In this post, you will find the details of our fantastic road trip from Gold Coast to Sydney.

Whilst we are coast-lovers, we also wanted to see some of the world famous protected rainforests of Gondwana and spend time in the Blue Mountains before finishing the trip in Sydney.

We flew into Gold Coast airport early on a Saturday morning and left from Sydney late the following Saturday. In that time we packed in a huge variety of experiences.

There is something for everyone here. For nature lovers there are the beautiful coasts for whale watching, rainforests for rare lyrebirds and mountains for breathtaking viewpoints. For city-breakers you have one of the most iconic views in any city on earth. It’s an easy route to navigate with a family, or one just for a romantic getaway.

So without further hold-ups, here are all the details you’ll need to re-create this road trip from the Gold Coast to Sydney.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 4 x UNESCO Heritage Sites
  • Seeing rare Lyrebirds in ancient rainforest
  • The skywalk at Dorrigo National Park
  • Urunga Boardwalk
  • Humpback Whales on the East Coast
  • The Koala Hospital at Port Macquarie
  • Spectacular viewpoints in the Blue Mountains
  • Seeing the iconic structures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House
  • Watching a performance at Sydney Opera House

QUICK LINKS:


Quick Gold Coast to Sydney Itinerary

  • Day 1: Gold Coast Airport to Grafton (312km)
  • Day 2: Grafton to Dorrigo (246km)
  • Day 3: Dorrigo to Port Macquarie (227km)
  • Day 4: Port Macquarie to Katoomba (541km)
  • Day 5: The Blue Mountains
  • Day 6: Blue Mountains to Sydney (108km)
  • Day 7: Sydney
  • Day 8: Sydney

Need to Know

Here are a few random thoughts that might help when planning the trip:

  • Driving
    • We booked the hire car with Budget for pick up at Gold Coast Airport and drop off at Pitt Street in Sydney. Total cost was $440 for a small hatchback.
    • I was breathalysed ALOT on this route. Four times in a week, I must have one of those faces! Be careful….
    • When you get into the forests there are long stretches with no petrol stations. Plan ahead.
    • There are parts of this route which flood in the wet season, so check before you set off.
  • Accommodation
    • We booked everything through Booking.com and Airbnb, keeping costs down by finding places with small kitchens so we could buy food at local supermarkets rather than eating out.
  • Route
    • The Gold Coast Highway is a well-worn route. Keep an eye out for brown signs and follow them, it’s amazing what you find! The joy of a road trip is often not the destination it’s what you see from the car. When following the coastal road get off the M1 highway as often as you can and you will be rewarded.

Map of Route

There is alot of information in this map, but if you load into ‘My Maps‘ in Google and then click ‘View Legend‘ at the bottom you can toggle on and off the layers (which are split in to days) and focus on what you need to see.


Day 1: Gold Coast to Grafton (312km)

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 0920: Tucking into some homemade fudge
  • 0940: Seeing a Lyrebird in the wild, and amazing views at ‘Best Of All Lookout’
  • 1130: Walking through the rainforest at Natural Bridge
  • 1315: Lunch at the hippie town of Nimbin

We got the 0600 flight out of Melbourne which got us into Gold Coast Airport for around 0800. After a short drive on the highway, we were in Springbrook National Park, winding our way up steep roads with incredible old bridges such as the one below. It was a road-trippers paradise and we were barely out of the airport!

Old Bridges on the steep mountain roads of Springbrook National Park

Our first stop off was Wunburra Lookout, which gave us a small taste of the incredible views that were to come through the day. Here you can see the view right the way back to Gold Coast City, it was barely 0900 by this point and the morning sun was hitting the Pacific Ocean beautifully.

View to Gold Coast from Wunburra Lookout, Springbrook
View to Gold Coast from Wunburra Lookout

THE FUDGE SHOP, SPRINGBROOK

About another 10 minutes up the winding roads (having passed a number of wheezing cyclists) we came across a wonderful little fudge shop, which proved to be the perfect stop-off given our low sugar and caffeine levels after an early start.

YUM!

BEST OF ALL LOOKOUT

Shortly afterwards we got to our main destination for the morning, the ‘Best Of All Lookout‘. The Springbrook marketing department weren’t exactly working hard when they came up with this name but did they get it right?

