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About National Parks

NSW National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS) manages more than 850 national parks and reserves, that is 6.8 million hectares comprising landscapes from rainforests and rugged bush to coastal landscapes and outback deserts. The Royal National Park is just one of around 800 national parks and reserves and 6.8 million hectares. The role of NPWS is to minimise disturbance to the natural and cultural heritage.

A national park is defined as “A natural area of land and/or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area, and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.”

The Royal National Park

The Royal National Park is situated on the eastern coast of Australia, just under 1 hour drive from Sydney CBD. The park stretches over 15 068 ha  (noting that 1 hectare is 10 000 square metres!) And a funny we found online is that “national parks are measured in hectares because …..they just are”.

Established in 1879, it’s the world's second-oldest national park after Yellowstone NP in the USA. As one of the world’s most biologically and floristically diverse national parks it was among the first land areas in Australia to be set aside specifically for conservation. The park's name was changed from the National Park to "Royal National Park" in 1954 after the visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

The creation of the park was an outcome largely of the vision by government at the time to provide "breathing spaces" for urban dwellers living in the unhealthy, polluted conditions of the city. The National Park became known as the "lungs" of Sydney.

Royal National Park is most recognized as one of the most floristically diverse regions for its size in the temperate parts of the world. Well over 1000 plant species have been recorded, including 26 species which are listed as nationally rare or threatened. The vegetation of Royal National Park a wide range of eco-systems, including several types of rainforest, heathlands, eucalypt forest and woodlands, wetlands (estuarine wetlands, freshwater lagoons and upland swamps), beaches, coastal sandstone cliffs.

The diversity of vegetation communities provides a range of habitats for a rich assemblage of native vertebrates and invertebrates including many rare or threatened species. 43 species of mammals, 241 species of birds, 30 species of amphibians and 40 species of reptiles have been recorded in Royal National Park. The park is also an important area for invertebrates. Thanks to the conservation of this area, the park has become a significant regional and international contributor of research and education.


Royal National Park supports at least 29 species of native mammals and up to 10 species of bats are also expected to occur in the park. Possums, sugar gliders, bats and wallabies are abundant. Koalas have on occasion been sighted in Royal National Park. Sadly Platypus have not been recorded for many years. The tall moist eucalypt forests and rainforests of the Hacking River catchment support the majority of the mammals known in the reserves (26 out of 43 species).The swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) has also been recorded throughout the park.


Royal National Park has a very rich avifauna. One hundred and forty species have been recorded as resident, nesting or occurring regularly. Another 33 offshore species have been recorded and there are a large number of vagrants. Another 14 species are introduced exotics and there are 10 species not native to the Sydney area which are probably aviary escapees.

The most recognized and abundant species include the sulphur-crested cockatoos, crimson rosellas, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets

A number of bird species subject to international treaty agreements (The Japan-Australia and the China-Australia Migratory Bird Treaties) occur in Cabbage Tree Basin and the estuarine sandbars off Maianbar. These species include the eastern curlew, the bar-tailed godwit and the great egret. The vulnerable pied oyster catcher breeds on the sand dunes in the Maianbar area.

Lyrebirds are regularly spotted and nest on the cliff faces on the western side of the Hacking River. Listen for their ‘copy-cat’ calls as you walk these tracks.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Reptiles and frogs are abundant and diverse and richer than in any other studied coastal park in New South Wales. Some 40 species of reptiles and 30 species of amphibians have been recorded from Royal National Park and its immediate vicinity, including the endangered broad-headed snake.


Royal National Park has one of the richest native insect faunas of any area in the State and is the type locality for some hundreds of species. It also has a diverse terrestrial mollusc population and is the type locality for the land snail whose range is restricted to the park and which is now considered virtually extinct elsewhere. The rainforests along the Hacking River are the richest and hence most valuable areas for molluscs.

Introduced Species

There are at least nine species of introduced mammals found in the park: cats, dogs, pigs, house mice, brown and black rats, rabbits, foxes, fallow deer and Javan rusa deer. There are also a number of species of introduced birds. Of the bird species, the mallard duck, muscovy duck and various hybrids interbreed with native species and need to be eradicated to prevent further loss of genetic integrity of these native species, notably the black duck.

The fallow and Javan rusa deer are the survivors of several species introduced to Royal National Park early this century. The animals have a considerable impact on vegetation structure, regeneration of native species and soil stability. Their presence in the park is not consistent with the protection of the environment and the conservation of native species. The Service is working towards developing a deer control plan to achieve the humane eradication of deer from the park.

Recent investigations have established that European honeybees compete with and displace native animals, particularly native bees, nectar feeding birds and small mammals and have damaging effects on native plants. There are currently two licences for beekeeping in the park. No new licences will be issued, but existing licences will be extended in accordance with Service policy. Programs to control feral honeybees will be undertaken as methods of feral bee control are developed.

