things to do in sydney

Escape to the Hawkesbury River for a brilliant day on the water!

Our family recently enjoyed a winter mini-break in Sydney. We had visited Sydney several times before and explored most of the highlights. This time our highlight was a day on the Hawkesbury River kayaking. It was a pleasure to get active and enjoy the great outdoors so close to Sydney!

 

Hawkesbury River

Parsley Bay

The Hawkesbury River:

Is an easy 1-hour train journey from the city, and the tranquil hamlet of Brooklyn is the gateway.  Brooklyn is a good place to grab a coffee and consider your options for how to explore the river. The Hawkesbury River is a breath of fresh air that flows past riverside towns into bays and inlets between the Ku-ring-gai Chase and Brisbane Water National parks. The Hawkesbury River is navigable for over 100 kilometres. You could cruise and explore these waters for weeks and still not discover it all! Spend a day hiking, boating, kayaking or enjoy an overnight anchorage in a hired boat or a waterfront B&B and wake up to the call of Kookaburras, Whip Birds, Sea Eagles and the lapping of the tides.

Here are some of the key things to do:

Kayak:

An easy and fun way to explore! You can hire either a single or double canoe, and paddle for a half or full day, or overnight and camp in the National parks. We did a 20-minute paddle to Dangar Island, had lunch at the Bowling Club, then paddled another 20 minutes to an inlet at the base of Tank Creek. Did a 1 hour bushwalk to the cascades & waterfalls with an incredible natural infinity pool that looks directly over the stunning Hawkesbury. We then returned to Brooklyn after an amazing day on the kayaks.

Hawkesbury River   

Hawkesbury River

Tank Creek Infinity Pool

   

Dangar Island:

Has a regular ferry service. No cars on the island, so it is very peaceful! Wheelbarrows are the main mode of transport for moving shopping from the jetty to home. The Dangar Island Bowling Club is the local watering hole and the place to have a meal during the weekend. Bradley’s Beach is on the southeast side of the island and is an excellent swimming beach on high tide. At low tide, the beach becomes the perfect place for the kids to play in ‘river mud’.

The Riverboat Postman:

Enjoy a historic 3-hour postman boat run on the Hawkesbury. This daily service delivers mail and other essentials whilst you soak up the magnificent scenery of the Hawkesbury.

Houseboat Hire:

A great way to explore at your leisure in the comfort of your own houseboat. Swim at secluded beaches, fish or just relax with a good book. Minimum 2-night hire outside of peak periods.

Hawkesbury River

Take a day out of your Sydney visit to enjoy a kayak on the magnificent Hawkesbury River. It is off the beaten path, easy to access, and really is a stunning excursion that does deliver on a great outdoor experience! Ask us to include the Hawkesbury in your Australia holiday itinerary…

Down under Australia

Down Under Australia Holiday

Down Under Australia Holiday by Sylvaine Djafarian

If you’ve dreamed of traveling down under to Australia for a holiday, but baulked at the distances and time zones to cross from your native Europe or America, perhaps your time in China is the perfect opportunity to go.

After each business trip in Australia, my husband kept telling us how beautiful this country was, and how friendly Aussies were. So, knowing that this might be our last year in Shanghai, and that from Europe, the trip would be much more complicated and expensive, we decided to spend the whole Christmas holidays there.

We had a few wishes: diving and snorkeling, beaches and nature, with two children aged five and seven, who are not used to long hikesand Australia fulfilled them all!

To the Apple Isle

Echidna Down Under AustraliaOur first taste of Tasmania, Australia’s southern island state, was an evening stroll around the harbor and enjoying delicious grilled meat. The next morning, we picked up our rental car in the city center, and drove to Port Arthur. Driving (on the left!) is a very convenient way to visit Tasmania, either with a car or campervan.

We were all eager to meet the local star, the Tasmanian devil, so our first stop was at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, between Hobart and Port Arthur. After seeing a female and her young having lunch, we understood why the Warner Bros Looney Tunes animated cartoons portrayed this marsupial as Taz, a carnivore with a great appetite! We also learnt that the Tasmanian devil is now an endangered species, because of a very contagious dis-ease, its illegally introduced predator the red fox, and road accidents.

