National Heritage List inscription date 15 December 2006
Royal National Park was Australia's first national park, and the world’s second official national park after Yellowstone National Park in the USA.
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Located on the southern edge of Sydney, Royal National Park and the adjacent Garawarra State Conservation Area have one of the richest concentrations of plant species in temperate Australia.
Within 40 kilometres of the centre of Australia's largest and most populous city, Royal National Parks is a landscape of sparkling beaches, cliffs, wild heathlands and woodlands. Its rich concentration of more than 1000 plant species supports a wide array of birds, reptiles and butterflies.
Demand grew in the 1870s for the creation of open spaces and recreation areas to relieve crowded, polluted inner city areas. The New South Wales Government reserved an area (18,000 acres, including an ocean frontage) and on 26 April 1879 dedicated it as a reserve for the use of the public. During a visit to Australia by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, the park was renamed Royal National Park.
Birth of the Australian conservation movement
While the area was originally used as a recreational space for the Sydneysiders, its declaration also marked the beginning of Australia's conservation movement and the development of Australia's national park system. Improvements in working conditions and increased leisure time, better rail transport and the arrival of the motor car, enabled more people to visit the park for recreational purposes. This increased interaction with nature led many more people to appreciate the significance of the preservation of natural spaces.
This interest was further demonstrated by an increase in nature writing and painting in particular for the popular picturesque style of landscape painting and an increase in the popularity of activities such as bushwalking, boating and early nature tourism.
The preservation of the area proved to be vital for the long-term survival of the region's rainforest and wet eucalypt forests. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the rainforest of the Illawarra has been cleared since European settlement. Royal National Park and Garawarra State Conservation Area provide an important reserve of this environment.
An abundant variety of flora and fauna
The eastern side of Royal National Park is covered in heathlands rich in plants and animals. The sandstone plateau contains over 500 species of flowering plants, many of which bloom from July to November. Prominent among the wildflowers are heaths, peas, wattles, orchids, grevilleas, banksias, waratahs and the spectacular Gymea lily. The cliff top dunes to the east and south of Bundeena support a wide variety of large shrub species, which once covered what are now the eastern suburbs of Sydney.
The abundant and diverse plant life in the park supports a wide variety of insects, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The area is especially rich in birds with 231 species including many honeyeaters and a variety of rainforest birds particularly in the Garawarra State Conservation Area.
Royal National Park is one of only four coastal national parks in New South Wales that protect land below the high water mark and associated estuarine habitats. South West Arm and Cabbage Tree Basin are sheltered bodies of water that support juvenile fish and invertebrates, seagrass beds and a diverse seabed fauna and migratory birds.
National Heritage listing of Royal National Park and Garawarra State Conservation Area recognised its importance as Australia’s first National Park and the diverse and fascinating nature environments protected in the area.
- Location and Boundary map (PDF - 559 KB)
- Gazettal notice (PDF - 19 KB)
- Australian Heritage Database record
- Launch the Royal Park virtual tour (Opens in a new browser window) - The virtual tour requires you to have Adobe Flash player installed on your computer