YOU can have your cake and eat it too in New South Wales (NSW), the fifth-largest of Australia’s states and territories. And while that cake is bigger than Texas in size – literally – you’ll still be able to taste all the sweet ingredients that make a holiday Down Under memorable in one bite-sized visit.
Layer upon layer of holiday happiness can be served up – right from the sophisticated tastes of your starting point in the capital, Sydney, one of the world’s great cities.
With its harbor that sparkles like diamonds and more than 100 beaches surrounding the city, Sydney’s best table is anywhere with a water view. And sampling an array of fresh seafood (a dozen Sydney rock oysters at the lively Opera Bar perhaps?) or world-renowned beef, lamb and dairy is a must.
But the sum of Australia is much more than its modern city life.
Get your fill of the rich colors of the outback in total comfort and style just up the road in the Blue Mountains’ Wolgan Valley.
Then savor the flavors of cellar door offerings from internationally–acclaimed wineries a little further afield in the Hunter Valley.
Finally, dig in to the relaxed, shabby-chic lifestyle and acclaimed surfing beaches of Byron Bay – home to celebrities including Thor’s Chris Hemsworth – in the Northern Rivers coastal region in the far north of the state.
Australia is closer than you think, with direct flights from Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco, plus connecting flights from all major airports in the US.
So go on, take a slice out of that bucket list and devour every morsel of extraordinary experiences a NSW holiday can cook up.
DIZZYING HEIGHTS AND GRAND SITES
STAND at any point waterside in The Rocks or Circular Quay, look out towards the Harbour Bridge to your left and the Opera House to your right and be blown away by the view.
This is iconic Sydney – the postcard image the world instantly recognizes.
Even Aussies living outside Sydney often make the harbour their first port of call on any short getaway to be in the presence of these two much-celebrated landmarks that pay homage to what happens when engineering and architectural genius meet creative vision.
Affectionately nicknamed “The Coat Hanger” in typical Australian irreverence to its appearance, the 1149m Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed in 1932, built by 1400 workers.
Painting the wide steel arch bridge (the arch is 134m above sea level) is a constant battle against the elements, requiring 80,000 litres (21,000 gallons) of paint for each coat (or equivalent to an area covering 60 soccer fields). And its most famous former rigger who worked alongside the painters is actor and comedian Paul Hogan (“Hoges”), star of Crocodile Dundee and the soon-to-be-released The Very Excellent Mr Dundee.
At the foot of the bridge is The Rocks, where Sydney was established as a colony on January 26, 1788. This time capsule into a the past is a maze of intriguing laneways and historic buildings that once housed soldiers’ barracks, hospitals, whaling warehouses, and rat catchers. But the area now boasts a vibrant collection of restaurants, bars and pubs that remain a favorite with Sydneysiders, as well as eclectic shopping in galleries, boutiques and artisan markets.
Head to the Pylon Lookout (via the stairs in Cumberland Street in The Rocks, or from near Milsons Point Station on the north side) and take your time perusing the three levels of exhibits on the bridge history and construction to break up the 200 stairs. You’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the central business district and the ferries, cruise ships and yachts of this harbor city.
While the pedestrian walkway across the eastern side of the bridge can be freely accessed, tall wire mesh guards are fitted along its length for safety and security, obscuring views of the harbor.
The best idea is to heighten your senses and conquer your fears on a Rothschild Safaris’ client favorite: a twilight bridge climb.
Breath-taking moments, spectacular 360-degree views and lifelong memories await as you scale the arches of Australia’s most famous landmark, walking in the footsteps of dignitaries, celebrities and four million other climbers since its launch in October 1998.
You’ll lay your head at one of many of our favorite hotels – perhaps the boutique-style The Langham (centrally located in Millers Point and only minutes from The Rocks and King Street Wharf). Here, five-star luxury and sophistication includes Artesian: named after the original 360ft well under the hotel and winner of the coveted World’s Best Bar accolade.
Also part of your Sydney visit is a special “welcome to Oz” where you’ll be introduced to one of the nation’s favorite pastimes: the great Aussie backyard barbecue. Your tour guide will fire up the burners and “cook up a storm” at their own home for lunch. And like the much-loved Tourism Australia advertisement featuring that larrikin “Hoges” you may even get the chance to throw your own shrimp on the barbie as you see for yourself why Aussie hospitality is legendary.
MOUNTAINS OF DRAMA
EVERY young Australian student learns that the first Europeans to cross the Blue Mountains section of the Great Dividing Range in eastern New South Wales were the explorers Gregory Blaxland, William Wentworth and William Lawson in 1813.
The Blue Mountains (so named for the blue eucalyptus haze over them) had become a barrier to the expansion of the fledgling Sydney colony and more farming land was needed west of the mountains to meet its needs following two years of drought.
But what the textbooks don’t tell you is how you’ll feel in awe of Mother Nature as you gaze out from Echo Point – a lookout 2km south of the town of Katoomba – and take in the view of the Three Sisters, Mount Solitary and the rock formation known as the Ruined Castle for the first time.
That view of the Three Sisters sandstone rock formation attracts up to two million visitors each year.
The three formations were created by wind and rain which are constantly sculpting the soft sandstone of the area. They vary slightly in height from 922m tall to 906m and are named Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo.
