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Just a two-hour flight from Sydney is UNESCO World Heritage site Lord Howe Island and blissful Blinky Beach.
Whether you have one night or four to explore the region outside Sydney, these three weekend trips will give you nature, nurture, and wine in spades.
While Sydney is packed with things to do, visitors will be rewarded by venturing outside the city limits to explore. Not sure where to go? Start with these three easy weekend getaways from Sydney, Australia.
There are only 400 tourist beds on Lord Howe Island, which means you’ll never feel rushed or crowded on this UNESCO World Heritage–listed outcrop of volcanic islands. More than 70 percent of the island is a permanent protected park reserve, and the surrounding ocean is also protected as a Marine Park. Simply put, Lord Howe Island is an environmental marvel. UNESCO raves about its “exceptional diversity of spectacular and scenic landscapes within a small area, including sheer mountain slopes, a broad arc of hills enclosing the lagoon,” the world’s most southerly coral, and some of the world’s rarest birds—for starters.
Just behind Old Settlement Beach beneath a canopy of Kentia palms (the island’s main export) and banyan trees is Arajilla Retreat, an all-suite spa resort and one of the loveliest places to stay on the island (kids over age six welcome). Although luxurious Capella Lodge gives it some competition; the lodge also has an evolved sustainability policy with commitments to rewilding the area and working closely with the local community.
Other than switching off your cell phones (there’s no service out here) and peacefully exploring the beaches, bush, and peaks on foot while keeping an eye out for endangered and endemic species? Or snorkeling and scuba diving? Or cycling through rain forests? Try reading a book. Taking a nap. Chatting up a local over coffee.
It’s a two-hour flight northeast of Sydney, but it’s also in the middle of nowhere, which means flights to the isolated island happen most days. Give yourself some buffer travel time, book flights and accommodation early, and expect to pay a handsome round-trip fee to get there (from AUD$600, about US$475). Stay four nights if you can. —Laura Dannen Redman
Named after the blue haze that cloaks the region—which some link to oil droplets from the multitude of eucalyptus trees—the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area is a staggering 2.5-million-acre swath of sandstone canyons, cliffs, and tablelands, just a few hours west of Sydney. The Blue Mountains are a stronghold of natural and cultural values, from Aboriginal rock art caves and relics of early industry to rare plants and animals, including the glossy black cockatoo and the wollemi pine, a descendant of a 200-million-year-old tree family.
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For a day hike, you can’t beat the National Pass, which takes in deep canyon views and three waterfalls. Adventurers can also rock climb, abseil, mountain bike, or endure the 28-mile Six Foot Track.
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is the ultimate wilderness escape for those who like a bit of pampering. This conservation-conscious resort takes up just 1 percent of a 7,000-acre nature reserve in the Blue Mountains. Indoor-outdoor pools and fireplaces are standard in all 40 of the stand-alone suites, which include binoculars for viewing wildlife.
Charles Darwin visited Wolgan Valley in 1836. On sunset tours, in-house guides help spot the wallaby and wombat species that fascinated the naturalist. Spa treatments use native ingredients such as wattle seed and eucalyptus. Recently appointed executive chef James Viles (of NSW's Biota Dining) brings his commitment to local farmers and growers, regional and seasonal botanicals, and inventive modern technique to the kitchen.
NSW TrainLink Intercity trains will get you there in about two hours, or you can drive the 90 minutes. Aim to stay one or two nights. —Jen Murphy and Serena Renner
Hunter Valley is the oldest wine region in Australia, dating back to the 1920s, and has become even more popular during COVID given its proximity to Sydney and its stellar examples of semillon and shiraz. Travel advisor Marienne Guberina, owner of Design Travel Group, a SmartFlyer travel agency, has spent the past 25 years shuttling to her parents’ property in Hunter Valley: “I watched my kids grow from babies to young adults on the farm, spending many weekends and school holidays feeding farm animals, harvesting grapes and olives, and riding quad bikes.” She offers her picks below on how to wine and dine in Hunter.
“My absolute favorite is the Spicers Guesthouse, which recently completed an extensive 18-month renovation. It’s an incredible property with lots of space, firepits in the winter, a tennis court, and beautiful kangaroo sculptures throughout the landscape. There’s a welcoming bar and lounge with an open fire, and a great restaurant, Eremo, serving delicious Italian food. Book the four-bedroom cottage, perfect for larger friend groups or families who want separation and privacy and access to resort facilities and the restaurant.
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“Another one I love is Spicers Vineyard Estate, a 12-suite, adults-only boutique hotel that’s absolutely perfect for a romantic weekend away. Book room 11, a luxury spa suite on the ground floor that’s very private and has a cute little courtyard. The suites all have sitting rooms with a fireplace, a beautiful space to relax and unwind with a glass of wine and local produce, cheese, and charcuterie. Another highlight? The modern Australian cuisine at Restaurant Botanica. They have an incredible wine list, but the rosé produced just for the property was a special treat.”
Guberina’s favorites wineries are “Audrey Wilkinson, which sits on top of a hill, and the very modern Brokenwood Wines. These two complement each other and are the perfect addition to a weekend exploring the Hunter—you get the 150-year-old history of Audrey Wilkinson with the high-tech, cutting-edge facilities at Brokenwood.
“Private tastings can be arranged at Audrey Wilkinson, and the experience I love the most is the picnic. You can wander through the museum, enjoy a tasting, then grab a bottle of your favorite wine and a picnic hamper with a picnic blanket. Then, choose your location on the 270-acre property to enjoy the vineyard views.
“At Brokenwood, you can watch how the winery floor is run from behind glass windows, either from your private tasting room or a viewing platform. It’s a great place for lunch and the menu at Cru Bar + Pantry is designed to share family-style: think woodfired pizzas, charcuterie platters, pies, toasties (Aussie for toasted sandwich), and sweets. I’m excited for the opening of the Wood, a new restaurant at Brokenwood.
“Most wineries have introduced booking requirements, and I have seen clients turned away without a reservation for a tasting. So it’s important to plan out your stay. Restaurants should be booked at the same time as making your accommodation bookings—the good ones have very limited seating and they book out months in advance.”
“You can’t beat Oishii with its mix of Japanese and Thai cuisine; it’s fresh, fast, and simple. If you’re looking for something special, I recommend Bistro Molines, which is best experienced during the day to take in the incredible views. I also love Muse Restaurant, an award-winning Australian spot. EXP is creative and delicious, and only open for dinner. Sit at the bar to get a view of what’s going on in the kitchen, while interacting with chef Frank Fawkner and his team.”
The wine region is a two-hour drive north of Sydney via the M1 motorway, following the Cessnock/Hunter Valley Vineyards exit sign to Cessnock, according to Visit New South Wales. Aim to stay at least two nights. —Marienne Guberina, as told to Annie Fitzsimmons. Guberina shares food, travel, architecture, and design photos on Instagram.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Sydney
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