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GET OUTTA TOWN: Ten of the best short trips from Sydney
Words and Pics by Kerry van der Jagt
As restrictions begin to ease, Australians will soon be travelling again. But, at least at first, state border restrictions will be keeping our journeys short. But short drives can yield big adventures. Discover pristine beaches, rugged mountains, raging waterfalls or slow-moving rivers, all within a few hours of Sydney. Read on for 10 of the best short trips from Sydney, with tips only locals know about, to start planning your local journey for as soon as travel restrictions allow.
(Image: Elysian Rock lookout at Leura, Blue Mountains.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 120km via the M4
Why go: Waterfalls and World Heritage-listed Wilderness
What to do: Ask a local and they’ll tell you there are two sides to the Blue Mountains. The one you see on your first visit — including a mandatory selfie at the Three Sisters and a Devonshire tea — and the side you see when you return and stay longer. Start at the Elysian Rock Lookout at Leura for a unique, rear-end view of the famous siblings before stopping at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in Katoomba, where an interactive exhibition explores the history and natural landscape of the area. All time to enjoy all of Scenic World’s attractions — skyway, railway, cableway and walkway — on a leisurely circuit.
For lunch with a side of whimsy, don’t miss Sorensen’s Glasshouse and Gardens where you can dine inside a soaring glasshouse. When it’s time to chase waterfalls, why settle for one when you can see four — Adelina, Junction, Federal and Cataract Head — on the 2.5km Waterfall Circuit at Lawson? Other in-the-know favourites include the Blue Pool near Glenbrook, the Lost Bear Gallery at Katoomba (look for the polar bear) and wine tasting in the Megalong Valley.
Where to stay: Blue Mountains Tourist Park — Katoomba Falls offers cabins, powered and unpowered sites within walking distance of the Three Sisters.
More info: visitbluemountains.com.au
(Image: Coledale Beach Camping Reserve.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 120km via Hume Motorway/M31
Why go: Cellar doors, country towns and a Bowral boy named Bradman
What to do: From Bowral to Berrima, Mittagong to Moss Vale the bucolic Southern Highlands offers endless opportunities for exploration. With more than 60 wineries and 15 cellar doors, you could easily spend a day creating your own wine trail. The region also boasts a pie trail (looking at you Robertson pie shop), a book trail and a stonemason’s trail.
Garden lovers should time their visit to Bowral for the springtime tulip festival, while cricket tragics will be happy year-round at the International Cricket Hall of Fame, with its collection of memorabilia associated with legendary cricketer Don Bradman. Head to Berrima for the best-preserved Georgian village on mainland Australia and the chance of spotting a platypus in the Wingecarribee River.
Where to stay: Gambells Rest campground in the Morton National Park offers tent, trailer and caravan sites.
More info: visitsouthernhighlands.com.au
(Image: Rock pool, North Beach Wollongong.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 90km via Princess Highway/A1 and M1
Why go: Surf, sand and a string of coastal villages
What to do: Boasting 17 beaches, a spectacular green escarpment and a burgeoning city centre, complete with world-class art, food, shopping and entertainment precincts, Wollongong (or ‘the Gong’ as it is affectionately known) delivers on every front. Adrenaline junkies can try skydiving, hang gliding or hanging ten on a surfboard, while those who prefer terra firma will love the 120km of shared walkways. From the 2km ‘Blue Mile’ walk around Wollongong Harbour, to the 17km Wollongong to Thirroul bike track, there’s a path for every pace.
Mt Keira looms above the city and provides a scenic lookout and a variety of walking tracks. A 10-minute drive south you’ll find Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Come for the architecture, stay for the vegetarian dumplings served at the Dew Drop Inn Café. The northern villages of Bulli, Thirroul, Austinmer and Coledale are well known for their beaches and café culture. Love gin? Don’t miss a tasting flight at South Coast Distillery, hidden in an industrial area in Mt St Thomas.
Where to stay: Coledale Beach Camping Reserve offers some of the best beachfront sites in the state. Run by the Coledale Surf Life Saving Club, the campground has powered and unpowered sites.
More info: visitwollongong.com.au
(Image: Blue Lagoon Beach Resort Bateau Bay, Central Coast.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 85km via M1
Why go: Beaches, wildlife and waterways
What to do: From beautiful beaches to sparkling bays, you’ll find water everywhere you look. For a surf or swim, head to Avoca Beach, Terrigal, Umina, Bateau Bay or Tallow Beach in the Bouddi National Park. Other water sports include kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, diving, sailing and fishing. Want to stretch your legs? The 3km Patonga-to-Pearl Beach walk is a beauty.
Nature lovers are spoilt for choice with three national parks to choose from — Brisbane Water, Bouddi and Popran — each offering diverse landscapes and walking trails. Pro tip: Woy Woy Fisherman’s Wharf has the best fish and chips in town.
Where to stay: Blue Lagoon Beach Resort at Bateau Bay offers cabins and powered tent and caravan sites.
More info: lovecentralcoast.com
(Image: Hot air balloon over the Hunter Valley region.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 170km via M1
Why go: Food, wine and vines
What to do: If you’re looking for a grape escape, the Hunter Valley should be at the top of your list. Not only is it Australia’s oldest wine region (the first vines were planted in 1823) but it also has the highest number of cellar doors (more than 150). Don’t miss classics like Tulloch or Tyrrell’s, but also make time for boutique wineries such as Vinden Wines, where you can try experimental blends you may never have encountered before. Get a bird’s eye view of the vineyards from a hot air balloon.
