|Where Shall We Hop To Next?
by Sarah Shuckburgh
After seeing Sydney's
landmarks, check out the region's other attractions,
You know you want to visit Sydney, and you know what you
want to see - the bridge, the harbour, the Opera House,
Bondi. . . But what about after Sydney? Before dashing off
to Melbourne or the Barrier Reef, spare a thought for the
city's hinterland, which has a superb medley of sights,
landscapes and other attractions suitable for day trips,
short excursions or longer itineraries. Below are 10 of the
best, one or more of which could easily form part of a
longer Australian tour, or keep you busy as part of a
self-contained holiday devoted to Sydney and its environs.
1. Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains are an extraordinary mixture of
impenetrable forests, canyons and waterfalls - and they
really do look blue (something to do, they say, with the
mist of eucalyptus oil that rises from the sun-drilled
forests). Along the two-hour approach from the city - the
congested Great Western Highway - there is an unappetising
50-mile sprawl of suburban ribbon development. The mountains
are superb, however, particularly the National Park area -
no wonder they have been declared a World Heritage Site.
Don't let the weekend crowds or occasional commercialism put
you off. There are lots of pretty hotels and guesthouses -
and plenty of boltholes where you'll find peace and quiet.
The Three Sisters are the area's most celebrated natural
features, reputedly a trio of Aborigine maidens turned to
stone by a sorcerer. But for a real sense of the wilderness,
head off with a guide and learn about bush tucker and the
culture of the Aboriginal people who once lived in these
seemingly inhospitable valleys. Contact Treadlightly Eco
Tours (0061 02 4788 1229) or Cox's River Escapes (02 4784
1621). For more general information visit
Among the many lovely places to stay, Lilianfels Hotel (www.lilianfels.com.au)
near Katoomba is the most luxurious, and is widely
considered one of Australia's best small hotels. Book in the
UK through Orient Express (020 7805 5100). Or try Echoes (02
47 82 1966), also in Katoomba, a comfortable, stylish
guesthouse with 12 rooms, all with wonderful views.
2. The Hunter Valley
The Hunter Valley is Australia's oldest and best-known wine
region. The Lower Hunter region, two hours from Sydney, is a
pretty area of colonial mansions and rolling farmland, with
more than 80 vineyards. The Upper Hunter Valley, 50 miles
west of Cessnock, the area's main centre and best base, has
fewer vineyards, and fewer visitors. For an unhurried
tasting, visit a vineyard near the sleepy town of Denham.
Vineyards in both regions welcome visitors and offer
tastings of Semillon or Chardonnay white wines, and Pinot
Noir or Shiraz reds. Pick up a map from Pokolbin or Cessnock.
Avoid drinking and driving by taking a tour with Hunter
Valley Day Tours (02 4938 5031) or Hunter Valley Tours (02
4991 1659). Alternatively, take a guided bicycle ride with
Grapemobile (02 4991 2339), or pedal off unaccompanied.
Consider watching the sun rise over the vineyards from a
balloon with Balloon Aloft (1800 028568). The February
Vintage Festival in Cessnock attracts huge crowds - visit
midweek if you can.
For information, contact the Hunter Valley Tourist Office in
Pokolbin (02 4990 4477) or Wine Country Tourism in Cessnock
(02 4990 4477; www.winecountrycom.au).
To escape the tourists, visit Mudgee, an old country town
between the Great Dividing Range and the vast plains of the
Outback to the west. It's a short flight from Sydney, or
four hours by road. Its main attractions are its wineries,
which are smaller than the more corporate concerns of the
Hunter Valley. Wines here used to be known as "Mudgee mud",
but have improved greatly in recent years: Cabernets and
Shiraz are good, and the best wineries to visit are Pieter
Van Gent, Poet's Corner (with a fine restaurant), Miramar
and Huntingdon Estate. The area is ideal for exploring by
bike. Hire cycles, and pick up a vineyard map, from the
tourist office (02 6372 1020; www.mudgeewine.com.au). The
nicest place to stay is the Lauralla Historic Guesthouse (02
6372 4480; doubles from £45).
