Whether you want to go hiking in the Blue Mountains, sip some of Australia’s tastiest tipples on a Hunter Valley wine tour or swim with dolphins in Port Stephens, visitors to Sydney are spoilt for choice when it comes to weekend break options. All you have to do is rent a car, book a tour or catch a train and all of the following are within a few hours travel of Australia’s Harbour City.
A couple of hours’ west of Sydney, the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains offer one of Australia’s most famous views – the Three Sisters rock formation. Not really mountains as such, the area is made up of plunging canyons, which are filled with an eerie blue mist, eucalyptus forests and plenty of Aboriginal rock art. The endless trails are a hiker’s dream, easily manageable as a weekend break from Sydney, especially thanks to the large supply of hotels and holiday apartments. The region’s main town is Art Deco Katoomba, right by the Three Sisters, where you will find the greatest range of accommodation. Katoomba’s a strange place, charming, but rough around the edges. Fancier and full of nice cafes (but also loads of weekend breakers) is Leura. Wentworth Falls and Glenbrook are quieter options. The Blue Mountains are also a hive of adventure tourism activities, especially canyoning, rock climbing, abseiling, mountain biking and horse riding. Once in the Blue Mountains, most of the tour operators are based in Katoomba, but it is easy to arrange tours that travel from Sydney.
The most famous wine region in New South Wales, the Hunter Valley is best known for its Semillons and Shiraz. Just an hour or two’s drive north of Sydney, most visitors find themselves in Pokolbin, in the Lower Hunter Valley, which is home to around 150 wineries. Accommodation ranges from luxury hotels to quaint B&Bs, while fine dining and drinking is the order of the day. Tours, tastings and wine courses are offered by masses of tour operators, and many of the wineries themselves. Renting a bike can be a fun way to travel between tastings, stocking up on wine as you go. The Hunter Valley is also one of Australia’s most renowned thoroughbred horse breeding regions and the plentiful stables make horse-riding tours a popular option. Also on offer are hot air balloon rides.
Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
Like the Royal National Park to the south, Ku-Ring-Gai Chase is a beautiful expanse of bushland and stunning elevated views, just over 20km north of central Sydney. Another popular option in this area is to travel inland along the Hawkesbury River and rent a house boat.
Based at the southern tip of the New South Wales north coast, Port Stephens is a string of coastal towns along a large natural harbour, about 150km north of Sydney. Located just above Newcastle, it’s renowned for its water-based eco-tourism activities, especially whale watching tours and swimming with dolphins. Other popular activities are to go scuba diving or to charter a fishing boat. You can also travel inland and take a quad bike tour across dramatic sand dunes. Nelson Bay is the area’s main town, with most of the area’s hotels and holiday apartments, followed by Shoal Bay. The stunning One Mile Beach is a favourite with sun-seekers. Take note, however, Port Stephens gets very busy in the Australian school holiday season when half of New South Wales seems to travel there.
Lonely Planet ranked Newcastle, the second-biggest city in New South Wales, as the ninth best city in the world to see in 2011. It was the only Australian inclusion on the list. The one-time industrial powerhouse is a laidback and sophisticated surf hotspot nowadays, and boasts more artists per capita than anywhere else in Australia. The attractive city is a great base to travel into the Hunter Valley or around the area’s excellent surf beaches.
Royal National Park
If you want to escape the crowds, then your best bet is to travel south from Sydney. Just an hour by car or train is the Royal National Park, the oldest national park in not just Australia, but the world. A real treasure on Sydney’s doorstep, the park is deserted for much of the time. There’s great surf beaches, a beautiful natural lagoon at Wattamolla Beach and the excellent two-day Coastal Walk for hiking enthusiasts. Accommodation in Royal National Park is limited to camping, plus one budget hostel at Garie Beach.
Located 3-4 hours drive south of Sydney, Jervis Bay is another very popular weekend break choice for Sydneysiders. Claiming to have the whitest sand in the world, Jervis Bay is also one of the best places in Australia to see a kangaroo hopping along the beach. There are several beaches to check out, many of which have nearby campsites. Huskisson is the main town and boasts plenty of hotels and holiday apartments as well as some highly-rated restaurants. As well as enjoying beaches, many people travel to Jervis Bay to swim with dolphins or go on whale watching tours (June to October). The area is also good for scuba diving, thanks to several good dive sites, including two wreck dives. Whale watching and dolphin swimming tours can be arranged in Huskisson, as can scuba diving courses and trips. Jervis Bay is near impossible to reach by public transport, so you’ll need to rent a car or campervan. Also worth a look along the way is Kiama.