Tasmania Devil Down Under AustraliaWe then spent an afternoon in Port Arthur, an open air museum and UNESCO world heritage site, which used to be a penal colony in the 19th century. History is vividly rendered through exhibitions, stories about the British and Irish convicts and their hard lives, and inspired guides offering tours of the remaining buildings. Some convicts were as young as nine, something that made our children thoughtful

From the South-East we drove to the West Coast, through impressive National Parks preserving the Tasmanian Wilderness Area. We traveled on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, a restoration of an original steam train carrying copper from Queens-town mines to the port at Strahan, and stopping at the stations along the line, we discovered the rainforest, the Huon pines, and even panned for goldwith no success!

Our favorite activity was the Bonnet Island Experience: cruising on a small boat to a tiny island just before dusk, listening to stories about the island and its lighthouse before enjoying a plate of delicious local cheese on the boat, and going back to the island at night to see its inhabitants, about 40 Little Penguins, returning to their burrows to feed their hungry and noisy chicks.

On the day long road trip crossing Tasmania from West to East, we took several short walks in the Cradle Mountain National Park, and saw echidnas and pademelons , the kangaroo’s smaller cousin. The countryside offers a great variety of landscapes, beautiful mountains and colorful vegetation.

We ended our Tasmanian trip in Bicheno, where we spent a day in Freycinet National Park, enjoying turquoise waters, white sand beaches and pink granites rocks. The best part for our kids was stroking a friendly kangaroo .in the parking lot! He was busy eating the apple a visitor gave him, despite all the do not feed the animals signs. My husband also joined the diving center for a dive among beautiful weedy sea dragons (marine fish related to the seahorse).

Tasmania is often skipped by travelers who prefer to concentrate on Australia’s mainland, but for us it was a wonderful oasis of nature, amazing animals, varied landscapes within relatively short driving range, and very friendly people.

Heron Island Down Under Australia

To the Tropics

From Australia’s most southern point, we flew north, to the coral cay of Heron Island near the Tropic of Capricorn, in Queensland. The island is about 800m long and 300m at its widest. Its eastern half is part of a National Park. Discovered in 1843, it wasn’t inhabited until the early 20th century when a turtle cannery was established. It is now shared by a resort, a reef research station, and tens of thousands of birds during the breeding season, from October to April.

Don’t expect a 5-star luxury resort, be careful of the Noddy terns droppings over your heads, and bring your ear plugs for the night, but if you love nature, diving and snorkeling, this is a great place for a few days. We took reef walks, searching in the shallows for starfish, sea cucumber, small sharks, shells, and a wide array of corals.

The forest walks revealed where the ghoulish screams at night came from: the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters feeding their chicks after a day of fishing. There is also a great Junior Ranger Club for kids over seven years which our daughter loved. She had fun, and learnt everything about the sea, its inhabitants, its dangers, and why we need to protect our environment.

Unfortunately, the weather was not the best. The trip between Gladstone and the island was a nightmare, the sea was rough, and we were all sick. Poor visibility and strong currents only allowed limited diving and snorkeling, however, from the beach, we saw stingrays, a school of young reef sharks, and parrot fish. We also were lucky to see sea turtles nesting during walks at dusk, and even once at 11am, which was quite unusual, but allowed us to take photos. Last but not least, our children still talk about the arrival of Santa Claus on a boat !

Down Under Australia

To the City

Sydney is a capital city that epitomizes Australia’s relaxing lifestyle. Our hotel, over-looking Hyde Park, was the perfect starting point to explore Darling Harbour, the beautiful Botanic Gardens, the Opera House
(where we attended the musical Children Show Hairy Maclary and Friends booked 2 months before), and visit Taronga Zoo by ferry from Circular Quay.

We did not suffer from the heat on the East Coast nor in Sydney, apparently weather was cooler than usual, with Australia still waiting for the summer to begin.

The highlight of our stay in Sydney was New Year’s Eve overlooking the harbor. After discovering that we could not access the main harbor area of Circular Quay, we walked to the Observatory Gardens, the perfect place to enjoy the Family Fireworks at 9pm. An unforgettable show, both in the sky, and also on the streets, with a mix of tourists in shorts and T-shirts, and locals in evening dresses and high heels.

Three weeks were not enough. We will have to go back for Melbourne, the outback, Uluru, more beautiful beaches, and all the other amazing places Australia offers.

Useful Tips:

  • Tasmania: Best season (December to March) usually has daytime temperatures ranging around 20-22 degrees Celsius. Early December, it was colder, pack some warm clothes.
  • Heron Island: best season (October to April) has daytime temperatures ranging around 28-30 degrees Celsius, and no jellyfish in the sea during Christmas time. Note that all boat trips are only for adults and kids older than 8.
  • If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney book well in advance.
  • Food and accommodation in Australia are expensive, so try to book family rooms with cooking
    facilities to avoid always going to restaurants.
  • Contact Australia Expat Travel for local knowledge and good information. www.ausxpattravel.com.au; [email protected]
Australia

Travel Down Under Australia is a fabulous holiday with variety and fun for the whole family.

