Sydney is made up of many vibrant and diverse communities and cultures, so it’s easy to spend any allocated period of time here simply exploring the different pockets of the city. Equally worth discovering, however, are the unique spots located a short drive from the city: hunt for treasure at local vintage shops, enjoy mountaintop wilderness and breathtaking views, learn about local history and sample some delicious produce and wines. These are the Culture Trip’s picks of the best places to visit.
The small country town of Berry, located inland from the New South Wales South Coast, about 145 kilometres (90 miles) from Sydney, is dotted with gift shops, cafés and general stores, such as a florist, butcher and delicatessen along one main road. But for Carly Rae, founder of Splendour Tailored Tours, the real highlight is just past the town centre at Silos Estate, a working vineyard with an on-site restaurant and alpaca farm. “Some would argue the grapes grown from this region are not the best in the world, but I think it’s very lovely to taste the fruits of the land right there,” she says.
Also in the New South Wales Southern Highlands is Kangaroo Valley, a village that is surrounded by a lush rainforest of eucalyptus, as well as gorges and waterfalls, and best explored on foot by following one of many local walking trails. But for Rae, the standout is sifting through the antique and vintage goods at The Nostalgia Factory, in particular the 5000-plus vinyl records collection. “A really interesting guy owns the shop, and he has been there for more than 30 years, with an incredible collection of records. So, when you come in, he’ll ask you what music you like and will put something on,” she explains.
Step back into pre-war times upon visiting the village of Berrima. The sleepy town was established in the 1830s and is widely known for its charming, well-preserved Georgian-style architecture. Rae suggests taking a walk through the Berrima Museum for a closer look at the town’s history, before making pit stops at various savoury meat pie shops located in Berrima, such as Gumnut Patisserie and Stones Patisserie. “The area is very well known for its pies,” Rae says.
The Royal National Park is a giant playground for anyone looking to explore Australia’s natural landscape of eucalyptus-filled bushland. Rae says the expansive coastal cliffs that border the Royal National Park offer different trekking routes as well as expansive views of the coast, with some leading to idyllic swimming spots. There is also the option to paddle down Hacking River on a canoe from the Audley Boatshed. “It all depends on how active you want to be,” Rae says.
For many, the quintessential trip to the Blue Mountains, about 62 kilometres (38 miles) inland, consists of heading straight to Katoomba to snap a photo of the Three Sisters, an important Indigenous landmark that has naturally formed into the cliffs of Echo Point. Rae emphasises that it’s “imperative you take your time.” She recommends starting early to trek the Grand Stairway from Wentworth Falls. “It’s a strenuous walk, but it’s a great way to start the day, and it will still give you some of the best views of The Three Sisters.”
One of the appeals about Australia is its endless stretches of beaches – and the Northern Beaches is an area that certainly does not disappoint. From Narrabeen to Collaroy and to the pointy end of Palm Beach, the coastal views are best enjoyed cruising the clear waters, according to Rae. “You can hire a self-drive boat from Palm Beach and make your way around,” she says. Alternatively, she says, there’s the option to trek to the top of the Barrenjoey Lighthouse, which offers panoramic views of Palm Beach and its surrounds.
As Australia’s oldest wine region, the Hunter Valley has more than 150 wineries. Claudia Molenaar of Two Fat Blokes says those eager to wine-taste their way through the Hunter Valley should head to boutique wineries that also offer pairing experiences. “My top picks are Glandore, Gundog, and Comyns & Co, which just opened, and the owners, who are also the winemakers, are always there,” she says. Molenaar’s other insider tip is to head to the Hunter Valley Zoo. “When most people come to the Hunter, they don’t think to come to the zoo, but you get to feed meerkats, lemurs, emperor tamarins, and marmosets,” she says.