When you tire of wine (yes, it happens) there are numerous breweries, distilleries, cheese and chocolate shops to tempt your taste buds. Kids will love the Storybook Garden at the Hunter Valley Gardens and families will delight in the Hunter Valley Zoo.
Where to stay: Wine Country Tourist Park in the heart of the Hunter Valley offers powered caravan and camping sites. There is free camping at Warkworth Recreation Ground near Singleton.
More info: winecountry.com.au
(Image: Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park, Fitzroy Falls.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 160km via Hume Motorway/M31
Why go: Rivers, waterfalls and a wooden suspension bridge
What to do: Kangaroo Valley, with its dramatic river-scape, historic suspension bridge and remnants of rainforest, is one of Sydney’s best under-the-radar escapes. Add in a string of delightful cafes and galleries, a heritage-listed stone pub and dozens of walking trails and you’ll want to stay for a week.
Explore the tranquil Kangaroo River by kayak — BYO or hire from Kangaroo Valley Kayaks. Discover colonial history at the Kangaroo Island Pioneer Village Museum or follow the Kangaroo Valley Historic Village Walk, which takes in the single-span Hampden suspension bridge. It’s a 20-minute drive to Fitzroy Falls.
Where to stay: Big 4 Holiday Haven Kangaroo Valley is located directly above the beautiful Kangaroo River.
More info: visitkangaroovalley.com.au
(Image: Hawkesbury River, Wisemans Ferry.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 60km via M2 motorway/Old Windsor Road/Windsor Road
Why go: Pubs, picnics and providores
What to do: So close to the city, yet a million miles away, the Hawkesbury River can be navigated by houseboat, river cruises, kayak or fishing boat. Once described as the ‘Nile of NSW’, the serene waters are the lifeblood of the region. Follow the delicious Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trail taking in St Albans, Kurrajong, Richmond, Windsor and Wisemans Ferry to load up on cider, honey, citrus, fruit and vegetables. A stop at the Hillbilly Cider at Bilpin is a must.
The third British settlement in Australia after Sydney and Parramatta, the region is rich in Indigenous and colonial history. See a collection of colonial cottages and shops at the Australiana Pioneer Village in Wilberforce or visit the Dharug National Park for hiking, kayaking and mountain biking.
Where to stay: Mill Creek campground in the Dharug National Park offers sites for small caravans, campervans, camper trailers and tents.
More info: discoverthehawkesbury.com.au
(Image: Guringai Aboriginal art at West Head, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.)
NORTHERN BEACHES AND KU-RING-GAI CHASE
Distance from Sydney CBD: 40km via M2 and M1
Why go: Sun, sea and Aboriginal rock art
What to do: Combine a trip to Sydney’s northern beaches with Australia’s second-oldest national park for the ultimate double date. From Manly, the stunning stretch of scalloped coastline arcs 40km to Palm Beach. Stop at Dee Why for the magnificent rock pool (southern end), wildlife sanctuary (northern end) and a family-friendly beach in between. Hit the waves at Manly, kayak on Narrabeen lagoon or greet sunrise from a stand-up paddleboard on Pittwater. Visit Palm Beach to see the dreamy location that doubles as the setting for Summer Bay, the fictional beach in the TV series Home & Away.
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park combines significant Aboriginal sites with scenic beauty. See rock art and engravings on the 4.4km Aboriginal Heritage loop walk. Head to Bobbin Head or Akuna Bay for a picnic.
Where to stay: NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park at North Narrabeen is one of the only beachfront caravan and camping locations in Sydney.
(Image: Palm Beach jetty, Northern Beaches.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 285km via M31
Why go: History, art and outdoors
What to do: Once dismissed as dowdy, Canberra is now the capital of cool. Beyond the National Gallery of Australia, there is a thriving local arts scene, boasting over 30 galleries such as the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Beaver Galleries and M16 Art Space. Restaurants are undergoing a renaissance with trendy new eateries such as Rebel Rebel, with its David Bowie-inspired interiors. Lonsdale Street, Braddon, is the foodie heart of hipster Canberra.
The nation’s capital is the perfect year-round destination, from boating on Lake Burley Griffin in summer to colourful foliage in autumn, wine and truffles in winter to the Floriade festival in spring. National icons like Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial and the National Library of Australia never disappoint.
Where to stay: Canberra offers a wide range of caravan parks and commercial accommodation.
More info: visitcanberra.com.au
(Image: Warners Bay, Lake Macquarie.)
Distance from Sydney CBD: 138km via M1
Why go: Mountains, caves and lakeside days
What to do: How’s this for a fine fact — Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake can be reached in just 90 minutes from Sydney. A saltwater lake edged with a string of laidback villages, where the simple things are the main things and barefoot is the only way to travel.
At over twice the size of Sydney Harbour, Lake Macquarie can be explored by boat, kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Visit Caves Beach, where an extensive network of sea caves and rock pools are ideal for low-tide exploration. Insider tip: don’t miss the historic Catherine Hill Bay.
The Watagan Mountains will keep nature-lovers happy for days, while Warners Bay foreshore is the perfect place for an after-dinner stroll.
Where to stay: Swansea Lakeside Holiday Park on the shores of Lake Macquarie offers cabins, powered and unpowered sites.
More info: visitlakemac.com.au