Leaving our local government area is something many of us in Australia will never take for granted again. And with warmer weather forecasted for the next couple of weeks, there's no greater time to stretch our legs, go on a road trip and take a hike. If you live in Sydney or are just travelling through, you don't just have to settle for the Bondi to Bronte walk, a quick Google search will reveal that there are plenty of walking tracks to satisfy the inner land rover in all of us.
But for those looking to embark on a hike paired with ocean views, another equally notable coastal track is the one that leads you to the famed Figure Eight Pools. Even the least digitally active among us will have glimpsed fellow sunseekers lounging in the naturally occurring oceans pools on Instagram. Located just south of Sydney in the Royal National Park near Burning Palms beach, the 'pools', when broached with care, can be a wonderful adventure. However, as the spot has gained popularity in recent years, many have approached the pools ill-equipped and ill-informed leading to a slate of accidents and serious injuries. That's why we're here to help.
Below, we've answered some of the common questions people have when setting out to the Figure Eight Pools. Find all the information you need to proceed with care and get the most out of your little adventure underneath.
View this post on Instagram
How do I check the tides before going?
If there's only one thing you take away from this guide, it's that you must check the tides before setting out. The pools are situated on a secluded rock shelf out on open waters, and unless both the swell and tides are low, not only will you not be able to see the pools, let alone access the rock track to get to them, but it is almost guaranteed that you will encounter dangerous waves that can knock you off your feet, injure you and pull you into the ocean. So many incidents have happened this way, and National Parks NSW have also warned that due to its location you may have to wait hours, even overnight before receiving medical help, which is expensive to say the least.
Thankfully, National Parks NSW have put together a four-day forecast that details an hourly risk level at the pools. It is recommended that you only visit during low risk hours, and that you plan your trip around those select times. There are also lookout points throughout the hike to get to the pools, where you can spot the rock shelf and are encouraged to turn back if you see any waves crashing over it. However, this shouldn't ever happen if you take heed of the National Parks NSW forecaster chart which is updated regularly.
What should I bring?
All the obvious stuff. Because the hike to the get to the pools is a 4-6 round trip, be sure to bring at least 2 litres of water per person. Naturally, you should wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses — the usual slip, slop, slap drill. Given that the last leg of the hike involves walking along a rocky path along the ocean that is usually wet and slippery, you should wear shoes with a solid tread. That means slides, Birkenstocks, sandals — you name it are a no go. Be practical.
There are very little facilities: no toilets, no canteens, no bins. So be sure to take a bag to collect your rubbish in and bring snacks!
Another thing to note is that in order to drive to the Garrawarra Farm carpark — one of the two starting points of the hike — you must travel on 1.5km of unsealed, dirt road. You could take your beaten up Toyota Yaris, but if you have access it would be wise to take a 4WD or some form of off-road vehicle that can take the heat. If you arrive by car, there is also a $12 vehicle entry fee which will be collected either at a ticket booth on the way in or at a Garrawarra Farm carpark booth.
How long does it take to walk to the Figure 8 pools?
As you may have gathered, you can't just drive and pull up at the pools. They're located on the coastline of the Royal National Park and so, in order to get there you have to walk. Now, there are two ways of getting there and one is significantly easier. If you're keen for a longer hike, we recommend beginning at Otford Lookout. Otherwise, the usual starting spot is at Garrawarra Farm.
From Garrawarra Farm it's a 6.4km return trip down to Burning Palms Beach including a detour to the Figure Eight Pools, and if you're looking to extend that you can walk the Palm Jungle Loop Track which is 8.2km. The walk down, is mostly that, a descent. Which means you'll be hiking uphill on the way back. According to National Parks NSW you should give yourself 2 hours each way, so 4 hours in total to complete the walk. But as with all of their stats, this is mostly to accommodate for those who are unfamiliar with hiking. It's common to finish the walk in 3 hours or less.
View this post on Instagram
How many Figure 8 pools are there?
It's been pointed out that the title Figure Eight Pools is misleading, simply due to the fact there really is only one pool in the shape of a figure eight. The rest while no less beautiful, are notably less symmetrical and can be used to cool down in while you wait in line to take your picture, because let's be real that's why you're here.
Are the Figure 8 pools man made?
The short and short of it is no. The pools are a result of gradual erosion which makes them even more remarkable.
Can you swim in the Figure 8 pools?
If by swim you mean do a fifty metre backstroke, then no. But you can sort of float around in the pools, which are not very wide or long but are said to be quite deep.
How do I avoid crowds at the Figure 8 Pools?
As has been well-documented, the Figure Eight Pools can get very crowded during summer and on the weekends. If you want to avoid crowds, first because they'll ruin your shots or just to give yourself some space, it's recommended to go during off season times like winter, or early in the morning (as long as the tide chart deems it safe).
Can I get to the Figure 8 Pools by public transport?
You sure can, it'll just take a little more preparation and time. Catch the train on the Illawarra and South Coast line to Otford Station. From here, or Sutherland Station, you can arrange in advance to be picked up by the Park Connections Bus which will take you the Garrawarra Farm carpark. Just be sure to check the timetable and book. Otherwise, you're in for a 90 minute walk from Otford Station to Garrawarra Farm carpark on top of the hike to the Figure Eight Pools.
Now, that you're informed and resourced, enjoy your trip!
For more Sydney-inspired activities, here's a list of our favourite weekend escapes that are only a short drive from Sydney.