Stargazing, skydiving and Instagram-worthy cafes: Hit up these amazing spots on your next getaway

Whether it’s sipping wine under the stars, making a tandem jump above blue waters or getting that perfect shot for your social media feed, you’ll want your crew along for the ride

Feel a world away as you get cosy under the dazzling night sky. PHOTO: @WHENAREYOUGOINGHOME

The wonder of travel is best experienced with your besties in tow. Making memories doing things you would never enjoy as much on your own are all part of the fun that you’ll talk about for years. The simple acts of dining in a fabulous restaurant or seeking out that hidden bar make enjoyable bonding encounters. Plus, you’ll be able to order more so you can sample a wider variety. 

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In Sydney and New South Wales, good food and drinks abound, in some of the most Instagrammable locations you’ll find in this part of the world. Vineyards, the freshest seafood, world-class speakeasies are all there for the taking. 

But it’s not just about the food, of course. Blessed with beauty rich and rare, New South Wales affords a myriad of adrenaline-pumping activities, from speeding across sand dunes on quad bikes to tandem-jumping off a plane.

Put these Instagram-worthy locations on your holiday checklist:


For more leisurely pursuits, take walks across the scenic landscape, swim in the world’s most iconic saltwater pool, or stargaze with an astrophysicist on a sprawling vineyard. 

Here are just some places to hit for a taste of the good life.

The sky’s the limit: Stargazing, skydiving and abseiling 

Pardon us while we gush, but it is one thing to stare at the carpet of stars in the darkness of the wilderness; it’s quite another to do so with a comforting mug of hot cocoa and in the company of an astrophysicist.

The 75-minute experience taught us how to spot constellations with the naked eye and provided the opportunity to geek out on the view of the moon, planets, galaxies and stars through a powerful telescope. 

Marvel at the majesty of the universe under a blanket of stars in the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains. PHOTO: KELVIN ANG, CHEEKIEMONKIE.NET

But first, sunset. The tour begins at dusk as you watch the sun disappear into the Jamison Valley, giving way to the soft glimmer of the Milky Way. A true treat for astronomy buffs or avid stargazers, the Blue Mountains Stargazing tour is nothing short of absorbingly enjoyable.

Even beginners can abseil down the cliffs in the Blue Mountains. With a guide, of course. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

Abounding in natural beauty, New South Wales is the ideal region for nature lovers to enjoy long walks and hikes or explore more adventurous pursuits like abseiling. Just a half hour’s drive away from the Blue Mountains is Katoomba, where we decided to experience the wilderness in a more hands-on way – by abseiling down a cliff. Thanks to our incredibly patient and expert instructors at Blue Mountains Adventure Company, we were safely strapped into our abseiling gear and making our way down the first three-metre cliff. It took us a while to let go of the ropes, but once we did, we began to truly appreciate the majesty of the Blue Mountains around us.

From abseiling down a cliff, we graduated to jumping off a plane. And frankly, there is nothing quite like taking that leap from 4,500m above ground to make you feel truly alive. Whether you choose to skydive over a beach in Newcastle or Wollongong, the drop zones across New South Wales are amazing hot spots to indulge in some adrenaline-pumping action. 

We took a 90 minute drive south from Sydney to Wollongong, along the picturesque Grand Pacific Drive, a favourite coastal route for road trippers, and steeled ourselves for what would turn out to be the time of our lives. 

Choose from four locations in New South Wales, including Wollongong here, where you can jump off a plane and soar across picturesque landscapes. PHOTO: SKYDIVE AUSTRALIA

Tandem jumps are the way to go. After a thorough safety briefing, we clambered aboard a scenic plane ride and strapped ourselves to our very experienced tandem instructor (“I’ve done this well over a thousand times, I’ve gotchu,” says a hearteningly buff Greg). We won’t lie. The initial free fall will test your mettle, but once the parachute opens and you glide slowly across the sky, it is pure magic. Back on firm ground, we felt like we could do anything.

Race your friends over the Stockton Sand Dunes in Port Stephens for a huge adrenaline rush. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

To quench our need for speed, we booked quad bikes at Sand Dune Adventures to zoom over the spectacular sand dunes in Port Stephens, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Sydney. Once we got the hang of these powerful vehicles, we were cruising at high speeds over the seaside grasslands and challenging our own nerves as we revved across the towering sand dunes. The best part: our tour provider had exclusive access to the highest sand dunes on Stockton Beach, so we had the entire place to ourselves for an hour.

Insider tip:  If you want to have an off-the-beaten-path experience, rent a 4WD instead of a regular sedan. Experienced drivers can venture deeper into the Blue Mountains and explore more areas that are only accessible to 4WDs. There are also long stretches of beaches and sand dunes you can drive along in Port Stephens. Permits are required, so make sure you apply beforehand.

