I took a day off from work in Sydney to go see Royal National Park, a large park about an hour drive south from the CBD. Most of the park is kept wild with the exception of access roads and hiking trails. There are just a few small villages inside the park and a few areas with basic services like picnic tables and restrooms.

Some coastal parts of the park are accessible by public transit, but the parts we visited require a car for access. Fortunately, the friend I’d taken to see Point Reyes in the Bay Area returned the favor with a trip to Royal National Park.

Royal National Park is an amazing park even before considering its proximity to the city. It boasts wide biodiversity, with biomes ranging from heathland to rainforest supporting hundreds of bird species. Our closest analogue in the Bay Area is Point Reyes National Seashore, a good hour and a half drive from San Francisco.

We explored Lady Carrington Drive, starting from the north end and working our way south.

Lady Carrington Drive is a former carriageway converted into a well-maintained foot trail. It starts out crossing open meadows but pretty quickly gets into rainforest, with canopy shadowing the path. There’s a cliff face to one side and a river on the other. There’s often dense forest between the path and the river, but regular clearings provide access to the water.

On this visit, we spent a lot of time in the meadows near the parking, only briefly getting into the thicker forest. The day was mostly cloudy, which meant we had decent photography light all day long.

Right when we got out of the car at the parking, we spotted a Western Corella flying up to perch on a branch. I was so pleased. After a week in Sydney where I regularly heard parrots flying by but rarely got a chance to photograph them, Royal was off to a great start.

The meadows around the parking are a great place to photograph parrots. There’s plenty of open space with no lack of clean perches. In other words, lots of opportunities for flight shots, portraits, and a bit of environment.

Of course, there were also plenty of Sulphur-Crested Cockatoos. I’d been led to believe I would quickly get tired of these birds, but after a week in the city I still hadn’t gotten any decent shots of them. After a day at Royal, I more than had my fill.

Laughing Kookaburras were another iconic bird I hadn’t gotten any opportunities for. They’re seen regularly in the urban parks I visited, but I hadn’t come across any during my visits. Royal more than made up for that.

As with the common parrots, the meadows near the parking were a great spot for kookaburras. They hunt from branches, swooping down on snakes, other reptiles, mice, snails, or really anything that moves on the ground. That meant plenty of kookaburras posing for photos. Given a bit more time it would have been fairly easy to set up and wait for flight shots of these massive kingfishers.

As we got deeper into the rainforest, we spent a lot of time scratching our heads about the identity of the various birds we saw while trying to shoot our way through dense understory. I had fun finding just the right opening in the ferns to get some shots of this Lewin’s honeyeater.

We saw plenty of birds in the rainforest, but between clearing skies and lack of experience, not a lot of photos turned out.

A visit to Bundeena for lunch yielded a pair of Galahs. These were the prettiest parrots I got to photograph on the trip. The female stood guard on a wire while the male foraged for food in the grass. (The females are easy to distinguish by their red irises.)

We had a quick lunch in Bundeena. There are just a few restaurants in the park and many are only open on weekends. Fortunately, there was an excellent burger place open. I had a burger topped with beetroot, an Australian specialty that tastes much better than it sounds.

After lunch, we headed to Bonnie Vale Campground. I was hoping to see some shorebirds at the beach, but none were in evidence.

We found plenty of ducks and cormorants at the pond on the way into the campground. Being a bit short on time, I didn’t get any great photos.

The rainbow lorikeets were a highlight for me. Again, they’re a fairly common bird, but I’d only heard or seen them squawking around high overhead in Sydney. At Bonnie Vale, they had bottlebrush trees to feed on and perches at a convenient height for photographers.

Overall this was a great first trip to Royal National Park. It usually takes me a couple of outings to get the feel of a place, but here I was able to get solid photos right off the bat. While I mainly focused on common Australian birds, the mixture of varied habitat with regular clearings meant I was never short on good photo opportunities.

Read about my second visit to Royal National Park.