4. Whale watching
Each year in June and July, whales migrate up the New South
Wales coast to the tropics, and between September and
November they return to the Antarctic. Australia is now one
of the world's leading whale-watching nations. Pods can
often be seen from Sydney's ocean beaches and clifftops, but
for a close-up view, a whale-watching cruise is best.
Out of Sydney, head for Eden, an historic whaling town, two
and a half hours south of the city. A whaling festival is
held here in October to coincide with the southerly
migration. Or visit Montague Island near Narooma, two hours
south of Sydney. It's great for seeing whales, but is worth
a visit at any time of year - snorkelling and diving are
good and fairy penguins nest here, along with many other
seabirds. A couple of hours north of Sydney, Port Stephens
also offers dolphin and whale watching, but is part of a
rapidly developing resort.
5. Jenolan Caves
The earliest European visitor to these limestone caves about
25 miles west of the Blue Mountains National Park was an
escaped convict. When he was tracked down in 1838, the
surface caves were officially discovered and excursions to
Australia's first tourist attraction began. Other caves were
discovered during the late 19th century, and five more were
found in 1904, including the colourful Temple of Baal with
its 30-ft hanging shawl, the River Cave with its deep
underground pools, and the Ribbon Cave with its fragile
helictites. Other parts of the system remain unexplored.
A tolerable three-hour drive from Sydney and manmade tunnels
make for comfortable caving - the main challenge is to
escape the crowds: aim to arrive by 10am, and avoid
weekends. Guided tours last about two hours, and vary in
difficulty from easy to highly adventurous. Jenolan is also
a good base for bush walks long and short, and marks the
start of the Six Foot Track, which covers 26 undulating
miles to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. Further information
on the area from the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust (02 6359
6. Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Hawkesbury River
The peaceful Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is little
visited, despite being only 15 miles from the heart of
Sydney. Ringed by water on three sides, its 60 miles of
coastline boast calm, fjord-like inlets shimmering between
densely wooded peninsulas. Dozens of spectacular walking
trails wend through forest and over heath and open
scrubland. One of these, the Basin Track, leads from the
West Head road to the sparkling expanses of Pittwater, past
Aboriginal engravings of whales, fish, wallabies and
mythical characters, symbols of fertility and initiation.
Another trail at the end of this peninsula takes you past
caves with more Aboriginal images and down to a series of
secluded beaches; then it climbs to the West Head lookout,
where an astounding panorama opens up across Broken Bay and
Barrenjoey Head to the ocean beyond.
You can also take a boat from Pittwater to Bobbin Head, a
popular picnic spot, while nearby Palm Beach is one of
northern Sydney's loveliest stretches of sand. Drive beside
Coal and Candle Creek to Cottage Point for a delicious lunch
of local fish at Cottage Point Inn (02 9456 1011), eaten as
you gaze out across Cowan Water and the vast, uninhabited
Immediately west of the park, the beautiful Hawkesbury river
- an hour north of Sydney - flows between narrow and densely
forested banks dotted with small settlements, and then opens
into a series of tranquil bays and inlets before reaching
the sea. The best way to explore the river is by boat -
either hire your own from Berowra Waters or join a group:
Wiseman Ferry Cruises (02 4575 5387) runs two-hour trips and
provides picnic hampers.
Or you could board the superb Riverboat Postman mail boat
(02 9985 7566) which sets off from Hawkesbury River station
on a four-hour round trip every weekday morning.
Alternatively, charter a seaplane from Sydney (www.sydneybyseaplane.com)
to fly you up the river, drop you at a waterside restaurant,
and return later to pick you up.
Good lunch spots include Berowra Waters Restaurant (02 9456
1027), or Cottage Point (02 9456 1011) on Cowan Water. Rent
a houseboat at several waterside villages, or stay in one of
the 19th-century inns at Wiseman's Ferry or St Albans.
