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  • Writer's pictureTania Wee

Wine & Wildlife in Sydney’s Surrounds

New South Wales is a special place. Spectacular landscapes, incredible flora and fauna, and food experiences to impress even the most serious of gastronomes. This unforgettable road trip – a loop that starts and ends in the world-class capital – combines some of the state’s premium destinations, including the Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Port Stephens and the Central Coast.

Immerse yourself in nature at heritage-listed national parks, sip remarkable wines in Australia’s oldest wine region, traverse the Southern Hemisphere’s largest moving coastal sand dunes, and get up close to wildlife that call our coast, reef, and inland home. You’ll soon discover, there’s nothing quite like New South Wales.

Route: Sydney> Blue Mountains > Hunter Valley > Port Stephens > Central Coast > Sydney

Total distance: 750km/466miles

Total drive time: 9hours 50min drive

Days 1 – 3: Sydney | Arrive via Sydney Airport

Climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge – enjoy a harbour cruise – embark on a coastal walk – visit Taronga Zoo – eat at famous markets and restaurants

Not just a city of landmarks, Sydney is a landmark city. Home to globally recognised attractions such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach, the New South Wales capital leaves visitors in awe. The spangled harbour is a great place to start. After a wander around the Sydney Opera House concourse, you will have your bearings and a renewed inspiration. Take advantage of that vibe with Bridge Climb Sydney, an unforgettable experience that allows you to enjoy 360-degree views from the summit of this national treasure. Down below, jump on a Sydney Harbour Cruise and capture some snaps as you explore the city’s most attractive spots with the sea breeze in your hair.

Sydney is famous for its beach lifestyle and there are many glorious spots to soak up the atmosphere. Bondi, Watsons Bay and Manly are among the most popular, although there are more than 100 impressive beaches peppered along Sydney’s coastline. Pristine coastline means beautiful coastal walks too, of which Sydney has many. The six-kilometre Bondi to Coogee Walk is a picturesque introduction, while the 80-kilometre Bondi to Manly Walk is an extraordinary multi-day challenge worth embracing.

Taronga Zoo is another Sydney drawcard with its spectacular harbour views. More than 5,000 animals call this harbourside attraction home, including plenty of Australian native animals such as koalas and kangaroos. For something truly unique, spend a night at the elegant Wildlife Retreat, a designer hotel nestled in the zoo’s natural landscape. Alternatively, try the Roar and Snore glamping experience, which includes intimate animal encounters and fahuscinating zookeeper talks. Better yet, you wake up to those gorgeous harbour and city skyline views.

Experience adrenaline-fuelled excitement at Luna Park, a much-loved harbourfront theme park featuring thrill rides, family rides and sideshow games. Entry is free – you only pay for your rides! Be sure to snap a photo of the iconic smiling-face entrance.

For a spot of shopping, you’ll find high-end brands, as well as cutting-edge design and souvenir stores in the beautiful heritage precinct, The Rocks. Markets are held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Still in the central business district, Pitt Street Mall boasts everything from designer to high street brands. Darling Harbour, meanwhile, is a fantastic shopping precinct on the waterfront. Also harbourside, is the newly-developed Barangaroo. Home to the tallest building in Sydney and fourth tallest in Australia, the glittering Crown Sydney, it is also jam-packed with exquisite hatted restaurants, cafes and rooftop bars.

For a more intimate experience, character-filled inner-city suburbs such as Newtown and Surry Hills provide boutique shopping, a thriving dining scene, and myriad cultural delights. Nearby Eveleigh is home to the lively Carriageworks Farmer’s Market, where more than 70 farmers and artisan food producers sell their delicious wares. There’s also Paddy’s Market at Haymarket, which has everything from food and fashion to gifts and gadgets. Don’t forget to visit the lantern-lit Spice Alley in Chippendale which offers hawker-style Asian cuisine, and the bustling Sydney Fish Market – the biggest market of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, featuring an incredible display of the freshest seafood in town.

Up the luxe factor by taking a private boat cruise or seaplane and enjoy a champagne brunch – it's an idyllic way to marvel at the harbour city.

For halal dining options, Neptune Palace in Circular Quay serves traditional Malaysian and Cantonese food, while Ipoh Town, located on York Street in the city and Barangaroo, offers some of the best Malaysian food in Sydney. Indian and Pakistani halal food is the game at Lal Qila in Darling Harbour, and you can also grab a non-alcoholic beer or delicious mocktail.

Korean BBQ is a hit in Sydney and some of the best options are right in the heart of the city, including Danjee, Yang San Park and Myung Jang.

