When it comes to heart-pumping adventure, Sydney has you covered. From getting lost in an urban jungle to finding secret swimming spots in the Blue Mountains, embracing nature is as easy as heading out the door.
Skipper a yacht on Sydney Harbour
You can expect distractions when learning to (safely) sail on Sydney Harbour, with the Opera House and the equally iconic bridge providing the spectacular backdrop to an EastSail yacht charter. Luckily a captain is on board to help winch the sails and trim the ropes as the 34-foot yacht makes its journey from Darling Point. “This is a ‘choose your own adventure’,” says skipper George Fotoulis of the four-hour charter in which you can moor for a bushwalk (or for fish and chips at Doyles in Watsons Bay) or simply leap off for a swim. “You can really get involved – or just sit back and relax while I do all the work.”
Snorkel like it’s the tropics
“It surprises even locals that you can be on the Corso in one of the cafés or pubs and then disappear into this incredibly peaceful, tropical-coloured underwater landscape,” says Damien McClellan from EcoTreasures, which runs tours of Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve in Manly. “After a 30-minute guided walk through the headland, spotting native coastal birds and, from May to November, humpback whales, we go straight from the beach to explore rocky reefs, beds of kelp, seagrass and pale sand where more than 160 species have been recorded.” Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered blue groper fish.
Walk, swim, play on the wilder side of Sydney this summer. Get great deals on flights now at qantas.com
Challenge the kids
Spoiler alert: you don’t sleep at Hijinx Hotel. A mecca for challenge room aficionados of all ages, this New York hotel-style play space in Alexandria features 15 themed rooms (and three cocktail bars for adults, hurrah!) that set tasks inspired by cult ’80s and ’90s movies and classic board games.
For more family “playcationing”, drive out to Western Sydney to Sydney Zoo to wander the new koala trail. Or how about a squirrel monkey encounter, where you can give a troop of the cheeky primates their lunch? Just seven minutes drive from the zoo, Featherdale Sydney Wildlife Park will let you up close to quokkas, penguins and koalas – and kids can handfeed ’roos. To make an overnight adventure of it, catch a film under the stars at Skyline Drive In, Sydney’s only drive-in cinema, complete with a 1950s-style retro diner. Atura Hotel Blacktown offers Palm Springs vibes and hip rooms right next to the cinema.
Stay somewhere surprising
You don’t need a superyacht to sleep in the middle of Sydney Harbour. Cockatoo Island is a UNESCO-listed mini escape where Aboriginal, convict and World War Two history comes with incredible skyline views. You’ll get an eyeful of the city, whether you stay in a sturdy army tent in the campground, a modern waterfront apartment or a stylish Federation house perched on the island’s high ground.
Thinking wilder? The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga, 15 minutes from the CBD on the north side of the harbour, is an eco-sanctuary nestled among native bushland in the famous zoo. Luxe lodgings include Treetop Suites, but our pick is a David Attenborough-worthy animal habitat.
If a glam scene and crashing waves is more your type of wild, this boho-styled Airbnb sub-penthouse at Bondi Beach puts you above the sand with restaurants, cafés, bars and the iconic Bondi Icebergs pool at your doorstep.
Day trip to the Blue Mountains
It’s not just about seeing the Three Sisters. The Blue Mountains is a treasure-trove of secret swimming spots nestled among gorges and off bushwalking trails in the vast national park. You’ve just got to know where to look. “Fortress Pools outside Leura has mind-bending views of the Medlow Bath and Blackheath escarpment,” says Justin Hunter of Blue Mountains Explore, whose newly released guidebooks Epic and Wild gives you maps, itineraries and tips to use on the move via QR code. “There are three exceptionally beautiful plunge pools, so it’s easy to spend a few hours here and the walk in is part of the experience.” Note that, above a high waterfall, this is not one for kids or mucking around. Caution is cool.
Hunter then recommends warming up with excellent coffee and Mediterranean baked eggs or moussaka at Café Leura. “Or head to Leura’s new Blue Mountains Sauna for a Finnish dry sauna and cold plunge.” Like a human guide to show you secrets of this epic wilderness? Try walks and 4WD tours with Tread Lightly Eco Tours or (re)discover the night sky with astrophysicist-led Blue Mountains Stargazing experience.
Image credits: Zennieshia Butts/@zennieshia (Hijinx Hotel); Chris Chan (EastSail); Destination NSW (Snorkelling at Cabbage Tree Bay); lostmtns.com (Blue Mountains); Wildlife Retreat at Taronga Zoo