Every weekend, droves of Sydneysiders make the one-hour journey up the F1 to spend their days off lazing around the beaches of the Central Coast, luxuriating in the region’s chilled-out vibe. The region is home to dozens of picturesque strips of sand — popular holiday spots like Terrigal and the Entrance, surf breaks such as Wamberal and Shelly Beach, and local favourites Avoca, Macmasters and Copacabana — as well as some of NSW’s best fishing spots, bush walks and camp sites. Head another hour up the coast and you’ll hit Newcastle, a historic coal mining city that’s enjoying a cultural renaissance at the moment thanks to its booming bar and cafe scene.
The Blue Mountains are so serene that it’s hard to believe this rugged mountain region is only two hours’ drive west of Sydney. Katoomba is the main town in the area — it contains the Echo Point lookout perched above the iconic Three Sisters rock formation, and provides a great launch pad for the scenic bushwalking trails that criss-cross the UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, such as the Six Foot Track, the National Pass and the Great Round Walk. Then there’s the art galleries of Wentworth Falls, the quaint teahouses of Leura, and the Art Deco grandeur of the Hydro Majestic Hotel overlooking the dense gum tree rainforest.
Australia is peppered with world-class wine regions — from the Yarra Valley in Victoria to Margaret River in Western Australia plus the dozens of wine-growing areas around the state of South Australia — and the fertile soils of the Hunter are the best grape-growing conditions of NSW. Found two hours north of Sydney on Newcastle’s doorstep, the Hunter Valley boasts more cellar doors than any other wine region in Australia. Sample some internationally acclaimed semillon at one of the area’s 120-odd wineries and gourmet eateries before pampering yourself at a luxury day spa. Hop on a day tour from Sydney so you can enjoy a tipple without worrying about the return journey down the F3!
Royal National Park
Situated on the southern edge of Sydney city, the Royal National Park is a 15,000-hectare oasis of beaches, bushland and beautiful swimming holes. Outdoorsy types have no shortage of fresh-air adventures to choose from: catch a wave at Garie Beach, marvel at the vistas from the stunning Bungoona Lookout and the iconic Wedding Cake Rock, splash around at Karloo Pool and Deer Pool, conquer one of the dozen bushwalks and biking trails, admire blooming wildflowers, watch whales during winter, and spot wildlife like echidnas and kookaburras. If you’ve got a little longer than a day to spend, pack your backpack and lace up your walking boots to tackle the two-day, 26-kilometre Coast Track linking Bundeena and Otford.
Keep cruising further south of Sydney until you hit this dramatic coastal region, which is blessed with some of NSW’s most spectacular seaside scenery. Wind your way along the Grand Pacific Drive to the beach city of Wollongong before heading on to Kiama to check out the blowhole and the windswept coastal walking trail that hooks up with the equally tranquil town of Gerringong. Feeling really adventurous? Keep on driving to the Shoalhaven, home to Hyams Beach, officially the world’s whitest sand. Further inland, explore the old-world townships of the Southern Highlands and plan pit stops at charming villages like Bowral, Berry and Berrima.