Living the city life can be pretty great.
There are picturesque streets to get lost in, activities happening at every hour of the day and night, cafes serving lattes with every kind of milk you’ve never heard of and an endless supply of hole-in-the-wall eateries at which to munch your way through every item on the menu.
But for us, our hearts are most happy soaking up some serenity out in nature.
Luckily Sydney is virtually surrounded by National Parks and little pockets of the wild to escape to. Whether it’s hiking some of the states most dramatic coastline, kayaking alongside kangaroos or losing time between eucalypt giants, these are favourite places to escape from the city, disconnect and have an active weekend in the beautiful outdoors.
While having your own car will help you to be more independent in these places, chances are if you’re just passing through Sydney, you probably don’t have your own wheels. So all the places we have included on this list can be reached by public transport from the city centre.
With an expanse of eucalypt forest caressed by a perpetual haze of blue that give the mountains their name, this UNESCO World Heritage Area is pretty much the perfect place to find a home among the gum trees.
The typical dry Australian forests dominate the escarpment, but explore a little further and you’ll quickly find red-rock cliffs draped in waterfalls and mountain oases encircled by ferns and inhabited by yabbies (similar to a crayfish).
On a clear day the city skyscrapers are visibly etched along the distant horizon, but on a walk between the gum trees you’ll feel a million miles away.
On a first trip there is the obligatory stop to see the Three Sisters at Echo Point, the most visited site in the whole area, and like most things, it’s not without good reason. At peak times though the crowds can be a little off putting and you may struggle to find a parking space.
The best way to explore the mountains is really on foot and with so many areas to discover this is a place that has kept us coming back time and time again.
Take the popular trail into the lush fern jungle at Neat’s Glen and the Grand Canyon, follow the cliff tops from Govetts Leap or pack a tent and trek into the depths of the valley and spend the night between the trees.
There are trails to suit any fitness level, enough viewpoints to keep you occupied if you’d rather stick to driving and if you’re after even more action, there are opportunities for rock climbing and canyoning as well.
When you’ve hung up your hiking boots for the day, most cafes in town also serve up some of the lightest, fluffiest scones we’ve ever eaten. Don’t miss them! Our favourites were at Govetts Cafe at Blackheath.
The Blue Mountains can be reached in less than two hours by train from Central Station along the Blue Mountains line. Stops at Wentworth Falls, Leura, Katoomba, Blackheath and Mount Victoria will be most useful for visiting the main sites but can involve a bit of walking to reach the start of walking trails or viewpoints. Having your own transport will allow you to be far more independent and see a lot more during your stay.
For those on a budget there are several camping grounds and a number of hostels in the area, otherwise you’ll find a range of lovely guesthouses, some with spectacular mountain views, between the various villages.
For more information on visiting the Blue Mountains and all the activities available, check out the National Park website.
If you haven’t seen a wombat yet, then the Kangaroo Valley should be on your list. They are everywhere!
The big draw for us though was the two-day kayaking trip to the sunken forest along the Kangaroo River.
Talons of ash-coloured bark tarnished in red and draped in mist pealing off the water surface is an eerily beautiful sight to behold. A place best seen in the early hours when the kingfishers emerge to feed and the world is silent except from the sound of your paddle breaking the water surface.
Of course, it isn’t always that perfect.
On our three visits here we’ve also gotten caught in a thunderstorm and capsized the canoe landing all our precious belongings and us in the river. But then evening came and we watched the sky ablaze in pinks and oranges that melted into a dark canvas pinned with countless stars, and it all just became part of the adventure.
If you have some extra time in the area, Jervis Bay, home of the whitest sand beach in the world, and a regular pit stop for migrating whales is just a short drive away. The rest of the coast also has some beautiful spots to take a swim or a stroll.
At just over two hours from Sydney, the Kangaroo Valley is an easy drive. We would recommend driving at least one way along the coastal route, which is a little slower than the inland highway but is far more scenic. Public transport is much slower and takes about 4.5 hours, via Canberra.
There is a free (although basic) camping area at Bendeela, about 10 km out of town right on the banks of the river, or if you’re on foot, there are two well-equipped holiday parks right in town. There are also a few guesthouses in town if you’re looking for a little more comfort.
For a trip down the river we would happily recommend using Kangaroo Valley Safaris, a friendly and well-equipped operation with a sturdy fleet of kayaks and canoes which provides waterproof drums and dry bags to ensure your belongings stay dry.
For an extended trip there is also the option to include a visit to Shoalhaven Gorge which is meant to be a spectacular section of the river.
For more information on visiting Kangaroo Valley and the surrounding areas, check out the National Parks website.
This route between Otford and Bundeena takes you through the Royal National Park over golden stretches of sand, across rugged cliffs and through forests of palms and dense bushland.
Along the way there are detours to the Insta-famous Figure Eight Pools (although take note of these warnings before you choose to visit), Wattamolla Lagoon and several swimming holes and waterfalls to cool off.
At just under 30 km, the walk can be done as an arduous single-day hike, but to get the most out of it, we’d suggest spreading it over two days and spending the night at the North Era campground. For those fancying a shorter expedition, there are plenty of manageable day hikes to waterfalls and swimming holes or along smaller sections of the spectacular coastal route.
For more information on the track and visiting the Royal National Park, check the National Park website here.
The track can be reached from either direction by public transport – either by train to Otford or by train to Cronulla and ferry to Bundeena. If arriving by car, park at either Otford or Cronulla and catch the train or ferry back at the end of your walk.
Much of the route is along exposed cliffs or beaches so bring plenty of sun protection. There is also no drinking water provided along the route so bring enough (and then some) for two days or a purification system to purify the water on the way.
Of course there are enough pieces of nature around Sydney – beautiful stretches of coast and bushland – to keep an active traveller busy for weeks, but these are the places we gravitate towards when we’re in need of a little adventure and an escape from city life.
For more information on shorter walks in and around Sydney, check out this guide.