Palona cave is a large limestone cave in the Royal National Park featuring large stalactites and stalagmites and a cascading waterfall.
Most people don’t realise this hidden gem is just 800 metres from one of the most popular tracks in the RNP – Lady Carrington Drive.
Palona Cave is one of the more obscure and interesting places in the Royal National Park and if you’re someone who likes to get off the main trails and onto the lesser known paths then this short and fairly easy walk is going to be great for you.
I took my 8 year old son on this walk and saw some other families doing the walk too. It’s a good one for kids as it’s not too far, not too difficult or muddy and the cave is pretty cool.
Palona Cave Key Information
Distance: 5.2 km
Elevation: 122 metres
Difficulty: Easy with some elevation
Opening Times: All year
Entrance Fee: Royal National Park Entry Fees Apply – See Full Details
- Toilets at Waterfall Train Station
- No toilets or drinking water on trail
- Rest stop at Bola Creek
- No massive hazards, just some elevation
Where Is Palona Cave? (MAP)
Palona Cave is located inside the Royal National Park and can be accessed via and short track off the south end of Lady Carrington Drive.
The easiest way to access Palona Cave is to first park at the south end of Lady Carrington Drive (near Waterfall, not Audley) and then walk 1.8 km before turning off onto the Palona Track Track and walking for a further 800 metres to reach the cave and the waterfall.
You can also access Palona Cave by walking Lady Carrington Drive from the north end (starting at Audley). However, this turns it into a long 17.1 km walk instead of just a 5km walk.
Palona Cave Direction Summary (SCREENSHOT OR PRINT)
- Park at the start of Lady Carrington Drive off Lady Wakehurst Drive/Sir Bertram Stevens Drive (From Waterfall side NOT Audley side)
- After 700m you’ll reach Bola Creek Rest Area – continue on Lady Carrington Drive
- After another 1.1 km (the 1.8km mark) there is a sign to “Limestone Cave”
- NOTE: The sign can easily be missed as it’s facing the other way. Look out for it on the left of the trail behind the big tree
- Exit Lady Carrington Drive and follow the trail to Limestone Cave for 800 metres to get to Palona Cave
- Immediately after the cave is the waterfall (you can hear it and find it super easily)
NOTE: Alternatively you can take The Forest Path in either or both directions. This winding path adds 3km to the journey in either direction but is extremely beautiful if you have the time.
Things To Pack For Palona Cave
The walk to Palona Cave is pretty short and easy so you generally don’t need to pack a lot for this journey.
For the majority of the walk on Lady Carrington Drive you’ll be in the shade and there are no major obstacles on the way. The path can be a little muddy, especially after rain but nothing too bad compared to other tracks in the area.
You can get away without using hiking boots, simple runners are fine for this journey but hiking boots means you don’t have to worry about the mud.
There are no toilets and no drinking water on this track so make sure you bring everything with you.
I recommend bringing the following supplies:
- Enough drinking water for the entire day
- Hiking Boots
- Insect Repellent
For this walk you’ll want to park at the south end of Lady Carrington Drive off Sir Betram Stevens Road.
This is a popular track and parking does fill up in this area at times, but there are quite a few spots available.
There’s space for around 6-7 cars on the north side of the road (near the trail entrance) and space for another 10-15 cars on the opposite side of the road which is where we had to park.
Both parking areas are well off the road so it doesn’t feel like your car is going to get clipped.
However, the parking is on a big bend in the road and cars come pretty fast so be careful when crossing the road, especially with small children.
Start Of The Track (Lady Carrington Drive)
To start the journey step over the gate and begin walking the wide track known as Lady Carrington Drive.
This track is wide for the entire section and is incredibly beautiful. You really feel like you’ve stepped into a rainforest with luscious greenery on all sides and steep hills filled with ferns.
Alternatively (The Forest Path)
If you want to take a longer route then you can take The Forest Path instead of Lady Carrington Drive.
The entrance to The Forest Path is around 30-50 metres to the left of Lady Carrington Drive off Sir Betram Stevens Road. It’s a winding path that runs for 3.7 km along the Hacking River and meets up with Lady Carrington Drive at Bola Creek Rest Area.
See the map above if you’re a bit confused by this.
- Lady Carrington Drive = 700 metres to Bola Creek Rest Area
- The Forest Path = 3.7 km to Bola Creek Rest Area
Then the paths merge and you continue along Lady Carrington Drive until you get to the Palona Cave Track.
Bola Creek Rest Area
After 700 metres you’ll reach a sign to Bola Creek Rest Area which is a small rest area with a single bench table.
Chances are this early into your journey you won’t need to rest. But if you’ve taken The Forest Path to get here then it can actually be a great place to stop and have lunch.
You can set up on the tablet and enjoy your food or take a walk down to the creek. Kids love playing down here on the rocks or in the waterway tunnels that run under Lady Carrington Drive.
It’s a good little spot to rest and explore.
Look For The “Limestone Cave” Sign Behind The Big Tree
After Bola Cave Rest Area you’ll walk another 1.1 km along Lady Carrington Drive until you reach the very generic sign that points to “Limestone Cave”.
The sign can easily be missed if you aren’t looking out for it as it is facing the other direction and is behind a big tree.
Approaching from the south you can just see the sign jutting out from the big tree on the left.
Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for it as this is where you need to leave Lady Carrington Drive and head up onto Palona Cave Track.
Once you see the sign you’ll then want to walk up the track on the right of Lady Carrington Drive.
This is where the path gets a fair bit steeper. It’s not difficult to walk up and there’s no rock scrambling required but it’s noticeably steeper than the walk to get here and it’s a nice change of pace.
