Image credit: Dean Croshere
Put the Harbour Bridge in the back of your mind and leave the Opera House to the pros. If you want to experience a side of New South Wales tourists rarely see, head straight out of Sydney and consider these other wonderful environs of Oz.
Watson’s Bay, Camp Cove and The Gap
Not too far from the centre of Australia’s unofficial capital lies Watson’s Bay; one of the oldest fishing villages in the entire country. With such a status, it will come as no surprise that the area has some of the most succulent seafood in the country, so head here if you want to dine out on more ‘Fruits de la Mer’ than is strictly sensible. If you can move afterwards, a dip in the ocean is practically mandatory, so have a paddle at one of the small but perfectly formed harbour-side bays, such as Camp Cove.
The snap happy will be more than satisfied to see Sydney’s skyline (including THAT bridge) from an alternative perspective than many other visitors’ viewfinders, but for a really distinct snap, make your way up to The Gap. A short walk to this cliff’s apex offers a vast panorama over the Pacific Ocean, as well as a look at the swaggering seaside suburb of Manly. Keen explorers will easily come across signs pointing to the lighthouses, signal station and, dramatically, the site of The Dunbar shipwreck.
Sea Cliff Bridge, Clifton
When it comes to the wow factor, there aren’t many roads that can give California’s famous seaside skirting Route 1 a run for its money, but this sidewinding structure to the south makes the likes of Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge blush. Located on the way to Wollongong, the meandering overpass opened officially in 2005 and provided a welcome connection for nearby towns like Coalcliff and Cliffton – two settlements steeped in NSW’s deep mining history.
As only one of seven bridges of its kind in the world, a drive over Sea Cliff by itself puts you on a fairly exclusive list, but if you intend to mark the occasion with something more, it seems the site is now becoming popular with love-lock toting types. For the more reflective, a viewing platform has been installed so that people can pull up and ponder or, more excitingly, squint into the distance to try and see some migrating humpback whales.
1 hour 10 minutes
Towards the towering and beautiful Blue Mountains lies the quiet town of Wentworth Falls, which could easily have been plucked from the pages of a storybook. Unassuming and authentic, it is populated by a number of Victorian buildings which sit alongside more modern dwellings and local businesses. Perfectly situated as a last stop before venturing along Darwin’s Walk and into the National Park itself, it comes replete with family friendly facilities and more than a few wonderful surprises, such as an observatory.
The waterfalls for which the town is named are just one of the reasons to pay a visit here, but when the streams are in full flow, the results are spectacular. Those with even a touch of vertigo may want to give the elevated walkways that skirt around the rock faces a miss, but there are plenty of other vantage points on offer, from which both the falls and the majesty of the Kings Tableland can be taken in. As an area of huge Aboriginal importance dating back 20,000 years, reading up on the region before you arrive can only serve to improve your experience.
1 hour 25 minutes
Mittagong Mushroom Tunnel
If walking around underground in a disused railway tunnel surrounded by strange shaped foodstuffs doesn’t strike you as intriguing, best give this marvellously off-the-wall location a miss. Situated in Mittagong (‘Mitta’ to locals and a primarily a wine-growing region), the Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom farm operates under the watchful eye of micro-biologist and all round fun guy Dr Noel Arnold, who has tended to his unusual flock since 1987.
On discovering that the 150 year old underpasses provided ideal conditions for growing produce which is usually only found on mountain slopes in China, Korea and Japan, he set about making an agreeable home for his enokis, namekos and shimajiis, to name just a few. He now supplies both farmers markets and dining destinations with his uniquely niche morsels. A walk through the earthy passageways – once also used for the storage of explosives during World War 2 – is a bizarre, but recommended experience. Make sure you read up and prepare for your journey; the tunnels are only open to the public at certain times of the year.
1 hour 20 minutes
The Lock Up
A rather spectacular re-branding, as well as a few licks of paint, has seen this listed Victorian building transform itself from a former police station and jail into a gleaming contemporary art space, designed for the creative thinkers and doers of today. Though The Lock-Up’s business was strictly aligned with the boys in blue for more than 120 years, it began its evolution into an exhibition, installation and performance area in 2007, with a mission to promote art without boundaries to all who visit.
Volunteers provide fantastic insight into the plot’s history, and many original features have been retained, adding extra weight to a number of already thought-provoking pieces. Ironically, unlike its former inhabitants, entrance to this establishment is free. Nearby, the cultural hub of Newcastle will provide all the necessities needed for any onward sojourns to the ever-popular Hunter Valley wine region.
2 hours 5 minutes