Eight Outdoor Weekend Activities
Uncover an abundance of natural beauty in Parramatta, the dynamic river city.
Parramatta might be smack bang in the middle of the Sydney metro area, but it's home to a surprising amount of natural beauty. There are adventures of all kinds to be had — from swimming in wild water holes to strolling through ancient mangrove forests and discovering Indigenous bush foods.
So, if you've been looking for new places to explore, here are eight ideas to launch you into action. Consider starting your day with a ferry trip: it's a one-hour journey from Circular Quay to Parramatta Wharf, which takes in all sorts of watery wonders, from Goat and Cockatoo Islands to Kissing Point and Homebush Bay. Once you've arrived, you have a bunch of ways to spend the day soaking up the sun and all of the outdoor fun that the neighbourhood has to offer.
Swim in Lake Parramatta
After closing for 72 years, Lake Parramatta reopened for swimmers in 2015. You'll find it just north of Parramatta CBD, surrounded by 70 hectares of bushland. If getting in the water isn't your thing, try getting on it — specifically, in a rowboat which you can hire from Parramatta Rowboats. Grab a snack at Lake Parramatta Cafe or take your own and cook up a storm on one of the lakeside barbecues. There's also plenty of space to roll out a picnic blanket and relax. If you're feeling active, there are a number of walking tracks to conquer, from the 4.2 kilometre Lake Circuit, which follows the shoreline, to the 1.5 kilometre She-Oak Track.
Cycle the Parramatta Park Loop
One of Sydney's great city parks is Parramatta Park, which has 85 hectares of greenery. See the best from two wheels on a cycle around the Parramatta Park Loop. This easy, 3.2 kilometre route passes through pretty grasslands and mature treescapes. Be sure to check out Grey-Headed Flying Fox Camp, home to around 5000 endangered creatures. To extend your adventure, follow the connecting cycle path leading to Sydney Olympic Park along the Parramatta River.
Walk Badu Mangrove Boardwalk
Before European invasion, the Parramatta River was flanked by mangrove forests. These days, many of them are gone, but, on Badu Mangrove Boardwalk, you can still surround yourself with trees that are centuries old. Wandering among the twisting branches and above-water roots, you'll also see the many creatures that call mangroves home, from crabs to cormorants. Be sure to wander north to the waterbird refuge to see all sorts of birds, including Australian pelicans, black-winged stilts and sharp-tailed sandpipers. Take your binoculars with you.
Play in Dog Friendly Parks
Have a four-legged friend who wants to get in on your adventures? There's a stack of parks in Parramatta where he or she is welcome off the leash. Get started at Dan Mahoney Reserve, which just happens to be across the road from dog-friendly pub Albion Hotel. Also worth a run are Burlington Memorial Park in Northmead, Dan Moore Reserve in North Rocks and Cowells Lane Reserve in Ermington. Should you or your pooch work up an appetite, there's a bunch of dog-friendly cafes to choose from, including River Cafe on the waterfront and Social Hideout in North Parramatta.
Do Laps at the Brand New Aquatic Centre
Six years and $88.6 million in the making, Parramatta Aquatic Centre has been one of the most highly anticipated openings in the area. The 40,000-square-metre facility is now welcoming swimmers, just in time for summer. For the littles, there's an indoor learn-to-swim pool and water playground — and a creche, if you really need some 'me time'. Whether you want to get your heart pumping in the gym (or a group fitness class) or unwind in the sauna or steam room, you'll be able to cool off in the 50-metre outdoor pool, then treat yourself to a smoothie at the on-site café.
Master a 1080 at the James Ruse Water and Skate Park
James Ruse Water and Skate Park is a great spot to hang out during the warmer months, with barbecue facilities, picnic tables and plenty of shade available. A generously sized playground and skate park provide entertainment for kids, both big and small, all year round. There is also a water playground active from September to May, 9am to 8pm — perfect for those sweltering summer days.
Have a shot at Archery
Get your Robin Hood on at Sydney Olympic Park's Archery Centre. Built for the 2000 Games, it's now an educational facility where members of the public can have a go at the mighty bow and arrow. Casual sessions happen at 10am and 2pm every Saturday and Sunday (plus again at 5pm in summer) and run for about 1.5 hours. All equipment, as well as introductory instructions, is provided. If you get a taste for the game, you can continue to the Silver Arrow Program, during which you'll learn ten top shooting techniques over three one-hour sessions.
Wander through the Rose Garden
There is plenty to check out in the sprawling Parramatta Park, but the Rumsey Rose Garden is undoubtedly the prettiest (and the best-smelling) part. The peak of spring (October-November) is the best time to visit when the area, which once served as a lumber yard and a bowling club before being transformed into a garden in 1995, is in full bloom. Here, you'll find one of the biggest collections of fragrant heritage roses in the country, including some species that are rarely found in Australia. Stroll through the gardens, stopping to smell some of the more fragrant buds, and then continue your refined adventure by visiting Wistaria Gardens.
Follow Parramatta Valley Cycleway
Parramatta River begins just north of the Parramatta CBD and meanders east for 15 kilometres, before flowing into Sydney Harbour. Thanks to a shared cycle path, which follows the water, you can experience it at a leisurely pace on foot or bicycle. You'll begin at the river's head in Parramatta Park and can continue as far as you'd like. Along the way, admire the views of Parramatta Park and Sydney Olympic Park. If you need some fuel, there are a few waterside cafes and restaurants to try, including 1021 Mediterranean at the southern end of the Alfred Street Bridge or Sahra By The River for Mediterranean-inspired eats. And if you really want to stretch your legs, head to Armoury Wharf Cafe in Olympic Park.
This article was written in partnership with Concrete Playground.