Day trips and hikes in and around Sydney & Melbourne?
January 24, 2015 11:33 PM   Subscribe

Next week I am visiting Australia for the first time. Flying in to Sydney, spending a week there with relatives in Merrylands, then two weeks with relatives in Melbourne (Braybrook) and then another week in Sydney. I want to know what is the best way to spend my time given that I am primarily interested in nature and day hikes, so the most pressing question is really 'What are the best day trips and hikes within a two-hour radius of Sydney and Melbourne?' Other factors:

-I am on a rather limited budget, i.e. I do not want to drop a few hundred dollars on airfare or accomodations for any single trip or event, so a ferry to Tasmania, a trip to Uluru or the Sydney Harbor 'bridge climb' are probably out of the question.
-I prefer public transport, but likely will have access to a vehicle at some point in both cities.
-I'm not interested in crowds unless the spectacle is well worth it.
-I'm definitely not interested in anything that qualifies as 'night life' such as pubs and clubs.
-On the other hand, things of a genuinely folk or traditional nature would be welcome.
-In the really pushing it category: Nice quiet places that also happen to be wonderful vantage points where you can sit and rest and maybe read a book?

I am used to hiking in Californian deserts. I am reasonably fit, e.g. I can do Angel's Landing in Zion National Park just fine (roughly 500m elevation). I adore deserts and old forests, mountains and other rugged terrain. Joshua Tree is a frequent haunt. Beaches are nice too, but I have been to Big Sur and was not particularly drawn to it.

Things that seem to be up my alley, with the research I've done so far:
-Blue Mountains via train from Sydney (but which hikes?)
-The Melbourne aquarium
-Grampians National Park
-Williams Promontory?
-Great Ocean Road, Twelve Apostles?
posted by legospaceman to Travel & Transportation around Australia (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you've only got two weeks in Victoria, definitely Wilsons Promontory and the Grampians, though you'll be struggling to get to either without private transport.

Nice quiet places that also happen to be wonderful vantage points where you can sit and rest and maybe read a book?

This bench seat is my favourite place in all of Melbourne, especially around sunset. If you're lucky, the swamp at the top of the hill (a long-disused header dam) will have frogs in it.
posted by flabdablet at 12:49 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

(Melbournite here; can't speak to the Sydney side of things)

The Grampians, Williams Prom, and The Great Ocean Road are all great, but definitely not public-transport viable. For a quick hit of easily accessible bushwalking, you want The Dandenongs, a small range of hills on the eastern outskirts of Melbourne. Catch a suburban Belgrave line train from the centre of Melbourne and it takes about an hour. Getting off at Upper Ferntree Gully puts you at the edge of Dandenong Ranges National Park. If you get off at Belgrave you're a couple of minutes away from Puffing Billy, a nice old steam train that winds its way through the hills out to Gembrook.
posted by quinndexter at 12:50 AM on January 25, 2015

You'll need a typographical map for Williams Prom.
posted by flabdablet at 12:54 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend you visit Daylesford (110km away from Melbourne). It appears that you can get public transport there (2 hours one way on V line). There are a few hill hikes near the Hepburn Springs public baths (also recommended if you enjoy soaking in beautiful mineral water pools; go during the week for cheap entry) that take you to lovely views and/or natural mineral water springs, some of which are carbonated and contain muscle-relaxing magnesium and trace elements of lithium (!). The town itself is lovely, with an awesome secondhand bookstore, and local produce featuring in most restaurants and cafes on the main street.
posted by travellingincognito at 2:20 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hike The Spit to Manly! We took the bus from Sydney CBD to the spit, and then took the ferry back from Manly to Circular Quay. There are woods, bush, beaches, and Aboriginal walks along the way.

