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Caves, kangaroos and coastal camping outside Sydney

Five places to visit near Sydney

Its beaches and harbour may be buzzing in the summer, but the city can get oppressively hot. Long-time resident Dan F. Stapleton finds havens away from the humid urban sprawl

Its beaches and harbour may be buzzing in the summer, but the city can get oppressively hot. Long-time resident Dan F. Stapleton finds havens away from the humid urban sprawl

Dan F. Stapleton | December 18th 2017

1 BOUDDI NATIONAL PARK
1 HOUR 30 MINUTES 
BY CAR

Just north of the sprawling northern suburbs is the tranquil Bouddi peninsula, an ocean-front national park with a series of small towns, including the aptly named Pretty Beach. The landscape is diverse – sheltered sandy beaches and wild rocky shorelines, rainforest and scraggy heathlands, plus significant Aboriginal sites (Bouddi is the Aboriginal word for heart) and the wreck of an old paddle steamer. Parts of the park are accessible by car and there is a small visitors’ centre at Killcare Heights.

Two upscale lodges in the area, both owned by the same small company, are popular with weekending Sydneysiders but are largely deserted during the week. Bells at Killcare is larger, with cottages and villas spread across immaculate grounds, an excellent Italian restaurant and a spa using treatments that draw on Aboriginal techniques. Nearby, perched on a hill overlooking a small bay, is Pretty Beach House, four stylish suites in private wings that surround the communal area. Guests are treated to an Aboriginal smoking ceremony on arrival and have the run of the kitchen and pantry. There’s a baby grand piano and original paintings by Australian greats Sidney Nolan and Albert Namatjira in the living room.

2 LEURA
2 HOURS 
BY CAR OR TRAIN

Some 50km west of Sydney Harbour, the Blue Mountains are as beautiful and romantic as their name suggests, with wild eucalyptus forests and the requisite picture-book waterfalls. The region draws visitors all year round, but is a particularly smart choice in summer, when its elevation keeps temperatures – and, crucially, humidity – much lower than on the coast.

The misty town of Leura, a tight-knit community of big-city escapees and true mountain dwellers, is the best place to use as a base. Situated halfway up the mountains, it’s cooler, sheltered from the wind and within easy reach of the region’s big-ticket attractions, such as the picturesque old mining town of Katoomba and the dramatic Jenolan Caves. There is a handful of excellent independent stores on Main Street, (Megalong Books is a must) as well as English-style tea shops and a couple of very good restaurants (book ahead for a table at Silk’s Brasserie). The residential areas contain houses that stretch back to the 1880s (old by Australian terms), many of which have impressive gardens that are sometimes open to the public.

Most visitors to the Blue Mountains drive, but there is also a railway line that runs from Central Station to Leura, a two-hour journey that is a great way to get a sense of Sydney’s scale – as well as to drink in the mountain views.

3 NEWCASTLE
2 HOURS 
BY CAR

The small port city of Newcastle, an easy two-hour drive north of Sydney, has it all: great beaches, good food and plenty of idiosyncracies (for Australia), with mercifully few tourists. The decline of Newcastle’s coal and steel industries in recent decades, allied with local government policies supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, has sucked in creative and foodie types.

On arrival, wash off the dust of the journey with a dip in the Newcastle Ocean Baths, a large saltwater swimming pool carved from rock near the shore or, for a rustic alternative, Bogey Hole, an ocean pool with dramatic cliff views. For those who want to wiggle their toes in the sand, there’s a choice of buzzy Nobbys Beach, Newcastle Beach (which has great surfing) and quieter Stockton Beach. For a spot of culture, stop in at the Newcastle Museum.

The relaxed vibe and independent spirit of Newcastle lead naturally to lazy afternoons in waterfront cafés. Sprocket Roasters is a carbon-neutral operation that uses biofuel to roast its beans (and makes great coffee, too). The Edwards is run by Chris Joannou, the bass player from Silverchair, the most successful Australian band of the 1990s. Both Subo and Restaurant Mason serve excellent Franco-Aussie food, but for straight-up steak and fish, cooked to perfection, head to the upscale Merewether Surfhouse.

4 SHOALHAVEN
2 HOURS 30 MINUTES 
BY CAR

The South Coast, as it’s known, stretches from Sydney’s southern reaches to the Victoria state border 500km away. Aside from the city of Wollongong, it is relatively undeveloped, with stretches of natural coastline dotted with national parks. To shake the city out of your hair, head to the Shoalhaven region. The coastal village of Mollymook has a lovely beach and Bannisters by the Sea, an airy hotel where Rick Stein, a British chef, has a restaurant. Just up the road, the town of Milton is known for its antiques and craft shops.

Inland from Milton, climb Pigeon House Mountain to take in the views from its tubular peak. It’s about a four-hour hike, during which you might find yourself face-to-face with a kangaroo: they abound (and bound) on the slopes. The farther south you venture, the more remote and untouched are the beaches; those of Jervis Bay have calm waters and blinding-white sand. For a truly untamed stretch of coastline, head to Manyana and Cunjurong Point, where pitches were given out in a government land lottery in the 1960s. Many of the lottery-winning Sydneysiders who built holiday homes here moved to the South Coast permanently, lured by the thick bushland and surfing beaches.

5 CANBERRA
3 HOURS 
BY CAR

Some big-city Australians consider their capital to be low on thrills – but there’s plenty here to tickle the fancy of travellers. Canberra houses the nation’s most significant art collections – principally in the National Gallery (pictured) and the National Portrait Gallery – as well as smaller-scale art attractions such as the secluded Drill Hall Gallery. The Australian War Memorial – an interesting confection of Byzantine and Art Deco design, built in 1941 to honour all Australians who died in war – is moving and impressive. To complete the Down Under authenticity of Canberra, there are tracts of bushland across the city, many of them hopping with kangaroos.

Over the past five years, the city centre has been smartened up, luring in new cafés, bars and hotels. Restaurants such as eightysix and Monster Kitchen and Bar and coffee shops such as Lonsdale Street Roasters match anything you’d find in Sydney or Melbourne. Next to the university is possibly Australia’s most delightful hotel, the insistently named Hotel Hotel. Book a mountain-facing room to be drenched in Canberra’s distinctive sunlight, or opt for one of the larger Meandering Rooms which bend around corners and look over the lush internal courtyard.

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