Excursions Outside Sydney

Australians are travelers. Around the world they’re known as people who “take holiday” for months on end, aimlessly wandering the globe.

And the need to get away is a part of the fabric of Australia’s most populous city, Sydney. It’s reflected in the city’s extensive train and ferry network, which offer departures to Australia’s wine country, the Blue Mountains, national parks, and even points in the rugged outback countryside.

If you are headed halfway across the globe, perhaps for the Olympic games hosted by Sydney this September, it makes sense to take a day, an afternoon, a weekend or even a month to see parts of Australia that will fulfill a human need, as philosopher George Santayan says, “To escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life.”

The Day Trip

To get your feet wet in Australia’s outback try The Royal National Park, a coastal park just 22 miles south of Sydney and the second oldest national park in the world. You may see wallaroos, kangaroos and double-wattled cassowaries (the second largest bird in the world), not to mention amazing sunrises, sunsets and breezes.

To get to Royal National Park you can take a train from Sydney to a suburb called Cronulla, where you then take a scenic ferry ride to Brundeena, a town surrounded by the park. There are also ferries that depart from Sydney center to points in Royal National Park.

The Hacking River dissects the park, with riverside picnic spots and boats for hire. For those that like to hike, there’s a 15-mile coastal track stretching the length of the park. A lagoon beach at Wattamolla is a popular swimming spot. For surfers there’s Garie, Era, South Era and Burning Palms beaches.

Another easy day trip is to Ku-Ring-Gai-Chase National Park, about 15 miles north of Sydney and reachable by ferry. Ku-Ring-Gai covers about 90 square miles of sandstone bushland, Australia’s unique environment of desert and lush vegetation.

The park has over 62 miles of shoreline, forest and wildlife, a number of hiking trails and some magnificent Aboriginal art carved in rock. Stick-like figures and more detailed versions of Tasmanian Tigers and Platypus dot the area. Elevated parts of the park offer excellent views of the northernmost suburbs of Sydney.

Grapes of Sydney

Australia is the newest global hotspot for wine, and Hunter Valley is known for its lighter white wines and particularly its spicy Shiraz, considered among the world’s best. Only a two-hour drive north of Sydney (or a three-hour train ride), Hunter Valley has been described as a combination of French countryside sophistication and Northern California chic.

Some of the country’s best wineries are in this region, most located at Pokolbin Village, about 93 miles north of Sydney, and many have free cellar-door tastings. Free guides are available at the Sydney Visitor Center, and there are organized tours available through Hunter Vineyard Tours and Grapemobile of Pokolbin.

Kangaroos bounce about the rolling hills in the area, one reason why biking is a popular way to tour the wineries. Area bed and breakfasts offer bike rentals; you can also rent bikes at Grapemobile.

Get Way Out of Town

To the west of Sydney lies the spectacular Blue Mountains. A blue haze from oil exuded by eucalyptus trees cloak the rugged slopes and valleys that cover the area.

The mountain’s higher altitude makes for a cooler climate. In winter (June to August) there is an annual Yulefest, during which many restaurants give Australians a chance to celebrate Christmas a season ahead so they can relish holiday fixings in the same climate as we in the Northern Hemisphere do with cooler temperatures.

Within the region, the Blue Mountains National Park showcases waterfalls, hiking trails and the ubiquitous scenic stops. One not to miss is the Three Sisters rock formation at Echo Point in Katoomba. A famous Australian tale says that three sisters were turned to stone to protect them from the unwanted advances of three dastardly men. The sorcerer who performed the magic died before he could make them human again.

The entrance at Glenbrook/Lapstone is only about a 50-minute drive from Sydney. The popular main tourist center at Katoomba is about a 90-minute drive or a two-hour train ride from Sydney. There is a visitor center at Echo Point, just a short five-minute walk from the Katoomba train station. Also on Katoomba Street you will find several companies that offer canyoning and rock climbing as well as organized hikes.

Journey to the Center

Ayers Rock is located in the Northern Territory of central Australia. It is called “Uluru” in Aborigine and you may find Australians calling the massive landmark in the outback by both names.

It is the world’s largest monolith rising 1,141 feet above above the flat desert. It is located in the Kata Tjuta National Park, owned and run by Aboriginals, to whom the Australian government handed back ownership of the land some years ago.

Depending on the time of day and the conditions the rock will look blue or glowing red. The Aborigines believe it is hollow below ground, and that there it emits an energy source they call Tjukurpa, the “dream time.”

The big attraction here, besides the amazing presence of the rock, is to climb it. But the Anangu, a local Aborigine tribe, prefer that visitors respect the cultural significance of Uluru and their duty of care for your safety by not climbing. It’s really up to you. If you prefer not to climb there are several hikes and tours guided by Anangu that you can take instead. Climbers can bunk down at Ayers Rock resort, a nearby cluster of hotels and businesses (see Web Links at right).

Alice Springs, about 275 miles away from Ayers Rock, and the place where the filmmakers of Priscilla Queen of the Desert shot memorable footage of the outback, is the closest main town and the beginning of Australia’s rugged outback.

It’s an old, rugged town where the former transportation was horses and camels. Today, the town uses its rugged Old West-style past as a tourist attraction. But it is also considered the “Capital of the Outback,” so it’s a modern town, with all the comforts of a major city.

Trains, planes and tour packages leave from Sydney to Alice Springs. Your best bet is to check out brochures at the tourist kiosks and pick the package that best suits you.