Three months in lockdown during COVID-19 pandemic and we are all itchings for adventures in Sydney. I, for one, desperately missed being out in nature, immersed in epic landscapes and surrounded by sites, smells and sounds of nature.
Luckily, Sydney is surrounded by national parks most of which are within easy reach of the city. In the north, there is Kur-ring-gai Chase and Berowra Waters National parks, In the west, the magnificent Blue Mountains, in the south, the Royal National Park and, in the east, there is the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to outdoorsy things to do in Sydney.
Here are my top 6 nature adventures in Sydney. If you are looking for things to do to stave off the isolation blues, here is some inspiration.
Whale watching in Sydney
Each year 35,000 Humpback whales undertake an epic return journey between Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef and they travel past Sydney in each direction. Taking place between June and October, Humpback migration is the most extraordinary wildlife spectacle that happens right on Sydney’s doorstep.
As they cruise along, whales engage in all sorts of observable behaviours: they launch their giant 40-ton bodies out of the water in spectacular breaches, they lift their heads out of the water to see what’s happening on the surface, they slap their massive pectoral fins and tails on the surface of the water and arch their tails above water as they go into a dive.
Whale watching tourism industry is strictly regulated in Australia to minimize disturbance to the animals, but whales often seem to be as curious about us as we are about them. While the boats are not allowed to approach the whales closer than within 30 meters, whales often approach the boats themselves. And if you happen to come across a group of boisterous juveniles you may be treated to aquatic acrobatics show that you won’t be likely to forget.
While you can spot whales from the shore, there is nothing like being close to these giants in the ocean and interacting with them on their terms. And there is no shortage of options for whale watching cruises in Sydney. One of the most magical adventures in Sydney is the sunset whale watching cruise with Go Whale Watching Sydney.
Mountain hiking near Sydney
Only a 1.5hr drive from the city center, the Blue Mountains can make you feel like you are in a different world, and, perhaps, a different time. You can put your body through the paces on steep, rugged trails from the dramatic cliff tops to the lush forest on the bottom of the valleys. Or you can meander along the flatter trails, like Prince Henry Cliff Walk and let yourself be engulfed by the vastness of the landscape surrounding you. Whichever trail you take, it will be one of the best hikes in Sydney.
Here are some of the most adventurous day-hikes in the Blue Mountains:
- Grand Canyon Loop track plunges from the dramatic cliff tops to the primeval world of ferns and trickling water at the bottom of the canyon.
- Giant Stairway track descends along the side of one of the Three Sisters to the cool rainforest on the bottom of the Jamison Valley.
- Valley of the Waters track starts in a spectacular fashion at the top of Wentworth Falls, steeply descends alongside the falls to take you to a waterfall wonderland – a valley that’s home to five different waterfalls.
There is plenty of wildlife in the Blue Mountains, so keep your eyes peeled for the colourful parrots, lyrebirds, kookaburras and if you are in the lower mountains, kangaroos.
Take a coastal walk
Sydney has a spectacular coastline and the best way to enjoy it is to take a coastal walk. For something closer to the city, do the 10km Manly to Spit track. It gets quite busy during the day, so the best time to start this track would be about 7.30-8 am.
For something a little wilder, head to Royal National Park, home to some of Sydney’s best hiking trails. There are many walking tracks in Royal, but some of the most stunning ones are those that run along the coastline. The entire coastline of Royal can be explored on a two-day Coast Track. But if you don’t have 2 days for a hike, you take walk smaller sections of it and see the spectacular coastal scenery on an easy day trip.
Here are some of the most beautiful parts of the coastline:
- Bundeena to Marley Beach track is Sydney’s most stunning coastal walk. This is a mostly flat walk that runs along the cliff tops of the Illawarra coastline and ends at a largely deserted Marley Beach. Walk along the bottom of the cliff to the next beach – Little Marley, and you may just find yourself completely alone there. Just you, the towering cliffs and the endless expanse of the sky and ocean – how’s that for an idyllic adventure in Sydney!?
- Palm Jungle Loop track is perfect if you are looking for a more strenuous coastal hike. From this track, you can also take a detour to visit the famous figure 8 pools.
