Greater Blue Mountains Heritage Area
SYDNEYSIDERS ARE OFTEN guilty of ignoring what is one of this country’s best adventure destinations, in the form of the Blue Mountain World Heritage Area, itself recently hammered by the summer bushfires.
This wild, rugged region contains a shed-load of great walks, sublime camping and world-renowned rock-climbing – and it’s all only a bit more than an hour from Australia’s largest capital city, via the M4 motorway! Again, some areas of the national park are, at the time of writing, still closed, so check with NPWS first before heading west.
With pretty mountain villages dotted around the borders of Blue Mountains National Park, it’s super easy to make this destination the perfect – and highly repeatable – family adventure, with numerous accommodation options, ranging from campgrounds to caravan parks, motels, hotels, B&Bs and weekender cottages for rent.
There are a number of guiding companies located in the ‘Blueys’ who can cater for any adventure request, whether it is climbing, hiking or canyoneering – and may offer itineraries suited to your skills/ages, etc. It’s bushwalking, however, that is the stand-out adventure activity in the Blueys. And you really are spoilt for choice…
Got a week? If you have, then make sure you spend it fully immersed in this bushwalking playground. Start off with a couple of days tackling the many day walks near Katoomba, including some of the best cliff-side tracks around (some of these are still closed due to COVID-19, but not all; a number of these are suited to young children). Up the ante and head further west to Blackheath and the Grose Valley’s track network. Here, walks range from a couple of hours (the Grand Canyon Walk is brilliant), through to one of the most popular overnight treks – the Blue Gum Forest, which entails a descent into the Grose Valley, via Govetts Leap, before you encounter beautiful waterfalls and creeks, as well as lush eucalypt bushland as you follow Govetts Creek down to Acacia campground. (Check with NPWS for track openings in this part of the Blue Mountains as the situation is changing weekly; expect a significant number of them to be open for spring/summer.)
And don’t forget the Six Foot Track. This three-day, 44km (one way) trek starts at the historic Explorers Tree (between Katoomba and Medlow Bath, just beside the Great Western Highway) and is for the more experienced walker. This track is fantastic, with well-positioned campsites (some with toilets) and that sensation of being right out in the wilds – well away from the bustling tourist hotspots in the Blueys’ towns.
More info: For the latest on open/closed walking tracks and areas of the national park, go to www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Blue Mountains accommodation and activity info, see www.visitnsw.com/destinations/blue-mountainsw
The Snowy Mountains
The ‘Snowies’ are chock-full of adventure opportunities year-round. Located around five to six hours south of Sydney (roughly two from Canberra), via the Hume, then Monaro highways. This mountainous region includes adventure towns such as Jindabyne and Cooma and the village of Thredbo. Spend a few days – or preferably a week – seeking adventure down here and it will just be a taste of the vast amount of fun on offer, making the perfect excuse for a return trip.
From October to May, the Snowy Mountains region is adventure central; activities include mountain biking (the just-extended Thredbo Valley Trail is a must-ride), road cycling, hiking, fly-fishing, paddling, swimming, 4WD touring, and brilliant camping. If you don’t want to camp, there is excellent town-based accommodation at Thredbo, Jindabyne and Cooma, ranging from swish hotels to fantastic caravan parks.
The walk to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko is a must. From the top of the chairlift begins a medium-difficulty climb to mainland Australia’s highest peak. The three- to four-hour round trip covers spectacular alpine terrain and the view from the top lookout, across the roof of Australia, is unforgettable. Guided walks are available from Thredbo and hikes to Charlotte Pass and Blue Lake are worth checking out as well.
Bike tracks around Thredbo, Jindabyne and now Cooma are suitable for everyone from beginners to pros and the trail networks here have grown significantly over the last few years (especially in Cooma and Jindabyne), so there’s plenty to keep the MTBer busy. Thredbo’s trail network is awesome; whether you’re a beginner or hardcore downhiller, the resort’s MTB trail network – one of Australia’s best – is ever-expanding, with the extension of the Thredbo Valley Trail (through Kosciuszko NP) the latest example. Add in the long, winding sealed roads that link a number of smaller alpine towns together for road-based cyclists, and the Snowies will satisfy even the most discerning two-wheeled tourist.
For those interested in paddling one of the country’s iconic rivers, Alpine River Adventures offers five- or seven-day journeys along sections of the Snowy River. It also runs day-trips – the ideal way for beginners or those with less time in the region to still get out on this famous waterway.
Kangaroo Valley and surrounds
The tiny town of Kangaroo Valley, midway between Moss Vale, in the NSW Southern Highlands, and the Shoalhaven Coast town of Nowra is around two hours’ drive southwest of Sydney, via the Hume Highway, then the Old Hume Highway and on to State Route 79. The township (like others in the Shoalhaven region) was severely damaged by bushfires this summer but it is, like all strong regional communities, bouncing back. Accommodation ranges from excellent caravan park/campgrounds, to boutique B&Bs.
