It’s impossible to talk about the state of New South Wales without beginning in Sydney, a truly global city that’s blessed with dazzling beaches and bushland. But if you can drag yourself away from the allure of the state capital, NSW is home to a long list of places that are every bit as enticing — here’s the pick of the bunch.
Australia’s largest city is the best destination in the country, let alone the state. Sydney is famous for its beaches — Bondi, Manly, Coogee, Cronulla, Palm Beach, Tamarama, Balmoral, Maroubra, the list goes on — as well as its iconic harbour-front landmarks, array of pubs and eateries, colonial-era heritage sites, and all the character-packed neighbourhoods that come with being a diverse multicultural city of five million inhabitants.
Hollywood A-listers Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon are huge fans of Byron Bay, and if it’s good enough for Thor and Jason Bourne, it’s good enough for you. There’s an indescribable vibe around this ultra-chilled town in far northern NSW — an intoxicating blend of Aussie surf culture, old school hippies, stylish new-age types, dedicated followers of yoga, and boozy backpackers making their pilgrimage up the East Coast.
This rugged mountain region on Sydney’s western doorstep is a bushwalker’s fantasy, with a network of picturesque trails winding through the gum tree forests that form this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. And you don’t need to be Bear Grylls to enjoy some of the Blue Mountains’ other treats, such as the high tea in Leura, art galleries in Wentworth Falls, a fancy meal at the grandiose Hydro Majestic Hotel, or the panoramic view of the postcard-perfect Three Sisters from Echo Point in Katoomba.
A road trip south of Sydney twists and turns its way through some of Australia’s most spectacular seaside scenery, from Wollongong’s city beaches to the legendary Kiama Blowhole and the Shoalhaven’s secluded swimming spots, including Hyams Beach, officially the whitest sand on Earth. Away from the coast, the quaint villages of the Southern Highlands — Berry, Bundanoon, Bowral and the like — plus the leafy Kangaroo Valley also deserve a detour.
NSW is more than 800,000 square kilometres in area — larger than France, Turkey or Chile, for perspective — meaning there’s plenty of outback to explore. And the frontier mining town of Broken Hill in the far west of the state offers the quintessential outback experience, as it is home to historic buildings, vibrant galleries and stunning desert landscapes. Country music capital Tamworth, stargazing hub Coonabarabran, and the open-range zoo at Dubbo are a handful of NSW’s other charming inland towns.
Ten years ago, this old mining port wouldn’t have been included on a list of the state’s best destinations. But these days, Newcastle has swapped coal for another black substance — coffee — to transform itself into one NSW’s most dynamic destinations, without losing touch with its working-class soul. A colourful cafe culture has spearheaded this renaissance of Newcastle, a booming city that’s brimming with exciting eateries, gorgeous beaches and rich history.
Just outside Newcastle is one of Australia’s premier wine-making regions, boasting more cellar doors than any other wine-growing area in the country. Eat and drink your way through through the Hunter Valley’s 120-plus wineries and gourmet food purveyors before spending the night at one of the region’s luxurious spa resorts. Port Stephens — a region of 26 golden beaches just north of Newcastle — is another area worth visiting in this part of the world, only two hours’ drive north of Sydney.
This is one of the most unique corners of the state, which might have something to do with the fact that Lord Howe Island is situated 600km off the Australian mainland. This island paradise feels very much part of the Pacific thanks to its dramatic volcanic peaks, untouched forest, warm beaches, turquoise snorkelling sites, and abundant birdlife — Lord Howe houses more than 200 species of bird.
NSW is world-renowned for its scenic swimming beaches, but it’s not all sand and sunshine. The Snowy Mountains contain many of Australia’s small number of snow resorts — Thredbo and Perisher are the two most popular places for skiers and snowboarders to hit the powder — as well as pristine alpine terrain that can be explored by foot or mountain bike. The most epic bushwalk in the Snowies goes to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest peak.
Only an hour up the road from Sydney, it’s easy to overlook the Central Coast, perhaps the most underrated destination in NSW. But that’s fine with the visitors who do make the effort, because it just leaves more room for them to enjoy the dozens of beautiful beaches, surf breaks, fishing spots, coastal bushwalks, and ocean-front campsites that this laid-back area has to offer.