Down at the 36-room Hunter Valley Resort, just an hour’s drive west of Port Stephens, there are plenty of relaxing activities to help you ease back down from the adrenaline highs. Horse rides through the vineyards, grape stomping, wine appreciation classes, candy making and cooking classes are all available onsite. You can even take a Segway vineyard tour, operated by NSW Segway

You might even spot kangaroos and wombats when you explore the Hunter Valley vineyards on a Segway. PHOTO: @THETRAVELINTERN

Shop at a farmer’s market, learn to make a gin cocktail or take it easy in Bondi

Back in the city, if gin is more your thing, the Gin Lab workshops at Four Pillars in Sydney’s Surry Hills are all about tasting gin flights, learning how gin is distilled, and honing the skills needed to shake up a good gin cocktail. 

Learn the finer points of gin distillation and shake up your own cocktail at Four Pillars in Surry Hills. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

After a little tipple, we decided to cool off with a dip in a breathtaking ocean pool. For over a century, the iconic saltwater pools at Bondi Iceberg’s Club have drawn everyone from professional swimmers to social media influencers. It can be hard to tell where the pool ends and the ocean begins, which is exactly its appeal.

The Bondi Baths have been an iconic landmark in Bondi, Sydney for over 100 years. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

On a day of generous windswept surfs, we perched ourselves by the edge of the pool just to watch the waves crash against the pool’s walls, the salty spray misting our faces. 

Insider tip: After a dip in the pool, head up to the Icebergs Club Bistro from 11am for modern Australian fare with a focus on seafood (including freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters), paired with stunning panoramic views of Bondi Beach. 

Of course, if you’d rather stay dry on land but still want to take in the ocean views, consider the Bondi to Coogee walk in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. There are beaches, cliffs and rock pools along the way, not to mention cafes and restaurants where you can make pit stops. The walk from Bondi to Coogee beach should take about two hours, so plan a late morning stroll to lunch at Coogee.

Get fresh seasonal fruits and homemade bakes at Carriageworks Farmers Market every Saturday morning. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

A jaunt to the Carriageworks Farmers Market in the Sydney suburb of Eveleigh on Saturday mornings is a great opportunity to graze on farm-fresh grub and take home some of the freshest produce in the region. There are also artisanal chocolates and homemade jams to sample. Do note that it’s only open on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm so get there early if you want the best picks.

Local honey and other artisanal food products at the market make great gifts. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

Step into every foodie’s dream in Sydney

To call The Grounds of Alexandria a cafe is to understate its grandeur. This sprawling destination comprises a charming cafe, a bakery, coffee roasting facility, and a farm where guests can hang out with goats Lady Baba and Selena Goatmez. But best of all, The Grounds is an incredibly photogenic location for your next Instagram Reel. Rustic brick walls, cheery lemonade stands and a mesmerising canopy of blooms make this brunch venue the ideal place for a snap or two. Or five.

There are plenty of outdoor spaces and charming nooks everywhere you turn at The Grounds of Alexandria. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

The coffee is as delicious as everyone says it is and the food is stellar — think slow-roasted pulled lamb shoulder sandwiches and succulent herb-crusted chicken schnitzel. The Grounds’ signature burger, featuring a dry-aged Angus patty, is as scrumptious as it is large, so order it to share and then wash it down with a boozy drink at The Potting Shed, a bar and eatery attached to The Grounds. 

Insider tip: Keep an eye out for the magical themed experiences put together by The Grounds of Alexandria’s creative team. They’re well worth the visit for your Instagram wall. 

One of our favourite neighbourhoods in Sydney, Surry Hills is packed with amazing restaurants, vintage stores and the best coffee this side of Sydney. We followed our noses to the renowned Reuben Hills cafe and inhaled that heady scent of coffee beans roasting on the mezzanine-level roastery. The Saturday morning cupping sessions are deeply informative, not to mention invigorating. We sniffed and sipped java made from beans cultivated across South America, including Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica. The food is inspired by these regions, which means exotic options like the Huevos Divorciados, a Mexican breakfast with fried eggs on red and green salsa.

Craving some Chinese food? Get your dim sum fix at Mr Wong, known for its big and bold flavours. PHOTO: MERIVALE

Food-loving Sydneysiders agree that Mr Wong is one of the city’s essential dining experiences. There is dim sum by day and barbecued meats by night, but all done quite differently from similar Cantonese restaurants in Singapore. Everything is a little bigger and more boldly flavoured – think prawn toasts enriched with foie gras and egg lo mein tossed in soy brown butter. 

Insider tip: Mr Wong is about a five-minute walk to Angels Place Sydney, an alleyway between George and Pitt streets that’s host to an intriguing art installation of empty bird cages. You’ll want your camera on hand for this surprising scene.