If you don’t mind dipping a paddle, launch your canoe onto Lake Yarrunga at Tallowa Dam, or paddle down the Kangaroo River (you can hire canoes in town, or bring your own), leaving from under historic Hampden Bridge (the country’s oldest suspension bridge) and paddling six kilometres downriver (keeping an eye out for birdlife and platypus on the way). For day-paddlers, you will finish at the pretty river-side Bendeela picnic area where you can either be picked up (after pre-arranging a shuttle vehicle) or, if you’ve packed your camping gear, you can doss down here in the campground for the night, beside the river. For those who don’t have their own watercraft, Paddle and Portage Canoes offers bespoke canoe trips of any length down the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven rivers and hires out canoes as well.
For bushwalkers, take to the hills, meander along the river or venture through the forests via the numerous walking tracks. There are different kinds of walks to suit every level of fitness/age. Morton National Park is right near the town (Kangaroo Valley sits on its northeastern border) and you can access a number of day-walks from here as well, such as the excellent trek up Pigeon House Mountain (inland from Nowra; the track-head is just under two hours’ drive from Kangaroo Valley).
Whether you’re a mountain biker or road cyclist (or riding with your kids) there are a number of MTB tracks within both Morton National Park and around the village as well., plus some great road-riding routes, such as the ride from Kangaroo Valley to the popular tourist village of Berry (if you do nothing else here, grab a hot donut from The Famous Berry Donut Van – it’ll fire you up for the return back over the hills to Kangaroo Valley). There are also some nice dirt roads for mellow cruising as well. A longer – but graded easy/medium – ride is Upper Kangaroo River Road (24.4km return). Allow between half and a full day.
This far southern section of the New South Wales coast has one of the highest densities of national parks in the country, with parks comprising 71 per cent of total land area.
Now, after these devastating bushfires that tore through the region (followed by COVID-19) is the time to plan for a week down there in spring/summer. It’s a grand trip just to get there; idling your way down the beautiful NSW south coast on the Princes Highway, passing through the equally awesome Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla coast regions.
The Sapphire Coast border is reached after a five-hour drive from Sydney, at the village of Cobargo in the north, and the region extends south to Wonboyn (this lake-side fishing village is a touch over six hours from the centre of Melbourne) and, in between, there is a multitude of family-friendly adventures. All the towns in this region offer accommodation ranging from caravan park/campgrounds and motels, to hotels and boutique B&Bs. For those with less time, you can fly direct from Sydney or Melbourne (via Regional Express) to Merimbula, the main tourist hub of the Sapphire Coast.
The beachside town of Tathra, in the northern section (15 minutes’ drive from Merimbula), is famous not only for its beaches and surfing but also, increasingly, for two-wheeled activity. Behind the town (easily within riding distance on the fantastic cycle path), the dense native forests hide a highly-regarded 52km mountain bike trail network (built entirely by the local community) that caters for all skills and age levels. Better still, you can ride from.
Further south, Merimbula and Pambula provide surfing and fishing opportunities, as well as the chance to spot migrating whales. As well, these two towns offer excellent caravan parks to base yourself within. Keen paddlers can kayak from Merimbula to Eden (or, for a shorter paddle, to Pambula Beach) and make sure you keep an eye out for marine life – this region has plenty. Speaking of which…
Eden, the globally famous “Killer Whale town” (thanks to its whaling history, and the unique relationship that formed between whalers and a pod of orca back in the whaling era), looks out over Twofold Bay. There’s great fishing and plenty of scuba diving/snorkelling here, plus more whale watching (Twofold Bay is one of the only locations where migrating whales feed on their journey along the Australian coast), and sea kayaking. For sea kayaking, you can explore the various bays and beaches around Twofold Bay itself, or venture further south along this rugged and remote coastline to the Nadgee Nature Reserve.
For the little adventurers, the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, nestled beside Snug Cove in Eden, hosts a number of interactive activities during holidays, where children can join a marine scientist to explore the nearby rock shelves, or even go snorkelling. For bushwalkers, the two-day Light to Light Walk, in Ben Boyd NP, beckons (note that the Light to Light is currently closed after the January bushfires, and is not likely to re-open until early 2021 as it was extensively damaged by those fires). Just to the west lies the massive South East Forests National Park (estimated to be open September), with 4WD touring opportunities, canoeing and riverside campsites, and a number of State Forests, with the same activities available.
Wonboyn is the southern bookend of the Sapphire Coast, and butts onto Nadgee Nature Reserve – an outdoors fanatic’s dream, with walking tracks scattered throughout and some great wilderness camping to be had. For the serious bushwalker, the Nadgee Wilderness Walk – a four-day adventure – starts here and continues around the coastline into Victoria, finishing at the pretty tourist village of Mallacoota (another township decimated by the fires; make sure you spend a day or two here – the fishing is awesome as is the paddling in the lake itself). It’s a belter of a walk!