Sydney hiking? Why the city is a perfect base for walking adventures…
Bikini-clad beauties sunning themselves on Bondi Beach’s white sand while blonde surfer dudes ride the waves like pros. Or camera-wielding tourists clicking frantically outside the iconic opera house and harbour bridge, as slick city workers rush around the glistening high-rise towers. These are the images that first pop into my head – and probably yours – when envisaging Sydney. I doubt you think of hiking boots, rustic campsites and quiet mountain summits. But, despite being Australia’s biggest city and home to about five million people, Sydney is a magnificent base for a hiking adventure Down Under. It has a plethora of walking options on its doorstep from the pristine coastline of the Royal National Park to the dense forest of the Blue Mountains. (Or, for REAL adventure, take a flight to Tasmania – like I did here)
I spent about three weeks in Sydney earlier this year. I learnt to surf (badly) and did the usual touristy stuff – but, as I’m prone to, I wanted to escape the concrete jungle regularly for some fresh air and adventure. It was remarkably easy and cheap to do so using public transport. The city felt a million miles away in no time.
My first Sydney hike was the Coast Track in the Royal National Park, a stunning 26km coastal walk from Bundeena to Otford. I took a one-hour train from Central to Cronulla (about $4) before hopping on the 30-minute ferry to Bundeena (about $6). And that was it – I was on the trail.
It is a beautiful, memorable hike. I made footprints on empty, white-sand beaches; I was mesmerised by the rhythmic waves battering the dramatic rocky headlands; and I couldn’t quite believe my eyes at the more-than-impressive Eagle Rock waterfall. Many people complete the track over two days, camping at North Era campground, but I pressed on to finish it in a (very long) day. It was a phenomenal trip – perhaps the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the metropolis.
A few days of city life later and, yet again, I was itching to get out into the wild. Where should I go? The Blue Mountains – perhaps the premier outdoors destination close to Sydney – were the obvious choice. One swipe of my Opal card later and I was heading for Katoomba (two-hour journey, about $5) for a couple of days of exploring. I wasn’t left disappointed. The hiking options were plentiful and the scenery – valleys filled with dense Eucalyptus forest broken by teetering, rocky pinnacles and ridges – was like nothing I’d seen before. The intense blue haze of the mountains, which is caused by an optical phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering (yes, I googled it, and no, I don’t understand how it works!), added to the wow factor.
On day one I did the Three Sisters walk, which was way too touristy for me, despite the rock formation clearly being impressive. For me, if four bus loads of noisy, iPhone-wielding tourists pull up near a trail, it spoils the walk. So I set out on days two and three to get off the beaten track. I climbed Mt Solitary, a remote, 950m peak in the Jamison Valley. Perching atop the column of Ruined Castle for lunch in glorious sunshine, all alone except for the insects and birds, was a real highlight. So too was the Korrowall Knife-edge (the clue is in the name – it’s a sharp, you-don’t-want-to-fall-off-this ridge to the summit).
The following day I had a tranquil stroll in the Blue Gum Forest, the birthplace of the bushwalking movement in New South Wales after conservationists saved it from the axe in the 1930s. The forests of mountain blue gum trees are really quite magical – like something out of a children’s fairy tale. Atmospheric, beautiful, peaceful. I stood still for about 15-minutes, looking up at the tall, straight trees as rays of sunshine pierced the canopy. I felt relaxed and happy. And I couldn’t quite believe I was only a few hours from the mayhem of the city centre. Sydney has myriads of qualities – but its proximity to world-class walking must be one of its best.