Set in a beautifully restored building, Jung Sung is making headlines for its contemporary Korean cuisine. PHOTO: JUNG SUNG

In the historic Old Rum Store on Sydney’s Kensington Street, Jung Sung is redefining Korean food for a different audience. Set out like a jewelled glass box with a sleek terrace, Jung Sung is bathed in natural light by day and awash in soft, flattering light by night. On the tasting menus: refined Korean-inspired fare made using fresh produce from New South Wales. Expect the familiar robust flavours of traditional Korean dishes finessed with fine dining elegance.

Insider tip: It's easy to get your fix of good Asian food in Sydney. For a warm, comforting bowl of noodles, head to Harbour Plaza’s food court in Sydney’s Haymarket district, where you’ll find Gumshara, a Japanese stall that serves what is widely regarded as the best ramen in Sydney.

Its official name is Coogee Pavilion, but of course our Aussie friends have nicknamed it “The Pav”. Whatever you choose to call it, this place has cool written all over it. Spread across the old Palace Hotel, this massive three-storey building has breathtaking ocean views, a rooftop bar, and serves everything from oysters on ice and oven-fresh pizzas, to grilled meats and delicious cocktails. The only problem is picking which floor to settle on when you’re here. 

Three floors of food and gorgeous views beckon at Coogee Pavilion. Don’t miss the oysters at Una Más on the middle level. PHOTO: MERIVALE

Part of the charm of getting to the stylish Boathouse Shelly Beach is the journey. Catch the Manly ferry from Circular Quay and make the scenic 15-minute stroll from Manly Wharf to the restaurant. Be sure to order the Sydney rock oysters with raspberry and ginger dressing, as well as the grilled barramundi, a local favourite.

A beloved wedding venue for Sydneysiders, The Boathouse Shelly Beach is just a short 15-minute stroll from Manly Beach. PHOTO: DESTINATION NSW

Secret watering holes in Sydney: Hidden bars worth the hunt

No one was kidding when they said The Baxter Inn is a hidden gem. But, we are happy to report that this whisky-focused bar is worth the poking around. Located underground on Clarence Street, in the back of an unmarked alley, The Baxter Inn is packed with equal parts style and substance. A sleek bar runs the entire length of the space and the bartenders are as much a draw as the selection of almost 800 types of whisky. These fellas don’t just look good, they seem to know everything about the whiskies on offer. Regarded as some of the best mixologists in the city, they are pretty deft at mixing cocktails, too.

You’ll have to go underground to find Baxter Inn, but it’ll be well worth the search. PHOTO: DANIEL BOUD, DESTINATION NSW

In a heritage-listed basement on Barrack Street, hidden behind a neon “psychic” sign, the Sydney outpost of New York’s legendary Employees Only cocktail bar is plush with brass, dark timber and green velvet. There’s no psychic on duty (the signboard is just a speakeasy-style foil) but there is an in-house tarot card reader who could be useful when you need answers to life’s burning questions after a couple of drinks. If you can’t decide which cocktail to choose, ask for timeless favourites like the Amelia (Wyborowa vodka and St Germain elderflower liqueur shaken with lemon and puréed blackberries) or the EO Manhattan, a Woodford Rye Whiskey stirred with EO Rosso Vermouth, Grand Marnier and Angostura Bitters.

The Sydney outpost of New York City's Employees Only is plush with dark wood and green velvet. PHOTO: MARK NAMNOUN

Aptly hidden behind a 1950s-style Coca-Cola machine, The Soda Factory in Surry Hills is the American diner experience you didn’t know you needed. All-star American eats from hot dogs, burgers and the bar’s famous chilli cheese fries make for great snacks to be washed down with one (or three) of its delightful cocktails (pro tip: try the Candy Apple Seltzer, which comes in a fun vintage siphon) and boozy soda floats. Expect movie nights on Mondays, $1 hot dogs on Tuesdays, and acoustic sessions on Wednesday evenings.

Enter the Prohibition era at Palmer & Co, and get a taste of some very exclusive tequilas and absinthes. PHOTO: MERIVALE

In a decidedly masculine arched brick basement, the mysterious Palmer & Co transports guests to the era of Prohibition bars. Flapper waitresses and dapper staff add to the speakeasy vibe, as do the live jazz performances. Settle in and wend your way through the menu of cocktails and spirits, over 30 gins, more than 80 whiskies and 40 tequilas and absinthes, many of which are only available here.

When you’re at an Italian bar like Apollonia, a negroni is a must. PHOTO: STEVEN WOODBURN

Finally, if Palmer & Co is a nod to old New York and Boston, then Apollonia is an homage to Sicily. More specifically, “a fantasised, modern iteration of an underground Sicilian bandit’s drinking den”, according to beverage director Jason Williams (of none other than Singapore’s 28 Hong Kong Street). Squirrelled away in the basement of Hinchcliff House, this cavernous bar features a menu inspired by Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone’s (of The Godfather) love story. Try the Wedding Procession with macadamia, amaro, bitters and lemon. 

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