After parking there is a gentle walk of about 500m to get to the lookout through some ancient Gondwana Rainforest (UNESCO site one done early!). Slow down and keep your eyes peeled through here. We were lucky enough to see an Albert’s Lyrebird which are endemic to these rainforests and famous for its incredible mimicry.

The view from ‘Best Of All Lookout’ Can even see the sea!

The view from the lookout is spectacular in a way that will become all too familiar in the next seven days (in an entirely positive way!). Having left our home in Melbourne with winds so bad that part of a local pier had snapped off, it was great to see the blue skies of Queensland above the landscape which you can see everything from an ancient volcano to the ocean. It’s definitely worth the drive but the ‘Best Of All’? It certianly gets some stiff competition in the Blue Mountains as you’ll see later in the post.

INTERESTING FACT: Gondwana (after which the rainforests are named) is actually an ancient super-continent that contained the landmasses we call Africa, Australia, Antarctica and South America. On the walk to ‘Best Of All Lookout’ you can see evidence of this with signposted Antarctic Birch trees found only in Australia, Chile and Argentina, which were one continent before the split.

After a quick hop out of the car and photo at Canyon Lookout we headed down out of the mountains towards Natural Bridge. The landscape changed dramatically as we dropped off of the high ground into the valleys with the lush forests replaced with a much drier and rocky landscape.

The first view that caught our eye was the one below, a dead forest at the side of the road. This is the edge of the Hinze Dam catchment area, which was raised in 2011 and killed a lot of the trees on its bank. The photo below was taken right beside the road and reminded us of the huge expanses of dead forest we saw by the Nam Theun Reservoir whilst driving the Thakhek Loop in Laos.

Trees caught up in the Hinze Dam catchment

NATURAL BRIDGE

Next, we were on to Natural Bridge one of the highlights of Springbrook National Park. Whilst this looks incredibly close to ‘Best Of All Lookout’ on a map, it’s a 35km drive, owing to the fact it’s a bloody long way down from the top! We arrived around 1130.

View from inside the cave at Natural Bridge, Springbrook.

Natural Bridge is famous for (you guessed it) a natural bridge of stone, which has been carved out over millions of years. You can walk over the top of it, and down into the cave where the river pours down through a small gap. The cave is also home to a colony of bats and some glowworms, which weren’t doing alot of glowing, which I guess we can forgive them for being the middle of the day.

It’s not just the natural bridge itself that makes this a great destination, the paths that snake through the surrounding rainforest make for a lovely and not-too-steep stroll. These are UNESCO protected rainforests, and I saw a stat that less that 1% of Australia’s original rainforests remain, though I’m struggling to back that up. This article states that 25% has been removed just in the last 200 years, so make the most of these amazing forests.

The rainforest around Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park

DRIVE TO NIMBIN

The next 75km of drive to Nimbin was spectacular. It was very different to the mountains of Springbrook, dropping quickly onto wide valleys with high sides and eventually onto big open plains. It’s hard to describe over an hour’s worth of driving in a single paragraph but just take my word for it, this is a road-trippers dream! The shot below shows a view with Mount Warning in the background but the landscape changed so often with little rivers, farms, rocky outcrops and forests no one image would be an appropriate microcosm of the whole drive.

Mount Warning

LUNCH AT NIMBIN

We’d done no research about Nimbin, just marked it on a map as a place that might be good to stop and grab some lunch.

So imagine our surprise when it looked like the photo below!

Nimbin Hemp Embassy
View of the colourful Nimbin highstreet

In 1973 the Aquarius Festival was held here and afterwards, hundreds of people stayed on to form communes and set up a town dedicated to alternative lifestyles. According to Wikipedia it has been described as ‘the drug capital of Australia’, ‘a social experiment‘, and ‘an escapist sub-culture’. It is certainly a colourful place with some even more colourful characters. Not really our scene but good fun if your into that kind of thing I guess. All I know is the cafe on the corner did an incredible halloumi burger so, suitably fueled, we hit the road again.

NIMBIN TO GRAFTON

Just after you leave Nimbin pull over into one of the dusty parking areas and have a look up to your right. There are some fantastic views up to the rocky outcrop that overlooks the town.

