Sydney Outdoors

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Sydney Outdoors
Sydney may be a city—Australia's largest, in fact—but it's not hard to find outdoor adventures both within and right around the city limits. With five national parks nearby, you have the choice of coastal or bush experiences—or both.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Ellenor Argyropoulos/Tourism Australia
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    Going Bush in Sydney
    With vast amounts of native flora and fauna, it’s well worth heading a little out of the city center and "going bush." Royal National Park, about 40 minutes south of the city, flanks the coast and offers more than an entire trip’s worth of exploring, relaxing, and swimming opportunities, while Sydney Harbour National Park, featuring coastal walks, is right in the city itself. Lane Cove National Park is just 20 minutes from the city, with spots for cycling, canoeing, and hiking. At Blue Mountains National Park, 90 minutes west of Sydney, you can rock climb, canyon, and ride horses.
    Photo courtesy of Ellenor Argyropoulos/Tourism Australia
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    Coastal Hikes
    Aussies have long used the term "gone walkabout" to describe their adventures or wanderings, and Sydney presents many opportunities for you to join thousands of years of tradition and do the same. The city features many coastal walks, most of which link Sydney's most popular beaches. One of the prettiest hikes is the Spit Bridge to Manly Walk, a 5.5-mile trek that will take you along the bushland north coast of Sydney. You'll pass little beaches before arriving at Manly, where you can enjoy beach or pub time. The famed Bondi to Coogee Walk, much beloved by Sydneysiders, is about three miles, while the Clovelly to Maroubra walk is around nine. All of these are popular coastal tracks, with plenty of places to stop for photos and swims.
    Photo courtesy of Ellenor Argyropoulos/Tourism Australia
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    Swimming Pools in Sydney
    It may be hard to imagine you'd want to dive into a pool in a city that's blessed with so many beaches, but if you prefer the contained safety of a pool to the wide open water at the beach, Sydney has a number of outdoor, family-friendly pools that are accessible for a small fee. Local favorites include Maccallum, a harborside pool near Mosman; Andrew Boy Charlton, a saltwater pool in Woolloomooloo Bay near the Royal Botanic Gardens; and Drummoyne Swim Centre, which has heated outdoor saltwater pools. The latter two pools close down for the winter. All offer beautiful views of the city across the water as well as a relaxing day of sun loving for the whole family.
    Photo by Petrina Tinsley
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    Explore Sydney on Two Wheels
    With fantastic weather and abundant scenic landscape, Sydney is a popular place for cycling. You can rent a bike at Bicentennial Park and set off for a two-wheeled exploration of more than 20 miles of off-road cycling track, which winds past venues from the 2000 Olympics, through the park itself, and along the banks of the Parramatta River. Another popular track is the Birkenhead Point to Rozelle, otherwise known as The Bay Run. It stretches for a leisurely four miles and affords some great water views and glimpses of the city skyline. If you're keen to tackle urban cycling, try out the Harbour Bridge to ANZAC Bridge route. A special cycling lane will protect you from car traffic, but pedal hard to keep up with the two-wheeled pack.
    Photo by Blaine Harrington/age fotostock
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    Whale-Watching from Shore and Sea
    Each year between May and November, approximately 3,000 humpback and southern right whales pass near (and sometimes even through) Sydney Harbour on their migratory path. There are plenty of spots where you can gaze out on the water through your binoculars in hopes of spotting a tail, including the coastal path linking Bondi to Coogee and the Barrenjoey Lighthouse at Palm Beach. If you'd rather get even closer to the gentle giants, outfitters leading whale-watching tours depart on daily excursions from Circular Quay and Darling Harbour during the migratory period. Coffee and tea are served as you listen to guides tell you about whale behavior, and if you don't spot at least one of the cetaceans, you can return on a future trip for free.
    Photo courtesy of Tourism QLD/Tourism Australia
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    Adrenaline Sports
    Travelers looking for an adrenaline rush can easily find one in Sydney. For those who get their thrills from heights, the Skywalk at the Sydney Tower Eye should satisfy; you'll be standing on a platform nearly 880 feet above the city, taking in the 360-degree views. Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is another popular high-in-the-sky activity; the three-hour climb requires scaling catwalks and ladders, leading to a height of 439 feet above the harbor. If you'd rather get out of the city and into nature, there's always abseiling in Blue Mountains National Park. Rappel cliff faces and waterfalls ranging in height from nine to 98 feet with the aid of an experienced guide.
    Photo courtesy of Geoff Jones/BridgeClimb Sydney/Tourism Australia
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    Sydney for Fishos
    There are plenty of opportunities for anglers—or "fishos"—to get out on the water, drop a line, and try to snag something that's swimming beneath the surface of the Pacific. Many such opportunities are in and around the harbor itself. Local guide Scott Lyons leads fishing excursions where you can expect to trawl for bonito, kingfish, and salmon, or to anchor and cast your line for snapper and trevally. Lyons leads deep sea day trips or, if you prefer, excursions on nearby rivers. Justin Duggan, another local guide, specializes in saltwater fly-fishing trips and can also lead sport fishing excursions.
    Photo courtesy of Basquali Skamaachi/Tourism Australia
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    Paddling Sydney's Waters
    Sydney's harbor is the city's watery focal point, and with good reason. Paddling the harbor in a one- or two-person kayak offers spectacular vantage points of the bridge, Opera House, and other iconic sights. Sydney's boating opportunities aren't limited to the harbor, though; sparkling, inviting rivers are equally ripe for exploring. Hacking is an especially picturesque place to get on the water; it’s no wonder locals refer to it as “God’s country.” Spy native wildlife and mansions on hilltops with private beaches as you float by. If you want to head to a park, Royal National Park is close by, and Nepean Gorge in Blue Mountains is an ideal day trip.
    Photo courtesy of Garth Oriander/Tourism Australia
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    From Koalas to Cockatoo Island
    If you're looking for family-friendly outdoor activities you have plenty of options. On the harbor, just past Sydney Opera House, is the Royal Botanic Garden, where you can go on a guided walk focused on local flora and Aboriginal heritage. Across the harbor is Taronga Zoo, which is reached by ferry. There, you can enjoy animal encounters with some of Australia's iconic reptiles and mammals, such as koalas. If you want to explore one of Sydney's outlying islands, a popular choice is Cockatoo Island, a former convict colony. With its heritage sites and hiking paths, the island makes for a perfect day trip. You can also rent a motorboat, glamping tent, or even a tennis court there.
    Photo courtesy of Julian Button/Tourism Australia
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    Explore Sydney by Horse
    By feet, by bike, by boat—Sydney is amenable to exploration of nearly every type. While it may come as a surprise—you are, after all, in the midst of a city—you can also see Sydney from a horse saddle. Multiple stables offer trail rides in and around the city, such as Centennial Stables, whose guides lead 30-minute and hour-long jaunts through Centennial Park. Another popular spot is Sydney's International Equestrian Centre, which was the host of equestrian events during the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics. The center has a number of competitions and dressage events, many of which are open to the public. An hour beyond the city, you can go riding with a guide or on your own in Glenworth Valley, featuring valleys, rivers, and eucalyptus trees.
    Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Paulsen/Tourism Australia