It’s easy to fall hard and fast in love with Sydney, Australia. For starters there’s the climate, where the Aussies never see snow or frost other than in their ‘ski region.’ And located in the Southern Hemisphere, their seasons are opposite to ours. Then there are the incredible beaches. Take your pick of beaches that surround the city; the most popular being the world-renowned Bondi Beach where you will see surfers any time of the day and any time of the year. Even the Sydney Hop-on-hop-off bus makes a stop at Bondi Beach! Sydney continues to rank as one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world – in 4th place on the 2023 Global Liveability Index. This picture-perfect waterfront city of nearly 6 million is only outranked by Vienna, in top spot with Copenhagen and Melbourne, Australia in second and third place respectively. The study assesses 172 cities across the globe in categories that include stability, healthcare, education, infrastructure, culture and entertainment. (BTW Vancouver was 5th on the list, while Toronto was listed in 9th place.) And another plus, the Australian dollar is generally just below the Canadian buck.
There is so much to see and do in this glorious city that it’s hard to cover it all. Here, we’ll explore the ‘adventurous side’ of Sydney and area with some jaw dropping, bucket list adventures you’ll remember for a lifetime.
Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb
The Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb is an experience you won’t soon forget (just ask Oprah, Ben Stiller, Matt Damon, Katy Perry, or Prince Harry who are among the many celebrities who have made the climb). Since 1998, BridgeClimb has welcomed over 4 million climbers who scale the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
According to the Bridge website, 60% of climbers are international visitors. The oldest climber was 100-year-old Mrs. Chris Mulber. Over 5,000 couples have been engaged while climbing while over 30 couples have been married at the summit of the arch.
The iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the world’s longest steel-arch bridges. Construction began in 1924 and finished in 1932. The bridge carries eight lanes of traffic plus commuter trains. You have five ‘Climb’ options, beginning with the original Summit Climb to the jaw dropping Ultimate Climb which allows you to conquer the entire breadth of the bridge—there and back! It takes 3.5 hours to tackle the 1,621 steps to reach the summit at the top of the arch. A dedicated Climb Leader is assigned to each group of 14 fearless climbers. Once you complete the climb, you receive a certificate of achievement, a BridgeClimb baseball hat and the chance to say, “I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge!”
Voted as the #1 Travelers’ Choice Experience in Australia by Trip Advisor, this is a bucket list experience you’ll tell your grandkids about!
Sydney Tower Eye SKYWALK
Sydney’s Eye Tower, the largest building in the city and their version of the CN Tower, offers an adventure where visitors can take a breathtaking 60-minute “SKYWALK” tour. This involves walking ‘on air’ at the highest outdoor viewpoint (258 metres), providing a bird’s eye view of downtown Sydney, the harbour, Opera House, and Harbour Bridge.
The fully guided SKYWALK tour offers access to the internal observation deck before and after your tour. The SKYWALK is Sydney’s highest outdoor adventure (yes even higher than the the Harbour Bridge).
Learn to Surf at Bondi Beach!
The crescent shaped beach, known as one of the best in the world, is hugged by soaring cliffs on each side. Bondi Beach is known for its rugged beauty, vibrant and fun atmosphere, and surfing culture. Instead of just sitting on the beach admiring the surfers in action, you can take a two-hour beginners’ course at Let’s Go Surfing. Each lesson begins on the sand before heading into the water. Bondi also offers 24/7 live cameras online that show surfers how challenging the waves are.
Along with surfers and swimmers, joggers and walkers enjoy the gorgeous scenery as they amble along the beach path to reach the Coogee Coastal Walk.
Due to the waves and rip tides, swimmers are advised to swim between the red and yellow flags to stay safe. The TV show, aptly named Bondi Beach Rescue, illustrates the need for safety as the many professional lifeguards put their life saving skills to the test almost daily, rescuing struggling swimmers who are caught in rip tides or are just exhausted from swimming.
Bondi Beach attracts millions of visitors each year who appreciate the soft, golden sand and the clear blue water. The Australian sun gets very hot, especially between November and March (the Australian summer), so take an umbrella, hat, and sunscreen for sure.
And after a day of surfing, swimming, and sunbathing, head to one of the many nearby cafes, restaurants and shops for some food and liquid refreshments.
While visiting Bondi Beach be sure to experience the Bondi Icebergs Pool. The Bondi Baths have been a historical landmark for over 100 years, and there’s a l50-metre saltwater pool as well as a smaller kid’s pool. The waves from Bondi Beach lap over the edge of the pool giving visitors a unique swimming experience.
Shark Dive Xtreme at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium
If you have always dreamed of swimming with sharks, head to the Sydney Aquarium. The world-class Sydney Aquarium is worth a trip alone, but they are now offering cage-less diving experiences which guarantee thrill-seekers an underwater encounter to swim with five different shark species and giant stingrays.
The 2.5-hour adventure includes a behind-the-scenes safety briefing and an introduction to scuba diving. Then you take the 30-minute oceanarium plunge into Darling Harbour and into the shark’s domain—no cage required!
“We invite guests to meet our grey nurse sharks Murdock, Mary-Lou and Striker,” says Rachel Anker, Head of PR at the Aquarium. “The species has been called ‘man eaters’ but they are not harmful to humans. We refer to them as the puppy dogs of the shark world. The biggest benefit of diving with sharks at the aquarium, rather than in the open ocean, is the guarantee of seeing so many sharks in one spot.” The shark dive experience is available to those age 14 and up.