7. Southern Highlands
Two hours south-west of Sydney, the Southern Highlands
have been a favourite weekend retreat for Sydneysiders since
the 1920s. The area combines "English-style" villages,
farmland and rugged wilderness and was one of the earliest
inland European settlements. Nostalgia for the northern
hemisphere lives on with "yuletide" celebrations in July.
The region contains several huge national parks with
opportunities for canoeing, riding, cycling and bushwalking.
Berrima and Bundanoon are good bases. Berrima, founded in
1829, preserves many original buildings, including the
courthouse and jail, as well as the Surveyor General, which
claims to be Australia's oldest inn. Bundanoon holds a
festive Highlands Day in April, with kilts, highland games
and Scottish dancing. Hire a cycle and pedal round nearby
villages, admiring views over gorges and gullies. Bowral is
essential for cricket fans: Sir Donald Bradman lived here
and is remembered in the Bradman Museum.
If you approach the region from the coast, take the winding
road over Cambewarra Mountain to the lakes and waterfalls of
Kangaroo Valley, and on to Fitzroy Falls, past a landscape
of steep, forested escarpments.
8. Royal National Park
This park protects the spectacular coastline 20 miles south
of Sydney, where creeks and waterfalls cut through steep
cliffs, a view you can enjoy from the scenic Sydney to
Wollongong railway. Trails run from many of the small
stations en route, though the key hike is the 16-mile
Coastal Walk path, one of Australia's most dramatic walks.
An easier option is to drive from Sydney to the beautiful
Garie beach and then walk south past Era and South Era
beaches to the remote and romantic Burning Palms beach,
which is accessible only on foot or by boat. As well as
hiking and biking trails, you can row or canoe on the
picturesque Hacking River. Hire bikes and boats from the
visitor centre in Audley. Seasonal changes here are
wonderful: in May and June you may see whales off shore,
while in October the park is covered with spring flowers.
9. Central Coast
The Central Coast combines the best and worst of Australia.
It has fine surfing beaches, tranquil lakes and protected
forests - but also miles of uncontrolled suburban sprawl.
Its string of coastal lakes and inland waterways starts
where Sydney's northern suburbs stop, and where the
Hawkesbury River meets the shimmering estuary of Broken Bay.
Visit "The Entrance", a lovely spot where lakes meet the
sea, to see pelicans and to fish or hire boats.
Lake Macquarie is the largest saltwater lake in NSW, four
times the size of Sydney harbour, but much of the shoreline,
sadly, is developed. Quieter retreats include Pearl Beach, a
pleasant resort, and the more jaunty Terrigal, which buzzes
with activity and surfers.
West of the lakes, the forested Watagan Mountains embrace 12
national parks, with plenty of walking trails, while to the
north is Newcastle, NSW's second largest city and the
region's northern limit. Like its British namesake, it is a
former blue- and black-collar town, with a mining history,
but it is worth a visit, with its surfing beaches and
thriving artistic and musical communities. It's also a
possible base for the Hunter Valley. For further information
on the region, visit www.cctourism.com.au.
10. Illawarra Coast
The Illawarra Coast stretches south from the Royal National
Park to the Shoalhaven River, and has spectacular beaches
beneath massive cliffs, and an unspoilt hinterland of
rainforest and waterfalls. All along the coast you'll find
fine surfing beaches and vantage points for spotting
migrating whales. Driving south, avoid the freeway and take
the smaller Route 68 which, like the railway, hugs the coast
all the way to Wollongong.
Wollongong is NSW's third-largest city, but despite its
industrial sprawl, it has a relaxed feel, with working
fishing boats in the harbour and some good seafood
restaurants. The city is backed by the lush Illawarra
escarpment, which provides spectacular views.
To the south, Lake Illawarra is popular for water sports.
Nearby Shellharbour, one of the region's oldest towns, was a
thriving port in 1830 and is now a busy holiday resort.
Farther south, Kiama has seaside cafes and craft shops, and
you can admire its dramatic blowhole. The inland town of
Jamberoo, with its many historic farmhouses, hosts a folk
festival in March, with music, poetry, bush dances and yarn
First published by the Telegraph