It’s not hard to find exceptional Cantonese fare in Sydney, especially with the flavours of Chinatown in the mix. Royal Pavilion, The Century at the Star and Zilver are all bona fide Sydney institutions.

Authentic Indian flavours and Sydney Harbour views are sure to impress at Lavendra in North Sydney or, for an inner-city vibe, try the delicious Masala Theory in Surry Hills.

Days 3 – 5: Blue Mountains | 50 minutes from Sydney

Admire views from The Lookout – ride a cable car on the world’s steepest railway – hike the beautiful trails – shop in pretty Leura

A nature lover’s playground, the UNESCO heritage-listed Blue Mountains are just a short journey from Sydney. Magical vistas await, including million-year-old valleys, lush rainforests and dramatic mountainous landscapes.

The Three Sisters rock formation is the Blue Mountains’ most famed sight and you will catch a stellar view from The Lookout, Echo Point. As well as boasting unrivalled views, The Lookout is a wonderful food, wine and hospitality destination. The views are also hard to beat from Scenic World’s thrilling glass-bottom cable car ride, which uses the world’s steepest railway.

Get the heart pumping with outdoor activities such as bushwalking, abseiling, hiking or mountain biking. Alternatively, join an eco-certified guided walking tour and get an insight into the region’s diverse flora and fauna. You’ll likely come across some of the friendly residents, such as wombats, wallabies and more.

Be sure to check out the quaint township of Leura. Adorned with character-filled heritage homes and beautiful gardens, Leura is pretty as a picture, and its National Trust-classified town centre offers great boutique shopping and delightful eateries. For a traditional morning or afternoon tea, order the delicious scones at Everglades Historic House and Gardens. October is a particularly attractive time of year in Leura with the cherry blossoms in full springtime bloom.

Camping sites are available in Blue Mountains National Park, near Katoomba, Blackheath and Lithgow. Motorhome accommodation is also available.

Just minutes from the Three Sisters, Canton Palace in Katoomba delivers some of the region’s best Asian food, including traditional Chinese and Malaysian dishes.

Arjuna Indian Restaurant in Katoomba specialises in Tandoori cooking. The extensive menu is full of authentic Indian favourites, with halal, vegan and vegetarian dishes.

The Blue Mountains is packed with Instagrammable spots, including the sea of clouds at Jamison Valley, Princes Rock Lookout and Hanging Rock.

Day 5 – 7: Hunter Valley | three hours, 22 minutes from Blue Mountains

Sample Australia’s best wines at vineyards – enjoy a hot air balloon ride – dine at upmarket restaurants – go horse-riding – meet native wildlife at the zoo

A few hours up the highway and you will find yourself in spectacular wine country. In fact, the Hunter Valley is Australia’s oldest wine region, and with 150 cellar doors, there are countless ways to experience the fruits of the vintners’ labour.

Brokenwood Wines is one of the most reputable labels in the country and the five-star estate is a must-visit. Whether you’re after a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting, a self-guided wine exploration or decadent lunch with matching wine flight, Brokenwood has you covered. It is also one of the estates included in the Ultimate Winery Experiences of Australia. Hunter Valley favourites Audrey Wilkinson and Tyrrell’s Wines are also on this esteemed list, while Tulloch Wines and Krinklewood Biodynamic Vineyard are exceptional choices, too. Keep an eye out for resident kangaroos who just love a casual hop through the Hunter vineyards.

Beyond vino, Tulloch also offers kombucha tasting, junior tasting (soft drinks with matching snacks), cheese tasting and chocolate tasting. If gin or beer are more to your liking, you’re in luck. Distilleries and breweries are plentiful in the region.

With great drink comes great food and the Hunter Valley certainly delivers. Find Circa 1876 at the end of the gorgeous tree-lined driveway of Roscrea Estate. Be impressed by the farm to fork ethos, as well as the award-winning food and wine. Another highly-acclaimed choice, Bistro Molines delivers rustic French Provincial dishes in a classic setting, while Muse Kitchen offers European fare with a casual, yet sophisticated atmosphere. At EXP., local produce is at the heart of innovative dishes.

The Hunter Valley is a popular hot-air ballooning site, the patchwork quilt of rolling vineyards creating quite a stunning show. Set off at sunrise and enjoy the magnificent views as you soar high above the valley. Once you are back on land, indulge in a champagne breakfast!

Keep the adrenalin pumping with horse-riding, Segway Tours, or even a touch of grape-stomping. Alternatively, bring the pace down with a llama walking tour. Cameras are essential – this is as cute as it gets!

