Like its NYC borough namesake, Brooklyn lies across the bridge from the city centre, but the similarities end there. Situated on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, Brooklyn is the northernmost suburb of Sydney and a small slice of rural Australiana. The pace of life is slower here; pelicans float lazily on the water and the postman delivers mail by boat. Find locals fishing, boating, swimming and relaxing among oyster-studded beaches. Take a bush-walk along the peninsula, passing lookouts with stunning views of the river. For a bite to eat, grab coffee and cake at a cosy café or enjoy the fresh local seafood served in charmingly rustic wooden shacks.
The dense bushland of Ku-ring-gai National Park on Sydney’s northern edge is home to great hikes, breathtaking scenery and ancient Aboriginal rock art. The Basin Trail is accessible by car along West Head road, a 1-hour drive from the central business district (CBD). There are over 800 recorded Aboriginal sites across the park, including the engravings left by the Garrigal people which are the some of the best preserved in the area. The Basin Track passes through these sites, which are well-marked along the trail. The best time to head out is in the morning or afternoon, where the shadows deepen the fascinating outlines of animals, people and celestial objects.
Atop a craggy cliff, the historic Barrenjoey Head Lighthouse is a hallmark of Australia’s marine history. At a 113-metre elevation above sea level, this heritage-listed landmark also boasts fantastic views over Northern Sydney and Broken Bay. The lighthouse is reachable from a track starting at the boathouse, close to the northern end of Palm Beach, which is just an hour or two bus or car ride away from the CBD. The beach itself is worth a visit, providing the perfect place to cool off after the steep climb to the lighthouse. With rocky cliffs, lofty pine trees and an excellent array of cafés and eateries, Palm Beach is truly a gem in the North.
A mere hour’s train ride from the CBD, the Royal National Park feels an entire world away. Thick bushland interspersed with idyllic swimming spots; you won’t find kiosks or concourses bordering the beaches here. The sounds of nature dominate the air, the roar of cicadas, the crashing of waves and the whirring of sea breeze. The famous Coast Track hugs the ocean’s edge for 28 kilometres between Otford to Bundeena, punctuated halfway by the North Era campsite. Whether hiking on one of the parks’ many trails or swimming in a secluded beach, the respite from the city will allow you to get a real taste of Australia’s ancient beauty.
The apple capital of Australia, this small country town nestled in the heart of the Blue Mountains National Park offers all things fruity. Bilpin is a 1.5- to 2-hour drive from the CBD, and 3 hours by public transport — but feels like a different world. Pick-your-own fruit at the orchard, sample locally produced apple cider at the brewery and browse a beautiful selection of artisanal jams and handicrafts at one of the towns’ many quaint stores. With vibrant weekly farmers markets and stunning bush-walks in close range, Bilpin embodies the romantic country lifestyle we’ve all dreamed about.
Boasting one of the steepest railways in the world, the Scenic Railway in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains range is a one-of-a-kind experience. Before 1945, the railway was used to hoist coal and shale from the mines below. Today, it hauls passengers almost vertically through luscious ancient rain forest into the Jamison Valley below. In the valley, one can explore the scenic walkway, passing through vibrant forest and old miner huts. It’s a slice of old-fashioned Australian mining life mixed with the breathtaking natural beauty of the Blue Mountains.
A trip to these lesser-known beaches is certainly worth the journey, even just for the ferry ride across Sydney Harbour. Passing close by iconic landmarks of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, you will feel as if you’re on a harbour cruise instead of a commuter ferry. Manly Beach is a long, spacious and sandy strip known for good waves and beloved by surfers. Not a fan of the surf? Walk to Manly’s little sister, Shelley Beach, 15 minutes around the corner. Small and sheltered, the water here is invariably placid. Bring a snorkel and mask to check out fish, coral and a breathtaking underwater world.
For a different perspective of Sydney Harbour, why not head into the middle of it? Spit Bridge is just a 30- to 45-minute drive from the CBD by car or bus. The still waters of Middle Harbour are the perfect place for kayaking and canoeing, where one can glimpse harbour-side life in one of Sydney’s tucked-away residential areas. Sydney Harbour Kayaks offer tours, free beginners lessons, as well as kayak rentals. Grab a paddle and head out to discover hidden beaches and rocky enclaves. Alternatively, the Spit is the starting point of a great coastal walk around Dobroyd Head, offering magnificent views over North Harbour.