New South Wales has hundreds of national parks, six World Heritage Areas, and many charming small towns that dot the coast and country. Home to some of Australia's best beaches and fascinating Outback towns, New South Wales is best explored by car. Rent a car in Sydney and set off to explore the state with your own set of wheels.
New South Wales is home to more than 870 national parks and reserves, covering more than seven million hectares.
Just south of Sydney, explore Royal National Park for miles of bushwalking tracks and beautiful beaches. The world’s second-oldest national park is great for hiking, mountain biking, surfing, and whale watching.
Every year, millions of people head west from Sydney to the Blue Mountains to see the famous Three Sisters in the World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains Area. Get off the beaten path and away from the crowds at Evans Lookout in Blackheath or take in the incredible views from the National Pass.
Just under three hours south of Sydney, Jervis Bay National Park is the perfect weekend getaway. Scuba dive with weedy seadragons and cuttlefish, spot dolphins or walk along the impossibly white sand at Hyams Beach.
In Outback NSW, Warrumbungle National Park is Australia’s only Dark Sky Park, selected because of its exceptional quality of starry nights, and is home to Australia’s largest optical telescope. A perfect spot for star-loving campers. Don’t miss the Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk, considered by many to be one of the best walks in NSW.
Between Armidale and Coffs Harbour, in the state’s mid-north, take a scenic drive along Waterfall Way to see Ebor Falls and pack a picnic to enjoy at the viewing platform. Continue the drive to Dorrigo National Park where you’ll find multiple walking tracks and campsites.
Located off the well-driven east coast trail, Mungo National Park is hiding away in the southwest corner of NSW, 625mi (1,006km) or a 15-hour drive from Sydney. This 110,967-hectare national park is rich in Indigenous history. From Mungo lookout, gaze across an ancient ice-age lake bed, where undiscovered bones of original megafauna still lie today and see the iconic ‘Walls of China’ formation, sculpted over thousands of years by wind and rain. This erosion has revealed artifacts, dating back more than 40,000 years, belonging to the Mutthi Muhhti, Ngyiampaa, and Paakantyi Aboriginal people.
Spend a couple of days in Australia’s most iconic city before heading up the coast to Byron Bay. Stop in the Hunter Valley to relax with a glass of wine at one of Australia’s oldest wineries, before camping in Barrington Tops National Park, which is popular with SUV drivers. During winter, snow falls in this national park. Visit the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, and stop off for a banana smoothie and a photo in front of the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.
Spend a few days in Byron Bay surfing, sunbathing, and enjoying the vibe of the iconic surf town. If the beaches are too crowded in Byron, head south to Ballina to catch the waves at Lighthouse Beach and Lennox Head. Discover the ancient World Heritage-listed rainforests of Nightcap National Park near Lismore on the 0.9mi (1.5km) Big Scrub loop walking
Established in 1913, Canberra is Australia’s capital city, deliberately located halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. It’s home to Parliament House, which is open to the public, and many museums, including the Australian War Memorial, the National Portrait Gallery, Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, and the National Gallery of Australia. Just north of Canberra, the Yass Valley is home to a rich rural heritage and a few wineries. Popular among artists, Yass Valley is a wonderful place to shop for unique art pieces.
Stop off in Bowral and the Southern Highlands for tasty meat pies and cozy cafes. Cricket fans will love the International Cricket Hall of Fame.
You’ll find some of Australia’s best ski fields in the Snowy Mountains. Thredbo and Perisher are popular ski resorts, and each year during winter, residents cross their fingers in hope for a good snow season. On the first weekend of winter each year, regardless of the weather, the Snowtunes Music Festival kicks off the coldest season of the year with music, bright lights, and lots of booze.
The Snowys are also a hiking, horseriding, cycling and fishing hotspot in the summer months. While you’re in Kosciuszko National Park, hike to the top of mainland Australia’s highest peak, Mount Kosciusko. The 8-mi return (13km) hike isn’t too demanding on the knees and offers views of the mountains and slopes all around.
The Darling River Run is a popular road trip from Walgett to Wentworth in western NSW. Following the 590mi (950km) Darling River, the drive is a journey that will take you back to Australia’s pioneering days. The area is rich in Indigenous history and spectacular nature parks including Gundabooka National Park and Kinchega National Park. Walk where the river red gum forest meets the wetlands on the Old Kinchega Homestead trail in Kinchega National Park. The trail winds through historic homestead ruins and ancient Indigenous middens.
Grab a beer at the historic Tilpa Hotel pub and chat with the locals. For incredible Indigenous art, walk the 0.8mi (1.4km) Mulgowan (Yappa) Aboriginal Art site walking
Two hours north of Sydney, Newcastle and Nelson Bay are the perfect locations for a break from the city. Newcastle was a coal mining town in the 1830s and is now well-known for its surf beaches, epic sand dunes for 4x4s, and hip cafes. Go whale and dolphin watching in Nelson Bay or sandboarding in Worimi Regional Park.
Coffs Harbour is 240mi (540 km) north of Sydney. Dominated by farmland and banana plantations, Coffs Harbour is the only place in NSW where the Great Dividing Range meets the Pacific Ocean. Surrounded by numerous national parks and marine reserves, Coffs Harbour is a great base for exploring the region’s wildlife. Enjoy the native flowers in Bruxner Park Flora Reserve, and see everything from the mountains to the ocean from the Forest Sky Pier at Sealy Lookout.
If you’re looking for a challenge, the Yuraygir Coastal Walk, covering 40mi (65km) of coastline, takes four days to complete, and is home to many rare wetland creatures, likes the eastern ground parrot and eastern grass owl.
Byron Bay is an iconic Aussie beach town offering world-class surfing and yoga retreats. The town is dotted with healthy restaurants and cafes, art galleries, and offers plenty of hostels for the influx of travelers. Dive with sharks at Julian Rocks or kayak with dolphins with Cape Byron Kayaks.
Just three hours from Canberra, the Sapphire Coast is home to some of Australia’s best oyster estuaries. The small town of Eden is excellent for whale watching and
Broken Hill is a picturesque region of Outback NSW. The nearby Living Desert Sculptures is a collection of sandstone art created by international artists in 1993. Fans of the movie Mad Max will want to visit the Mad Max Museum in Silverton, where the movie was filmed. Nearby Mundi Mundi Plains Lookout offers spectacular views of the vast plains.
You can get to many places up and down the NSW coast and in Hunter Valley region by taking a train from Sydney using an Opal card. The Greyhound buses go everywhere else. During the high season, especially around Christmas and New Year holidays, you’ll want to plan ahead. Accommodation books out months in advance, especially in Sydney.
Mobile reception in Australia can be spotty, especially in the country and Outback. Bring a paper map, let someone know where you’re heading, and when to expect your return, and always fill up the petrol tank whenever you pass a petrol station in remote areas – sometimes it could be hundreds of miles before the next one. Always keep an eye out for wildlife in and around the road, especially kangaroos which are most active at dawn and dusk.
We all love to travel to the places we have heard and read about, but in a world of global travel, are we in danger of doing more harm than good by treading the same paths, again and again?
Australia's east coast has more to see under the sea and there are plenty of spots from Queensland to Tasmania. Scuba diver and World Nomads writer Allyson Jennings shares her picks on where to go to get wet.