10-day Return Sydney Road Trip: Blue Mountains then North


This 10-day Sydney return road trip showcases some of the very best that regional NSW has to offer from the mountains to the sea

Day 1 – 2: Exploring Sydney

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge as solid as ever

Sydney is a magnetic city is dotted with iconic monuments and structures, of which the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge are the crowning jewels. Beyond these iconic sites, Sydney pulses with a multicultural spirit, reflected in its eateries, festivals, and neighbourhoods. Explore Darling Harbour, a hub of dining and entertainment, where waterside eateries and attractions like the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium and WILD LIFE Sydney Zoo promise endless entertainment.

Day 1: Take a leisurely stroll through the lush pathways of the Royal Botanic Garden. Amidst blooming flora, this verdant haven offers themed gardens, seasonal tours, and sweeping views of the harbour. Soak in the serenity before hopping onto a ferry from Circular Quay and take a trip across the harbour to Manly Beach. This ferry ride is an experience in itself, granting panoramic views of the city skyline and Manly offers  a laid-back afternoon, exploring its promenade, local eateries, and boutique shops.

Day 2: Taronga Zoo which overlooks the harbour, is home to over 4,000 animals from various parts of the world. Engage with keeper talks, marvel at the flying displays, or even brave a close-up encounter with some of the resident creatures. Allow at least 4 hours for your visit, more if able.

Later in the day consider a a visit to the globally renowned Bondi Beach for a swim or stroll down the sea front esplanade. The area has a good choice of cafes and shops that pulse with relaxed local vibes. The Bondi to Coogee coastal walk gives breathtaking ocean vistas, interspersed with parks, cliffs, and bays popular with visitors and locals alike.

Giraffes Taranga Zoo Sydney. Credit Rick Stevens
Giraffes Taranga Zoo Sydney. Credit Rick Stevens

Day 3: Blue Mountains National Park

Venture westward from Sydney’s urban charm and let the majestic beauty of the Blue Mountains National Park envelop you. Named for the blue haze that arises from the dense eucalyptus forests, the park presents an ever-evolving canvas of colours, sounds, and scents. Just a an hour and a half drive, or pleasant train trip to Katoomba takes you to a World Heritage site with dramatic landscapes, from the iconic Three Sisters to the cascading beauty of Wentworth Falls. Legend has it that the Three Sisters were once three beautiful women who were turned to stone, a tale narrated by Indigenous guides to curious visitors.

Gaze across the vast expanse of the Jamison Valley, a panorama of untouched wilderness, lush rainforest canopies, and deep canyons. Adventure enthusiasts will delight in the myriad hiking trails that beckon, ranging from easy bushwalks to challenging treks. The Scenic World in Katoomba offers a unique perspective with its skyway, walkway, cableway, and the world’s steepest railway. Meanwhile, the charming mountain villages of Leura and Katoomba present a perfect blend of culture, cafes, and curios. These towns are an antique lover’s dream, with quirky boutiques, historic pubs, and delicious patisseries adding to the allure.

Three Sisters Blue Mountains

Day 4: From the Blue Mountains to Hunter Valley

On day four, travel northeast from the craggy peaks of the Blue Mountains to the lush vineyards of Hunter Valley. The drive itself is a sensory delight, transitioning from rugged landscapes to rolling green vineyards, occasionally punctuated by the sight of kangaroos. This renowned wine enclave, a mere three-hour drive away, is the toast of Australia. Established in the early 19th century, Hunter Valley’s legacy as a wine-producing region is rich, making it the oldest of its kind in the country.

Hunter Valley Gardens

With over 150 wineries dotting its landscape, connoisseurs can revel in the nuances of the region’s finest vintages. Semillon and Shiraz are the region’s stars, but other varietals like Chardonnay and Verdelho also leave an impression. Beyond wine, the valley offers a blossoming culinary scene, with cheese factories, chocolate boutiques, and gourmet restaurants complementing the wine-tasting experiences. Pair these delights with the delectable gourmet offerings of the valley, and let the serene vineyard vistas, often adorned with sculptures and art, be the backdrop to a day of indulgence.

Day 5: Port Stephens

Setting course from Hunter Valley, your compass next points to Port Stephens. Often referred to as the “blue water paradise”, this region encompasses a sparkling blue bay, a scattering of coastal towns, and the vast dunes of the Worimi Conservation Lands. This coastal gem sparkles with pristine beaches, offering opportunities for snorkelling, diving, and even surfing.

Board a boat and set sail in pursuit of playful dolphins. Port Stephens is known as the dolphin capital of Australia, with over 150 resident bottlenose dolphins calling its waters home. On your aquatic adventure, you might also glimpse migrating whales, adding to the area’s rich marine tapestry. For those seeking a land-based thrill, the Stockton Sand Dunes promise an adrenaline rush. Towering up to 40 meters, these are the southern hemisphere’s largest moving sand dunes. Feel the thrill of sandboarding or opt for a 4WD tour, racing down dunes and marvelling at ancient Aboriginal sites. As hunger strikes, Nelson Bay emerges as the gastronomic haven, where seafood platters, from succulent prawns to freshly shucked oysters, are as fresh as the morning’s catch. The town also offers a plethora of cafes, boutique shops, and vistas of the bay, making it a delightful place to relax and rejuvenate.

