 per vehicle per day, with ticket booths located at Wattamolla and Garie Beach, as well as ticket machines.
- On weekends and in peak times, parking may be very limited at the Wattamolla car park.
- If travelling from Audley, drive across the Audley Weir, continue along Sir Bertram Stevens Drive, then turn left onto Wattamolla Road.
- If travelling from Waterfall, drive to the end of McKell Avenue, then turn left onto Sir Bertram Stevens Drive. Follow along for 9 kilometres before turning right onto Wattamolla Road.
- For access via public transport, use the Park Connections Royal National Park bus service. It operates between Sutherland train station and major points of interest within the national park, including Wattamolla, Garie Beach and Audley. Schedules are seasonal, so research ahead here. Tickets start from $9 per person.
- Flush toilets are available by the Wattamolla car park.
- If you get in early, you might be able to snag a picnic tables, as well as a free gas and electric barbecue.
- You will need to carry your own drinking water and food for the day.
- Mobile phone reception is very poor at Wattamolla and non-existent on the beach, so make the most of a digital detox!
- There are no Surf Life Savers present on Wattamolla Beach. Be careful, as currents and rips can be strong in the area.
- Wattamolla is popular, and for good reason. Even when it is at its busiest, the picnic area feels relaxed and the atmosphere is genial. But if you want to escape the crowds, consider the nearby picnic areas of Garie Beach, Commemoration Flat or Bonnie Vale. There are also many other scenic spots within the Royal National Park.
- Our Number One tip is to arrive early so you can have your pick of picnic spots and barbecues. There is not much shade, so bring plenty of sun protection.
- Can’t go in person? You can even take a virtual tour of the picnic area thanks to Google Street View Trekker! Check it out here. Read more about National Parks you can visit virtually on Street View by clicking here.
Sophie is a die-hard pasta lover, beach-goer and theatre fanatic hit hard with the travel bug. When exploring new places, Sophie loves straying from the beaten path and chatting with locals about the best places to grab a bite to eat.