There's a multitude of pristine beaches along the coastline south of Sydney, the famous Blue Mountains are just a quick jaunt away, and the Hunter Valley's award-winning vineyards are waiting to welcome you. Or stretch your holiday ambitions even further to Byron Bay in the north of NSW.
Satisfy your inner gourmet in the Hunter Valley
Take the train or hire a car to visit the Hunter Valley, one of the most popular places to visit near Sydney. It's only two and a half hours north of the city and home to the oldest vineyards in Australia. There's plenty of scope for fun here - festivals, farmers' markets, hot-air ballooning, golf - but top of the list for most visitors is a wine and food tasting tour.
Tour the vineyards and explore the local cuisine
The easiest way to discover the best Hunter Valley vineyards, markets and gourmet treats is on a wine and food tour with a local guide. They’ll introduce you to the finest examples of each wine variety, guide you through the history of the region and answer any questions you have about wine making and wine appreciation. You can also learn about pairing wines with a wide range of delicious local cheeses and cured meats, or treat yourself to a decadent chocolate tasting.
The Greater Blue Mountains Area is a World Heritage site and is known for stunning views, forest walks, historic hotels, limestone caves and plenty of fun things to do.
Refresh and recharge at a luxurious day spa
In a region that’s celebrated for healthy food and spectacular landscapes, it’s no surprise to find you’re never far from a luxury day spa. Plunge pools, hot spas, herbal wraps, facials, body exfoliation, pedicures and all kinds of massage therapies are waiting to help you unwind. A little Hunter Valley pampering is the perfect complement to a Sydney city trip, whether you’re planning a romantic holiday for two or shopping ‘til you drop with your BFF.
Soar above the vineyards
For the ultimate blend of excitement and absolute serenity, watch the sun rise across Hunter Valley vineyards from the basket of a hot air balloon. The view of the region is breathtaking and your pilot will happily identify landmarks below. Flights usually take an hour and some are followed by a vineyard champagne breakfast. Even people who normally struggle with heights rate this as one of the best ways to start the day.
Relax beside the ocean
After exploring the Hunter Valley, head over to coastal Port Stephens. It's a perfect spot to relax with gorgeous beaches and alfresco waterside dining. The sheltered bays are great for families and you may even see bottlenose dolphins and migrating whales. Or head to Newcastle where you can sit outside for lunch and watch the waves roll in at Merewether Beach, Newcastle's famous surfing location. And while you're in town, pick up some organic goodies at the Hunter Street Markets, they're on every Wednesday to Saturday.
Discover the breath-taking natural beauty of the South Coast
Heading south from Sydney lies the beautiful South Coast of NSW, a 600km stretch of spectacular beaches. Shellharbour, a two-hour drive from the city, makes a great base for exploring the area. It offers pretty beaches, a good selection of cafes and restaurants, and plenty to keep you busy.
Explore natural wonders
Not far from Shellharbour is Bass Point, an outstanding dive destination with six shipwrecks and clear water teeming with marine life. If you'd rather stay on dry land you can explore Killalea Beach, go see the Kiama blowhole (the largest in the world), then stand under a waterfall in the Minnamurra Rainforest.
Water park and wildlife for the kids
If you're travelling with kids, they'll love the Jamberoo Action Park - a huge water theme park. Continue heading south along the coast and you'll reach Pebbly Beach, in Murramarang National Park. Here you can pat friendly kangaroos that hang out at the beach.
Get back to nature in the Blue Mountains
The magnificent Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is less than two hours west of Sydney and high on the list of what to do in New South Wales. The area is known for stunning views, forest walks, historic hotels and limestone caves. You can take a day trip tour or catch a train from Sydney to Katoomba, then connect by local buses to the main attractions. The area is also perfect for scenic road trips from Sydney, which give you the option to continue into the tablelands and overnight in heritage towns like Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange.
Explore forested mountains with epic cliff top views
At Katoomba, the Echo Point Lookout is a must-do photo stop with a panoramic view that includes the iconic Three Sisters rock formation. If you're feeling energetic, walk down the 800-plus steps of the Giant Stairway to see the Katoomba Falls. Then amble along to Scenic World, one of the region's top attractions, before taking the world's steepest incline passenger railway back up through the forest. From there you can descend back into the valley on a treetop cableway to explore 2.4 kilometres of walkway paths through Jurassic rainforest. There's also a glass-floored cable skyway the lets you glide between cliffs 270 metres above the tree tops.
Discover a vast underground world
If solid ground is more your thing, take a tour of the vast Jenolan Caves near Oberon. There are 13 cave tours on offer, ranging from one to two hours. Some are quite strenuous with around 1,000 stairs, while others require only average fitness. They all lead through spectacular limestone formations and a few connect with a mirror-like underground river. You can even take a spooky evening ghost tour by torchlight or suit up in overalls, hard hat and headlight for one of three adventure caving experiences. If you'd like to stay the night there’s an historic hotel onsite offering romantic Victorian guest rooms, modern motel-style accommodation, bush cottages and a backpacker lodge.
Head north to Byron Bay
A short flight north to Ballina Airport, or a fabulous eight-hour roadie along the Pacific Coast, and you're in the beachy, foodie, yoga-loving, laid-back area of Byron Bay. Originally a seaside farming community and a mecca for surfers and alternative lifestylers, it's grown to become a favourite holiday destination for people from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. When it's time to head home, Gold Coast International Airport is only 45 minutes further north by car.
Kayak with whales, dolphins and turtles
A vast marine park wraps around the picturesque lighthouse cape at Byron Bay, extending from the southern town of Lennox Head north to Brunswick Heads. It includes a substantial marine sanctuary that's accessible from the main beach at Byron Bay. For you that means the chance to snorkel above abundant marine life in warm subtropical waters. Kayak tours are also popular in Byron, or you can join a scuba tour to see turtles, manta rays, bat fish, guitar fish, lion fish and much, much more.
Swim, surf or soak up the sun
The main beach at Byron Bay is perfect for sunning, swimming and learning to surf. Around the cape there are several popular surf breaks, while the more powerful waves at Tallow Beach suit experienced surfers. If you like a serene beach walk, you'll love the tranquillity and lack of people at Tallow, which is bordered by a national park.
Explore the local foodie scene
The fertile hinterland around Byron Bay produces a huge range of fresh organic produce, which the local restaurants and cafes use to create all kinds of delicious meals. Coffee is big in Byron, with locally-grown beans leading the way, and craft beer lovers should definitely visit the local breweries Stone & Wood and Byron Bay Brewery. Just out of town, The Farm is a must visit for foodies. This 80-acre working farm uses traditional sustainable methods to supply the popular onsite restaurant and produce store. If you're touring the hinterland, be sure to stop at Harvest restaurant, deli, store and coffee cart in the tiny village of Newrybar.