Ahoy Mates! Board one of two Traditional Tall Ships in Sydney Harbour for a Cruise of a Lifetime
The traditional tall ships Southern Swan and the impressive Soren Larsen are anchored in Sydney Harbour offering a chance for visitors and locals to enjoy a unique ‘history meets modern harbour cruise.’
Enjoy a real sailing adventure on an 1850s style tall ship as you glide past the Opera House, Fort Denison and under the Harbour Bridge. An interactive experience allows guests to try their hand at steering the ship or helping to hoist the sails. Or you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as you are beamed back to a bygone era.
And Three Must-Do Day/Weekend Trips from Sydney
Go for a Hot Air Balloon Ride for a Bird’s Eye View of Hunter Valley Wine Region
The Hunter Valley Wine Region is New South Wales’ version of Niagara Wine Country, boasting over 200 wineries in this picturesque region about a 90-minute drive north of Sydney. (There’s even a place called Toronto on the way).
This neck of the woods is home to a variety of wineries; from mom-and-pop family-run operations to world-renowned brands. The area is known for varietals such as Semillon and Shiraz. Many of the wineries are located south of the Hunter River offering cellar door wine tastings and vineyard tours. Unique experiences can include a stay at one of the vineyards or resorts, wine tasting, trail rides on horseback, and for the ultimate experience, take a hot air balloon ride over the valley.
I chose to book a Viator small group tour which included a fabulous lunch, winery tour and tastings, cheese and wine pairing, chocolate and wine pairing, and a stop at a local distillery making craft vodka and gin. The beautiful wineries we visited include: Irone Gate Estate, Pokolbin Estate Vineyard, Hermitage Road Cellars and Hunter Distillery. The small group tour (there were only 10 people on our bus) included being picked up at our hotel in downtown Sydney by a friendly and informative driver.
Day Trip! See the Blue Mountains from the from the World’s Steepest Passenger Train or from the Roof of a Cable Car!
About an hour and a half drive from downtown Sydney you will discover The Blue Mountains UNESCSO World Heritage Site. A stunning view of the Blue Mountains can be seen from the observation decks in the Blue Mountains National Park. If you are up to stretching your legs(about 3,000 steps according to our guide) you can take the challenging hike to the basin of the gorge to admire the stunning Wentworth Falls.
At Echo Park you can enjoy a dramatic view of the Three Sisters Rocks. (As you may know, there are also mountains near Banff, Alberta called The Three Sisters). In this case, the rocks are almost pillar like formations with a reddish glow. The deep canyons are reminiscent of The Grand Canyon but on a smaller scale.
Nearby Scenic World at Katoomba is an adventure park in The Blue Mountains which offers a range of thrilling experiences found nowhere else on earth!
You can choose from a few adventure experiences (rides) including the Beyond Skyway, the world’s steepest railway or the Southern Hemisphere’s steepest aerial cable car—the world’s first rooftop (yes rooftop) cable car experience!
Locked in a full-body harness personally fitted to each guest, you climb up a ladder to the rooftop of the car. The rooftop cable car experience takes you 270 metres above the canopy of the Jamieson Valley, offering 360-degree views of Blue Mountains National Park. After your thrilling adventure, receive a complimentary glass of champagne, wine or beer to toast your experience. Guests are also provided with a branded digital image package to remember their Beyond Skyway adventure in Blue Mountains.
As an alternative, you can discover the thrill of a 52-degree incline in open terrain riding in the Scenic Railway, the steepest passenger railway in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records. The original railway was built in the late 19th century to serve the Katoomba coal mine and has since been refurbished. The fifth-generation train travels a 310-metre route though a cliff tunnel and then emerges on the floor of Jamieson Valley. Passengers choose their level of adventure (and comfort zone), adjusting their seat position up to 20 degrees.
It’s Worth the Flight for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Chance to Snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef
CNN once labelled The Great Barrier Reef as one of the ‘Seven Natural Wonders of the World’. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s worth the cost of a flight to Cairns and a hotel for a few days for a chance to be able to snorkel (or scuba drive if you are licensed) at The Great Barrier Reef, stretching over 2,300 km in the Coral Sea off northern Australia.
You will find several tour companies in Sydney, like Viator, who offer fly-stay and sail/snorkel packages. The tour we took was from Port Douglas and included a boat ride on the large and impressive Quicksilver ferry-like ship which took us to a massive floating dock that is anchored at a section of The Great Barrier Reef. You can start your adventure with a complimentary ride in a submarine where you’ll see giant sea turtles and beautiful coral reef formations.
Next, don a wetsuit (to protect from the cold as well as the possibility of jelly fish) and step into the ‘baby pool’. Once you get your sea legs, you can venture further and further out into the ocean into the buoyed-off area. There are floatation devises handy if swimmers need a rest.
What’s surprising is how clear the water is and how large the coral formations are. Some jet up to the water’s surface and you are warned not to touch the coral. You’ll also see some interesting schools of fish swimming by. Many people ask about sharks. The guides mention that man-eating sharks are a rarity in these waters but tell us the international sign (hands on top head in a fin-like position) to indicate to the nearby staff that a shark is nearby.
Other adventures include taking an optional (paid) helicopter ride over the reef, while yet another experience is to snorkel with a guide who points out fascinating marine life during the swim.
From climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge to swimming with sharks to taking a balloon ride over wine country to snorkelling at The Great Barrier Reef, Sydney and area offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences to add to your bucket list.
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch