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Sydney is home to a whopping 70 beaches.MARK BAKER/The Associated Press

Sydney and Melbourne are as different as say, Toronto and Quebec City. Sydney is big and brash with a strong outdoor vibe, says Sue Gough Henly, a veteran travel writer. Melbourne, meanwhile, the country's design capital, draws you to its secret lane ways to explore hidden bars, cafés and boutiques, she says. But the elements you seek – wineries, trails and plenty of sand – are plentiful in both destinations.

Near Sydney

The city is home to a whopping 70 beaches within its greater city limits, including the famed Bondi and Manly beaches. "They're absolutely stunning: white sand, rolling surf. You can learn to ride surfboards," says Gough Henly, who has created the app Australia: Where to Go.

(Be prepared for crowds, you may arrive during the summer vacation season. Another choice is to follow the stylish set to the area's Hamptons: Palm Beach or Whale Beach.)

When you're ready to start exploring, pick between two nearby outdoor havens: the Royal National Park or the Blue Mountains. The Royal is a mix of beaches. wetlands red gum and rain and eucalypt forests, with a lot of trail options. The Blue Mountains, meanwhile, is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. "It's got these incredible limestone rocky escarpments and pockets of rain forest, huge gorges, wide swaths of eucalypt forests," Henly says.

When you're ready to relax with a glass of dry white wine, head for Hunter Valley, a couple hours drive north. "There are of course vineyards galore offering tastings and restaurants, along with cheese factories, chocolate factories, weekend markets, olive groves and fruit orchards," says Tracy Burns, an Australia native.

"Some of the vineyards hold concerts, and we're not just talking small bands. Last time we were in the Hunter Valley, Sting was playing." (Elvis Costello and Carole King are in the lineup for the new year.)

Outside Melbourne

Take your time when exploring the dramatic coastline of the Great Ocean Road. See the stunning rock stacks known as the 12 Apostles, beach walks, surfing towns and wildlife from koalas to glow worms. Whatever you do, Henly says, skip the rushed bus trips.

Another destination that captures a lot of what you're after is the Mornington Peninsula, an hour drive from Melbourne. There's a bike trail that follows the coast, walking trails, beaches and a rolling countryside with dozens of boutique wineries.

Or check out the Yarra Valley, about an hour from Melbourne. Visit the cellar doors of cool-climate producers, stop by farmers' markets or orchards or sink into a Japanese bath at a mountain retreat. "The Yarra Valley oozes the good life," Henly says.

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