Sydney

 

She’s an unquestionable beauty. Often regarded as one of the most photogenic cities in the world, Sydney is a stunner whatever time of the year you find yourself on its shores.

 

The glistening waters of Sydney Harbour are fringed with countless iconic buildings. Take a wander around Circular Quay for an unforgettable perspective across the busy harbour and some of the city’s best architectural feats of engineering. Start at the foreshore bordering the colourful and serene Royal Botanic Garden, past the instantly recognisable cream sails of the Sydney Opera House and around to the striking Museum of Contemporary Art. You’ll get plenty of chances to admire the smooth steel curves of Sydney Harbour Bridge along the way. You’ll also find some of Sydney’s top restaurants around the quay – always popular so make sure you book ahead.

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Continue to The Rocks area for a glimpse into Sydney’s past. Where once the cobbled streets where home to convicts, soldiers, sailors and street gangs, this historic precinct now offers a fantastic selection of cosy cafés, great restaurants, interesting boutique shops and weekly bustling markets.

If you’re looking for top attractions such as the fascinating underwater worlds at the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium or the interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits at The Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour is the place to go. It also offers a range of outdoor spaces to enjoy such as the tranquil Chinese Garden of Friendship with its winding paths, babbling streams and ornate pavilions and for children, hours of fun at the Darling Quarter Playground and water play park. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, take your pick from a dizzying choice of waterside restaurants, bars and cafés and stay on for the free fireworks display every Saturday evening.

Sydney has a distinctly laid-back atmosphere for a city. Perhaps it’s thanks to its sun-drenched climate and amazing choice of beautiful harbour and ocean beaches. Head to the city’s best-known, Bondi Beach for surf, sand and trendy eateries and make sure you walk the 6km Bondi to Coogee coastal path for incredible views and plenty of rest posts along the way.

One of the best ways to view Sydney is from the water. There are many private boat trips and harbour cruises to choose from or you can take the 30-minute public ferry service from Circular Quay to Manly. This laid-back beachside suburb is situated between an inner-harbour beach and a popular surf beach on the other, and is a great place to spend the day exploring, enjoying the water and dining out.

If you’re a fan of arts and culture, Sydney will not disappoint. You’ll find hundreds of galleries, museums, live shows and events to get your fix. The annual Sydney Festival running for three weeks in January is one for your diary. Across the city, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy around 370 performances encompassing everything from dance and music to theatre, with plenty of free events thrown in.

 

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Byron Bay

 

Since the 60s, the white sandy beaches, reliable waves and glorious sunshine have been luring beach goers and surfers to the Byron Bay region. It’s an area of staggering natural beauty; where incredible coastal scenery meets the lush, verdant Northern Rivers hinterland.

 

Where once it was it was primarily hippies and permaculturists that flocked here, in recent years, the area’s increasing number of galleries, upmarket cafés, chic boutiques and luxury spas have been attracting as many hipsters and families as yogis and surfers.

 

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The main beach at Byron Bay is arguably the most visited but don’t miss out on other coastal gems in the area such as Lennox Head Beach, worshipped for its right-hand point break or the 32 kilometres of Ballina beaches ranging from calm, sandy swimming spots on the banks of the Richmond River, to the rolling barrels off Ballina’s North Wall for confident surfers.

The Cape Byron Marine Park, stretching from Brunswick Heads in the north to Lennox Head in the south, protects a huge range of marine life from grey nurse sharks and sea turtles to seabirds and marine plants so grab your snorkel and mask or book yourself on a dive to marvel at the underwater world teeming with life.

A refreshing change of scenery can be found in the spectacular hinterland. Here subtropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls and diverse National Parks are the perfect environments for bushwalking, mountain biking or exploring waterways in a kayak.

The Byron Bay area is immensely proud of its laid-back and creative approach to life. All along the coast and inland, you’ll find eclectic towns and villages where creativity blossoms and visitors are treated to a warm, friendly welcome. A 20-minute drive from Byron Bay is the charming town of Mullumbimby. Situated just 10kms from the coast, it’s the perfect gateway to the hinterland yet still close enough to the beaches. Don’t miss the nearby Shambhala Gardens at Crystal Castle. It offers a magical 5-hectares of gardens and rainforest to explore, plus an organic café.

Fertile soils, a marvelous climate and organic, sustainable farming practices mean the area is well-known for its high-quality local produce, inspiring the menus in the many outstanding café and restaurants. If you fancy cooking up a storm yourself, check out calendar of vibrant markets that are put on regularly throughout the area. Byron Bay Farmer’s Market, held every Thursday, combines organic produce with live musicians. Similarly, Mullumbimby Farmers Market is a haven for fresh, quality local produce with a lively vibe thanks to acoustic music sets and roving entertainers.

Byron Bay is fast-becoming a mecca for music fans. From large-scale events attracting international stars such as Blues Fest (13-17 April 2017) to smaller, boutique festivals and local gigs, there really is something for everyone whatever your taste in music.

