One hour from Sydney: Kidman, Katoomba and the occasional kangaroo

Hot-foot it across the harbour bridge and discover the great outdoors, from magnificent mountains to beaches made for basking.

Hot-foot it across the harbour bridge and discover the great outdoors, from magnificent mountains to beaches made for basking.

The Blue Mountains

Enjoy stunning landscapes, breathtaking views and abundant wildlife (including kangaroos) in this area of outstanding natural beauty. Katoomba is the gateway town, packed with Art Deco architecture and cafés serving hearty Aussie fare – terrific after a hard day's trekking. Echo Point, at the end of Katoomba Street, is the best place to view the magnificent rock formations known as the Three Sisters. Don't miss the Leura and Jenolan caves and the Wentworth Falls.

By car: take the Paramatta Road and follow signs for the Great Western Highway 1; journey time approx one hour.
By train: take the hourly CityRail service from Central Station; journey time approx one hour.

Northern Beaches

Cruise up the stunning Sydney coastline, punctuated with golden beaches and bays, towards Palm Beach, famed hangout of the beautiful and wealthy – Nicole Kidman frequents the area when in town and Home and Away is filmed here. Best beaches are Avalon and Whale. Explore the many coastal walkways and venture into the bushland at nearby Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

By car: cross the Harbour Bridge and follow signs to Manly, then cross Spit Bridge and follow signs for Palm Beach; journey time approx 50 mins.
By bus: from Wynyard take the L90 to Palm Beach; journey time approx one hour.

Hunter Valley

Feeling thirsty? Head for the Hunter Valley and wine country. With more than 60 vineyards you won't go short of a good drink. Go in March or April for the Vintage Festival and take part in wine tasting, grape picking and treading competitions. Other activities in the area include golf, riding and hot-air ballooning.

By car: take the Sydney-Newcastle freeway out of the city and follow signs; journey time at least one hour. By bus: Kean's has buses running daily to several Hunter Valley towns; journey time at least one hour.

Hawkesbury River

Go mucking about on the picturesque Hawkesbury River and explore the pretty, historic towns of Windsor and Richmond. Join the Riverboat Postman Tour from Brooklyn (00 61 29 985 7566; £10 adults, £5 children) and discover the fine Georgian and Victorian colonial buildings along with the Hawkesbury Museum. Don't miss the Macquarie Arms Hotel in Windsor, which is reputedly Australia's oldest pub.

By car: take the Sydney-Newcastle freeway to Brooklyn; journey time approx 45 mins.
By train: frequent CityRail service from Central Station to Windsor and Richmond; journey time 45 mins.

Royal National Park

The oldest national park in the world has vistas, secluded beaches, great bush and rainforest. Try the network of walking tracks or explore the area by bicycle or boat, available for hire locally. Take a dip at Kangaroo Creek, a popular swimming haunt of the locals. The stunning coastline includes the beautiful beaches of Marley, Garie and Era.

By car: take Princes Highway south and follow signs; journey time approx one hour.
By train and boat: a scenic train ride to Cronulla, followed by a Cronulla National Park ferry; journey time at least one hour.

The Illawara Coast

All things aquatic are hugely popular in this pretty area south of Sydney. For the best surf, check out the Illawara Escarpment, and Lake Illawara itself is watersports central. Shellharbour is one of the oldest coastal towns and if you're looking for literary inspiration, visit the cottage of D H Lawrence in Thirroul, where he wrote his novel Kangaroo.

By car: take the Princes Highway south and follow signs; journey time approx 45 mins.
By train: frequent service to Wollongong; journey time approx one hour.



Austravel (0870 166 2070; www.austravel.com) offers return flights with Singapore Airlines to Sydney from £585 per person, with a stopover in Singapore from £1 for the first night, £20 for subsequent nights. A five-day self-drive tour to Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley costs from £201 per person, including car hire and four nights' accommodation. Car hire costs from £26 per day. Further details on Australia available from the Australian Tourist Commission. Call the commission for a free copy of the 2002 Travellers' Guide (0906 863 3235; calls cost 60p per minute; www.australia.com).

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