Our Australia Holiday By Amy Mellinger

One of my lifelong dreams has been to visit Australia. Its distance from my home country (the U.S.), its natural beauty and those fabulous accents have long captured my imagination.

Last December we took our dream vacation. My husband, three children (ages 8, 10 and 14) and I boarded the 10-hour overnight flight and awoke in Sydney to begin our Australian adventure.

Sydney

We made Darling Harbour, a neighboring inlet of Sydney Harbour, our base in Sydney and it was ideal for both beauty and convenience. From our hotel, the Grand Mercure, we were within a walk or short cab ride from numerous restaurants and activities. On our first day we took a ferry across Sydney Harbour to the Sydney Zoo. The ferry ride was an attraction itself, with its views of Sydney’s most famous landmarks, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Our favorite exhibit was the area dedicated to Australia’s native wildlife specifically the koalas and kangaroos. But the zoo’s biggest highlight isn’t zoological at all it’s the awe-inspiring vistas. The Sydney Zoo sits on a prime piece of real estate and the views from the summit are stunning. The next day my husband and two older children woke up early for the wildly popular Bridge Climb. They were so excited they couldn’t get out the door fast enough. The Bridge Climb is a three and a half hour guided climb along catwalks and ladders all the way to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, 134 meters above the water. It’s so popular that my husband booked the climb a month before our trip (the minimum age is 10). When they returned they reported the experience was awesome and not too difficult. Even our 10 year old, who was a little nervous, returned all smiles.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Australia

Claire(11), Charlie (14) Mellinger do the Bridge Climb 123 meters above the water to Harbour Bridge in Sydney

Later that afternoon we sought out more adventure on the jet boats. The boats take you on a roller coaster-like ride around the harbor at speeds up to 80 kilometers/hour. Tour operators abound at each harbor. We loved ride but be warned it does get rough and you’ll get wet very wet if you sit in the back row as we did (children must be at least 1.3 meters to ride).

We spent our last day at Manly Beach, seven miles northeast of Sydney and just a ferry ride from Sydney Harbour. We chose Manly as surf shops on the beach offer surfing lessons (try the Manly Surf School which offers lessons for all ages). A two-hour lesson is 55 AUD for adults and 45 AUD for children. My husband and the kids took a lesson while I relaxed on the beach. Afterwards, my youngest, who was wary at first, proclaimed, I want to surf everyday for the rest of my life!

Surf lesson at Manly Beach Australia

Surf lesson at Manly Beach are a blast for the whole family.

Port Douglas

From Sydney we headed to Port Douglas, the closest gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and a gorgeous seaside destination. We flew into Cairns, an hour drive from Port Douglas, and transferred to the Peppers Beach Club which we highly recommend for the rooms, pool and staff. The beach is just a block away and the town is an easy walk.

The all-day trip to the Great Barrier Reef made three stops along the reef with time at each for snorkeling and diving. It was spectacular! We saw corals in vivid blues and pinks and fish in every color of the rainbow. From a parent’s point of view the guides were great, providing a program including snorkeling tours and a bit of reef education between stops. They pointed out various sea creatures that otherwise could be easily missed and also put the kids at ease in the water, showing them pictures of sea creatures they may see and assuring them that they were harmless. At 160 AUD for adults and 110 AUD for children (12 and under) it’s expensive but still well worth it.

Another Port Douglas highlight is Mossman Gorge, part of the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Twenty minutes from Port Douglas, the Mossman River tumbles through a steep-sided valley lined with huge granite boulders that create freshwater swimming holes. You can take a full-day tour of the area but it’s not necessary. We had a tour bus pick us up at the hotel (10 AUD/person) and drop us at the top of the trail. From there you can walk along a 2.7 kilometer loop trail or hike across the suspension bridge crossing the river. We stopped along the way for a picnic lunch and a swim the river water is cold but feels good after a hike.

After 11 days our dream trip ended. But now I have a new dream to return. What we saw of Australia was spectacular and the people themselves were wonderful (as were their accents).

Trip Planning: We recommend Australia Expat Travel Owner Vicki Baensch. She planned a fantastic trip that included all the family-friendly details, http://www.ausxpattravel.com.au.

Port Douglas Australia