1 km loop
The Royal National Park is Australia’s first national park and the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the United States. It was a crisp winter Sunday morning and we started the day lounging at my sister-in-law and her partner’s place in Engadine for a quick visit to return their car that we borrowed last week before heading to the Royal National Park next door. I was so excited to show my kids the ocean-fronting clifftops, the open Pacific Ocean, and coastal heathland that captured me in my twenties but I was met with both of them saying “I don’t like bushwalks,” eyes glued to the TV, intent on finding out how Owlette, Catboy, and Gecko would thwart Romeo’s evil plans. Andrew and I finally succeeded in prying them away from the TV (after all we’re about walking with kids) but it really made me wonder whether they were actually getting anything out of our walks.
Due to road closure at the Loftus entrance, we detoured to enter the Royal National Park via the McKell Avenue entrance at Waterfall. Driving through this entrance is always enjoyable on a clear and sunny day with the eyes gravitating from the tree-lined roads dappled with leafy shadows to the bright expanse of clear blue sky and darker blue ocean horizon as the forest gives way to shrubby trees. “It’s just trees mummy,” my daughter retorted when I asked her what she could see outside. “They’re not just trees! Did you know they give us oxygen, the air we breathe so we can live?” I harped back. As soon as I said this, I was reminded by the Jean Piaget quote: “When you teach a child something, you take away forever their chance of discovering it for themselves.” Oh well, next time.
Once we reached Wattamolla, we parked our car at the lowest car park, P1. We were supposed to follow the Lookout signs away from the beach but we decided to walk towards the water, following the signs that led to the “Beach Track”.
We visited Wattamolla Beach last summer when the Beach Track felt like such a long walk, having to start and stop behind other beach-goers in the heat. A stark contrast to winter with the car park empty and most people heading towards the rocky Providential Point for whale watching that peaks in the Australian winter months. The short Beach Track led us to Wattamolla Beach and the lagoon behind it. The lagoon is filled by a waterfall fed by Wattamolla Creek and Coote Creek.
When we reached the beach, it was evident that my son wouldn’t be sharing his bucket and spade with his distraught sister so I was forced to surrender my straw hat and the picnic plastic knife to keep the peace. The beach was quiet with less than ten people including our family. The water was unexpectedly warm but we were all happy to stay in the warmth of our winter layers and puffy jackets. The sounds of the wind blowing in gusts, the waves crashing, and mine and Andrew’s brief “I’m-checking-out-that-way-it’s-your-turn to-mind the-kids” exchanges left us all with enough head space to appreciate the spectacular scenery before us. I settled on concentrating on the exquisite feel of sand between my toes as I stared into the horizon, kids in my line of sight of course. My earlier doubts on whether my children actually enjoyed our walks were obliterated as I watched them meet the waves with squeals of pure joy.
When the kids started complaining that they were cold, it was our cue to move on. We slowly made our way to the stairs going back to the Beach Track, on our way picking up bits of rubbish on the beach. This is a practice I fervently wanted to incorporate into all our walks after our recent walk in Carlingford. As we reached the rocks near the stairs, a young woman taking a selfie while on top of a rock apologised for setting a bad example for my children. I thought she was a wonderful example showing that rocks can be and should be climbed!
From the top of the stairs at Wattamolla Beach, we followed the signs to the Lookout keeping the water to our left. Peering through the native trees and shrubs, the spectacular coastal scenery and Hawkesbury sandstone cliffs followed us with every step we took.
The kids didn’t bother with walking sticks today. Instead, they busied themselves picking up Coast Banksia cones and stuffing them into my straw hat that they turned into a basket.
We arrived at the Lookout and were immediately treated to the sight of whales well on their migration schedule. My daughter kept shouting “I sawed it, I sawed it,” met with Andrew’s unheeded “Ahhh, you mean you saw it?” correction. My son, not really knowing where to look, was pointing towards the rocks where the waves were crashing below the Lookout screaming “There’s a whale!” I had the biggest grin on my face as it was the first time in my life that I have seen whales in the wild.
The experience was made even more memorable shared with the other people also watching the spectacle as curious and as positively affected as my squealing children.
We had our picnic of crackers and apples, eyes towards the ocean waiting for more whale breaching and tail-slapping, before following the stairs heading away from the Lookout. It was only a few days later when I mapped our walk that I realised that the Providential Lookout Track continued all the way to Providential Point. We will definitely come back to explore that part of the track in the future.
At the top of the stairs, our late bedtime last night and our early morning start caught up with all of us. The kids picked a sunny spot to rest and to play with their Coast Banksia cones, Andrew found himself a shady spot to stand in, while I found a flat rock to lay down on just enough to fit my back. For a good twenty minutes we stayed this way, only moving to check out sounds made by people coming from and going to the Lookout. My daughter made use of her Coast Banksia collection to make what she called Froggy Castle because the cones reminded her of frog eyes. My son concentrated on knocking off the cones until finally settling to persistently questioning his sister on when he could cut “the cake”.
We started our walk at around 10 am and I was pleasantly surprised that by the time we resumed to finish our walk, it was already 1 pm. We continued to follow signs to the carpark meeting more people, mostly families with kids, heading towards the Lookout. Despite the leisurely pace we took to walk the easy 1 km walk, from here, my son insisted on being carried all the way back to the car.
On our way home, the Loftus entrance road closures were still in place but Google Maps insisted on leading us back there. The car-sightseeing was welcomed until the insistent u-turn requests became annoying and we were forced to enter a Waterfall address before continuing on with our journey home. In the week that followed, I quizzed every family member on what their favourite part of the walk was. There was a unanimous agreement that the favourite was the brief encounter with the whales from a distance. We had sand on our skins during winter and we weren’t even on holidays. It was another good day of walking with kids.