From llamas to lemurs, make a stop at Hunter Valley Wildlife Park and meet the residents, big and small. You’ll see monkeys, alligators, meerkats and more, plus have the chance to handfeed kangaroos, wallabies, farmyard animals and lorikeets. With 14 hectares of storybook grounds, the Hunter Valley Gardens is another star attraction.

Mouth-watering flavours will have you craving more at Taj Indian Flavours Indian Restaurant in Singleton.

Delicious fresh food with an Asian kick – that’s the hallmark of Leaves and Fishes in Lovedale, a Hunter Valley favourite since opening in 2004.

Motorhome accommodation is available at the Hunter Valley Resort.

Day 7 – 10: Port Stephens | one hour, 49 minutes from Hunter Valley

Hike up Mount Tomaree – scale the spectacular sand dunes – watch the whales and dolphins on a cruise – sample the fresh seafood

The dolphin capital of New South Wales, Port Stephens is an idyllic seaside region with 26 golden beaches and bays to explore. Known for its fresh seafood and natural beauty, water-based activities are a must here with sailing, kayaking, swimming or stand-up paddleboarding among the most popular. The excitement continues on a Port Stephens whale- or dolphin-watching cruise (available between May and November), and there’s no better place to jump in and swim with the dolphins.

You might also catch a glimpse of these graceful marine mammals from the summit of Mount Tomaree in Tomaree National Park, where you can enjoy sweeping views along the spectacular north coast. The national park also includes a myriad of picturesque walks, pristine beaches and stunning swimming holes.

Step it up with a guided shark encounter tour, courtesy of Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters. Rest assured, you will be under the watchful eye of experienced guides as you pet and feed incredible marine life.

Port Stephens is also home to the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. The Aboriginal guides from Sand Dune Adventures help bring the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes alive, offering quad-biking with an insight into traditional Aboriginal food, culture and history. Camel riding on the sand dunes, 4WD tours and sandboarding are also available.

On the dining scene, seafood is a must in Port Stephens, and the best place for it is on the waterfront. Try the farm-to-table Cookaburra Restaurant or Little Beach Boathouse.

Get up close with koalas as you indulge in deluxe glamping at Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary. Choose from a range of rooms and suites.

Motorhome accommodation is also available.

Tuck into award-winning Asian cuisine at L'il Buddha Asian Cuisine, a favourite with locals and visitors in Salamander Bay.

Days 10 – 12: Central Coast | two hours, three minutes from Port Stephens

Walk along the famous jetty – see the alpacas – jump on the zipcoaster or high ropes course – sample spirits in the gardens – take home an Akoya pearl

Coastal delights meet verdant hinterland on the glorious Central Coast. This region is packed with pretty beach towns which join the dots between Newcastle and Sydney.

First stop, Long Jetty, a small town with – you guessed it – a long jetty. A popular Instagram spot, the jetty itself is beautiful, while vintage stores and trendy cafes line the main strip. Speaking of Instagram, the cuddly stars of Iris Lodge Alpacas are ready for their close-up. As well as alpacas, you can meet wiltipoll sheep, horses and cows.

Horses are also at the ready at Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures, Australia’s largest horse-riding centre, offering lessons, trail rides, cattle drive rides, and pony rides for kids. In fact, Glenworth is an incredible spot for all outdoors activities such as kayaking, abseiling and quad biking. Be sure to visit TreeTops Central Coast, an adventure park including a high ropes course and a zipcoaster.

Sample award-winning spirits and liqueurs at Distillery Botanica. Set amongst three acres of tranquil gardens, this distillery looks to the botanicals on-site for inspiration and ingredients.

Don’t leave town before catching a glimpse of the world's most valuable Akoya pearls at Broken Bay Pearl Farm. A range of tours are available and include highlights such as river cruises, immersive pearl grading, and even a take-home pearl. From here, it’s less than an hour’s drive to Sydney Airport, where you can be whisked away – Aussie pearl in hand – towards your next adventure.

Another Luxury Lodge of Australia, Pretty Beach House provides a spectacular Aussie stay. Bells at Killcare and Marramarra Lodge, positioned on the Hawkesbury River, also deliver on luxe. Motorhome accommodation is also available.

Raj’s Corner, Newcastle’s most renowned Indian restaurant, boast a variety of mouth-watering northern and southern favourites, including halal options.

With not one, but three Central Coast locations – Kincumber, Terrigal and West Gosford – the multi-award-winning Rajdhani Indian Restaurant delivers delicious Indian fare.

For more than 30 years, the team at Peking Garden in Gosford has been serving excellent Chinese cuisine, including a Hong Kong-style buffet every Sunday.

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