The drive from Nimbin down to Grafton is a bit of a slog with just over 150km to go. If you prefer a shorter drive you could stay at Casino for the night instead, but we preferred to push on and leave ourselves a shorter drive the next day. The roads quickly turn into dual lane highways with 100kmh-120kmh speed limits, so it won’t take too long.


Day 2: Grafton to Dorrigo (246km)

Map of Grafton to Dorrigo

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 1000: Park Beach at Coffs Harbour
  • 1115: Breakfast at the Old Butter Cafe
  • 1230: The Skywalk and Lyrebird Link Trail at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre
  • 1430: Dangar Falls
  • 1530: Griffiths Lookout
  • 1630: Ebor Falls

We started out fairly late this morning after a lie in to make up for the early flight the day before. The first part of the drive was around 85km down the highway to Coffs Harbour. Despite being big roads it was a stunning drive, and a great start to the second day.

We were aiming for Coffs Harbour, so pulled off of the main A1 Pacific Highway in to town. We parked up by a sign for ‘Park Beach’ and were greeted by an endless expanse of sand which we had pretty much to ourselves other than a couple of dog walkers.

Park Beach Coffs Harbour
Park Beach, Coffs Harbour

We wandered for a while before jumping in the car again to look for some breakfast. We saw nothing of note at Coffs Harbour, so took the road for Dorrigo which is the start of ‘Waterfall Way‘. About 30km further on we saw signs for a craft shop and cafe so pulled over, and we hit the jackpot! It might just have been that it’d been nearly 16 hours since our last meal, but The Old Butter Factory is the best breakfast I’ve had in a very long time.

From here it is only 30km to Dorrigo, which was due to be our destination for the night. We passed through the pretty little town of Bellingen before heading up some incredibly steep mountain roads. The photo below was taken just outside of Bellingen before the roads start to get really steep.

Road photo just outside Bellingen

SKYWALK, RAINFOREST CENTRE & LYREBIRD LINK TRACK

By 1230 we’d made it up the mountain and into the much cooler rainforests of the Dorrigo National Park. About 2km from the main road is the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and for $2 per person, we headed through to the Skywalk Lookout and Lyrebird Link Track. We’d read about these online but were confused about where they were. Turns out they’re both in the same place!

The skywalk at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre
The skywalk at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre

The is a wooden platform that takes you out above the rainforest canopy for spectacular views that stretch out for miles. A photo can’t tell the whole story though, the parrots were shrieking in the tree-tops and the cool winter breeze made it feel not as warm as it looked. A wonderful place.

View from the skywalk at Dorrigo Rainforest Centre

When we stepped off the skywalk it was time to head off down the Lyrebird Link Track, which is a maze of paths out into the rainforest. There are lots of loops and we opted for one about 1.5km.

Lyrebird Link Trail

The walk was beautiful. Forests like these almost feel alive and it was easy to imagine we were walking through an enchanted forest straight out of a Tolkien novel. the trees creak as they pass each other, small birds rustle in the leaf litter and I was constantly stopping us hoping to spot some rare wildlife in the darkness.

The most amazing of the trees was the Strangler Figs, which germinate in the top of a tree and then send roots down, gradually suffocating the life out of the host tree and leaving a hollow you could walk in to.

We saw no Lyrebirds but has more than a few close encounters with Brush Turkeys that don’t seem to fear us at all!

DANGAR FALLS

Dangar Falls is only a few kilometres north of Dorrigo town, so we drove through to check it out. We only had a brief stop off, as wanted to get to the bigger Ebor Falls before dark. If we’d had a bit more energy we might have walked down to the bottom of the valley but instead we barely left the car and took these photos from the viewpoint!

Dangar Falls, Dorrigo National Park
Dangar Falls

GRIFFITHS LOOKOUT

We were staying at The Lookout Mountain Retreat so headed here to check in and noticed signs to the Griffiths Lookout on the road behind. We thought we’d chance a look and weren’t disappointed.

Griffiths Lookout

EBOR FALLS

About 50km on from Dorrigo is Ebor Falls. We were originally planning to head here the following day but decided if we got there tonight then we could spend more time on the coast (a decision that would definitely pay off!).

Ebor Falls

We arrived just before sunset and not only got to see the Falls but also the sun setting over the valleys to the west.


