Don’t be fooled by Sydney’s busy streets and skyscrapers – the harbour city is much more than a metropolis. That high-paced energy spills over to hundreds of adventurous pursuits in national parks, waterways and world-class sporting facilities.
Head west for the best in heart-racing fun. Penrith Whitewater Stadium, a former venue for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, is the only man-made river of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. From September to June, anyone can tackle the whitewater rafting course – with or without a guide.
Nearby is the Sydney International Regatta Centre, where you can row, sail, kayak, fish, learn to ride a motorcycle or blast from a lake into the sky wearing a Jetpack or Flyboard (see Jetting Around sidebar).
Also in Penrith, iFly indoor skydiving simulator teaches first-timers the basics of flying before a minute of madness suspended in a flight tunnel.
In Sydney Harbour, hang on for a jet boat ride with Thunder Jet Boat or Oz Jet Boating, or see the sights from above on the official BridgeClimb to the top of the Harbour Bridge. The city’s highest outdoor adventure is the one-hour Skywalk off the edge of the tallest structure, Sydney Tower (268 metres).
Sydney has an astonishing range of waterways that are perfectly matched for aquatic adventures. It’s almost unbelievable that people can kayak around Sydney Harbour, paddling up close to the Opera House on an Ozpaddle Sydney tour.
Sydney’s marine reserves are safe for snorkelling and diving. Cabbage Tree Bay is one of the best places to spot giant cuttlefish, blue gropers and harmless sharks such as the Dusky Whaler. Dive Centre Manly offers snorkelling tours, dive courses and guided dives. In the east, Sydney Underwater Scooter Tours specialises in Gordons Bay.
Learn how to waterski, wakeboard, wakeskate or kneeboard at Sydney Ski School on the Hawkesbury River, or try surf lessons at Manly or Bondi. The next big craze is foiling – surfing on a board with an electric hydrofoil – which can be attempted with WSS Boards in Balmoral.
Boating and fishing
A step up from relaxing harbour cruises is the chance to skipper your own boat with Sydney by Sail. Even better, stay aboard overnight with the new overnight B&B experience, which includes a twilight cruise around the harbour before anchoring in a sheltered bay for a romantic dinner for two (after the skipper leaves).
Out west, Nepean River is ideal for boating and fishing. Nepean River Tours operates a fishing day trip and a two-hour cruise through sandstone gorges and eucalypt forests. Deep Sea Charters offers various city pickup locations for a great day offshore with a professional crew.
Walks and hikes
It’s easy to escape the bustle and go exploring on foot, just outside the city centre.
Sydney’s newest walking trail is an 80-kilometre whopper from Bondi to Manly. Linking two of Australia’s most famous beaches, it follows the coastline past the harbour and its hidden bays, so hikers can cool off with a swim on each section.
The Manly Scenic Walkway, another coastal classic, is best begun at the Spit Bridge in Mosman.
The Coast Track, winding 26 kilometres around the Royal National Park, is best done as a two-day backpack trip with an overnight stop at North Era campground (advance bookings required). Between Bundeena and Otford, enjoy swims, seasonal wildflowers, whale watching and the Figure Eight Pools rockpool formation.
Nature and parks
Greater Sydney is home to several national parks, where camping is permitted for adventurous getaways. At the Royal National Park, hire a canoe or rowboat in a 19th-century weir, go swimming or fishing at Wattamolla Beach and search for indigenous rock art along the foreshore. Hundreds of Aboriginal sites can also be found in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney’s north, where other trails are custom-made for running and mountain biking.
Many golf courses take up prime real estate near the water, so they’re often lovely places to spend the day outdoors with stunning views and fresh ocean air. The Royal Sydney Golf Club overlooks the harbour beach of Rose Bay. In the south-eastern beachside suburbs are the NSW Golf Club in La Perouse, St Michael’s Golf Club and The Coast Golf Club in Little Bay, and Randwick Golf Club in Malabar. Eastlake Golf Club is set among Botany Wetlands near Sydney Airport, and within a short drive are the Australian Golf Club, the Lakes Golf Club and Bonnie Doon Golf Club, established in 1897.
Summer 2021-22 welcomes back big sports events to Sydney. The famous Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race is held on Boxing Day (December 26), with fans lining the harbour foreshore and beaches to catch the start of this iconic event.
Any self-respecting Aussie or traveller to these shores has to make it to the cricket at the SCG. One-day international matches, test matches and Big Bash games are held regularly. Don’t miss Australia face off against England in the fourth Test of The Ashes (January 5-9).
Also in January is the ATP Cup, a tennis tournament at Sydney Olympic Park with the world’s best competitors from 24 countries, and the HSBC Sydney 7s, a fast version of rugby union with two seven-minute halves. Join in the fun of the live music, family entertainment and fans in colourful costumes. For full games, watch the NSW Waratahs in the Super Rugby competition from February to June 2022 and the Wallabies playing major international matches.
There’s plenty of time to go to the footy, with the rugby league season running from March to October, including the NRL State of Origin between NSW and Queensland, at Stadium Australia on June 8. AFL is played from March to September at the SCG and the Giants Stadium at Sydney Olympic Park.
Winter will also see a major surf event, Sydney Surf Pro, held at Manly on May 17-24 instead of its usual summer schedule.
One of the world’s most exciting adventure activities is flying through the air on a Jetpack or Flyboard, propelled by hundreds of litres of water blasted through rocket-like thrust nozzles. We chatted to Jetpack Adventures’ chief pilot Greg Coulter to find out more about this new activity in Sydney.
Why was Jetpack Adventures established in Sydney?
It was established in 2011 with the first release of the Jetpack. A group of local watersports instructors commenced the business to bring the experience to the general public. Sydney International Regatta Centre [in Penrith] is our new home base. As the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games’ select water events, the centre has allocated a lake to the Jetpack Adventures team to use as our first Sydney Jetpack training facility. We also have another location on the Central Coast [at Mt Penang Gardens] at a great freshwater dam.
What do people love about Jetpacks and Flyboards?
The feeling of freedom and the exhilaration of doing something so new and outside their comfort zone.
What is the most popular experience that people do?
The Flyboard jet-powered boots are the most popular, with nine out of 10 flights on the board. No skills are needed; that is up to the instructor to teach at the time. Jetpack is also popular. Jetpacks appeal to the 40-plus generations.
What are the ages of your oldest and youngest customers? The youngest is about 10. The oldest is Judith, at 76 years old.
Is chief pilot a dream job?
It is certainly satisfying to teach an apprehensive learner through to them completing a flight.
How is this summer looking for bookings?
Bookings are slowly coming back after the Covid lockdown and we are hopeful that the 2022 summer season goes well.
Do you think Sydney is a good place for adventurous people?
Yes, especially Penrith, as there is the highest concentration of adventure activities including whitewater rafting, indoor iFly and a wakeboard park – all within a 10-kilometre radius.