With international travel off the agenda for the foreseeable future, it’s the perfect time For a staycation. Bernard O’Riordan EXPLORES six great getaways within EASY reach of SYDney.
You could call it Hollywood by the beach, or Tinseltown 2.0. Byron Bay, the small Aussie beachside town around 240 km north of Sydney, has become a magnet for A-listers including Chris and Liam Hemsworth, Nicole Kidman, Mat Damon and even Zac Efron.
With 30 kms of pristine beaches on the cusp of rainforests and near-endless sunshine, it’s no wonder this hippie haven is so popular with so many.
Sydneysiders have been making the annual pilgrimage to this stretch of sandy oasis on the NSW far north coast for decades.
Now that the Queensland border has been closed to southerners due to the coronavirus pandemic, Byron has become the destination of choice for sun seekers, and food lovers alike.
Byron is the destination of choice for sun seekers, and food lovers alike.
Byron’s satellite towns are where the food revolution has really taken off. The Farm Byron Bay – a working farm with a bakery – is just 10 minutes out of town. It’s an offshoot of the popular Sydney café Three Blue Ducks and takes the field-to-plate philosophy very seriously.
Sea turtles can be seen here year-round, while whales are a familiar sight from June to November as they migrate north to breed, before returning south.
The Byron Lighthouse is one of the best vantage points to see the whales, as well as being one of the town’s top attractions.
You can drive there or walk a 3.7 km round trip along the Cape Byron Walking Track through a mix of rainforest and bush.
In spring and summer there are farmer’s markets each Sunday, triathlons for those energetic enough, and regular comedy nights. Or, you can just hit the beach with a good book.
The Hunter Valley, just over three hours by car from Sydney, really is a gourmet getaway. Wine and food go hand in hand in this part of New South Wales.
Australia’s oldest wine region – highly regarded for its semillon, shiraz and chardonnay – makes for an ideal day trip or weekend getaway from Sydney. But if you really want to pamper your palate, think about staying for a few days.
For something different, take the 10 km Hermitage Road cycleway which runs from the New England Highway to Broke Road, and links more than a dozen Hunter Valley wineries. The trail includes art galleries, sculpture gardens, wine and cooking schools and day spas.
Stop for high tea in the conservatory at voco Kirkton Park. Their three-tiered silver stands hold ribbon sandwiches, lemonade scones, savouries and tiny cakes all washed down with tea of course.
A map showing townships, cellar doors, distilleries, dining, accommodation, providores and experiences such as walking with llamas and pony trails, is available at the Hunter Valley Visitor Centre on Wine Country Drive.
In fact, just an hour north of Sydney, you’ll find some of the state’s most pristine surf beaches, waterways and national parks.
The Bouddi National Park near Gosford – about a 90-minute drive from Sydney – boasts a beautiful 8.5km coastal walk that rivals the famed Bondi to Bronte walk in Sydney.
Head further north, passing through Toukley, and spend the day at The Entrance, a favourite holiday destination when I was a kid. The place has change a lot but it’s still a relaxing beachside getaway.
(NOTE: The daily pelican feeding at 3.30pm has been suspended until further notice to prevent the spread of coronavirus.)
On the way home, stop by the The Wyong Milk Factory – a heritage listed barn that houses a bakery, a coffee roaster, a box fit studio and a cycle studio on the bend of the Wyong River.
Or stop by arguably the Coast’s premier attraction – The Australian Reptile Park at Somersby, where there are live shows, themed exhibits, behind the scenes tours and even BBQ facilities.
And whether you’re travelling by car or taking the train, the Blue Mountains is a nature-lover’s paradise that’s just 1.5 hours from the heart of the city.
Consider staying at least a night or two in the area, perhaps at Katoomba, so you have time to admire The Three Sisters rock formation, visit the historic Jenolan Caves and take a ride on the steepest passenger railway in the world, the 52 degrees Scenic Railway.
Be sure to visit one of Australia’s natural treasures: the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mount Tomah, a resplendent cool-climate garden featuring more than 6,000 species spread across 28 hectares of cultivated land, plus an additional 244 hectares of wilderness.
South Coast and Kangaroo Valley
Escaping down the coast has long been a holiday of choice for Sydneysiders, with the sandy beaches and lush hinterland from Wollongong to Eden (and the many beachside towns in between) a magnet at any time of year.
Whether you’re getting up close with the Kiama blowhole, stopping by the famous Berry Doughnut Van, snorkelling at Jervis Bay, surfing at Mollymook (pictured), or eating fish and chips at Batemans Bay, it’s all doable on the South Coast.
The region bore the brunt of last summer’s devastating bushfires in NSW, but many of the townships are recovering well and welcome visitors.
Head inland, around 20 minutes west of Kiama, and you’ll find Kangaroo Valley – a magical expanse of rolling, lush pasturelands.
It’s also home to Australia’s oldest suspension bridge – the famous sandstone Hampden Bridge, built in the 1890’s (pictured). Within the township itself you’ll find antique, craft and confectionery stores.
Nearby, Morton National Park is where you’ll find the dramatic Fitzroy Falls (pictured).
Mention Canberra at this time of year and most people instantly think of Floriade – the spring festival held every year in the nation’s capital.
The annual festival of colour, usually held at Commonwealth Park, will be slightly different this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, there’ll be a mix of virtual and in-person experiences across Canberra’s suburbs and screens to ensure adequate social distancing.
From September 12 to October 11, there’ll be various live events including workshops, talks, and fitness classes as well as on demand virtual experiences to keep gardens green and minds inspired.
Floriade’s NightFest – the popular night time event that accompanies Floriade – will be held on October 2 as ‘NightFeast’ – a chance for locals and visitors to indulge in the many eateries across the city.
Foodies can enjoy a blooming pink gin from Underground Spirits, ice-cream from Frugii and seasonal flavours from Poacher’s Pantry, among others.
While things might be different this year, industry figures show Canberra and the surrounding region is still a popular getaway destination for Sydneysiders.
There’s been a steady rise in hotel bookings and visitor numbers to the region’s attractions and venues of late, including the wineries north of Canberra, near Yass and Murrambateman.
Canberra’s hotels have actually recorded the highest occupancy rate of any capital city in the country, with bookings steadily increasing since early June, albeit it still below usual occupancy levels.
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