Day 3: Dorrigo to Port Macquarie (227km)

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 0930: Urunga Boardwalk
  • 1230: Trial Bay Gaol
  • 1545: Koala Hospital
  • 1615: Tacking Point Lighthouse
  • 1700: Sunset at Town Beach

URUNGA BOARDWALK

When I mentioned the decision to come back to the coast was a worthwhile one, this is what I meant. We had never heard of the Urunga Boardwalk, and had certainly not seen any photos of it. We had decided to follow one of the many brown signs you see on the Pacific Highway, this one showed ‘tourist route 14’ and took us into the small town of Urunga.

Urunga Boardwalk

The Broadwalk is a 260m long timber structure which passes alongside the mouth of a river before reaching the sea. To one side there is a huge mangrove forest, to the other turquoise waters that looked like they belong in the Caribbean. At the end was a huge beach that was completely deserted (excuse the pun!).

If the description doesn’t do it for you, check out the pictures….

We spent a good hour enjoying the sunshine, watching pelicans and sitting on the beach. If you want some more information about Urunga Boardwalk and the town, this post is fantastic.

TRIAL BAY GAOL

It was around 80km on to Trial Bay Gaol which is only around an hour by the quickest routes, but we spent time following the multiple tourist routes that are off of the main Pacific Highway and took us closer down to the coast.

View from Trial Bay Gaol
View from Trial Bay Gaol

Arriving at the Gaol we were treated to these views, almost worth the drive for these alone. Even more excitingly we saw Humpback Whales and Dolphins out in the bay!

Front on view of Trial Bay Gaol in New South Wales
Trial Bay Gaol

The Gaol was built in the late 1800s and used to house prisoners during the World Wars. It was a relatively relaxed prison, with inmates free to walk the grounds. There are definitely worse places to be banged up!

It costs $11 per person for entry.

KOALA HOSPITAL – PORT MACQUARIE

We jumped back on the fast roads to Port Macquarie, as we wanted to get to the Koala Hospital before closing time.

Given how iconic they are to Australia, these little furballs have a really tough time with habitat destruction, fires and disease causing their numbers to drop at an alarming rate – to the stage where they are now considered functionally extinct.

The Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie was set up in 1973 to try and help them out, rescuing injured koalas with the aim of rehabilitating and releasing them,. Unfortunately some are just too badly injured and they have a permanent home at the hospital.

A Koala. Though you probably knew that already.

Remarkably, entry is free and there is a guided tour at 3pm every day. It is a small facility but beautifully maintained with lots of koalas to see and a little gift shop. We were only here for half an hour, but it was well worth the visit.

TACKING POINT LIGHTHOUSE

After the koalas we went for a drive through Port Macquarie and ended up at Tacking Point Lighthouse. We parked down at the Life Saving Club and walked across the beach up to the lookout and lighthouse.

A photograph of the lookout in front of Tacking Point Lighthouse in Port Macquarie
Lookout in front of Tacking Point Lighthouse

The South Pacific Ocean was wild tonight, with brisk winds turning the surf into a mist along the beach. The views here were absolutely stunning!

Tacking Point lays claim to be the 13th (wow!) oldest lighthouse in Australia. I’m not sure it’s a huge claim to fame but it’s still a pretty cool place. The lighthouse itself is really small at only 8m, which is due to its perfect location on the headland meaning it was visible without needing to be too tall. This is also meant to be a perfect place to view Humpback Whales during their migration season. June to November are the best times to see them, but not August (typically we were visiting in August). Not sure what they get up to at this point, but they weren’t hanging out here! It can’t be quite accurate though as we definitely saw some earlier in the day at Trial Bay Gaol.

TOWN BEACH

Painted rocks at Town Beach, Port Macquarie
Painted rocks at Town Beach, Port Macquarie

We ended the day at Town Beach, a popular with surfers, skateboarders and people who like painting rocks! It also happens to be the perfect place to watch the sunset.

Sunset at Town Beach, Port Macquarie
Sunset at Town Beach, Port Macquarie

We wandered up the coast a bit and stopped to appreciate the fearlessness of the kids on their scooters, skateboards and bikes whipping through the obstacles at the skate park. The sunset was gorgeous, we took it in and then called it a night.


