Q: What should I know before visiting a NSW national park?
A: Most of New South Wales’ national parks and reserves are welcoming visitors once again, albeit with some restrictions in place, visitor limits and COVID-safe practices to protect your health and safety. Always check the current alerts before travelling and plan well in advance to avoid disappointment on arrival. Here’s some current information that should make your national park experience a little easier:
Prepare for the unexpected: With the unpredictable nature of COVID-19, visitors to NSW national parks should allow for unscheduled closures and changes to regulations. Popular areas such as picnic areas and beaches may close at short notice due to maximum visitor numbers, or to ensure compliance with current rules on public gatherings. For peace of mind, avoid peak periods (generally from 11am-2pm), particularly in popular parks like the Royal National Park and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Perhaps seek out alternatives to the most iconic sights – you may well discover a hidden gem!
Book your accommodation online: It’s no longer possible to just rock up to a national park campground – all accommodation, including campsites, cabins and all other rooming, must be booked online. This includes locations that were previously available without a booking. Visit the website to find your chosen campground or find your preferred location on this list of lesser-known campsites. Be aware that there will be limited availability in peak seasons.
Backcountry camping: While you do not require formal bookings for backcountry camping in national parks (overnight stays in remote areas where walk-in camping is permitted), you will need to fill out a Trip Intention Form before leaving home. This is used to register your plans in case of an emergency.
Hygiene and social distancing: By now, we should all be familiar with COVID-19 hygiene recommendations, which apply during your visit to a national park: practice physical distancing, comply with rules on public gatherings, and maintain good hygiene, including regular washing of hands. As access to sanitation products and running water cannot be guaranteed, make sure you pack hand soap, sanitiser and wipes. If a national park or other public space is too crowded to practice physical distancing, it is your responsibility to leave the area. NPWS officers and NSW Police will be patrolling national parks to ensure that visitors comply with regulations and public health orders. If you are feeling unwell, you must stay at home.
Fees, access and general information: Entry to some NSW national parks incurs a fee, payable at an entry station or in Park and Display machines. Some locations may not currently be accepting cash, so make sure a card is available for use. If you are a regular parks visitor, it’s recommended you buy an annual pass to save on entry fees. (Note that all annual passes and some day passes are now digital passes linked to your vehicle and can be purchased online.) Remember dogs and other pets are not permitted in national parks, and you must take care when visiting fragile Aboriginal or other significant historic sites. When driving through national parks, watch out for wildlife and be cautious on unsealed roads.