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Few would dispute that Sydney is one of the most spectacular ports in the world to sail into. But beyond the scenic beauty of its ocean and harbour setting, Australia’s premier city offers world-class shopping and restaurants, varied museums and cultural attractions and an energetic nightlife – all of which make it not just a port but a place to spend time exploring.

SYDNEY

1 day – in port

If you haven’t been here before and only have a day, make sure you take in the city’s best-known sights: the Sydney Opera House is the jewel in the crown, while The Royal Botanic Garden, nearby, provides fine views of the Opera House and harbour. An Aboriginal-guided tour of the gardens is an interesting way to learn about the Eora people who first inhabited this region.

If you have two days in town, you’ll have time to find out a little more about the city’s history and fit in some shopping. The Art Gallery of NSW has excellent exhibits of Aboriginal and European artworks; the Museum of Sydney, where Australia’s first Government House was built in 1788, is also excellent. The Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour features everything from an old pearling ship to a submarine and a naval destroyer.

The ultimate in indulgence might be to take a more staid seaplane flight from Rose Bay on the harbour to Pittwater on the northern beaches, soaking up the dazzling city setting along the way and enjoying lunch at Jonah’s, a Relais & Châteaux property on Whale Beach. The best of Sydney is always outdoors: a towel on the beach, a yacht on the harbour, an open-air concert in the Domain, a pavement café.

BEYOND SYDNEY, 3 DAYS

Sydney’s pleasures invite you to linger, but within a few hours’ drive of the city lies a diverse array of landscapes, activities and destinations that showcase some of the most beautiful parts of New South Wales.

Arguably the best destination for those with kids, the Central Coast offers family adventures with its network of cycle paths, ocean and lakes for surfing and kayaking, boardwalks through national parks, and a host of activities from horse riding to paintball. Towns such as The Entrance delight with prawn fishing and pelican feedings from the jetties, while popular Terrigal has a huge sweep of beach and promenade lined with convivial eateries.

Other great locations to explore include Newcastle; with its eight sweeping beaches and five-kilometre coastal walk, The Hunter Valley; well-renowned for its vineyards, horse farms and blue skies, The Blue Mountains; a two hour drive from Sydney which provide an extravaganza of cliffs and eucalypt forests where waterfalls drift away in spray, sprinkling lush rainforest that erupts unexpectedly in hidden gullies, and finally Canberra; the nations capital which brings everything from the Australian War Memorial to Aboriginal rock art in Namadgi National Park.

BEYOND SYDNEY, 1 WEEK

Beyond the Blue Mountains, the rolling countryside of the Central West provides beautiful scenic drives to historic towns such as Bathurst, Orange and Cowra. The Central West is also crammed with evocative colonial-era and gold-rush towns such as Forbes, with its grand architecture and bushranger associations, and Canowindra, Hill End and Millthorpe.

Few other than Sydneysiders discover the varied attractions of the Illawarra coast south of the city. Yet with minimal driving, you can reach a scenic region that combines sweeping beaches and rugged headlands with a hinterland of farms, forest and hidden valleys.

Wollongong is the urban centre, with the Nan Tien Chinese Buddhist institute and temple a chief attraction. South of Wollongong lie lively seaside resorts such as Kiama, Gerringong and Gerroa, where you can swim, kayak, surf and cast a line for whiting from the beaches. Inland, Kangaroo Valley has an attractive heritage village that offers good shopping and
top-notch lunches at its historic pub.

Batemans Bay and Eden are two more locations that are a must-see. The holiday resort of Batemans Bay, gateway to the highly scenic Eurobodalla Coast, lies four hours south of Sydney, so consider breaking the journey in the Illawara region or the lovely towns further south. Family-friendly Batemans Bay provides a multitude of water sports and holiday activities: go-karting, jet-skiing, fishing, paddle-boarding and more.
If you can stretch to a week, be tempted by the Sapphire Coast and a lazy day or two fishing at Bermagui or meandering the scenic coastal drive towards Merimbula. At Eden – where Orion and Balmoral make port calls – a fascinating Killer Whale Museum focuses on Eden’s rich whaling history. These days, tour boats allow you a more peaceful whale encounter.
 Words: Brian Johnston