8 stunning landscapes to explore in Sydney’s backyard

From hiking rugged coastlines and scaling waterfalls to riding over vast sand dunes on quad bikes – there are so many ways to rewild yourself just outside of Sydney.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Oct 2022 -
min read

There’s no doubt that spending time in nature has a myriad of positive benefits: improved attention, lower stress and upticks in empathy. It's also plain fun: the thrill of spotting native animals in the wild, trying a new adventurous activity or learning more about Aboriginal culture. And you don’t have to go far from the city to make some spectacular discoveries – all the activities listed below are within two hours of Sydney. Get exploring.  

Explore Worimi Conservation Lands’ ever-shifting sand dunes

Vast and otherworldly, the sprawling moonscape of Worimi Conservation Lands in Port Stephens hums with history. With Aboriginal-owned Sand Dune Adventures, you’ll roar around the Southern Hemisphere’s largest coastal dunes aboard a 4WD quad bike, every fibre of your being bristling with adrenaline. From the flourishing forest to the dancing ocean, these lands are rich in cultural significance for the Worimi people – who will be your learned guides on this spectacular adventure. 

Want to stay the night? Nestled among the gum trees just 20 minutes down the road is the bright and airy Baileys Cottage, which sleeps six. With the bushwalks and bike trails of Glenrock State Conservation Area at its doorstep, it’s a dreamy place to rest your head and base your weekend out of. 

Quad biking experience on the Stockton Sand Dunes in the Worimi Conservation Lands, Port Stephens

Sand Dune Adventures at Stockton Sand Dunes, Worimi Conservation Lands

Observe abundant birdlife at tranquil Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve

Worimi Country, north of Newcastle, is teeming with biodiversity. From the all-weather bird hide at Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve – binoculars in hand – you’ll marvel at the white-bellied sea eagle, honking magpie goose, fascinating pelican and iridescent glossy ibis thriving in a wetland oasis. It’s not just a haven for feathered creatures, though: stroll through the forest of red gums and you’ll encounter lazing grey kangaroos and eastern snake-neck turtles, too. This wildlife paradise makes for a wonderful picnic spot – so pack a delicious lunch (grab some snacks from Thynk Cafe and Bar in Beresfield on the way), sit still and soak it all in. 

Bird hide at Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve, North Coast

Seaham Swamp Nature Reserve, North Coast - Credit: John Spencer, DPE 

Adventure through rugged coastal landscape at Lake Macquarie 

With a variety of striking landscapes squeezed into a tiny area, at Wallarah National Park adventure and nature lovers alike will delight in exploring this area near Lake Macquarie. Be it on foot, with a bike or on a surfboard – expect to be wide-eyed as dolphins frolic in the waves, eagles soar to majestic heights and lizards bask on boulders in the sun. Deepen your connection to the area and take a walk along the Coastal Walking Track that will see you traverse cliff lines and learn about the flora and fauna native to the park and why it’s so important to conserve this special environment.  

Friends enjoying a coastal walk through Wallarah National Park, Lake Macquarie

Coastal walking track at Wallarah National Park, Lake Macquarie

Canoe through the deep valleys of Morton National Park 

Let the invigorating fragrance of the forest wash over you as you drift across Lake Yarrunga and through the cascading cliffs of the expansive Morton National Park in the Shoalhaven region, the traditional Country of the Yuin people. On a guided tour with Valley Outdoors, you’ll spend hours gliding through the waterways to secret picnic spots only accessible by boat, absorbing a wealth of knowledge about wildlife and natural history. Listen out for the ‘kee-oh’ call of the yellow-tailed black cockatoo and spot golden Myall bursting to life in spring; you’ll soon feel worlds away from the daily grind. 

Valley Outdoors Canoe Tours located on the Shoalhaven River

Guided tour with Valley Outdoors, Morton National Park - Credit: Travis Frenay

Picnic by a fairy grotto in Budderoo National Park   

There’s something about plunging your body into a freshwater swimming hole that sharpens all your senses and makes you feel alive. Postcard-perfect Nellies Glen picnic area hugs a calm pool at the base of a waterfall in Minnamurra Rainforest – a lush corner of Budderoo National Park near Kangaroo Valley. After tiptoeing through the trees – where you’re likely to catch a glimpse of a lyrebird scuttling past – unfurl a picnic rug in the dappled shade of the canopy and drink in the soothing sounds of the bush. 

Couple at waterfall at Nellies Glen, Budderoo National Park

Couple at waterfall at Nellies Glen, Budderoo National Park

Soak up the rich history of Mount Kembla on foot  

Jutting high above the rest of the Illawarra escarpment, picturesque Mount Kembla is a special place featuring heavily in Wodi Wodi Creation Stories, where you can enjoy a smattering of invigorating activities. It’s a place where a slew of histories intertwine, and a walk on the rambling Mount Kembla Ring Track in the Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area will take you past the fascinating remnants of mining settlements as well as panoramic coastline views before you descend into verdant rainforest. 

Group hike at Mount Kembla Ring Track, Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area

Mount Kembla Ring Track, Illawarra Escarpment State Conservation Area - Credit: John Spencer, DPE

Traverse the face of waterfalls in the Blue Mountains

Named for the eucalypt haze that blankets the region, there are endless tracks to explore in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park. But an out-of-this-world way to experience this ancient playground is by canyoning with Blue Mountains Adventure Company. Awaken your spirit by abseiling down the face of thundering waterfalls, slipping down natural water slides and immersing yourself in hidden pools set amid the stunning greenery. 

You’ll feel the best kind of exhausted when you’re done, and remote and rustic Galong Cabins are the perfect place to cosy up for the evening. Settle in on the verandah with a cuppa in hand as you watch wallabies bounce past and the stars emerge over the wondrous Megalong Valley.

Couple standing in front of Galong Cabins, Megalong Valley

Galong Cabins, Blue Mountains National Park - Credit: Simone Cottrell, DPE

Embark upon an Aboriginal cultural tour in the Basin 

Pristine Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park is unbelievably pretty, and one of its surprisingly best-kept secrets is its only camping area, The Basin. Get properly acquainted with its rocky headlands, eucalypt-covered bush-tracks and sapphire beaches in the company of Guringai Aboriginal Tour on their Basin Track Aboriginal Site Tour. This moving, intimate experience will see you learn how the Traditional Custodians have been caring for these lands for millennia. You’ll leave imparted with a new connection to the power and importance of story, as well as a greater understanding of local culture and lore. 

The Basin Aboriginal Site Tour, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

The Basin Track Aboriginal Site Tour, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park - Credit: Guringai Aboriginal Tours  

Stay safe in NSW national parks. Plan by checking the NPWS website for alerts and closures before visiting a park. For more safety tips and park alerts, visit nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/safety.

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