The Harbour city is one of Australia’s most popular destinations, and with good reason. But wander a short distance from its outskirts and you’ll discover more reasons to extend your trip, and your Australian itinerary.
Where the mountains are blue
They’re called the Blue Mountains because from the coast, they really do look blue. A couple of hour’s drive west from Sydney city centre, the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains rise up and a blue haze hangs over them, created by the fine mist of eucalyptus oil which evaporates with the sun’s heat, and rises above the giant eucalyptus trees that cover them.
A dense native Australian bushland intermingles with quaint cottage style towns, and some of the most dramatic mountain views you’re likely to encounter. There are numerous walking and hiking trails, well signed with great advice on comfort levels to suit individual fitness.
Visit the prehistoric Jenolan Cave systems, have fine afternoon tea and fresh scones English style in Wentworth Falls or Leura, take a horse ride through beautiful Megalong Valley and visit the lookout over the Three Sisters rock formation near Katoomba.
It’s worth staying overnight to explore all the mountains have to offer. Hire a car so you can stop at a roadside stall and bite into some fresh, juicy mountain strawberries and other local produce. There’s a number of cottage-style bed and breakfasts to get cosy in, or go luxe in an exquisite mountain lodge, then join in one of the many local festivals, markets or events.
Around two hour’s drive north of Sydney, treat your senses to the oldest wine growing region in Australia at the Hunter Valley. With over 150 operational wineries, along with the same number of cellar doors, you can indulge in fresh local cheese, hand made chocolates, locally grown olive oils and more epicurean delights. Of course all this amazing food is accompanied by award winning wines and it’s the perfect place to finesse your knowledge of wines.
With the first vines planes in the 1820s, this is Australia’s oldest wine region and also one of its finest. Semillon is what its renowned for, but there’s a huge variety of grapes grown here including shiraz, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and verdelho. Even if you’re not a big drinker this is beautiful country, and the perfect setting for either a romantic getaway, health retreat or gourmet adventure.
For something really different coincide your visit with the annual Opera in the Vineyards event at Wydham Estate Winery during October. Australian and international opera stars will entertain you under the glittering night sky in an impressive open-air amphitheatre.
There’s a multitude of events throughout the year centred on amazing food, wine and great music, including jazz and blues. You can also play golf, take a helicopter or much quieter hot air balloon ride, or shop for antiques and local arts and crafts at the huge array of markets.
Driving along the south coast from Sydney is a delight. Small seaside towns dot the coastline, and all have a unique atmosphere with friendly locals, beautiful beaches and bays, and a much slower pace than the big city.
First explore The Royal National Park just outside of Sydney covers 16,000 hectares of coastline with spectacular walking tracks and unforgettable scenery. It’s one of the world’s oldest national parks, first established in 1879. You can spend a couple of hours on a trek, or even a few days. The Coast Track is 26km long, and you can pace yourself staying at campgrounds along the route.
For underwater lovers, Bushrangers Bay Aquatic Reserve towards the end of Bass Point is considered one of the best dive spots in the state. It covers three hectares and features diverse sea life, kelp forests and deep underwater cliffs.
Kiama is an atmospheric and historic seaside town, with all the magic of the ocean framed by pastoral land and forests. It’s well known for its blowhole; where the sea rushes into a underground cave, then bursts high into the air with a loud boom. Great fun to watch.
Some of the best golfing views can be enjoyed at the Gerringong Golf Club, and for something different, try FootGolf which combines football and golf, using your feet instead of clubs. The sport is growing fast around the world, and Jamberoo Golf Club is one of a handful of fully accredited FootGolf courses in the country.
Further south, explore Minnamurra Rainforest in the Budderoo National Park. Giant trees with sprawling roots sit beneath a thick sub-tropical canopy where lyrebirds, swamp wallabies and an enormous range of birds are at home.
Similarly to the south coast, the coastline north of Sydney is dotted with unique coastal towns, each with its own unique personality.
Just north of Newcastle, Port Stephens is a holiday haven. The crystal clear waters are home to a large group of bottlenose dolphins and you can watch the whales pass by on their migratory journeys, north during May and August, and heading back south from August and early November.
There’s a number of professional whale watching guide boats that can take you out to sea for the best vantage points, and if you’re lucky you may see one of these great beasts breach and explode from the water.
Also great fishing opportunities, from casting a line from a wharf, or the beach or taking a chartered trip, and watersports galore. Camping near the beach or more bushland opportunities are popular and you can rent small eco-cabins, pitch a tent or go luxury if you prefer. Nature is the key attraction.
Don’t miss the Stockton sand dunes, a perfect 32 kms of dunes to explore by quad bike, 4WD tours, by camel train, or go sand dune surfing. Whichever way you do it, it’s a whole lot of fun.
Further north, Byron Bay and the picturesque tiny towns that surround it, is a magical piece of Australia. Gently rolling pastoral hills stretch down to a beautiful coastline and some brilliant beaches. The region was synonymous in the 60s for hippies and those who sought a simpler life retreating from city life, which saw a range of eclectic and eco-friendly townships spring up in the area.
Byron’s famous lighthouse marks the most easterly point of the Australian mainland. The town has grown it’s own trendy, hip culture and artists, writers and musicians flock to find their inspiration. It’s also extremely popular with surfers with some great breaks. From uniquely designed cafes, fine dining and local pubs, food options mirror Byron’s creativity and individuality.
Keeping with the spirit, there’s a huge event calendar to explore, with one of the most popular crowns going to the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Featuring local and international acts, the blues and roots festival runs over four days, with performers taking to seven stages and over 200 performances of the best blues, roots, soul, folk and world artists you’re likely to see. It’s very well designed with food, licensed bars and market stalls to keep you entertained when you take a break from the music.