A Destination New South Wales fam took 10 agents and Travel Weekly's Joanna Booth to see the best of the state
“Lie back and brace yourself,” I heard Lynchy say to Katherine.“
Lynchy, our kayak instructor, was about to pilot their two-seater craft safely through the surf to shore, and perhaps in part because of his well-defined pecs, Cox & Kings’ Katherine Brake seemed only too happy to oblige, complete with a smile and a rather aristocratic wave.
As Thomas Cook’s Scott Fitzpatrick and I unceremoniously capsized at the last minute, it struck me that the instructor’s advice was sound, not only for those kayaking off the shores of Byron Bay, but for any traveller experiencing New South Wales.
This most quintessentially Australian of states is simultaneously laid back and lively – so those who enjoy bracing excitement, a spot of lying back, or a mix of the two, can be happily catered for.
And thanks to Destination New South Wales, 10 winning agents and I are able to attest to the truth of this first hand.
Our Sydney Superstars tour sampled the best the state has to offer, from surfing and bridge-climbing to cream teas and cocktails, so the agents now feel able to tinker with clients’ itineraries to create the perfect mix.
SYDNEY - A VIEW TO A THRILL
Sydney has built its reputation on being an exceptionally pretty city, and it lived up to this at every point of our visit. We’d hardly had a chance to put our suitcases down before we were treated to some of the best views of Sydney Harbour available, at the Blu Bar on 36 at the Shangri-La Sydney, our host hotel.
Over canapés and cocktails we lined up, awestruck, in front of huge windows. We couldn’t believe our luck as a burst of fireworks shot up from behind the Opera House – Sydney really was making us feel like superstars.
The Shangri-La’s premium position – Cox & Kings’ Katherine Brake recommends it to clients who want to be able to explore the city easily – results in panoramic vistas from the bar, Altitude restaurant and Grand Harbour View rooms, so it’s worth an upgrade.
We felt no less special at the Park Hyatt Sydney, where we dined on exquisite food from Aussie chef Andrew McKee and experienced the results of the major refurbishment that saw the hotel close its doors for most of last year.
The hotel is a celeb-haunt, and no wonder – it’s incredibly stylish, with understated luxe furnishings, vast rooms and three rooftop suites with almost 360-degree views of the harbour.
We had a chance to look down on the hotel during our Bridge Climb, an experience we all loved – from those who, like Travelbag’s Jason Winter, were fulfilling a lifetime ambition, to Millington Travel’s Joanne Donaldson, who’d been more unsure.
We all agreed the two and a half hour Express Climb was the perfect length, taking you to the pinnacle of the bridge with an entertaining guide.
We got another perspective on the bridge that afternoon, from on board a Sea Sydney Cruises motor yacht. With 12 passengers, Austravel’s Cheryl Dootson felt this relaxing, four-hour cruise with personable guiding is a “great alternative for those who don’t want to be with the masses but can’t afford a private boat”. You can swim, fish or sunbathe and enjoy the barbecue lunch.
BYRON BAY - BEACHES AND BEYOND
If Sydney provided the iconic sights, Byron Bay brought us quintessential Aussie beach experiences. As well as paddling around looking for dolphins with Cape Byron Kayaks, we took to the ocean once more in an attempt to master the art of surfing.
Our instructors, from Let’s Go Surfing, were superb. After a safety briefing and a bit of practice at ‘popping up’ on the beach, we threw ourselves into the waves. By the end of the lesson every single one of us had managed to stand up on the board.
Having experienced the best of the ocean at Byron, it was time to go inland to the area known as the Green Cauldron. A vast volcanic caldera covered in rainforest, this area was new even to the agents who’d visited Australia on numerous occasions, and our whistlestop day tour gave us a flavour of what’s on offer.
We took a walk around the base of Mount Warning in the Mount Wollubin National Park and nibbled on finger limes as we learnt about the native plant life from Buck at Chillingham Bushtucker.
This was just the start of our culinary pampering; we’d hardly had time to digest the amazing cakes and scones from our morning tea, delivered by nostalgically mob-capped waitresses at Flutterbies Cottage Cafe in the town of Tyalgum, before we were sitting down to lunch in the beautiful surroundings of Mavis’s Kitchen.
The tables on the first floor terrace have gorgeous views of this 25-acre property, where much of the produce used by the restaurant is grown. Any tourist self-driving between Byron and Brisbane could enjoy a relaxing day in this area.
Byron Bay warrants a few days’ stay, and we were all impressed by the quality and range of accommodation. We stayed at Apartments Inn, a new 43-room complex in the centre of town, where all but the studios had large kitchens, sitting room areas and balconies.
Right by the beach, we visited the luxurious Beach Suites, which had private plunge pools, and the friendly, family-run Friday On The Beach, an affordable option with nice touches including homemade cakes.
A taxi-ride away from town, we also spent a night at The Byron at Byron, a quiet, secluded, couple-friendly choice where lush rainforest surrounds the spacious apartments.
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