Sydney, Australia, is a very popular destination for both domestic and international visitors. Many articles have been written and I’m sure you all know about the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Bondi Beach and Manly. During my three weeks, I talked to locals and found some of the non-touristy things to do in Sydney.
Where to See the Australian Animals in Sydney?
Have you seen photos of Taronga Zoo? The giraffes look beautiful … and out of place. Come to Australia to see Australian animals!
Featherdale Wildlife Park is the place to go. They have ONLY Aussie animals. The park is located in Blacktown, at a forty-minutes train ride from Sydney Central Station.
As a non-touristy thing to do in Sydney, this park is not crowded and you can enjoy your visit rushing. You can feed a wallaby; take a photo with a koala (no hugs though!); gaze the most venomous but also most beautiful Australian snake – the Taipan; and observe the emblematic but so rare to see the Tasmanian Devil.
Buy tickets online.MY TIP: Be there for 2 p.m. as it is the time the Tasmanian Devil’s feeding. In the rest of the time, he can be hiding in the dark corners of his zoo territory.
Hornsby and the Northern Beaches of Sydney
If you want to find the best amongst the many stunningly beautiful beaches in Sydney, go North!
Forget Bondi and Manly; they are popular places. If you go further north, you will find beach heaven, especially at sunset. Hornsby is one of Sydney’s northernmost suburbs. It is located next to national parks and some of the residential properties have their backyard gardens as a starting point for bush walks.
One of the curiosities of Hornsby is the small murals alley. Find them at Dural Lane, not far from the train station. Some of them feature the history of the town while others are inspired by Australia’s most popular comic strip – Ginger Meggs.
There are frequent train services from central Sydney to Hornsby.
Palm Beach is a short drive from Hornsby. You need a vehicle to get there. The beach has two sides as it sits on the peninsula between Pittwater and Broken Bay. A short sandy path will bring you from one of the sides to the other. As my local friends showed me – best is to go for sunset, bring a wine, buy fish-and-chips from the nearby shop and enjoy your dinner on the beach!
Cronulla is one of the southern beaches of Sydney. I was there on Christmas Day and saw Australians celebrating the holiday in their traditional way with beach barbeques and picnics. Alas, it was one of the coldest and very windy days of that summer. Still, people were surfing and swimming in the Cronulla rock pools (one of them is with Olympic size). I could spot several people with Santa’s hats.
Historically-Important Non-Touristy Things to Do in Sydney
Kamay Botany Bay National Park
Something I couldn’t do that day because the wind was freezing cold was to walk from Cronulla Beach to the tip of Kamay Botany Bay National Park. Google says it takes 1 h 44 minutes. It is worth visiting the park because it’s not only part of the historical Botany Bay where the First Fleet arrived but also features an abundance of natural and cultural heritage.
Just a short walk from the Royal Botanical Gardens is Fingers Wharf, my secret hiding spot from the heat in summer Sydney. I knew it is a building of historical importance but didn’t expect to feel so peaceful and cool.
Fingers Wharf was the place from where the Australian army troops were sent to join the two world wars. This was also the place where many of the immigrants disembarked the ships arriving from all over the world.
For seventy years the wharf was in use before, in 1987, the government decided that it should be demolished. Because of the strong public protests, the plans were changed and refurbishment works began.
Now, the wharf houses a five-star hotel, several trendy restaurants and upscale residential apartments. Its coherent and modern exterior showcases in a beautiful way what it hides inside – a history full of outcries either because of goodbyes or welcome-homes.
Have a look at the super-refreshing modern design of Hotel Ovolo Woolloomooloo. If you can afford to stay there, it is a great place to position yourself for exploring Sydney.
Sydney Coastal and Bush Walks
Sydney is spread over a large territory and has many suburbs. But if Sydney was more tightly-built, it wouldn’t have the charm it has now. A charm that comes mainly from the numerous beaches and nature, fully incorporated in the suburban lifestyle. You can’t get bored in Sydney. You can enjoy some of the non-touristy things to do in Sydney without even feeling you are in a city.
Taronga Zoo to Balmoral Beach Walk
The walk starting at Taronga Zoo and ending at Balmoral Beach will take you a day. Especially if you stop often to enjoy the distant views of the Circular Quay and the secret beaches along.
When you reach the point of Bradley’s Head, follow the steps down. You will find the cutest little beach with amazing samples of the iron rocks. Their name comes from their resemblance to rusted sheets of steel.
At the point of Middle Head, with my friend, we lost the trail and hitchhiked the rest to Balmoral. The walking trail is marked and easy to follow up to Middle Head. There you should ask people to guide you or take the bus if you feel already tired.
Places to Visit around Sydney
There are many places you can visit around Sydney on a day-trip. These are some of my favourites.
Thirroul is seventy kilometres from Sydney, you can take a train from the Sydney Central Station.
It is a suburb of the city of Wollongong. But its charm comes from the peacefulness and proximity to the beach. Walking the streets of Thirroul a few days after the New Year was a delightful experience. I could see how Australians live outside the big cities. It was also a good change from the business of Sydney. However, the biggest fun for me was observing the Australian way of Christmas decorations!
Kangaroo Valley is another two-hours’ drive location from Sydney. A few kilometres further north are the Fitzroy Falls where you have a choice of two rim walks to enjoy the bush and the spectacular views.
Kangaroo Valley claims to be Australia’s most beautiful valley. It must be true as I heard about it from a Sydney friend. It’s not only a beautiful setting for a day trip but also provides plenty of activities. Choose between kayaking, walking, horse riding, golfing. Or attend a festival (the Folk Festival is in October and the Arts Festival in May). But probably the most interesting of all will be the Kangaroo Valley Show. Be amused by watching the fastest dog and highest dog jump races. Or have fun witnessing the woodchop and hay stacking competitions. What sounds like even more fun is the rodeo!
Photo: Visit Kangaroo Valley
Brooklyn is a small town in the north of Sydney, half an hour drive from Hornsby. Surprisingly, this village-like place has a lot to offer. For superb river views, go for a picnic to McKell Park; there is a swimming pool nearby. For bushwalking, take the trail that starts from Parsley Bay in Brooklyn. It is part of the 250 km long Great North Walk from Sydney to Newcastle.
The top sites of Hawkesbury are:
- the Blue Mountains National Park
- Kurrajong Radio Museum
- Grose River
- Yengo National Park
- and Cattai National Park.
This is Sydney I’ve seen and loved from the first day. You can’t be bored in Sydney. There is always more to see and do. Try the non-touristy things to do in Sydney; give the city a chance to make you feel like you are its most special guest!
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