There are also some nice day walks on Bundeena... Google for details. You'd take the train out to Cronulla and then a ferry to Bundeena. I think there are map guideposts. Bundeena's pretty small and navigable as an island, and the town is super small and super cute.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:59 AM on January 25, 2015

I did tours to the Great Ocean road and Phillip Island and can highly recommend both. Apparently there's tolls and park entrance fees and whatnot that are included in the tour price. I went with Bunyip tours and had Natalie both times--she's hilarious as well as informative.
posted by orrnyereg at 3:15 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Palm Jungle Walk in the Royal National Park is a great day walk. You can catch the train to Waterfall and its about an extra hours walk from the station to the walk start.
posted by girlgenius at 3:28 AM on January 25, 2015

Best answer: Within Sydney, it's not really considered a bushwalk, but the Bondi Beach to Coogee costal walk might tick walk+tourist+places to stop for reading. It wouldn't be too hard to reach by Sydney public transport at either end, has mountains of places to stop for a drink and a read, is long but also as long as you want to make it, and while possibly crowded at this time of the year, is ridiculously scenic.

(Caveat: I've never done this walk but as a Brisbaneite it's always at the top of my Sydney to-do list).

Now the Blue Mountains I know more about, and there's a couple that I'd recommend. The first is from the township of Katoomba (the main town), from Echo Point to the Scenic Railway via the Giant Staircase.It's a walk that takes you past the Thee Sisters (the most photographed and touristy part of the mountains, and well deserved), down a huge set of stairs built by the convicts, along a shady, flat rainforested section, at which you have two choices - a great set of stairs taking you back up to the scenic route back to your starting point, or the world's steepest quick train ride to the same point. It's a couple of hours to do, and would work well with the 3-4 hour train ride to and from Sydney. You will need to coordinate bus transport from the Katoomba train station to Echo Point lookout, and have money for the scenic railway if you do it (it's worth it for the fun but makes the walk back up so much easier). There's some great cafes in the main street of Katoomba if you need a quick coffee and read before the return journey on the train.

I love that walk, and have done it several times with new visitors to the Blue Mountains for the first time.

The other walk is the Valley of the Waters and leaves from Wentworth Falls, a smaller town. The start of the walk is easily accessible by public transport and is shorter but harder than the previous walk. Lots more stairs out and a lot more creeks to look at and splash your feet around in; less tourists but more sun exposure.

Can't speak for Melbourne! Have fun!
posted by chronic sublime at 3:51 AM on January 25, 2015

Best answer: If you have access to a car while you're in Melbourne, your options expand. Daylesford, as mentioned previously, is a lovely place to visit and one of my regular escapes from city life. Hepburn Springs and Mt Franklin, right next door, are more peaceful still and have some pretty amazing places to walk - especially to the top of Mt Franklin. If you are driving up to Daylesford on the Calder Highway, you go past Mt Macedon and Hanging Rock, which are also well worth the visit. (You can also get the V-line train to Macedon or Woodend, though it does not go to Daylesford. That line also goes through Kyneton and Castlemaine, also awesome places to visit.)

I also second the Dandenongs, which are just second to none in terms of the temperate rainforest experience. So, so many gorgeous places to visit there, and a wealth of little cafés, places to stop, etc as well.

If you are going to brave tourist attractions like the Aquarium, I'd also suggest the Royal Botanical Gardens and Healesville Sanctuary. They're all well worth seeing, just be aware that they will attract more tourists and be less peaceful than bushwalking.

I am sure that your relatives will be all over this, but please also remember to check local weather conditions/warnings before you go on long walks. Though it is currently lovely and mild, it is summer here and that means bushfires. February is usually the worst for them. Even if no fires, there's always fun things like sudden downpours and floods as well. Melbourne is known as the city of four seasons in one day for good reason.

