26 November 2020.
As we race towards December, I think we can all agree that this year wasn’t quite what any of us had planned.
Yet, alongside all the unexpected moments that unfolded, one of the best things to come from 2020 was more time spent at home in Sydney and surrounding NSW.
Wrapped in pristine beaches and wild bushland, home to cosy cafes and world-class eats, with rugged mountains and sprawling vineyards right on its doorstep, this city and its surrounds make a simply exceptional place to explore.
Our travel plans may have been shelved indefinitely, but exploring our own backyards was put back on the agenda in a big way.
It was the year that forced many of us to slow down and cherish stolen moments with family and friends. The year that reminded us that creating meaningful memories will always be more important than the physical things that surround us.
Here in Sydney, we’re lucky enough that things have returned to some semblance of normalcy. With Christmas just around the corner, there’s never been a better time to dust off those bucket lists, reignite that thirst for adventure and satiate those cravings to get out and do something a wee bit special.
These are my top picks of five wonderful and unique experiences in Sydney and NSW that would make the perfect gift for you or your loved ones this Christmas.
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1 | Hot Air Ballooning Over The Hunter Valley
Taking out the top spot on my personal Sydney bucket list, a sunrise flight over the gorgeous Hunter Valley is undoubtedly a wonderful way to start the day.
Climb high across the neat patchwork of vineyards that sprawl across the Hunter Valley just in time to see the sun kiss the horizon and bathe the landscapes in vivid gold. After a peaceful hour drifting through the skies, you’ll touch down for a gourmet breakfast and bubbles at a local winery.
At just 2 hours from the city and as one of Sydney’s best-rated experiences, this would make an incredible Christmas gift and the absolute highlight of any weekend escape to wine country.
2 | Canyoning The Blue Mountains’ Empress Canyon
For any Sydneysider who loves to explore, chances are you’ve spent many a weekend soaking up the immense beauty of the Blue Mountains. Getting lost in the blue gum forests imbued with their eucalypt haze, taking in the spectacular views from Govetts Leap Lookout and devouring trail after trail with dusty boots and a big stupid smile wiped across your face.
Inject even more adventure into your next trip to the mountains with an action-packed, all-day canyoning and abseiling experience that will see you swimming and scrambling through the sandstone cliffs of the Empress Canyon surrounded by water-soaked ferns and mossy forests before backing down a sheer mountain wall with a forest backdrop falling away behind you. A fantastic Christmas gift for the active ones in your life and you can even join them for their fun-filled day out.
3 | Wine And Dine At Gunners’ Barracks
Nestled amongst the bushland of Georges Head, Gunners’ Barracks forms part of Sydney’s historic trail of military fortifications that cling to the harbour cliffs.
Today, the venue retains its 19th-century stone facade and network of underground tunnels, while the interior has been transformed into a charming space that boasts a vast panorama overlooking the many bays of the harbour.
Pull up a seat on their enchanting outdoor terrace and enjoy a romantic 3-course meal that highlights seasonal Australian fare or put your pinkies up for a decadent High Tea of cakes, scones and finger sandwiches alongside your favourite brew or bubbles.
I’ve enjoyed the high tea here several times over the years and, aside from ogling the gorgeous vistas, it’s simply a lovely way to spend an afternoon doing something special with family or friends and would make a delightful gift this Christmas.
4 | Kayak and Bushwalk around Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park
As a northern beaches local, one of the great joys of lockdown for me was getting better acquainted with the magic of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Discovering new walking tracks and hidden lookouts, gazing across the serene waterways as feeding waterbirds sent ripples cascading towards the banks and soaking up the majesty of a wintery wildflower season right on my doorstep.
What better way to combine these simple joys than with a morning spent paddling across Pittwater, talking local history with your guide, keeping your eyes peeled for dolphins and visiting a secluded beach before hitting the trails to enjoy the sublime views from above. Another great gift for your outdoorsy, summer-loving friends this Christmas.
5 | Splurge On A Luxe Rainforest Retreat In Tweed Valley
Nestled in a verdant pocket of pristine rainforest that blankets the border of northern NSW, this enchanting forest hideaway presents a perfect opportunity for busy Sydneysiders to leave the big smoke behind and be embraced, wholly and utterly, by nature.
With a collection of secluded luxury bungalows enshrouded by trees, where vast windows replace outer walls, you’ll be greeted by wilderness at every turn.
Spend your days rambling along rainforest trails, amongst ferns and ancient trees, or stay in and kick back in style accompanied by the sounds of bird song and the whispering creek.
Located several hours north of Sydney, this experience would be best paired with a longer stay in the region and would be perfect for couples looking to escape the city on a romantic getaway to northern NSW.
Experience More With RedBalloon
This article was written in partnership with RedBalloon to help you create and share more memorable moments and magical experiences this Christmas. As they put it, ‘less stuff, more stories,’ a philosophy which I certainly strive to live by.
All these experiences can be booked directly through RedBalloon (some exclusively), help support Aussie businesses and would make a fantastic gift for anyone wanting to experience more of this beautiful city of ours.
Buy entire experiences to gift your friends or family, or purchase a Gift Card of any value that they can put towards their dream experience.