 

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Central Coast

 

Head just an hour north of Sydney and at the mouth of the Hawkesbury River you’ll hit the start of the Central Coast. It’s where visitors flock for its beautiful beaches, sparkling inlets and lakes and gorgeous hinterland areas that stretch all the way up to Newcastle.

 

Dotted along the coast, you’ll find a string of picturesque towns and villages. There are the well-known coastal resorts of Avoca Beach, Umina Beach and Terrigal, other lesser known spots such as Pearl Beach and Mcmaster’s Beach, plus uniquely located towns such as The Entrance, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean on one side and Tuggerah Lake on the other.

 

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The area’s stunning natural scenery lends itself well to an incredible array of activities on offer. Explore the lush bushland by foot, hop into a kayak or canoe and paddle your way through gentle waters or make use of the cycle paths and take a ride of discovery.

The area’s breathtaking national parks are a highlight for many visitors. The beautiful Bouddi National Park offers spectacular landscapes ranging from secret coves and sandy beaches through to rainforests. As well as unique animals and flora, look out for significant Aboriginal sites.

Brisbane Waters National Park is another gem, especially for bushwalkers. Take the 500m Somersby Falls track through rainforest for spectacular waterfall views. Don’t forget a picnic – there are plenty of lush spots to lunch or BBQ. Or pick the Mooney Mooney Nature Walk for a trail through rainforest, grassy woodlands, waterfalls and casuarina forest. Keep your eye out for lyrebirds, kookaburras and even koalas.

Of course, the beaches are a huge drawcard. You’ll find great surf along the majority of ocean beaches with some of the best breaks at Terrigal and Soldiers Beach, Norah Head. It’s not just surfers who are attracted to the famous 2km curve of Avoca Beach. Here you can go rock pooling, kayaking and fishing and swimming in the ocean rock pool next to the Surf Life Saving Club.

It’s not just nature. The Central Coast region has plenty of attractions to visit. Climb the turn-of-the-century Norah Head Lighthouse for magnificent ocean vistas and an insight into its fascinating history. Alternatively, get up close and personal to an array of snakes, lizards, crocodiles, spiders and other native animals at the Australian Reptile Park or explore the colourful native plants and flowers at the immaculately kept Mt Penang Gardens; a glorious place for a picnic.

You’ll find a packed program of events happening around the Central Coast throughout the year. From weekly markets and boutique festivals to annual Christmas, NYE and Australia Day events such as the Carols by Candlelight show and fireworks display at The Entrance on Christmas Eve.

 

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North Coast NSW

 

Between Newcastle and the Queensland border, the North Coast of NSW boasts a tempting mix of uncrowded beaches, pristine rivers, World Heritage rainforest and a lush volcanic hinterland.

 

With over 700kms of stunning coastline, this region offers limitless adventures on and in the water. Explore epic surfing beaches, go swimming or kayaking with dolphins, take a cruise to watch whales or snorkel and dive the crystal-clear marine waters for a glimpse into the underwater world.

Don’t forget the incredible hinterland that forms a magnificent backdrop to the coastal scenery. Head inland to explore swathes of national parks and numerous charming villages that make a detour worthwhile.

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As you’d expect from a region of this size, there are a number of areas to discover. Highlights include the Port Stephens area, just north of Newcastle. Famed for its 26 golden sandy beaches and many beautiful inlets, you’ll find an endless choice of things to do in and around its two main resorts; Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens. Don’t leave without enjoying a freshly caught fish and seafood feast – this area is renowned for it.

Where The Hastings River flows into the Port Macquarie Sea sits the burgeoning town of Port Macquarie, high up on the list for many visitors for its 18 spectacular beaches, numerous rainforest walks and great choice of attractions. Make sure you take a tour of the Koala Hospital, the world's first centre dedicated solely to the care and preservation of koalas and walk the Sea Acres Rainforest 1.3km boardwalk through the rainforest canopy, spotting native birds and if you’re lucky, goannas and diamond pythons.

Named after the spectacular Clarence River, the largest on the east coast, the Clarence Coast encompasses lush valleys, abundant national parks, white sandy beaches and top surf breaks. At the mouth of the river, the laid back resort of Yamba is famed for its excellent surf and freshest, most delicious prawns on the East Coast. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to taste them at the town’s many charming cafés and eateries.

It may be internationally famous for its pro surfing beaches, in particular Cabarita Beach where the Tweed Coast Pro surfing competition will be held in February 2017, but the far north coast Tweed Area has a whole lot more on offer. Discover quiet estuaries, charming villages and World Heritage wilderness such as Wollumbin National Park, home to the easy Lyrebird walking track.

Part of the Tweed region is set within the crater of a huge extinct volcano that makes its soils rich and fertile for growing an abundance of fresh seasonal produce including dairy, sugar cane and bananas. For gourmet fans, there are many events to celebrate the quality of local food such as the Tweed Foodie Fest, a 5-day festival tracking local foods from paddock to plate, canopy to coast.

 

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