Some useful things with more information: Bushwalking Victoria, which has general info on lots of day walks in the Melbourne area, including things near Braybrook where you'll be staying. I also thought this site seemed useful in terms of ideas for walks as well as lots of pictures. And Parks Victoria is the best for all the info, maps, links, any alerts. Though I don't know much about Sydney/NSW, NSW National Parks looks pretty good too.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:47 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: -Grampians National Park
A stunning area, but 3 hours from Melbourne according to Google Maps and possibly not easy to access by public transport. I would also not choose to visit this time of year, as it's very hot & dry there now and it could easily be insanely hot - 40˚C or more - while you're here.

-Williams Promontory?
Would have to be one of Victoria's busiest National Parks and, I think, offers its greatest treasures to hikers/campers, so you would need to be prepared for this. They only allow a certain number of people in at a time and it will be booked out in advance.

February is the beginning of the shoulder season. Right now everwhere is very busy because it's school holidays, but kids go back in a week. University students and many others are all still holidaying in Feb though. I'm not saying don't go to either of these places at all - they're both incredible, especially The Prom - just trying to add to your info about them.

I also recommend the Dandenongs and the Daylesford/Hepburn Springs area. If you're heading to the latter in a car, you could check out the Lerderderg area - State Park and Gorge on the way. I've never been, but a number of friends rave about the gorge. The in/famous Hanging Rock, which is quite special, is also near here.

The Great Ocean Road to Apollo Bay is pretty cool (and visited by nearly every tourist who visits SE Australia) and I'm sure there are heaps of walks through the mountains along the road. The Otway Ranges at the southernmost (Apollo Bay) end are very wet and lush, even at this time of year. Not unlike the Dandenongs in some ways - wet sclerophyll and cool temperate rainforest - but wilder. If I could only see one, it would be The Otways - you have some amazing coastline along there too - but The Dandenongs are much easier to get to.

...the Royal Botanical Gardens and Healesville Sanctuary. They're all well worth seeing, just be aware that they will attract more tourists...
Yeah, these are great places to check out, even if they're busy, and weekdays will hopefully be a bit quieter than weekends.
posted by mewsic at 5:42 AM on January 25, 2015

I definitely think you should see Twelve Apostles. It's awe inspiring.
posted by gt2 at 8:00 AM on January 25, 2015

I am very far from an expert but if you are in its neighborhood, the William Ricketts Sanctuary showcases some amazing folk art and is very tranquil and Endor-like. It's a few hour job though, not a full or even half day's adventure.
posted by ftm at 8:50 AM on January 25, 2015

As a side note, if you're travelling out bush/rural areas during bushfire season, make sure you have an AM/FM radio, in-car or portable, and listen to it. Even in the CBD, transmission is regularly interrupted over summer with sirens followed by announcements along the lines of "This is a high fire-danger warning for [township]. If you are in [township] it is now too late to leave. Seek the nearest shelter immediately". It's the 'too late to leave' line that makes my blood run cold, but enough people have died thinking they can outrun a bushfire. Please don't do that.

And on preview, if you do hit the Dandenongs, you'll absolutely be in the neighbourhood of William Ricketts Sanctuary.

(Also, I apologise in advance for Melbourne's horseshit public transport ticketing system.)
posted by quinndexter at 9:09 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll restrict my response to Sydney, as I know that best.

A great website to check for information of facilities around Sydney is that of the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service.

You can locate the parks on a map, and get a good feel for access to public transport, especially train stations.

The Royal National Park has some excellent walks, and will be quite unlike what you have been used to.

Ku-ring-gai Chase also has some spectacular hikes.
posted by Flashduck at 2:32 PM on January 25, 2015

It will take a solid day, but an early morning train to Cronulla. A ferry to Bundenna, then walk from there to Otford train station along 'the coast walk'. 26kms, It will take a fit person about 8 hours. It's an amazing walk along the coast line, at the right time of the year you may see whales.
posted by Burgatron at 2:53 PM on January 25, 2015

Low budget? Near sydney?

Catch the train down to Stanwell Park go for a swim and a walk into the rainforest. Catch the train to otford from stannie and go for a walk in the national park.

Catch the train to the Blue mountains and go for a walk to Blackheath.

You can also take push bikes on trains, although there are some relatively nasty hills around.
posted by singingfish at 3:48 PM on January 25, 2015

I agree with a lot of the Melbourne tips here. Just would add that unless you really love fish, I didn't think the Aquarium is worth the steep ticket price. There are some neat fish to be sure, but the whole place feels like a dated kids exhibit.

Definitely second the suggestion to see the Dandenongs. From what you posted it, I think it hits all your interests. You can hike by this cafe, where next door you can feed wild cockatoos and sometimes rosellas for a small donation. It might be worth calling to see if they are open and have birdseed to sell before hand though.

If you go on The Great Ocean Road, a tour bus is really convenient but you will have to be on their time table. It would be cheaper than renting a car though and you would see more sites. If you rent a car you can stop at other sites along the Road (Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge etc) which are really neat to see. You can also get closer to the Apostles from the beach if you park away from the main visitor's centre and walk along the beach and spend as much time as you like. Oh! Also if you stop by the Kennett River Caravan Park and bring some bird seed to the trees between the entrance to the caravan park and the nearby cafe, you can feed rosellas and get some great close up pictures.

You will need a car to get to Wilson's Prom or The Grampians, but both would be worth it. Sounds like you would have to choose one or the other but both are lousy with beautiful sights. You are guaranteed to see kangaroos and wallabys in the Grampians. See if your relatives are interested in going also!
posted by Slimemonster at 5:16 PM on January 25, 2015

Best answer: It's possible to get public transport (VLine or local buses) to parts of the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, although the timetables only leave you time for shorter walks. Some buses drop you off at the start of a walking track (for example, the Grampians bus goes to Halls Gap, where several tracks start). Alternatively, you should be able to tee up a local taxi from the bus stop to get you to the start of your track. Crossreference VLine maps with Parks Victoria maps and this list of local taxis to figure out your options.

To be honest (and this is coming from a non-driver who loves public transport), assuming you have access to a relative's car, it may be cheaper and/or more convenient to drive. (Watch out for emus on the road in to the Grampians, and echidnas and wombats on the road in to the Prom!)

Next week's temperatures are meant to be unseasonably mild, so head out bush as soon as you can to make the most of this great walking weather. (Temps will likely rocket up in the following weeks).

The summer heat provides another good reason to drive yourself to national parks - you can get out quickly if you see a bushfire in the distance. And I don't want to scare you off entirely, but summer is snake season too. Wear long pants and closed shoes on your bushwalks, take pressure bandages with you, and keep an eye on where you're stepping. 000 is our emergency number.

If you're interested in getting up close and personal with Australian animals then Healesville Sanctuary is well worth the trip. (Don't miss the spectacular and informative 'Spirits of the Sky' show, which is included in the price of admission). For a more rustic, free alternative, drive to Serendip Sanctuary (45 minutes from Braybrook).

Closer to 'home', the hidden oasis of the Newport Lakes (a former quarry that's been turned back into bushland) is only 20 minutes drive from Braybrook, and the pretty and peaceful Jawbone Flora and Fauna Reserve is under 10 minutes drive from there. Both offer short walks, and could make the beginnings of a nice half-day trip. (You could stop for dinner at Dough! in Newport for some of the best fish & chips in town. Yum!).
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 5:24 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all. These recommendations are amazing. I'm beginning to think I should have budgeted even more time in Australia from my overall four months away from home.

It sounds like the Grampians and Dandenongs are a must, and probably the Great Ocean Road to the Otways, as well as the Royal National Park and the Blue Mountains. I think I'll probably end up staying away from the aquarium, I'm not that into captive sealife.
posted by legospaceman at 6:41 PM on January 25, 2015

Seconding Wildwalks as a good way to find hikes. Lets you set a distance, style, difficulty etc and shows a map and photos.
posted by fonetik at 3:27 AM on January 26, 2015

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