Palona Cave Track
It was really interesting taking the Palona Cave Track after being on Lady Carrington Drive. I really makes you appreciate how spectacular Lady Carrington Drive is.
The Palona Cave Track is steeper than what you’ve been walking up until this point and it’s a lot more bushy than Lady Carrington Drive.
Still it was nice to be on a smaller trail again and there are some rocks and fallen trees to walk over but nothing too difficult or dangerous. My 8 year old managed just fine.
The First Cave
About halfway up Palona Cave Track you’ll see a large overhanging rock formation I’m just calling “the first cave” because it’s the first cave you see.
There is a steep slippery walk up to this cave if you are keen to go up there and the overhanging structure is quite impressive.
However, once up there there isn’t really anywhere to sit or stand on solid ground to enjoy the view. It all felt a bit slippery and dangerous so we took a quick photo and headed back down.
Ferny Sections and The Large Fallen Tree
As you get closer to Palona Cave the track begins to have ferns covering it which was a nice change of scenery from the bush up until this point.
My son enjoy twirling through the ferns and you being to feel like you’re in the rainforest a bit more.
There’s also a really cool and super large fallen tree maybe 100-200 metres from the cave and waterfall.
The tree juts out over the river and if you’re brave enough you can walk along it and get a good view of the river below. It’s also a cool spot to take a photo.
Someone has carved “Will You Marry Me” into the tree and so this must have been a proposal spot at some point.
We took some time to stop here, walk along the tree and drink some water before continuing on.
At this point you’re nearly at the cave.
What Palona Cave Is Like
As you approach Palona Cave it’s tall and looming but it’s a lot more open and exposed than I was expected when I heard the word “cave”.
To me it felt more like a large overhang than a cave.
It a fun place to explore for a little bit but if you’re hoping to leave with a sense of awe and wonder than some caves can give you then you’ll likely be disappointed. At least I was a little bit, but perhaps I was expecting too much.
There is a little tunnel section that kids will enjoy going through.
Then when you come out on the other side (or as an adult I just walked around it) then you’ll reach the area of the cave where there are stalactites and stalagmites growing down from the ceiling and up from the floor.
These are pretty cool to look at even cooler when you realise these have grown over thousands of years from the water that drips down over the cave.
You can walk into this section of the cave and get up close and personal with them.
There’s quite a bit of graffiti in the cave which is a bit disappointing. It looks like kids love writing their names in the cave.
Seeing all the graffiti my son wanted to write his name but I’m trying to teach him to leave each place the way we found it so other people can enjoy it.
It’s only one section of the cave that is full of graffiti, the other area closer to the waterfall doesn’t have any and is more natural.
What Palona Waterfall Is Like
Right next to Palona Cave is Palona Waterfall that is fed by Palona Brook.
I would classify Palona Waterfall as one of the hidden waterfalls of the Royal National Park as not many people know about it.
The waterfall is quite high and is a cascading waterfall. When we were there there hadn’t been a lot of rain recently so we probably didn’t see it at it’s best, still it was a pretty waterfall and is most easily viewed from the top section right near Palona Cave.
We scrambled down the hill and sat on a rock overlooking the waterfall to have our lunch. It was difficult to get down to the bottom and there is no clear path, but with some determination you can make it.
If you look closely you can see my son playing in the waterfall placing sticks and leaves in it to see how far they will go.
This also gives you an idea of how large the waterfall actually is. It’s extremely tall.
I personally love swimming in waterfalls and so I was hoping at the base of the falls there might be a swimming hole but unfortunately this isn’t the case.
If you love swimming check out my full list of every swimming hole in the Royal National Park.
Above Palona Waterfall
Forever wanting to find hidden waterfalls and swimming holes me and my son climbed up to the top of Palona Waterfall to see if there was anywhere we could swim or any hidden gems with could find.
There were a few nice spots up here and you’re highly unlikely to see anyone else if you venture up this far.
It did require a bit of climbing up some slippery sections so it’s not recommended for the faint of heart. I nearly slipped on the down climb and could have really hurt myself.
Here’s what we found up there.
Above the main Palona Waterfall is another little waterfall I’m calling Palona Cascades.
It’s small and not super impressive but it’s quite nice to look at.
One thing I liked about this area is that there are a lot more flat and rocky areas where you can spread out and sit down to have your lunch or have a rest.
It’s also in the sun a bit more so could be nice on a sunny day.
If you climb up Palona Cascades then you come to Palona Brook and there are some slightly deeper sections of water up here.
If you were desperate for a swim this is where I would recommend you go.
However, be extremely careful as the ground under the water is very slippery and there are lots of large holes in the rock.
We wanted to swim, but it looked it a rolled ankle waiting to happen and it was the middle of winter and the water was freezing so ultimately we decided against it.
However, if it was summer and we could more easily get into the water without our bodies going into shock I think we would have swum in the brook. It’s not super deep but a nice place to cool off.
The Return Journey
To get back to your car you simply go back the way you came.
Palona Cave Track is just 800 metres long and mostly downhill on the way back.
You’ll then hit Lady Carrington Drive where you’ll want to turn left and begin heading south back towards your car.
I didn’t realise on the way in but Lady Carrington Drive is steep the closer you get to the car park and it was definitely tiring walking up those hills at the end of our journey.
Me and my son enjoyed this walk but didn’t have the time or the energy to do The Forest Path this time around so we’ll have to come back and do it another day.
If you’re looking for a simple adventure in the Royal National Park that is off the beaten path the I highly recommend this.
If you love waterfalls and swimming holes then check out my full list of them using the links below: