Top 9 Short Trips From Sydney
Words and pics: Kerry van der Jagt
Discover pristine beaches, rugged mountains, waterfalls, and slow-moving rivers all within a few hours of Sydney. Sip some of the world’s best wines, visit a gin distillery, and immerse yourself in contemporary art. Follow a rock art trail and be inspired by the world’s oldest continuous living culture.
(Image: Elysian Rock lookout at Leura, Blue Mountains.)
1. BLUE MOUNTAINS
Distance from Sydney CBD: 120 kilometres via the M4
Why go: Waterfalls and World Heritage-listed wilderness
What to do: 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.
See four waterfalls in the form of Adelina, Junction, Federal and Cataract Head - all on the Waterfall Circuit at Lawson. Other in-the-know favourites include the Blue Pool near Glenbrook, the Lost Bear Gallery at Katoomba, and wine tasting in the Megalong Valley.
Where to stay: Blue Mountains Tourist Park at Katoomba Falls offers cabins and sites within walking distance of the Three Sisters.
More info: www.visitbluemountains.com.au
(Image: Centennial Vineyards, Bowral in the Southern Highlands.)
2. SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS
Distance from Sydney CBD: 120 kilometres via Hume Motorway/M31
Why go: Cellar doors, country towns, and a Bowral boy named Bradman
What to do: With more than 60 wineries and 15 cellar doors, spend a day creating your own wine trail. The region also boasts a pie trail, a book trail, and a stonemason trail.
Garden lovers should visit the tulip festival in spring, while cricket aficionados will be happy year-round at the International Cricket Hall of Fame.
Where to stay: Gambells Rest campground in the Morton National Park offers tent, trailer, and caravan sites.
More info: www.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, spectacular green plains, and a burgeoning city centre complete with world-class art, food, shopping, and entertainment precincts, the ‘Gong’ delivers on every front. Try skydiving, hang-gliding or hanging ten on a surfboard, or stick to the terra firma and enjoy its 120km of shared walkways.
A 10-minute drive south you’ll find Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. The northern villages of Bulli, Thirroul, Austinmer and Coledale are well known for their beaches and cafe culture.
Where to stay: Coledale Beach Camping Reserve offers some of the best beachfront sites in the state. The campground is run by the Coledale Surf Lifesaving Club and has powered and unpowered sites.
More info: www.visitwollongong.com.au
(Image: Blue Lagoon Beach Resort Bateau Bay, Central Coast.)
4. CENTRAL COAST
Distance from Sydney CBD: 85km via M1
Why go: Beaches, wildlife, and waterways
What to do: 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, standup paddle boarding, diving, sailing, and fishing.
There are three national parks to choose from - Brisbane Water, Bouddi and Popran - with 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: www.lovecentralcoast.com
(Image: Hot air balloon over the Hunter Valley region.)
5. HUNTER VALLEY
Distance from Sydney CBD: 170 kilometres via M1
Why go: Food, wine, and vines
What to do: The Hunter Valley Australia’s oldest wine region and also has the highest number of cellar doors, at more than 150. Don’t miss classics, but also make time for boutique wineries where you can try experimental blends. Get a bird’s eye view from a hot air balloon.
There are also numerous breweries, distilleries, and 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: www.winecountry.com.au
(Image: Historic Hampden Bridge, Kangaroo Valley.)
6. KANGAROO VALLEY
Distance from Sydney CBD: 160 kilometres via Hume Motorway/M31
Why go: Rivers, waterfalls and a wooden suspension bridge
What to do: Kangaroo Valley, with its dramatic riverscape, 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, discover colonial history at the Kangaroo Island Pioneer Village Museum or follow the Kangaroo Valley Historic Village Walk. 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: www.visitkangaroovalley.com.au
(Image: Hawkesbury River, Wisemans Ferry.)
7. HAWKESBURY RIVER
Distance from Sydney CBD: 60 kilometres via M2 motorway/Old Windsor Road/Windsor Road
Why go: Pubs, picnics and providores
What to do: The Hawkesbury River can be navigated by houseboat, river cruises, kayak or fishing boat. 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 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: www.discoverthehawkesbury.com.au
(Image: Palm Beach jetty, Northern Beaches.)
8. NORTHERN BEACHES AND KU-RING-GAI CHASE
Distance from Sydney CBD: 40 kilometres via M2 and M1
Why go: Sun, sea, and Indigenous 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 40 kilometres to Palm Beach. Stop at Dee Why for the magnificent rock pool at the southern end, the wildlife sanctuary at the northern end, and the beach in between.
At Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park 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: Warners Bay, Lake Macquarie.)
9. LAKE MACQUARIE
Distance from Sydney CBD: 138 kilometres via M1
Why go: Mountains, caves, and lakeside days
What to do: At more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour, Lake Macquarie can be explored by boat, kayak or standup paddle board. Visit Caves Beach, where an extensive network of sea caves and rock pools are ideal for low-tide exploration. 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: www.visitlakemac.com.au