Top 5

Former Sydney resident David Whitley shares his top five local secrets for those who want to go beyond the usual Bondi and Opera House trail


Admittedly, I’m biased here, but I doubt there’s a better city in the world for a holiday than Sydney. You could spend weeks exploring it, getting equal doses of nightlife, culture, beach-bumming and the great outdoors. But to get the most out of Sydney, you need to venture beyond the highlights reel. And here are five great ways to start...


1.The Northern Beaches 

Pretty much everyone who goes to Bondi Beach finds it something of a disappointment. The reason Bondi is famous is not that it’s Sydney’s best beach, but that it’s the closest one to the city centre. If you want genuinely lovely beaches, then head north of the harbour.

Beyond the rather tourist-trappy Manly, a string of them line the coast all the way up to Barrenjoey Head. Some – such as Narrabeen/ Collaroy and Palm Beach – are impressive because of their size, while others are beautiful because so few people go there. Bilgola and Bungan beaches are classic examples.

2. Middle harbour – by kayak

There’s far more to Sydney Harbour than just going on a cruise. Sure, you can see most of the main sights from a boat, but intimate explorations need to be conducted by kayak.

The most fascinating stretch is Middle Harbour, a craggy branch-off that bursts into the north shore like a lightning bolt. The cliffs, creeks, rock pools and stretches of untamed greenery are genuinely magnificent and taking them in at a slow pace makes them much more rewarding.

The duck’s eye view of the yachts and ferries is pretty special too.

Sydney Harbour Kayaks, based at the Spit Bridge on the north shore of the harbour, hires out kayaks and conducts kayaking tours of Middle Harbour

3. The Cricketers

Unless you’re a walking backpacker stereotype, a sports obsessive or a preening princess who likes to go to places purely to look good and have drinks bought for you by slimeballs in suits, then Sydney’s bar scene is atrocious.

Recent licensing law changes have attempted to address the problem by allowing specialist small bars to compete with the giant poser barns, but only a few interesting candidates have trickled through so far.

There is the odd gem once you get out of the city centre, however. My favourite is the Cricketers Arms in Surry Hills. By rights it should be a sporting meat-market as it’s close to the main stadiums, but it retains a young, muso vibe and a grungey cool.

4. The bats of the Botanic Gardens

Sydney has one of the best zoos in the world – a visit to Taronga should be on any visitor’s schedule – but the city’s most extraordinary wildlife encounter comes in the Botanic Gardens. Look carefully at the trees, and you’ll see thousands of flying foxes dangling from them. During the day, it’s a bizarre sight, but it’s magical when they wake up.

Head to the Botanic Gardens at dusk and you’ll see them all take off in search of food – hundreds can be spotted flying at once, almost in formation.

5.Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

When I was living in Sydney, my dad came to visit once. He said one thing that will always stay with me – “Wow! There’s jungle in the middle of the city”.

Jungle is pushing it, but Ku-ring-gai is still an amazing stretch of wilderness that is scandalously underappreciated by Sydneysiders themselves. Inside the National Park is an amazingly peaceful world of walking trails, Aboriginal rock carvings and occasional water views. It’s a perfect slice of largely forgotten bushland, and it feels totally detached from one of the world’s major 24 hour cities.


More photos here