Sydney Roadbook: guide to cycling the Waterfall Hill climb

Waterfall hill climb

The descent from Waterfall train station is a gateway into Royal National Park. When cycling the other way, however, Waterfall Hill whisks you from a fern-filled valley floor to the busy highway above. Depending on which way you travel, the climb either welcomes you into a forested refuge or sends you back up to Sydney’s urban hustle and bustle.

The climb

Distance: 4.3km
Average gradient: 4%
Elevation gain: 197m
Strava: Waterfall Hill climb

You start the climb from the depths of Royal National Park. Whether you approach from the north via Sir Bertram Stevens Drive or from the south via Lady Wakehurst Drive, you turn onto McKell Avenue at the foot of a fast descent.

After crossing a bridge (pictured above), you’ll advance along a flat road for a few hundred metres. The climb itself (according to the Strava segment, anyway) begins just as the road bends towards the left, but it still looks flat to the naked eye: you won’t notice the incline until you round that bend and see the road rise ahead of you.

Start of the Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
See the road start rising ahead of you at the base of the climb.

This bottom section is a forested escape from Sydney city. The lush green ferns and leafy canopy feel almost tropical – transplanted from somewhere north of Cairns, perhaps. In summer, the deafening cicadas complete the illusion by blocking out all the noise from Australia’s largest city.

Cyclist in the forest at the base of the Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
A lush canopy blocks out Sydney’s hustle and bustle.

The road curves gently through several bends. These early slopes are challenging but not overly steep, averaging around 7%. Feel free to push hard from the beginning, as the middle section will give you a chance to recover.

After about 1.5 kilometres, you’ll come to the first of two long straights. These are false-flat drags, generally under 2% in gradient. This is your chance to recover. Or switch to the big chainring and push on.

False flat straight on the Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
One of two long, false-flat straights.
A bend on Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
Twisting and turning towards the top.

In the final kilometre, the road kicks back up and begins to twist again through the trees. This is the steepest part of the Waterfall climb, with short pinches of up to 12%. As you ascend, you might start to see trains passing ahead along the railway line.

Cyclist near the top of the Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
Emerging from the treeline.

When you emerge from the trees with the train tracks to your left, there’s a visible crest in road—but that’s not the finish. The road is virtually flat after that crest, but keep pushing for another few hundred metres, past the public school. The Strava segment doesn’t finish until you reach Waterfall train station itself.

Top of the Waterfall Hill climb in Royal National Park
End of the Strava segment and top of the climb. Waterfall Station is just around the corner.

Traffic

The Waterfall Hill climb is a fairly safe stretch of road. Being further from Sydney, this entrance to Royal National Park attracts far less traffic than Audley Weir. Despite the lack of shoulder, there are enough long, straight sections of road for safe overtaking.

Descent

Descending from Waterfall is pretty straightforward. Exercise due caution through the bends at the top and bottom, but enjoy watching the trees rush by as you fly down the straights. In no time at all, you’ll be down near the forest floor, a world away from the highway above.

Nearby

From the bottom of the Waterfall climb, head north up Sir Bertram Stevens Drive for a lovely ride through the Royal National Park. Alternatively, head south down Lady Wakehurst Drive towards Stanwell Tops and Wollongong.

From the top of the Waterfall hill climb, local bunches love to fly up the Princes Highway back towards Sutherland. There’s a fairly safe road shoulder along most of the highway, save for a few sections where you’ll have to merge into the traffic lane.

The Waterfall Hill climb is close to the site of the 2003 Waterfall rail accident, where seven people died after a train derailed. Waterfall Station at the top of the climb is the last stop on Sydney’s suburban line, although intercity trains continue south to Wollongong and beyond. So if you need a bail-out option, just hop on a train.

Strava

For another fern-filled escape from Sydney’s urban jungle, check out this guide to cycling Berowra Waters West.

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