Day 6: Myall Lakes National Park to Coffs Harbour

Begin the sixth day at Myall Lakes National Park, a tapestry of freshwater lakes, coastal dunes, and thick forests. Spread over 47,493 hectares, this park is one of New South Wales’ largest coastal lake systems. Engage in birdwatching or rent a kayak to navigate the waterways, and you might be lucky enough to spot a dolphin frolicking in the shallows. The park is also steeped in indigenous history, with ancient Aboriginal sites waiting to be explored, offering insights into the Worimi and Biripi people’s ancestral connection with the land.

Post this serene sojourn, the horizon changes as you approach Coffs Harbour, a delightful blend of sea, sand, and hinterland. This coastal town, known for its relaxed atmosphere, is punctuated by the iconic Big Banana, a giant structure paying homage to the region’s rich agricultural heritage. Within Coffs, the Butterfly House offers visitors a chance to wander amidst hundreds of Australian butterflies in an indoor tropical setting. Don’t be surprised if a vibrant winged beauty decides to perch on your shoulder!

Dive deep into marine exploration at the solitary islands marine park. This marine sanctuary is a confluence of tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate ecosystems due to its unique location, making it a haven for divers and snorkelers. Wander through underwater forests of kelp, spot an array of fish, and maybe even encounter a turtle or two. Let this marine haven’s underwater beauty, with its crystal-clear waters and diverse marine life, leave you spellbound.

Day 7: Dorrigo National Park

A stone’s throw from Coffs Harbour, the elevated plateaus of Dorrigo National Park herald your arrival. This haven, with its subtropical rainforests and pristine landscapes, offers a cooling respite. The Skywalk lookout offers panoramic views of the rainforest, all the way to the Pacific Ocean, making for a captivating introduction to the park’s vastness.

Dorrigo National Park
Dorrigo National Park

The park’s lovely forests are alive with the chorus of birds and rustling of hidden creatures. Wander amidst ancient trees, keeping an eye out for the vividly coloured regent bowerbird or the elusive lyrebird, known for its incredible mimicking abilities. The mesmerising waterfall Crystal Shower Falls is a highlight. With trails catering to both casual walkers and seasoned trekkers, the park promises both adventure and serenity, all under the protective canopy of ancient rainforests.

Day 8: Byron Bay

As you approach Byron Bay, feel the laid-back rhythm of this coastal town, which has long been a magnet for surfers, artists, and those looking to break free from convention. The town pulses with an eclectic energy, with colourful street art, bustling farmers’ markets, and lively music venues setting the tone. As a melting pot of cultures, Byron offers diverse culinary experiences, from gourmet eateries to quirky cafes, each reflecting the town’s unique character.

Byron Bay from above

Nestled in this bohemian embrace, Byron Bay’s beaches are a surfer’s dream, with waves catering to both novices and pros. For those less inclined to ride the waves, the golden sands are perfect for sunbathing, beach volleyball, or simply soaking in the vibrant atmosphere. Cape Byron deserves special mention, not just for its distinction as the easternmost tip of mainland Australia, but also for its rich biodiversity. The historic lighthouse, standing sentinel atop a cliff, offers panoramic views of the vast Pacific and humpback whales during their migration season.

Day 9: Tweed Valley and Nightcap National Park

Byron Bay’s free spirit gives way to the lush landscapes of Tweed Valley, where the ancient caldera of a once-active volcano shapes the terrain. The valley, with its fertile soils, nurtures a diverse range of flora and fauna. It’s no surprise that artists find inspiration here, with regional art galleries showcasing indigenous art, contemporary installations, and more, making the valley a cultural hub.

Local produce takes centre stage in Tweed Valley, with farm-to-table dining experiences that celebrate the region’s agricultural abundance. From handcrafted cheeses to tropical fruits, every bite is a testament to the valley’s bounty. As you navigate through this verdant paradise, Nightcap National Park awaits. This ancient rainforest, home to the awe-inspiring Minyon Falls, offers cascading waterfalls, clear rock pools, and viewpoints that capture the heart of the Australian wilderness. The roar of the falls, the whispering trees, and the melodious calls of birds combine to serenade visitors in nature’s symphony.

Day 10: Back to Sydney

As your NSW adventure nears its end, the road back to Sydney stretches before you. But the journey is far from monotonous. The drive, while extensive, is dotted with charming towns and scenic stops, urging you to pause and drink in the beauty one last time. South West Rocks, halfway between Byron and Sydney, offers a pristine coastal retreat. Renowned for its historic Trial Bay Gaol and the Smoky Cape Lighthouse, this town promises a blend of history, nature, and relaxation.

After your refreshing pit stop, let the road guide you further south. The vast Australian landscape transitions from coastal vistas to dense forests and open plains. Before you know it, Sydney’s skyline starts emerging in the distance, welcoming you back. As city lights replace starry skies, take a moment to reminisce about the diverse experiences, the pristine landscapes, and the warm encounters that made this journey unforgettable. The urban allure of Sydney, while a stark contrast to the wild beauty of the past days, is a gentle reminder of the multifaceted charm of New South Wales.

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