An Aboriginal legend speaks of three sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley and fell deeply in love with a trio of brothers from a rival tribe. As tribal law prohibited them getting married, the three brothers decided to capture the sisters, causing war between their tribes. A witch doctor tried to protect the sisters by casting a spell to temporarily turn them to stone until the war ended. But when the witch doctor was killed, their sisters’ fate was sealed forever.
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area takes in Capetree National Park plus Wollemi National Park with its wild rivers and “living dinosaur” the Wollemi pine.
The area is defined by its dramatic scenery including steep cliffs, the illuminated Jenolan Caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, and waterfalls such as the tiered Wentworth Falls. Visitors come from all over the world to experience the bushwalking trails and quaint villages.
The Scenic Skyway in Katoomba is one of the best ways to take in the splendor of the Blue Mountains with its glass-floor cable car travelling over ravines of rain forests and clifftops. But nothing beats staying here, immersing yourself in nature and its abundant wildlife.
Rothschild Safaris recommends the breathtakingly beautiful Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley. This ultra-luxury, conservation-based resort is a three-hour scenic drive from Sydney and occupies only one per cent of a 2800ha nature reserve within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. This sanctuary is devoted to nature and is one where you can join the wildlife seeking refuge from the “busyness” of life.
The Main Homestead, villas, 1832 Heritage Homestead and immediate surrounds were spared over the recent summer of bushfires and regeneration has begun in the surrounding bushland and national parks, where native wildlife have returned to roam freely. Rejuvenate the soul and find your balance here with the help of horseback riding, mountain biking, campfires, stargazing at the Southern Sky, or a 4WD safari to spot kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and myriad local birds. Guests are also invited to get hands on with important conservation work.
The field-to-fork and paddock-to-plate delights of the Blue Mountains can be found in the mouth-watering seasonal menus created by the resort’s passionate chefs, using organic produce sourced from regional farmers and vintners.
Charles Darwin stopped off in this valley on his journey through Australia in the early 1800s and the homestead where he stayed is now a museum. Your lodgings are one of the 40 freestanding Federation homestead-style villas with floor-to-ceiling glass showcasing the spectacular views. Each one, two or three-bedroomed villa comes with a private swimming pool, double-sided fireplace and peaceful veranda.
Relax amid the sandstone and natural wood – a crackling fire for cozy winter nights and veranda for the summer breezes, with bubbles or a peppery red in hand – and drink in those never-ending views of the valley as it transforms from day to sunset and a bejewelled night sky.
Then you’ll know why Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is included in the Condé Nast Traveller 2020 Gold List of the best hotels and resorts in the world.
AUSTRALIA’S OLDEST WINE REGION
THE good life can be found in spades in the Hunter Valley, a two-hour drive north of Sydney and Australia’s oldest wine region.
This is where Sydneysiders escape – a flourishing wine country, with more cellar doors than any other regional grape-growing area in Australia, with majestic natural beauty to boot.
Returning from Europe with 20,000 vine cuttings in 1832, James Busby was the driving force behind establishing the Hunter Valley as a key wine region and indeed Australia as a wine tour de force.
While the Hunter Valley is known for its world-famous semillon and shiraz, visitors will also sip emerging European grape varieties during their wine-tasting experience here, highlighting the incredible breadth of flavor and character available in “The Hunter”.
The products of wine families such as Drayton and Tulloch and names including Polkobin’s Tyrrell’s Wines, Hungerford Hill Wines and McGuigan Wines have long graced Aussie dinner parties and celebrations. Any of the popular wine tours will offer insights into wine-making, allowing novices and connoisseurs alike to meet passionate winemakers and enjoy the results of their labors of love.
But foodies will also be drawn to hatted restaurants such as Muse Kitchen, Bistro Molines and Margan, as well as the annual Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival celebration of local produce.
While you can be adventurous in your food and wine selections, you can also tap into your inner thrill-seeker.
It’s only a 40-minute drive from one end of the Hunter Valley to the other, so why not go touring by horseback, classic car or carriage through the sub regions, or soar gently over the vineyards in a hot air balloon.
WITH 25,760km of coastline in this island nation, it’s no wonder Australians are a beach-loving people.
And when Aussies want to holiday, Byron Bay is often top of the list.
While Byron Shire offers more than 30km of beaches, 13 are in Byron town alone and are excellent for swimming and surfing all-year round with water temperature ranging from 18°C in winter to 26°C in summer.
From stretches of golden sands such as Main Beach, which is patrolled in summer, to isolated coves and even nudist enclaves, beach babes and surfer dudes are spoilt for choice.
Among the prettiest is Wategos Beach, 2km east of the town center.
This peaceful sheltered aquatic playground is ideal for families, picnickers and those simply wanting to get wet in the crystal-clear waters.
It’s named after the Watego family who settled the area in the 1930s, growing bananas and vegetables where the multi-million-dollar homes now stand.
At the far end of the beach, you can take the steps up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse — the most easterly point of mainland Australia — and soak up the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
Between June and October, the region welcomes humpback whales on their annual migration and the lighthouse is considered one of the best whale-watching vantage points on the east coast. But expect to see dolphins playing in the waves year-round.
Stay at Elements or The Byron at Byron beachfront resorts where you can unwind with a yoga session or massage, take your shoes off and feel the sand between your toes, take a dip before breakfast and maybe even learn to surf.
Australia has a soft spot for Byron Bay because of its community spirit and vehement protection of the natural environment, its penchant for alternative and sustainable lifestyles, and for being home to “million-dollar hippies”.
And it’s where no one blinks when you order a coconut latte!