It’s happening! It’s finally happening!
After a year and a half on the road, I’m finally heading back to Australia for some much-needed family time.
While I’m most excited for an Aussie Christmas and a visit to Australia’s strangest theme park over New Year’s, I’m also very keen to show off my favourite NSW escapes to my girlfriend, Adventures Around Asia.
Richelle has paid a visit to Australia before but spent her last visit in Victoria. I can only imagine she was thoroughly underwhelmed by the lamest state in Australia, so I’m excited to showcase the very best that the premier state has to offer.
With two months to spend on Australian soil, I’ve come up with five fantastic weekend trips in NSW that I can’t wait to take.
Road Tripping NSW
While my own base for the below weekend adventures will be our humble farm in Ben Lomond, I’ve written this post knowing that many will be using Sydney as their base for exploration.
After my broken arm in Indonesia earlier this year, I’ve become hyper-aware of how important being covered at all times is. MyNRMA is Australia’s most respected option in this field, and that’s who I’ll be using in the lead-up to my six-week exploration of my home state.
Perfect Weekend Getaways from Sydney
Each of the below can easily be accomplished from Sydney with a Friday night or Saturday morning departure and a Sunday evening return.
#5 – Canberra & The Southern Tablelands
While the nation’s capital is technically in its own territory, Canberra’s position on the Southern Tablelands gives it honourary New South Wales status in my books.
Many might bemoan Canberra as a glorified country town due to its lack of cosmopolitan attractions, but for a history or art lover, it’s one of the best places to go. The surrounding countryside offers visitors a charming view into Australia’s more idyllic side, while the Snowy Mountains National Park is amongst Australia’s most breathtaking landscapes.
Much like Washington DC in the US, Canberra has become a hotspot for Australian history and culture. With the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum, and the National Gallery all based in Canberra, it’s a great place to learn more about the nation and its roots.
Those with an interest in politics will doubtless seek out Parliament House to see where all of the madness happens, and the young (and the young at heart) will be drawn to Questacon for all to slake their thirst for all things scientific.
My own visit to Canberra in 2008 was a bit too rushed for me to take in the capital’s cultural sights, so I’m excited to show them off on my upcoming visit.
The Southern Tablelands might not seem like the most glamorous patch of Australian soil to spend your vacation time on, but I’m a country boy at heart and will forever be drawn to scenes of rural serenity over the hustle and bustle of cities.
Showing off Australia’s simpler side with a visit to the Yass Valley is something I’m especially excited for, as I’ll get the chance to visit my best friend’s family and catch up with them. You’ve heard of having a brother from another mother, but I’ve got myself a mother from another brother.
She’s assured me she’d finally convince me that lamb is the choice of champions too, so I’ll keep you posted on my battle with the meat that nearly killed me in Xinjiang.
Especially popular over the winter months with winter sports enthusiasts, the Snowy Mountains are beautiful all year round. Home to Australia’s highest mountain and some of the most stunning alpine terrain you’re likely to see in the Southern Hemisphere, Kosciuszko National Park has been on my bucket list for some time now.
Obviously, you can’t hope to tackle the Southern Highlands, Kosciuszko National Park, and Canberra all in one weekend – but you’ve got plenty of options.
Get There: Canberra can be reached from Sydney via plane, bus (3.5 hours), train (4 hours), or a three-hour drive.
#4 – The New England
The region I call home doesn’t get a lot of love from locals or visitors to Australia, but it really is an underrated gem.
I’ve written before about why you should visit the New England, but let me expound the region’s virtues for you again here.
They may not abound with big city conveniences, but the towns of the Australian New England make up for it with a kind of laid-back charm. From the historic main street of Glen Innes to the bustling university town of Armidale to Australia’s country music capital, Tamworth, each aspect of New England offers something a little bit different.
Tamworth’s annual Country Music Festival is one of the hottest parties outside of Sydney and is well worth a visit if you can spare a weekend in late January for some boot scooting.
My alma mater, Armidale, is one of the most gorgeous towns you’ll find anywhere in Australia. Boasting all four seasons, Armidale is especially beautiful in the autumn when the trees are aflame with oranges, reds, and golds.
In sleepy Glen Innes, the annual Australian Celtic Festival is a celebration of Australia’s Celtic roots complete with sword-fighting, mead-swilling, and mist-shrouded monoliths. It’s going to be further complemented in 2018 with the introduction of the Outlandish Festival – a fan gathering for the popular Outlander TV series.
Green Valley Farm: Australia’s Strangest Theme Park
For those looking for something truly unique, it’s hard to look past Green Valley Farm. Part memorial, part campground, part zoo, and part amusement park – this Tingha institution has become something of a family staple for me.
Rickety rides set against an idyllic rural backdrop make Green Valley Farm something you won’t find in the city, and while it may lack decent 4G and slick city charm, it’s got heart in oodles.
I’ve written about Australia’s strangest theme park before, and I can’t wait to return this New Year’s to ring in the New Year in appropriate style.
Pack your hiking boots, because it’s not all farms and sleepy country towns in the Australian New England.
The New England is home to some of New South Wales’ most breathtaking stretches of unspoiled wilderness, including the New England National Park, Dorrigo National Park, and Washpool National Park.
Out here, you’ll find temperate rainforest, dazzling waterfalls, and shady mountain valleys just begging to be explored.
Get There: Both Armidale and Tamworth are serviced by regional airports. You can also reach both cities by train (Tamworth: 5 hours and Armidale: 7 hours) or bus (6 and 8 hours respectively). Driving takes 5 hours (to Tamworth) or 6 hours (to Armidale).
