When the weather begins to cool across Sydney, the city’s deciduous trees dial up the natural drama. Autumn is the ultimate time for kicking your way through piles of leaves, with fiery colours ideal for leaf-peeping.
With vistas of Sydney Harbour, the Royal Botanic Garden dazzles whatever time of year you visit, spanning 30 hectares and home to more than 27,000 plants across 15 themed gardens. It’s particularly pretty in autumn, when gingko trees turn a spectacular golden colour and maples transform from green to a fiery orange tipped with red.
Head to the HSBC Oriental Garden for the full spectacle and to wander shady pathways with a leafy carpet of reds, oranges and yellows. There are guided walks through the grounds daily at 10am; or you may wish to soak up the scene from the comfort of Botanic House restaurant, where the food is mod-Asian and the views are unbroken thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.
One of the most historic parklands in Sydney, Centennial Parklands sprawls across the inner-city and offers all manner of autumnal delights. While you can certainly look forward to a patchwork of reds, oranges and golden yellows, you can also expect pops of purple thanks to the Tibouchina, or Lasiandra, tree, which flowers at this time of year. Head to the southern shore of the duck pond for a colour explosion.
During the April school holidays there are a range of activities for kids across the park, from educational treasure hunts to learn about plants to nocturnal tours, camping and ‘park arts’, where little ones will forage for natural materials then create works of art based on the colours of the season.
These 9.2-hectare grounds celebrate the turning of the seasons, with a number of annual events to mark changing floral colours. Enter the Autumn Colours Festival, held every May and replete with entertainment, exhibitions, guided tours and plenty of activities for budding young botanists. A highlight at this time of year is the Ryian-ji style Japanese Garden, which is filled with maple trees that paint the park with eye-popping shades of red, orange and yellow as the weather starts to cool.
Within Parramatta Park, the Rumsey Rose Garden is home to one of the largest collections of heritage roses in Australia, with more than 500 species on display – and they’re at their peak in October/November, as well as May. The grounds are also home to a variety of maples and other mature deciduous trees, which cast a gorgeous fiery glow over the grounds when autumn descends; there are plenty of places to kick about in piles of leaves.
Along the south bank of the Hawkesbury River, this national park dials up the floral drama in autumn. Thanks to a plethora of plane and maple trees along the waterway, the area becomes a rich tapestry of colours, from deep reds to golden glows. If you’re pitching a tent in the campground, expect your base layer to be a pile of fiery leaves. This is a great time of year for biking and walking along well-maintained paths. Or just enjoying a picnic using the campground’s barbecue facilities. Not far away, the colours are just as dramatic in the parks at Wisemans Ferry.
Overlooking Yowie Bay in Caringbah, these gardens are some 50 years old, home to more than 400 cultivars and species of camellias. And many are at their blooming peak during the cooler months, which means you can look forward to a riot of colour during autumn. Camellia sasanqua blooms from autumn too early winter, while Camellia japonica blooms from late autumn through winter – you can also expect carpets of leaves thanks to maples and oaks. Admire the kaleidoscopic colour on a wander while letting little ones feed the ducks, or revive in the teahouse where high tea is served daily.
Further afield (within two hours of Sydney):
An hour from Australia’s largest city lies 2.8-million acres of World Heritage-listed wilderness in the Blue Mountains, a favourite Sydneysider destination for day trips and weekend getaways. It’s nature writ large – sheer sandstone cliffs, rainforest-clad valleys cooled by waterfalls, dramatic gorges and leafy cool-climate gardens.
The village of Mount Wilson is particularly well known for its leaf-pepping, with its avenue of deciduous trees (plane trees, elms, beeches), numerous public gardens and abundant private gardens – over the spring and autumn months, many residents open their gardens to the public so you can take in the colours of the season.
Breenhold Gardens in Mount Wilson is one such garden, open to the public in autumn. From early April, the yellow leaves of the golden elm, box elder maple, ash trees and silver birch begin to appear. Then from mid-April, Japanese maples, red maples, oak and copper beech show off their autumn orange and red leaves.
The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden, Mount Tomah, is another spectacular cool-climate garden of the Royal Botanic Garden and Domain Trust. At 1,000 metres above sea level, the 28-hectare estate is a botanic journey with stunning panoramic views at every turn. The Residence Garden is known for its seasonal beauty and maple collection, and in autumn, this garden's Japanese maples create a patchwork of gold, russet and merlot colours.
Check in to the Fairmont Resort for an extra dose of leaf-peeping drama in the Blue Mountains, with the private estate’s grounds ablaze with autumnal colour.
Australia’s largest cool-climate gardens, Mayfield Garden’s lush grounds host oaks, maples, rhododendrons and pastel-hued lilies, the latter blanketing water features throughout. Stroll over bridges and through grottoes, pausing to test your skill in the English box hedge maze or on one of the life-size interactive games. During the annual Autumn Festival, visitors can access additional grounds of the adjoining private Hawkins Family Gardens, allowing you explore the garden’s entire 65 hectares. During autumn, rowboats are available on Mayfield Lake, there are interactive games scattered throughout, and there’s a shuttle bus taking you to groves where deciduous autumnal colours steal the scene.
Atmospheric villages lined with twee antique stores. Mist-covered hills stacked with neat rows of grape vines. Grand gardens ideal for leaf-peeping… the bucolic countryside of the Southern Highlands is particularly pretty when the weather cools. Bonus – it’s truffle season, which means that guided hunts are in full swing.
Head to the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens or the Moidart gardens to see a colourful landscape draped in red oaks, golden elms, copper beach and plane trees. There are also a number of private gardens open to visitors during the autumn months, and if you happen to check in to Milton Park Country House Hotel, you’re treated to a spectacle of giant elms, oaks, beeches and rhododendrons – there are more than 10,000 trees and plants in total.