Cultural History

Before the proclamation of Royal National Park in 1879, the area was used primarily for timber getting, especially along the rivers which were the main means of transport before road construction. Around Port Hacking a series of grants of waterside land, on which substantial houses were built, were made in the middle 1800s. These included Gogerleys, Red Jacks Point and Lamonts, all of which continued to be occupied after their incorporation into the park. Although most have been demolished there are around 80 historic remnants from the park’s Victorian-era establishment, including ornamental trees and residential remains.

The park was originally managed by The National Park Trust who were empowered to develop it for the "recreation of the inhabitants of the colony". They set about turning the area into a metropolitan style park by introducing a multiplicity of "improvements" including buildings, roads, gardens and exotic plantings and animals. In 1887, some 3,700 ornamental trees were planted, some of which are now features of the park, particularly at Audley and along Lady Carrington Walk.

The Trust focussed its attention on Audley, developing it into a small village offering a variety of amusements. The "pleasure garden" character of the development, dating from the turn of the century, is still apparent today: the extensive lawns and ornamental plantings, the boat hire facilities, and the causeway built to create both navigable water for pleasure craft and freshwater habitats for introduced fish. The old dance hall was built in the 1940s. The Trust was concerned about the "problem of inaccessibility". The installation of the training walls along the river bank in the 1880s was an attempt to maintain the navigability of the Hacking River as far as Audley. Within a decade of its dedication, the park was also criss-crossed with a network of roads designed to open its attractions to the public. Sections of the park were also used by Acclimatisation Societies concerned with the introduction of exotic animals for economic production.

Other evidence of the Trust's management includes the quarry scars from the excavation of large volumes of gravel, ironstone and claystone for road and rail construction; tree stumps from the logging operations, which continued until the 1920s; and the small dwellings or cabins at several locations in the park. These activities were promoted by the Trust to raise revenue for funding recreation facilities and many continued into the 1960s.

A conservation ethic began to develop in the community around the turn of the century. The Trust came under sharp criticism for its decision to allow timber cutting and milling for pit props. Management of the park was transferred to the National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1967 with the enactment of the National Parks and Wildlife Act and the reservation of Royal National Park as a national park was made permanent under the provisions of that Act. The initial management style of the Service was to establish a balance between recreational objectives and nature conservation values. The Service attempted to restore to a natural appearance some of the park’s developed areas by demolishing numerous structures, especially within the Audley precinct. With the more recent increase in the community's interest in and awareness of cultural heritage, recognition is now given to the historical influences which shaped the park. The conservation of places of historical significance was made a part of the legislative responsibility.

The cabins in Royal National Park evolved out of tent camping, with some of the cabins originally having canvas walls which were subsequently replaced with solid walls. Most of the cabins were built between the mid 1930s and mid 1950s, although some at Era are reported to be older. A key aspect of the significance of the cabins and cabin groups is the simple tenting lifestyle that underlies their establishment and their construction as low-cost simple structures without major infrastructure which reflects their isolation and lack of services. Most of the cabins were erected before the land on which they were built was added to the national park. These cabins are located in five groups at Bonnie Vale, South Era, Burning Palms, Little Garie and Bulgo.

Aboriginal History

For many thousands of years the area known as the Royal National Park was the land of the Dharawal people and it is thought that around 900 Dharawal lived around the Port Hacking prior to colonialism. It is believed that the members of the Dharawal lived in the Royal National Park as late as the 1870s, making it one of the last areas in the Sydney region to have been occupied by the Aborigines in their pre-colonial lifestyle.

The early European settlers drove them from their traditional lands and introduced various fatal diseases. By the end of the 19th century the Dharawal had all but disappeared, however relicts of their settlements remain with rock engravings, paintings, axe and spear grinding grooves, stencils, shell middens and the remnants of their stone tools are still found throughout the park.  Sadly much has been lost due to vandalism, pollution and simply erosion by the elements. Jibbon Point is one site where several rock carvings can still be seen and this area is accessible to the public. The best way to find out more about Aboriginal cultural heritage in the park is on a tour with an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger.


The Hacking Waterway

The Hacking River, which rises outside but flows for most of its length through Royal National Park, is the major freshwater habitat in these reserves. The character of the river changes from being a narrow stream running through deep rainforest gullies in the south, to becoming a relatively wide and navigable river at the mouth of the estuary in the north. Kangaroo Creek, a tributary of the Hacking River, is the other major stream in Royal National Park and flows through open forest sandstone country to the west. Its catchment is almost wholly contained within Royal National Park and is largely undisturbed.