An overnight stay at Taronga Zoo affords views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House. // © 2016
Feature image (above): The treehouse-style accommodation at Love Cabins in the Blue Mountains wilderness outside of Sydney // © 2016
Cliffside resorts and beachside bungalows are an easy sell for travelers going down under. But if you’re looking to experience the diverse wildlife and majestic landscapes that Sydney and the greater New South Wales region can offer, head outside — and don’t be afraid of the dark.
Every city has a dark past. For Sydney, it’s Cockatoo Island: a former convict prison where men were sent to serve out their sentences through hard labor. Today, it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the middle of Sydney Harbor.
Catch the ferry from Sydney’s Central Business District, and explore the prisoner barracks, mess hall and residences that were all chiseled by hand from bedrock. If you’re brave enough to spend the night, rent Building 164, the island’s former fire station, which has been fully restored as a studio apartment with a queen-size bed, a flat-screen television and a large outdoor deck and grill.
Also available are one- or two-bedroom glamping-style tents. Each comes furnished with raised single beds and sleep two adults or four people. Appelles Apothecary toiletries and extra linens are provided for common bathrooms.
Sparkling nighttime views of the nearby suburbs will help ease your mind away from the island’s spooky history.
Tip: Think ahead. Premade barbecue packs and breakfast options are available, but must be placed 48 hours before arrival. No alcohol can be brought onto the island, but it can be purchased at one of two cafes.
Though not quite in Sydney, the Blue Mountains wilderness will take just a 50- to 90-minute drive from the city. Here, nature lovers can escape the modern world and recharge.
At the Enchanted Love Cave, naturalists channel their inner Tarzan in a cliff-top dwelling built onto a natural rock platform. Inside, they can cozy up next to the fireplace and watch the sunset over the endless horizons of eucalyptus forests just outside their bedroom window. An outdoor shower means never missing a moment of Mother Nature’s greatest show.
If being a cave man seems too primitive, book the Secret Treehouse, a treetop escape high above the ground with a bird’s-eye view of the Bowen’s Creek Gorge and the Blue Mountains Rainforest. Climbing a few flights of stairs is required.
Tip: Take a bushwalk on the property’s 600 private acres, or book one of the daily night tours of a recently discovered glowworm colony. These bioluminescent larvae, which light up canyons and rock formations, have only been found in New Zealand and Australia. So, seeing them in the wild is a real treat.
A safari-inspired campground provides impressive panoramic views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House. But it's the thrill of trekking around after dark on the grounds of Australia’s most popular zoo that stays with the guests of “Roar and Snore” long after they leave.
On a nighttime safari, children and adults learn about endangered animals such as the Eastern Bongo, one of only 150 left in the world, and the Sun Bear, which is threated by large-scale deforestation. More animal experiences include hand-feeding giraffes and holding nocturnal marsupials. Don’t worry, only brave volunteers need apply.
Tents are equipped with outlets for charging as well as electric blankets, which come in handy on cooler nights. Dinner, drinks and continental breakfast are all included. Bathrooms and showers are shared, so wake early to beat morning rush hour.
Tip: Pack earplugs. Light sleepers may wake to the sounds of wild turkeys and ringtail possums that roam freely (and bravely) throughout the campsite. Nearby chimpanzees can be noisy, too.
Originally commissioned by actress Shirley Temple in 1973, this Italian-crafted, 95-foot vessel retains much of its old Hollywood glamour even after a modern-day, multimillion-dollar renovation, including a Bose surround sound system and LCD-screen televisions.
Onboard, passengers will feel like royalty with a fully staffed crew catering to their culinary requests. A private skipper steers the ship into any of the harbor’s countless coves and bays.
The Boat’s four cabins are fully air-conditioned and sleep up to nine, and their hardwood walls and nautical-themed decor will be sure ignite everyone’s inner sailor. An outside sunning lounge, an interior saloon and a rear deck for entertaining provide ample room to stretch out and dance. Just be sure to wear your soft-soled shoes, or prepare to go barefoot.
Tip: From May to November, passengers are likely to spot humpback whales migrating along the east coast of New South Wales during their annual migration. Pack some binoculars and be on the lookout.