Day 4: Port Macquarie to Katoomba (541km)

There’s no getting around it, if you follow this road-trip itinerary to the letter, today is an animal of a drive.

We decided we wanted to spend as much time as possible in the Blue Mountains and Sydney, so as we were on a strict schedule it was always going to need one monster driving day, and this was it. If you’ve got an extra day you could stop off in Newcastle to make it more manageable.

Despite the distance it was an interesting day, with the road from Newcastle first turning into what felt like African plains and then heading in to the kinds of twisting, steep roads we’d seen back in Springbrook. We opted to go through Yengo National Park on the way to the Blue Mountains.

A word of warning here, there are no fuel stops for around 120km through the National Parks. We ALMOST got caught out, arriving at the petrol pump with 4km left in the tank. It was pretty scary, don’t do this to yourself!

So there you have it, day 4, smashed it (we didn’t even take a photo!).


Day 5: The Blue Mountains

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Anvil Lookout
  • Pulpit Rock Lookout
  • Walk from the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre to Govetts Leap Lookout
  • The pretty town of Leura
  • Driving the ‘Blue Mountain Drive’
    • Three Sisters
    • Katoomba Falls
    • Narrowneck Plateau Dirt Trail
    • Cahill’s Lookout

After yesterday’s extreme driving, today was barely worth mentioning. We used the car, but must have driven 100km or less, to the stage where I didn’t even write it down.

ANVIL LOOKOUT

We started the day fairly early and headed out to Anvil Lookout. We’d heard the Blue Mountains was busy but after a 2km drive down a dirt track we got to the little parking area and wandered up to find there was absolutely no-one here!

The view from Anvil Rock Lookout in the Blue Mountains
View from Anvil Rock Lookout

There is a viewing platform out to the main valley but we scrambled up a rock behind to get this view. It was staggering. The air was still, a Peregrine Falcon moved at unbelievable speeds ahead and we just sat and stared out into the huge expanse of trees and rockfaces.

Anvil Rock Lookout at sunrise
More moody looking into the distance at Anvil Rock!

Having visited so many amazing lookouts in the rainforests it was hard to believe they could be beaten, but stop one in the Blue Mountains had topped them all. We could easily have sat here all day, it was so peaceful and we had what felt like the entire world to ourselves.

Ahhh, Blue Mountains, what a start!

PULPIT ROCK LOOKOUT

Pulpit Rock Lookout is only a few kilometres from Anvil Rock and took viewing platforms up to another notch! How on earth did they build these!?

Viewing platforms at Pulpit Rock Lookout, Blue Mountains
Viewing platforms at Pulpit Rock Lookout

After a sharp downhill walk of about 500m we made it to the first viewing platform. The photo above was taken there, with the lower lookouts sitting in front of millions of trees and Grand Canyon-esque valleys.

The view from Pulpit Rock into the Blue Mountains
View from Pulpit Rock

You can see here why they are called the Blue Mountains, with the haze from the Eucalyptus forests really obvious in the distance.

BLUE MOUNTAINS HERITAGE CENTRE TO GOVETTS LEAP

Next we drove over the the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre and parked up. There are some interesting displays inside about the surrounding area and it is a really useful place to drop in to if you need advice on walks or accommodation in the Blue Mountains.

We did a 2km loop walk from here out to Govetts Leap Lookout. It was an easy, flat walk through the forest.

The view from Govetts Leap Lookout
View from Govetts Leap Lookout

The view down the valley is spectacular once again. About a third of the way in from the left on the photo above you can see a small outcrop of rock. This is where the Pulpit Rock Lookout is located, quite a feat of engineering to build the viewpoint here!

GREATER BLUE MOUNTAINS DRIVE

We stopped off at the pretty little town of Leura for lunch. We were planning to head on to the Three Sisters next and I spotted a road on Google Maps which hugged the side of the valley. It turns out this is part of the Greater Blue Mountains Drive. We followed it right the way through to Cahill’s Lookout stopping at Three Sisters, Katoomba Falls and Narrowneck Plateau.

THREE SISTERS

Three Sisters is the most famous of the viewpoints in the Blue Mountains. Get a tour from Sydney and you are likely to be heading here followed by a stop off at Scenic World (a place we decided to avoid).

This is the famous view we were here for….

