If you’re travelling to Australia for the first time, you’ll probably be heading to Sydney in New South Wales. And why wouldn’t you? This iconic city is home to quintessential Australian sights, and offers the perfect base to find your feet in a brand new country.
Still, you shouldn’t allow Sydney’s stature overshadow the other incredible experiences that can be found mere hours outside the city. Explore New South Wales and you’ll discover Australia in a nutshell: awe-inspiring landscapes, world-class beaches, iconic wildlife, quirky smaller cities, and much more besides. Whether you rent a car and go at your own pace, or join a tour from Sydney, each of these unmissable destinations can be visited in a single day.
The Blue Mountains
It can be hard to believe this sprawling region of astounding natural beauty lies just over an hour and thirty minutes’ drive west of Sydney. The views and vistas found throughout the Blue Mountains are ceaselessly dramatic, and the waterfalls, eucalyptus forests, rock formations and more in between make it an explorer’s dream.
Bushwalking at the Blue Mountains. Credit – Destination NSW
You could comfortably stay here a week, but it’s easy to cram a lot into a single day: marvel at the Three Sisters rock formation, test your mettle (and leg muscles) against the Giant Stairway, snap a selfie on the world’s steepest railway, hike around roaring Wentworth Falls, explore the Jenolan Caves, or cruise along the Paramatta River to spot native Australian animals in their natural habitat.
Regular day trips from Sydney make it easy to visit, or you can hire a car to discover the brilliant Blue Mountains at your own pace.
Take a scenic drive north of Sydney for a couple of hours and you’ll reach dazzling Port Stephens, comfortably one of the most exquisite spots on the extensive New South Wales coastline.
Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, Port Stephens. Credit – Destination Port Stephens
If you want to relax after the trip, you can take your pick from 26 beaches and bays, take a whale watching excursion, go swimming with wild dolphins (the only place in NSW this is offered), or kick back in a charming cafe, bar, or restaurant. If being cooped up in a car leaves you feeling restless, you can hire a quad bike to tear around the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, take a bike ride through the rugged bush, or go horse riding along the beach at sunset. Port Stephens is guaranteed to offer the quintessential coastal Aussie lifestyle outside of Sydney.
If you enjoy a world-class tipple, the two-hour drive north to the Hunter Valley is essential. Not only is it bewitchingly picturesque, but the region also produces some of the finest wines in the world.
Bistro Molines, Hunter Valley. Credit – MJK Creative
Tours here offer expert insight into the whole process of wine making, as well as plenty of opportunity to taste the end product. That’s why you might want to consider joining a group tour from Sydney – let somebody else do the driving while you enjoy the wine!
Although not as well known as Sydney, New South Wales’ second-largest city is frequently voted as one of the best in Australia for visitors. Its bohemian spirit and diverse culture offers something different for any traveller that makes the two-hour trip.
Bar Beach, Newcastle, New South Wales
Newcastle is a harbour city, meaning it boasts a range of gorgeous beaches – including Mereweather and Nobbys Beach – linked by the panoramic Bathers Way coastal walk. There are also numerous engrossing sites to delve into the region’s history, a vibrant nightlife scene, and a host of unique festivals and events staged throughout the year. A day trip to Newcastle is likely to leave you hungry for more.
Not far from Newcastle is Lake Macquarie. The largest saltwater lake in Australia is the perfect spot for scenic walks (the coastal track through Wallarah National Park is a particular favourite), fishing, or exploring the charming towns and villages that lie around the water.
Lake Macquarie at sunset, New South Wales
Anybody in search of a little more excitement can hire a kayak to explore the lake, get the adrenaline pumping on a white-knuckle jet boat ride, or get the best view of the whole area by going 4km above it in a plane, before hurling themselves out and skydiving back to Earth.
Whatever kind of escape you’re looking for, Lake Macquarie has you covered.
Less than an hour northwest of Sydney, Hawkesbury River is one of the loveliest spots in New South Wales. The tidal river is home to an extraordinary range of wildlife (and some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever taste), making it easy to spend hours on its walking trails, never quite knowing what you might see next.
Hawkesbury River, New South Wales
If you’re just looking to relax, you can hire a boat to cruise along the river and do a spot of fishing, explore the area’s extensive Indigenous history, wander around sandstone ruins and historic cottages, or visit Tobruk Sydney, a working sheep station that runs a sensational daily Outback show.
Head a couple of hours south from Sydney along the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive and you’ll find Wollongong. This seaside city is renowned for its singular beauty, set on a narrow plain between a seemingly endless chain of surf beaches and the rainforest-covered cliff line of the Illawarra escarpment. Head up there for views that will truly snatch your breath away.
Stanwell Park, Wollongong, NSW. Credit – Tourism Wollongong
You could spend all day (and far longer besides) traversing the area’s natural paths and sights, but the city itself has just as much to offer, including Nan Tien Temple (the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere), two cathedrals, and a huge range of cafes, bars, restaurants and more to help get you ready for your journey back to Sydney.
Experience Amazing New South Wales
New South Wales has so much to offer every kind of traveller, whether you want world-class beaches, vibrant cities, enchanting wildlife, or something else entirely. Our partners at StudentUniverse have a wide range of top New South Wales deals to get you there for less.
Image credit: Destination NSW