Secret gardens: the quietest national parks and nature reserves near Sydney

Alyx Gorman

The National Parks and Wildlife Service estimates that in 2018 the Sydney region’s two most popular national parks, the Royal and Ku-ring-gai Chase, recorded 6.1m and 3.9m visitors respectively.

At a time when people are keen to get out into nature, but equally keen to avoid throngs of like-minded would-be bushwalkers, we asked NPWS to share the region’s least popular nature spaces.

Although most park areas are open, camping is not permitted anywhere until 1 June, and then only with a reservation. Some facilities such as visitors’ centres are closed for public safety. Always check on the NPWS website before you head out and make sure to pack toilet paper and hand sanitiser as well as the usual sun protection, water, snacks and other essentials. Respect others by practising physical distancing and avoiding crowded areas.

Parks with fewer than 10,000 visitors a year

Marramarra national park

You’ll need to come prepared to this secluded park on the Hawkesbury river, roughly an hour and 10 minutes’ drive north of Central station. Some parking is available at the head of the Canoelands Ridge horse riding trail. There are some challenging bushwalks that will reward you with sweeping views of the Hawkesbury river, and, on the water at Marramarra creek you can canoe or kayak.

Garawarra state conservation area

Although it sits right on the border of the Royal national park, near Helensburgh, the Garawarra state conservation area gets hardly any of its neighbour’s attention. Only an hour and 10 minutes’ drive from Central station and with parking at the Kelleys Falls picnic prea, true to the “falls” in its name this park has waterfalls and some easy and more challenging rainforest walks. Just be mindful of wet rocks as you explore the waterfall areas. There is also a mountain biking, horse riding and bush walking track – Cawleys Road Trail.

Scheyville national park

It’s not exactly Ellis Island but between 1949 and 1964, 1,500 migrants a year spent time at the Scheyville migrant camp. Their history is illuminated by the migrant heritage walk, which explores the camp’s structures and the lives of those who passed through it.

The park also has a freshwater wetland – the Longneck Lagoon – which has a short walking trail around it, well suited to children. Keep an eye out for water birds like herons, grebes, ducks and spoonbills.

The park is in north-west Sydney, near Windsor, about an hour’s drive from Central station. For walkers, there are several entrances to the park from Scheyville Road. Parking for the Longneck lagoon trail is on Cattai Road.

Parks with fewer than 30,000 visitors a year

Berowra Valley regional park

The northern area of this dog-friendly northern Sydney park (not to be confused with its non-dog friendly neighbour the Berowra Valley national park) does not get so many visitors. Take your four-legged friend down the easy-to-tackle Bellamy fire trail, or leave your pet at home and hike the far more challenging, but irresistibly titled Lyrebird Gully walk, which will take you past creeks, marshes and sites of significance for the local Kuring-gai people, including shell middens. The Friends of Berowra Valley has extensive guides to the area. Parking for the fire trail is at the end of De Saxe Close in Thornleigh. The park is about 35 minutes’ drive from Central station.

Georges River national park

With plenty of picnic spots, easy walking paths, plus fishing and boating, the Georges River national park in south-west Sydney is great for a family day out. The area is also important to the local Dharug and Dharawal people – with rock art, middens and engravings dotted all over the area. Parking is available at Fitzpatrick park and Morgans Creek picnic area. The park is a 35-minute drive from Central station.

Parks with fewer than 50,000 visitors a year

Rouse Hill regional park

With lots of open, grassy areas, paths for prams, an adventure playground and a small creek, the Hills district’s Rouse Hill regional park is about as family-friendly as they come. Dogs are welcome but they must be kept on leash. It is also right near Sydney Living Museums’ Rouse Hill Estate. The park has its own parking, and is about a 45-minute drive from Central station.