- Garrie Beach to Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls Track is my new favourite track in Sydney. Not only is it a spectacular coastal walk, it is also home to one of the only three waterfalls in Australia that flow directly into the ocean. Curracurrong Falls are quite a sight – as they plunge from a 100-meter cliff to the thundering surf below.
Wildlife spotting adventure in Sydney city parks
Not only is Sydney surrounded by National Parks, but there are also plenty of large parks within the city where you can spot some of the wild creatures we share our city with.
Even if you are not a keen birdwatcher, spotting the stunning black cockatoos or the incredibly long-legged stilts and avocets is unlikely to leave you unimpressed. Centennial Park is a great place to see the black cockatoos, pelicans, black swans and a huge variety of other native Australia birds. The Bicentennial Park is home to one of Sydney’s last remaining patches of mangrove habitat and to a breeding colony of black-winged stilts.
Further west, the Australian Botanic Gardens at Mt Annan is one of Sydney’s best-kept secrets as far as birdwatching spots go. It also happens to be the best place in Sydney for spotting Eastern Grey kangaroos as well as wallabies.
Or if you would like to get up-close and personal with some of the Australian native mammas, like wombats and kangaroos, take this amazing day tour to Kangaroo Valley and spend an afternoon literally walking with wombats.
Island hopping in Sydney
Sydney’s islands are something I discovered only recently. There are of course the small islands in Sydney Harbour, like Cockatoo Island, Fort Dennison and Shark Island, but they mostly function as tourist destinations. The islands I am talking about are the small offshore communities where people live year-round. These communities are like modern-day fishing villages where no one fishes.
- Dangar Island is a forested Island in the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney. It can only be reached by a ferry from Brooklyn – there are no cars on the island, apart from a fire truck. There are about 300 people that permanently live on the island and you could walk around the whole island in about an hour at a leisurely pace. The most unusual thing about Dangar island is its population of king parrots that come in all sorts of unexpected plumage colours. Instead of usual reds and greens, Dangar king parrots spot bold patches of yellow on their chests and wings. My friend Joanne, who lives on Dangar island compiled this helpful guide for visiting the island.
- Scotland island is an island on Sydney’s Northern Beaches offshore from Church Point. Like Dangar, Scotland island is fringed by small beaches, mangroves and rocks. It is home to 560 people and you can walk around the island in about 40 minutes. The relaxed atmosphere of Scotland island makes it popular with Sydney’s artistic community.
Camping near Sydney
If a day trip doesn’t satisfy your thirst for adventures in Sydney, make a weekend of it and spend a night camping in the bush. You can even camp in Sydney, on Cockatoo Island or at the Glamping site in Lane Cove National Park, but for a wilder adventure and to get away from it all, I prefer the campsites in the surrounding National Parks.
Here are some of my favorite campsites near Sydney:
- Euroka Campsite in the Blue Mountains is famous as the best place near Sydney for spotting Eastern grey kangaroo in the wild. The local mob (as a group of kangaroos is known) can usually be seen browsing on the edge between the forest and the clearing. Euroka clearing comprises of five different large camping areas and there are toilets, BBQ and picnic facilities provided for convenience.
- The Basin in Kur-rin-gain Chase National Park is a waterfront campground, so it is all about the water activities – paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming, of course. Apart from water fun, the Basin is a great place to see some of Sydney’s wildlife like the Swamp wallabies, Sulphur-crested cockatoos and kookaburras. The best way to reach this campsite is by ferry from Palm Beach. Or if you don’t fancy carrying and setting up your tent, you can opt for a deluxe camping experience with Ecotreasures. They will not only provide you with all the camping equipment, they will even set up a tent for you, so all you have to do is turn up.
- The Basin campground in Watagans Mountains offers a more off the beaten path camping experience. The facilities here are very basic – toilets, wooden tables for dining, fire pits and a large grassy clearing to pitch your tent, but Watagans are a haven for bushwalkers and wildlife enthusiasts. The famous Great Northern Walk that runs from Sydney to Newcastle is just across the creek from the campsite and a multitude of walking and biking trails can be accessed from the campsite area. The wildlife watching at Watagans is superb. One of my favourite creatures that you can spot at night is the adorable Greater glider.