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Before you head for the freeway, a visit to Sydney is just not complete without a trip to Taronga Zoo. There’s arguably no better view of the city’s skyline and harbour than from the giraffe enclosure! The Zoo is home to 4000 animals including rare and endangered exotic breeds as well as popular Australian native wildlife, and offers daily keeper talks and shows. The Zoo offers educational information about its breeding programs including that of the Tasmanian Devil which is disappearing at an alarming rate.
Just an hour west of Sydney is the spectacular Blue Mountains. It is named so because the forests of eucalypts, aka gum trees, appear blue from a distance. The main attraction here is the glorious scenery and opportunity to explore the area on many bushwalks. The Blue Mountains is situated within a World Heritage area, and its most spectacular landmark is the Three Sisters at Echo Point. This unusual rock formation represents three sisters who, according to Aboriginal legend, were turned to stone. You can get a bird’s eye view of the escarpments with the Scenic Railway, the steepest railway in the world, or soar across the forest canopy on the glass-floored Skyway, or plunge into the Jamison Valley on the Scenic Cableway.
Any fans of long-running Aussie TV show Home & Away will recognise this northern destination. Fans regularly flock to Palm Beach to see their favourite actors filming and to take a photo outside the ‘Summer Bay’ surf lifesaving club. Even if you’re not a fan of the show, Palm Beach is a quintessential coastal Sydney suburb complete with a great surf beach and a dazzling array of multi-million dollar homes. There are plenty of cafes here to refuel and there’s a lovely walk to the heritage-listed Barrenjoey Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula.
ROYAL NATIONAL PARK
Just south of Sydney is one of the oldest national parks in the world, and offers the casual visitor beautiful beaches, wonderful bushwalking trails, rainforest, abundant wildlife and ancient Aboriginal heritage. The spectacular Grand Pacific Drive winds through the park accessed from the Princes Highway. You can hire row boats, enjoy fishing on the picturesque Hacking River and camp here across 160sq km of nature. The township of Bundeena at the mouth of the river hosts the Bonnie Vale campground and Jibbon Head, where Aboriginal rock engravings include depictions of a whale and a sky spirit. If you’re feeling energetic, walk the 26km Coast Track which begins in Bundeena and weaves by secluded beaches, over sandstone escarpment and through forest to Otford, near Stanwell Park.
If there’s a big swell rolling in on the NSW south coast, hightail it to Kiama, about two hours south of the city. A narrow gap in a rocky headland in the small township explodes in a rather spectacular display when seas are rough, giving the attraction its name. Water sprays high and mighty, so make sure you take a rain jacket along with your camera! It's even illuminated at night for your viewing pleasure. There are some great fish and chips to be had here too, and several caravan parks for overnight sojourns.
ILLAWARRA FLY TREETOP WALK
Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the Southern Highlands from a high just 25km west of Kiama. The Treetop Walk is a 1.5km return walk in native rainforest land. The steel walkway features two gently swaying cantilevered arms and a central tower raised nearly 50m from the forest floor. Positioned 710m above sea level, the stunning panoramic views take in everything from the rainforest canopy, coastal towns and out to the Pacific Ocean. For thrillseekers, the Zipline Tour is officially the highest zipline tour in Australia.
The hamlet of Kangaroo Valley is a quaint stopover on any journey south from Sydney. Its romantic-looking Hampden Bridge is a combination of a wooden suspension bridge and English Medieval towers representing a castle portcullis. It crosses the Kangaroo River, on which you can paddle for hours in a rented canoe. There are plenty of quaint cafes and shops along the main thoroughfare, too. Kangaroo Valley is a magnet for couples looking for somewhere to get away from it all in the midst of green pastures, rainforest and a lively farmers’ market scene.
Named after the regal township in the UK (and the royal family, no less) this historic township on the banks of the Hawkesbury River is only 50 minutes’ drive northwest of Sydney. It is the third-oldest colonial settlement in Australia, and visitors can step back in time on the Windsor Heritage Walk. It is home to 21 colonial buildings, including one of Australia’s oldest pubs - the 1815-built Macquarie Arms Hotel. Windsor offers visitors river cruises aboard the Hawkesbury Paddlewheeler. Windsor is also a great base for exploring regional food and wine trails, such as the Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trail.
HUNTER VALLEY WINERIES
Just two hours’ north of Sydney are some of Australia’s most celebrated vineyards. This is one of the country’s oldest wine regions and produces the iconic Hunter Valley Semillon. Who’s thirsty? But the fun doesn’t just stop at the wineries - there are acclaimed restaurants, foodie festivals and fresh local produce to accompany the cellar doors. A highlight of the events calendar is the annual Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival, a celebration in May and June of the region’s wine and diverse produce. It’s a popular getaway destination for Sydney’s set and so there are many caravan parks and campgrounds available.
THIRLMERE RAIL HISTORY
Rail buffs should head south west from the city to the small township of Thirlmere, a 1.5-hour drive. Thirlmere is home to the well known NSW Rail Museum which offers the most comprehensive overview of railway heritage in Australia, with locomotives and carriages dating back to the 1860s. It also has Australia's largest collection of rolling rail stock, state-of-the-art facilities, and interactive activities. Visitors can enjoy steam train rides from Thirlmere to Buxton return on every Sunday from March through November. Steam trains depart from the historic Thirlmere Station at various times in the day and the journey is about 50 minutes.