Beyond Sydney: Aussie Beaches, Bushland and Countryside
From big cities to the outback and subtropical rainforest – Australia combines surf beaches, rugged bushland, quaint country side, rainforests and all the colours of the outback. Travel beyond usual the backpacking routes and stop to see the beautiful places in-between the popular destinations. Here are just a handful of unique destinations within 3 hours from Sydney.
Port Stephens: Bush Retreat
Australia NSW Link: http://youtu.be/IDnw1dyewBw
Get ready for some spectacular beaches, Australian wildlife and adventure at Port Stephens, where you’ll be spoilt for choice. Go surfing, sand boarding, trekking, bushwalking, horse riding and dolphin watching or just chill out at the beach.
Arriving at Port Stephens from Sydney was literally a breath of fresh air – the smell of the bush was awesome! I felt like I was out in the wilderness staying at Samurai Beach Bungalows Port Stephens YHA. The hostel has to be one of the most quirky YHAs in Australia that I have stayed in, featuring both a koala habitat and a nearby nudist beach – dress code: “clothing optional”. The dorm rooms are quaint little bungalows surrounded by trees and bushes. If you listen carefully you can hear the odd pig-like grunt of the koalas in the trees nearby and wake up to the sound of kookaburras laughing.
You need a few days to explore Port Stephens – at the very least. Although I met some backpackers staying at hostel that had made it their home for a few weeks – exactly how I would do it if I had a couple of months to travel Australia. It’s the perfect place to wind down and relax and the beaches are amazing! From the crystal clear calm waters of Shoal bay to the epic surf breaks at One Mile – Port Stephens is perfect for beach lovers. For all those animal lovers it’s the ideal place to see the dolphins and whales. I evens saw dolphins swimming in the waves close to shoreline of Fingal Beach.
After a beach chill out session I decide to satisfy my inner adrenaline junkie and try sand boarding the biggest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. A 4WD took us out to the Stockton sand dunes. What an epic view! The huge sand dunes seemed to go on forever and looked a little daunting for me – a newbie sand boarder. But the adrenaline rush is worth it!
After an action packed day it was awesome to chill out by the campfire at the YHA. My time in Port Stephens was amazing! A refreshing change from the busy city and backpacker party scene.
The Hunter Valley: Wine Country
The next stop on our road trip was Hunter Valley, “Wine Country” where we arrived to enchanting countryside and endless vineyards. Hunter Valley YHA was like a home away from home, peacefully nestled in the heart of Wine Country. The YHA has the true Hunter character, a rustic homestead and with its own vineyard. It even produces its own wine. Most of the accommodation in the Hunter Valley is pricey boutique wineries accommodation or hotels. So the YHA is a perfect place for backpackers on a budget.
I could stay there all day taking in the quaint countryside scenery but it was time to taste some of the Region’s best wine on the YHA wine tour. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s a five-hour Hunter Valley Vineyards Wine Tour with free wine and cheese tastings. Earthy, dry, sweet, woody, velvety, fruity… pretty damn amazing wine! There is an art to wine verbiage and mastering the finer nuances. I compensated for my limited knowledge of this by nodding earnestly and swirling my wine glass. I could probably have appeared more authentic if I didn’t swirl my glass for white wine. No worries! You don’t need to be a connoisseur to enjoy good wine! I now know a bit more about wines than I once did.
But Hunter Valley is not just about the wine. You can check out the largest rose garden in southern Hemisphere at Hunter Valley Gardens, see baby kangaroos and koalas at Hunter Valley Zoo or take in the stunning scenery. Bike riding is the best way to see the countryside and the YHA is just a few minutes away from the vineyards. You’ll need a few hours to get around the area and the best thing about it is that you can explore the area at your own pace. I rode my bike through the stunning countryside and colourful vineyards and spotted kangaroos along the way.
After a long day of exploring it was time to get back to the hostel for some warm wood fire pizza and glass of good red wine at the YHA’s outdoor barbeque area. What a relaxing trip! Hunter Valley is the perfect place to chill out, enjoy the scenery, and indulge in some fine wine and good food.
Newcastle: Beach City
The smell of the sea hits me as I get out of the car at Newcastle. This vibrant laid-back city is just a 2 hour train ride away from Sydney. I was happy to find out that Newcastle Beach YHA is just a 3 minute walk from the beach! The staff there are friendly and helpful, and within minutes I’ve got a bed, local information, and a free dinner.
Newcastle definitely has this laid back Aussie surf culture. The day we arrived we were lucky enough to catch the National Surfest. This is an annual surfing competition at Merewether Beach with over 200 international surfers competing. If you’re a surfer, there are great waves and a choice of beaches (and free gear at the YHA). If you’re not a surfer, try a surf lesson at the iconic Nobbies Beach. You won’t be disappointed. It took a couple of tries for me to stand up on the surfboard but once I was up I was hooked! I could have surfed for the whole day.
As well as being a thriving beach city, Newcastle has a rich history. It is Australia’s second oldest city (after Sydney). Go for a swim at the historic art deco Newcastle Ocean Baths or see panoramic coastline, harbour and city views at Fort Scratchely. This nationally significant heritage sight overlooks Nobbys Beach and lighthouse and has the best view of Newcastle. There is a guided tour available that shows the fascinating history of the city.
There is awesome student night life as well, with great Aussie pubs and clubs. The backpackers I met at the YHA raved about the free pub meals 4 nights a week. On free food nights, people staying at the hostel get together for some free food and party at the local bars. For a backpacker travelling alone, it’s an awesome way to meet people. Since Newcastle was our last stop it was time to hit the town! There is nothing better than cold beers after a day at the beach.
As a Sydneysider, it has been an eye opening experience for me. In the past I have chosen to backpack Asia to see beautiful beaches and unique wildlife, to Europe for good wine and awesome nightlife, and South America for an adventure. But I found all this just 3 hours from Sydney in the heart of New South Wales. I have definitely found a new appreciation for travelling Australia.