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If life in the fast lane is taking its toll, Sydney’s residents can easily get away from it all. Right on their doorstep, golden beaches and magnificent national parks beckon, interwoven with intricate waterways. Everything in this part of the chapter can be done as a day-trip from the city, although some require an overnight stay to explore more fully.

North of Sydney, the Hawkesbury River flows into the jagged jaws of the aptly named Broken Bay. The entire area is surrounded by bush, with the huge spaces of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in the south and the Brisbane Waters National Park in the north. Beyond Broken Bay, the Central Coast between Gosford and Newcastle is an ideal spot for a bit of fishing, sailing and lazing around. Newcastle is escaping its industrial-city tag: an up-and-coming, attractive beach metropolis, with a surfing, student, café and music culture all part of the mix. Immediately beyond are the wineries of the Hunter Valley.

To the west, you escape suburbia to emerge at the foot of the beautiful World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, while the scenic Hawkesbury–Nepean river valley is home to historic rural towns such as Windsor.

Heading south, the Royal National Park is an hour’s drive away, while on the coast beyond is a string of small, laid-back towns – Waterfall, Stanwell Park, Wombarra – with beautiful, unspoilt beaches. The industrial city of Wollongong and neighbouring Port Kembla are impressively located between the Illawarra Escarpment and the sea, but of paltry interest to visitors, although more interesting spots cluster around. Inland, the Southern Highlands are covered with yet more national parks, punctuated by pleasing towns such as Berrima and Bundanoon.

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