Three Sisters Viewpoint on Gold Coast to Sydney Road-Trip
Three Sisters Viewpoint

But this is the reality that doesn’t appear in most photos….

The place was absolutely heaving, with coach loads of people turning up every few minutes. It was noisy and crowded, not the experience we’d got used to on our morning in the Blue Mountains. The Three Sisters have become a victim of their own celebrity, with every tour bus now making a stop-off here and rendering Blue Mountains’ most spectacular landmark a bit of a dissapointment.

I don’t want to sound like too much of a grump but the photo cannot describe the bustle of the place – drones in the air, big busses pulling their brakes, even one random group recording a small music video! It’s certainly not my idea of a mountain experience and we’d been to more enjoyable places already that day.

It also turned out there are better places to view the Three Sisters from just around the corner….

KATOOMBA FALLS

After taking a few photos we quickly left the Three Sisters behind and headed further along the Great Blue Mountains Drive. We stopped at Katoomba Falls and decided to have a walk around.

A witch’s face in the waterfall

There was hardly anyone here and which was incredible considering it was only a few kilometres from the chaos of the Three Sisters. Katoomba Falls feels more like the rainforests of the east coast, with narrow damp paths snaking through the trees.

The lookout above is Juliet’s Balcony. Whilst it isn’t as close a view as from the main Three Sisters lookout it is still spectacular and you see more of a silhouette of the mountains against the sky from lower down here. It was also much more peaceful (other than the screeching of cockatoos down in the valley who was setting up a roost for the night).

I would highly recommended this as a stop off for those wanting a slightly different view of the Three Sisters. It’s not much of a walk and gives a completely different view of these famous lumps!

NARROW NECK PLATEAU TRAIL

Narrow Neck is a small plateau of land that juts out into the valley. There is a small dirt road down the middle of it and the standard Blue Mountain awe-inspiring views either side. It’s very popular with mountain bikers as it is shut off about halfway meaning there is a car-free zone to head off in to the wilderness.

View from Narrow Neck Plateau
View from Narrow Neck Plateau

We decided to take a quick diversion to the car park and back. It’s a fun little off-road drive though slow down for the corners, because others don’t!

CAHILL’S LOOKOUT

View form Cahill's Lookout, Blue Mountains
Cahill’s Lookout with Narrow Neck Plateau in the background

For the final stop of the day we went to Cahill’s Lookout. The light was starting to fade now and it turned the rockfaces an orange colour that only appears at this time of day.

In the background of the photo above you can see Narrow Neck Plateau where we’d driven in the previous step.

Where to stay in the Blue Mountains:

If you’re looking for a cheap and cosy hideout in the Blue Mountains we stayed at Maple Cottage in Katoomba. It has full cooking facilities, a gas fire for the cold evenings and a wonderful view over the mountains with a perfect sunrise!


Day 6: Blue Mountains to Sydney (108km)

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Sunrise over the Three Sisters
  • Three UNESCO sites in one day! (Blue Mountains, Old Government House and Sydney Opera House)
  • Morning tea in Parramatta Park followed by a tour of Old Government House
  • Watching the sun set over the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the Botanic Gardens.

THREE SISTERS SUNRISE

Before heading off to Sydney we decided on an early start to see the Three Sisters at sunrise. Unlike yesterday, the main viewpoint was empty other than one kitted up photographer trying to get the perfect shot.

Three sister in the Blue mountains at sunrise
Three Sisters at sunrise

OLD GOVERNMENT HOUSE

We left the Blue Mountains behind and headed towards Sydney but there was an important stop off on the way.

My obsession with UNESCO sites is well documented and today was going to be a personal record – three in one day! The Blue Mountains and Sydney Opera House were easy but around Sydney there a collection of sites which are included as a group UNESCO listing for ‘Australian Convict Sites’. Hyde Park Barracks in central Sydney was closed for renovation, Cockatoo Island was a boat trip we weren’t going to have the time for, the Old Great North Road was to the north of the city, but Old Government House was only just off of the main road we were taking in to Sydney and would be the third site of the day.

It proved to be a worthwhile stop off.

Parramatta Park (in which Old Government House is located) turned out to be one of those inner-city parks that are designed into the great cities of the world. We’d been expecting just to find the stately home, so this was an added bonus! On the edge of the park is Gatehouse Tearooms, a great stop off for some high-tea in the New South Wales sunshine.

Old Government House a UNESCO Heritage listed site in Parramatta Park in Sydney
Old Government House, Parramatta Park

Next, we wandered over the park to Old Government House. For $15 per person, we were taken on a full tour of the residence and its incredible history. This is the oldest surviving public building in Australia, and was occupied by ten of the original Governers of New South Wales, who came over from Britain with the first convicts.

In the now bustling suburbs of Sydney, it’s hard to imagine that this was once farming land with convict-constructed roads carved off into the Blue Mountains in one direction and back to the harbour in another. It’s even stranger to imagine what the local indigenous people (who had occupied this area for 10,000 years) thought of this Georgian stately home with all its European trimmings appearing in the middle of the countryside.

SYDNEY AT SUNSET

After another three quarters of an hour or so drive we dropped off our rental car, checked into the hotel and walked into Sydney heading for the Botanic Gardens so we could watch the sun set over the Harbour Bridge.

Melbourne is an incredible city and one we call home for the moment, but we weren’t really sure what to expect when we first arrived. It doesn’t have the famous buildings that Paris, London or New York do.

There is no such concern in Sydney! The view of the Opera House with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background must be one of the most iconic images on earth.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge at sunset
Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge at Sunset

Around the Opera House is a fantastic Botanic Gardens, which were simply beautiful this evening and we got to view the perfect clear-skied sunset in amongst the joggers and tourists who were making use of the gardens.


Day 7: Sydney

9km walking route of Sydney

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The walk around Darling Harbour
  • Endless views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House
  • Taking in a show at the Opera House

For our full day in Sydney we decided to take in as much of the city as possible by foot.

The map above shows you our route and starts near the World Square shopping centre where our hotel was located. In total we covered about 9km.

From World Square we headed west towards the harbour, through some lovely little parks. The whole area around this part of the harbour is pedestrianised which makes a nice change from the busy roads of inner-Sydney. Having left a weather-battered Victoria less than a week ago it was a real pleasure to be walking around in the morning heat of New South Wales.

Darling Harbour

After a stop off for breakfast we carried on up part the Maritime Museum and over the bridge to the eastern side of the docks. We didn’t stop in to visit, but the Maritime Museum looks fantastic. Many of the boats in the photo below are part of the museum – you can board a cold-war submarine, steam yacht and replica tall boats. Definitely a place to plan some time to visit when we return.

Sydney Maritime museum in Darling Harbour
Sydney Maritime Museum – you can board many of these boats!

We walked through the east of the docks, where many of the boat tours and ferries depart and past some extensive renovation works up to Barangaroo Reserve. I had spotted this little patch of green on the map and thought it would be a good place to see the Harbour Bridge.

I wasn’t wrong….

Sydney Harbour Bridge taken from Barangaroo Reserve
Sydney Harbour Bridge from Barangaroo Reserve

The Harbour Bridge dominated the skyline on this part of the walk. There were classic views such as the one above but want you don’t see in most photos is how it appears at the end of every street or over the horizon.

Sydney Harbour Bridge appearing from around a corner!

I love the photo above as it illustrates how the Bridge appears in view as you round a corner.

As we reached the end of the peninsula at Dawes Point the sheer enormity of this structure was on show. It is an incredible piece of engineering with space for cars, rail and pedestrians and is just, well, bloody huge!

Sydney Harbour Bridge from Dawes Point on a sunny day
Sydney Harbour Bridge from Dawes Point

Heading under the Bridge the views of Sydney Opera house are stunning. Unlike the shots from the Botanic Garden, the sun was behind us and made it easy to capture the gleaming white sails against the blue backdrop of sea and sky.

Sydney Opera House in the sunshine
Sydney Opera House (but you probably knew that already!)

We grabbed some lunch then walked back to the hotel as we had a big evening ahead of us.

SEEING A SHOW AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

There is no question that the Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic buildings on earth. And whilst it was going to be an expensive experience, we knew we wanted to see a show whilst we were in town.

But there’s seeing a show…

…and seeing A SHOW

Tickets to see Star Wars at the Sydney Opera House
I’ve got a GOOD feeling about this!

They were only showing bloody Star Wars accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra! Sometimes you just get lucky while travelling and this was definitely one of those times!

We got to the Opera House early so we could have a good look around.

Up close the building isn’t quite what I expected.

Sydney Opera House close up tiles
Close up of the Sydney Opera House

The sails are actually made up of thousands (more likely millions) of tiles. There is no way I would have identified this photo as being the Opera House! It almost looks like it’s lit from the inside with the powerful spotlights reflected by the white tiles.

Note the different buildings here

I also thought this was an interesting view. I always consider Sydney Opera House to be one big building but it is actually a number of separate units sitting on a little man-made hill. You access the building from underneath, then walk up staircases to get to the unit you need. On the far left for example if a restaurant whilst the other buildings are split out into six different performance spaces.

Anyway, enough of the boring architecture crap.

Who wants to see Darth Vader!?

Thought so….

Darth Vader at the Sydney Opera House
The big guy (and Darth!). Puffing my chest out with excitement!

They’d done a brilliant job of making the venue feel ready for a Star Wars showing. We saw Darth, Stormtroopers, pilots and a full working R2D2. My inner geek was about ready to explode!

The concert itself was unforgettable. Occasionally when travelling, moments happen that lead to an almost out-of-body experience. I was sitting there thinking ‘I’m going to talk about this moment for the rest of my life’. Watching one of my favourite movies, in one of the most iconic buildings on earth on the last trip we were taking before our first baby was going to be born.

This kind of shit doesn’t happen every day.

Lucky is an understatement.

I went home with a warm glow that lasted for days!

Star Wars at the Sydney Opera House

DAY 8: Sydney

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Browsing the weekend markets at The Rocks
  • Taking a boat trip out to the bay

THE ROCKS

We had an early afternoon flight booked for the day, so once again got out early.

We had briefly walked through a small part of Sydney called The Rocks the day before and were keen to go back. This was the site of the first European settlements in Australia and has held on to some of its old buildings despite the huge amounts of development that have taken place around it. It feels very much like a small slice of an old Medieval European town, with narrow alleyways and steep, cobbled streets.

Photo of The Rocks in Sydney
One of the old buildings in The Rocks

I love that it’s right underneath the Harbour Bridge, which varies from popping up above the buildings to at times being right above your head.

Sydney Harbour Bridge from The Rocks
Sydney Harbour Bridge from The Rocks

At a weekend there is a huge street market selling local crafts and homemade food. It is a really cool place to hang out for a few hours and captures an element of Sydney that you don’t get on the more commercial streets around Westfield.

HARBOUR STORY BOAT TRIP

The final part of our trip was to head out on to the water and see a different view of this city.

We booked with Captain Cook Cruises who run a two hour ‘Harbour Story’ boat trip at 1000 and 1415 every day.

We opted for the premium version at $59 per person ($10 more than the standard), which was worth the money. Not only do you get to board first meaning you can choose the perfect seat, you also get a glass of bubbly and a small afternoon tea. My box contained 4 cakes and a sandwich, which on Sydney prices seemed to be worth much more than the $10 extra! There is also all the tea and coffee and Anzac biscuits you can stomach.

Sydney Opera House from a. Captain Cook Cruise
Sydney Opera House from the water

It’s not exactly original advice to be told ‘I highly recommended taking a boat trip’ when in Sydney. Pretty much every blog or travel guide will tell you the same thing. But they have a point! You get a completely different view of the city from the water and start to understand just how many little coves and inlets there are (zoom out on a map of Sydney and you’ll see what I mean!).

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from Captain Cook cruise

Alongside the spectacular views there is also a live commentary which runs through the history of the area but (often more interestingly!) points out which houses belong to the rich and famous! We even saw the house on which the dentist’s surgery in Finding Nemo was based (P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way!).

P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way
P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way

There is no real-life 42 Wallaby Way, but the building was apparently based on these buildings above.

The Harbour Tour was the perfect way to end our road trip down the Gold Coast. A relaxing couple of hours in the sunshine whilst sipping bubbly and eating cake.

Life doesn’t often get alot better than this.

So I’m signing off this marathon post with a photo of the Australian Naval flag in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Perfect!

Australian Naval flag in front of the Harbour Bridge

If you plan on completing this route yourself or have any questions then let me know in the comments below….