#3 – The Blue Mountains
For something a little closer to home, the Blue Mountains are a weekend escape located in Sydney’s backyard.
While some may consider the Blue Mountains to be part of Sydney, it’s another world out where the winters are cold and the haze dyes the mountains a distinct shade of blue.
A land of quaint B&Bs, cute boutique shops and cafes, and unparalleled natural beauty – the Blue Mountains are worth more than just a hit and run day trip.
The Perfect City Escape
If boarding a flight or a long distance train doesn’t sound like your kind of escape, you won’t do much better than the Blue Mountains.
Whether you hop on a Sydney train or take your own car, the Blue Mountains can be reached in the space of a few hours. It’s the perfect way to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle without committing a lot of time and energy to travel.
For those looking for a romantic trip away with that special someone, there’s an abundance of boutique hotels and B&Bs up in the mountains. It’s easy to find your own little slice of paradise to spend a few quiet days in.
The Artsy Blue Mountains
Whether you have a penchant for antiques, crafts, bookstores, or cute cafes, the Blue Mountains is going to have something for you.
Wandering the streets of Leura or Katoomba is like taking a slice of Australiana from simpler times, and it’s thoroughly charming when juxtaposed against the cosmopolitan madness of Australia’s largest city.
Of course, the Blue Mountains are most famous for the spectacular landscape against which the tiny towns are set, and landmarks such as Wentworth Falls and the Three Sisters lend the area a level of fame that sees international tourists arrive in droves.
You can take in the sights from atop a double-decker bus or from one of the many viewing points, but the more adventurous might choose to tackle the region’s parks on foot, bicycle, 4WD, or by less conventional means. Abseiling, anyone?
Getting There: The Blue Mountains can be reached in 1-2 hours by train. It’s approximately 2 hours drive from the Sydney CBD.
#2 – The Coffs Coast
Sydney isn’t short on beaches, but a literal sea change to the picturesque North Coast of New South Wales offers new adventures and a welcome change of pace from Bondi or Coogee.
Coffs Harbour is a laid-back beach town ideally located between beautiful beaches and temperate mountain rainforest. I was lucky enough to live in Coffs Harbour for six months while at university, and it’s an area I’m excited to show to Richelle this summer.
The Coffs Coast is home to some gorgeous beaches and, unlike their Sydney or Newcastle counterparts, there’s a good chance you’ll get them to yourself.
From windswept Sawtell to iconic Jetty Beach to peaceful Boambee to popular Digger’s Beach, there’s something for all tastes here.
I have fond memories of flinging myself off of the titular jetty at Jetty Beach, but the quieter beaches are more my speed.
My personal pick is Sawtell Beach if only so you can have a mouth-watering brunch at Cafe Treeo after your dip in the Pacific.
Bellingen and the Mountains
A short drive from Coffs Harbour, you’ll find the deliciously hippie town of Bellingen with its outdoor markets, its friendly locals, and the allure of the gorgeous Promised Lands swimming hole.
The kind of artistic mountain town that tourism inevitably diminishes, Bellingen still holds onto a lot of its charm in the form of boutique candy shops, hemp clothing vendors, art galleries, and bustling brewpubs.
Getting There: It takes just one hour to fly from Sydney to Coffs Harbour. The train gets you there in 10 hours, while driving takes five hours.
#1 – The Hunter Valley
I first made the trip to the Hunter Valley is a wine virgin in wine country back in 2014, and I’ve been enamored of the region ever since.
Located just a few hours’ drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions and a great place to get away from it all.
Wine Tours in the Hunter Valley
The main draw in the Hunter Valley is undoubtedly the region’s world-class wines, and there is no shortage of cellar doors for intrepid wine enthusiasts to sample.
Whether you stick to the tourist trail in bustling Pokolbin or try the smaller, independent wineries in Broke-Fordwich, you’ll find abundant flavours, friendly faces, and delicious food in spades.
You can arrange your own itinerary and do the driving for yourself, or you can take a wine tour from Sydney with a company like A Wine Tour in Broke (tell them I sent you) or Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours.
A Bush Escape
You don’t need to head out to the back of Bourke to get away from it all. The Hunter Valley has serenity aplenty, and you can find it in the area’s beautiful B&Bs and farmstays.
Llama farms, working vineyards, family campsites, and traditional lodges all make up the rich tapestry of accommodation options across the region.
For my money, Broke-Fordwich is where you go to get away from it all. Set away from the tourist crowds, it’s still close enough to Pokolbin that you can visit your favourite winery without having to fight for breathing space.
New South Wales’ second largest city is often overlooked as an option, but with some of the country’s best beaches and a thriving food and arts scene, it’s worth a look if you don’t want to go too far afield.
My former home has some stellar beaches (my favourites being Redhead and Merewether) right at the thick of things, two thriving restaurant districts in Darby Street and Hamilton Street, and plenty of colonial history to explore.
The city is still remarkably affordable for its size, and you can find some great accommodation at less than half of Sydney prices.
Getting There: The Hunter Valley is a 2-3 hour drive from Sydney. Newcastle can be reached by plane (45 minutes), train (3 hours), or car (2 hours).
Not Departing from Sydney?
This list was written with Sydneysiders in mind, but maybe you’re not one of the lucky few million who call the city home. Let me know in the comments below where you’ll be traveling from and to, and I’ll get you the drive time/bus info!
If you’re like me and don’t have a car of your own yet, you can check out NRMA’s selection of Used Car Loans and their handy Car Loan Calculator to arrange your own chariot for your Aussie adventures.
I’ve highlighted five of my favourite places in NSW to get away from it all, but what are yours?