From stalactite-lined caves and surfing kangaroos, to ancient fossils and Australia’s highest peak, the state of New South Wales is home to some of the country’s most diverse and interesting environmental attractions. Read on to discover the top 10 ecotourism experiences in NSW.
There’s a myth among tourists that you can see kangaroos surfing at Pebbly Beach thanks to an old photo of one who’d hopped on a board there. In reality, the resident roos aren’t quite that talented, but they do bounce all around this South Coast strip of sand about three hours’ drive from Sydney. Pebbly Beach is surrounded by the Murramarang National Park and the healthy kangaroo population is accompanied by sea eagles, dolphins and whales cruising past during winter.
Despite being 600km from the mainland, Lord Howe Island is officially part of NSW, and the volcanic remnant is one of the state’s most special ecotourism destinations. Only 400 people live on this tiny, isolated island and numbers of tourists are strictly limited, protecting the pristine forest, the stunning bushwalks around Mount Gower and the Valley of Shadows, the snorkelling at Ned’s Beach and the 200-plus species of birds.
On Sydney’s doorstep just west of the city lies a region that’s a bushwalker’s wildest fantasy. The Blue Mountains are criss-crossed with hiking trails that link must-see sights such as Echo Point and the Three Sisters with scenic lookouts like Wentworth Falls and Govetts Leap, passing through dense forests of gum trees along the way. The greater Blue Mountains area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000 for the ecological diversity of its eucalypt bushland.
Come for the animals, stay for the view. Taronga boasts the best backdrop of any zoo on the face of the Earth, with the sparkling Sydney Harbour providing a spectacular setting for the 4,000 animals across 350 native and exotic species. The Harbour City’s premier zoo takes a particular interest in the conservation of threatened wildlife, and also operates the open-range Western Plains Zoo near Dubbo in the west of the state.
Sure, scaling Australia’s highest peak (2,228m above sea level) isn’t exactly conquering Mount Everest (8,848m), but reaching the summit of Mount Kosciuszko is still one of Australia’s great outdoors experiences. The 13km trail winds through the picturesque alpine terrain of the NSW Snowy Mountains, about five hours’ drive south-west of Sydney, and the panoramic view from the top is something special.
This idyllic coastal region near Newcastle doesn’t just attract travellers keen to lounge around on its 26 sun-kissed beaches—Port Stephens is also home to a pod of 150 bottlenose dolphins, which you can visit on a tour with an eco-certified operator like Imagine Cruises that supports research into the local dolphin population. You can also spot whales in winter on a cruise, or from dry land in the Tomaree National Park.
The dunes of Lake Mungo in the remote south-west of NSW are believed to be the oldest ritual cremation site in the world, with archaeological evidence of burials dating back more than 40,000 years. The Willandra Lakes Region, about 15 hours’ drive west of Sydney and another nine hours out of Adelaide, dried up about 18,500 years ago, fossilising evidence of an ancient Aboriginal civilisation. You can now tour the UNESCO Heritage listed site with an Indigenous guide for great insight into this fascinating area.
The entire east coast of Australia turns into the ‘Humpback Highway’ between May and November, with whales cruising north to escape frigid Antarctic waters, and the former whaling town of Eden near the Victorian border is one of the best places to spot these majestic mammals on their travels. The calm, nutrient-rich waters of Twofold Bay and the Green Cape Lookout in Ben Boyd National Park are the two biggest humpback hotspots.
One of the highlights of the Blue Mountains is the underground maze of limestone caves at Jenolan, about three hours from Sydney. There are around 300 chasms but not all of them have been explored yet—hop on a guided tour of one of the nine caves open for public viewing, such as the photogenic Lucas Cave with countless stalactites dangling from the roof.
Situated just an hour south of Sydney’s city centre, the Royal National Park doesn’t offer just one ecotourism experience—it’s full of them. There’s bushwalks through rainforest and secluded beaches. There’s the stunning Bungoona Lookout and the iconic Wedding Cake Rock. There’s blooming wildflowers and abundant wildlife like echidnas and kookaburras. Lace up your walking shoes and enjoy!