When you hear the word ‘hinterland,’ you probably envisage chasing waterfalls in Northern NSW (think: Byron Bay, Bellingen, etc.). But did you know Sydney has a luscious jungle substitute of its own?
After Sydney’s lockdown was finally lifted, I decided to test this theory for myself, stretching my car wheels for the first time in months.
I found a cool little spot near Wollongong, which I’d been driving past in search of more Instagram-famous pastures for pretty much my entire life.
Enter: Clover Hill Trail.
Just an hour and a half south of Sydney (and about a 20 minute drive inland from Shellharbour), Clover Hill Trail turned from a random Google recommendation for “hikes near Shellharbour” to a revelation.
That revelation? You don’t need to fly to Kakadu, drive 6 hours up to Bellingen, or slog it 8 hours up to Byron to find a tropical-looking oasis.
Also, being somewhat coastal, it makes for a trip with much more variety than the Blue Mountains, with the beaches of Bulli, Wollongong and Shellharbour just short drives away.
Watch my incredible find just over an hour south of Sydney in the video below
I drove down on a Friday afternoon, car camped in Shellharbour on Friday night (where I was subjected to a group of P-Platers doing burnouts in the carpark half the night), then, in the space of 24 hours swam at The Farm, walked the Clover Hill Trail, chased waterfalls and then surfed in Bulli (and went to a burger joint with live music).
This is everything we learned along the way.
You shouldn’t write off Greater Sydney as a holiday destination
Seriously. Many people just go to Jervis Bay because they don’t know of anywhere else. But there’s always fun to be found in just winging it. Go somewhere, then improvise. Having now seen this place, it’s simply astonishing I’ve never even considered stopping before.
Car camping isn’t as idyllic as Instagram makes it out to be
Did I mention the P-Plating hoons?
Wombats are “kind of smelly”
Who knew? You don’t need to go hours away from Sydney to find wombats – there are a few of them on Clover Hill Trail. And yes: they are kind of smelly.
Canyoning and chasing waterfalls are not exclusive to the Blue Mountains
It’s at your own risk though, as various signs point out.
Good company makes a good trip
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Being on your own when you’re looking for some solace, or with a good group of friends when you’re looking for some fun, can make or break a trip. Spending a day in a second tier (or third tier) location few people even consider a tourism attraction, with the right people, can be way more fun than a week in the Maldives with the wrong people.
Instagram and TikTok can make anything look good
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Chuck the right filter, clever caption, and a robotic “what I mean when I say…” voiceover on anything, and you can make it seem like a hidden gem.
Chasing waterfalls is more fun when you’re not obsessed with sharing it with the world
Fortunatley I learned my lesson from the last time I tried chasing waterfalls…
There are (some) cooler restaurants and bars in Bulli than in Sydney’s inner city
Whether you like Broccoli burgers or dirty bird, your bases are covered. There’s overpriced Big Reds too, for those who want a taste of home.
Not going so far means you get to spend way more time enjoying yourself
Seems obvious, but this trip drove it home.
I’m not the only one cottoning onto this
Besides the people who live nearby obviously knowing about the various hikes and waterfalls in ‘Wollongong’s Hinterland’, there is a growing number of people visiting and then posting about their experience online. Clover Hill Trail has 572 Instagram hashtags to its name, and its geotag is full of images. Macquarie Pass (another waterfall walk nearby) has 4,510 Instagram posts to its name.
Not to mention: even though Australians are now allowed to travel overseas, for the time being it looks like a red tape nightmare, and people are worried about cancellations and losing money thanks to pandemic related disruptions. So, for the time being, expect a whole lot more Sydneysiders to be trotting up and down the coast…