More Than Sydney: Other Reasons to Visit NSW

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Other Reasons to Visit NSW

Most backpackers and travelers to Australia would be forgiven for thinking that New South Wales begins at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport and ends somewhere out by the Blue Mountains. Sydney is a sprawling city with no shortage of things to do: Bondi Beach, the aforementioned Blue Mountains, a Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, wandering around Darling Harbour, visiting Luna Park or The Rocks, or taking the ferry across to Manly and visiting my favourite beach in Sydney, Shelly Beach. And that’s just a few of my favourite things to do there!

But when you visit NSW, there is considerably more to see and do than just set up camp in the capital. If time allows on your visit, here are a few other places to get out and see if you want the true Aussie experience.

Check out this new promo from Destination NSW for just a taste, and then read on for the main course!


Honorable Mentions – Lord Howe Island and the Snowy Mountains

Could these two be any less alike? A World Heritage listed tropical island and the highest mountains in Australia might seem worlds apart, but they’re united by their shared natural beauty and the fact they’re (sadly) often overlooked by tourists intent on the Cairns -> Sydney -> Melbourne loop.

With a limit of just 400 visitors at any given time, Lord Howe Island is truly one of the most beautiful islands in the entire Pacific. Whether you’re a water baby or a hiker, there’s an abundance of wildlife both above and below the waves for you to get up close and personal with.

Lord Howe Island is one of Australia's unspoiled gems. Photo by Pete the Poet.
Lord Howe Island is one of Australia’s unspoiled gems. Photo by Pete the Poet.

By contrast, the Snowy Mountains are one of Australia’s most popular playgrounds, offering residents of the warm and dry continent an opportunity to see the white stuff that the rest of the world takes for granted. Australia’s highest mountains, only glacial lakes, and four ski resorts can all be found in these aptly (but not particularly imaginatively) named mountains.

Ski lifts are few and far between in Australia, but they've got 'em in the Snowy Mountains. Photo by Fran Tapia.
Ski lifts are few and far between in Australia, but they’ve got ’em in the Snowy Mountains. Photo by Fran Tapia.

Thredbo, Perisher, Charlotte Pass, and Selwyn Snowfields all offer world class ski facilities, and they’re blissfully close to the starkly beautiful Kosciuszko National Park when you want a break from moguls and the like.

The Snowy Mountains offer visitors to Australia a rare opportunity to feel something most Aussies never feel – cold. That’s got to be worth a look!

#5 – Newcastle

Located just a few hours north of Sydney by train, New South Wales’ second largest city is definitely worth a visit if you’re a beach bum. The city boasts some truly stellar beaches including Redhead, Merewether, scenic Nobby’s Beach, and huge selection of others in nearby coastal towns such as Nelson’s Bay.

Bar Beach in Newcastle. Stunning. Photo by OzinOH
Bar Beach in Newcastle. Stunning. Photo by OzinOH

With a real country feel to it, the city still manages to have all of the modern conveniences you expect to find in a city. There’s a healthy night life, professional sports teams in both the National Rugby League and the A-League, and the Newcastle Entertainment Centre regularly hosts concerts and performances.

The nearby Hunter Valley wine region is a must for those who like the finer things in life, and the B&B scene in the area makes it particularly popular with couples and older travelers.

Lake Macquarie, the largest permanent saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere, is also worth a visit. At over twice the size of Sydney Harbout, the lake is heaven for fishing enthusiasts, sailors, picnickers, and nature lovers. Recent development of a walking track around the lake have made it more accesible than ever. A walk along the city’s picturesque Bather’s Way (with an obligatory dip in the historic public baths) is well worth the time.

Australia doesn't have a lot of lakes; so when we do them, we do them right. Photo by Bill Collison.
Australia doesn’t have a lot of lakes; so when we do them, we do them right. Photo by Bill Collison.

The 250km Great North Walk that joins Newcastle and Sydney might have just made my bucket list too…

Want to know more about Newcastle? Consider taking a look at my 7 Things to do in Newcastle.

#4 – The New England

If you’re in Australia for beach bronzed babes and wild parties & festivals, the New England region isn’t going to be on your agenda. If you’re in the slightly older set or just enjoy a little peace and quiet while you soak in ‘real’ Aussie life, than this quaint slice of rural paradise is not without its charms.

A stunning shot of the leaves turning in Armidale by Dan Proud.
A stunning shot of the leaves turning in Armidale by Dan Proud.

I’ve written at length about the reasons to visit the New England, but let me give you a brief run-down here as well. Including rural cities such as Tamworth and Armidale, the New England region offers one of the few places in Australia to experience all four seasons. Fans of foliage will find Armidale absolutely charming as the leaves change, and the university town has a surprisingly active food, art, and theatre scene. Nearby national parks include Washpool National Park, New England National Park, and Torrington State Recreational Park; offering an opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s unique flora and fauna.

Tamworth, the largest city in the region, is also Australia’s country music capital. Every February, the town turns from sleepy farming community to Nashville as the best and brightest from Australia and abroad come to pluck their steel guitars, croon about love lost, and sink plenty of good Aussie beer.

Country music gets everybody excited. Photo by T-Oh! and Matt
Country music gets everybody excited. Photo by T-Oh! and Matt

With its rolling green hills, quaint pubs and heritage building lined streets; the New England offers tourists a glimpse into life as it is outside of Australia’s bustling, cosmopolitan cities. It’s the kind of place you can just hitch up a caravan, drive until a town catches your fancy, and be guaranteed a genuine experience.

#3 – The North Coast

Backpackers have long been aware of the charms of Byron Bay, but there’s more to the New South Wales North Coast than just this popular beach town. With a charming and laid back hippy vibe, the North Coast boasts beaches to rival Sydney but with a considerably slower pace.

Byron Bay's famous lighthouse stands on one of Australia's easternmost points. Photo by Luke Zeme.
Byron Bay’s famous lighthouse stands on one of Australia’s easternmost points. Photo by Luke Zeme.

Byron Bay is perhaps the most famous spot along the scenic drive from Sydney to Brisbane, and its beaches are among Australia’s most easternmost. It’s more than just a place to surf or sunbathe, though; Byron Bay offers some of the best whale watching along the east coast, and that hippy vibe that has been drawing in tourists for decades now.

Coffs Harbour, the largest city in the region, offers plenty of family oriented tourist spots like the popular Dolphin Marine Magic and Big Banana, while also having tremendous beaches both in the city and in nearby villages such as Sawtell and Woolgoolga (affectionately known as ‘Woopi’ by locals). Coffs Harbour is also a short drive to Bellingen, another well loved ‘hippy town’.

Heading inland a bit, Dorrigo and the surrounding Dorrigo National Park offer visitors the chance to explore an untouched temperate rainforest and experience some stunning views of waterfalls and wooded valleys.

Tell me that doesn't look inviting! Photo by Brian Yap.
Tell me that doesn’t look inviting! Photo by Brian Yap.

 Where the New England offers a glimpse into Australia’s rural lifestyle, the North Coast lets visitors experience the truly laid back, surfie vibe that has long been hard to find in cosmopolitan Sydney.

#2 – The South Coast

If you want to avoid the tourist crowds without giving up the beautiful landscapes, you can’t go past the often overlooked New South Wales South Coast.

Windswept and isolated, Garie Beach looks like a slice of heaven. Photo by Hadi Zaher.
Windswept and quiet, Garie Beach looks like a slice of heaven. Photo by Hadi Zaher.

Where heavily forested mountains and dramatic cliffs meet the churning Tasman Sea, the stretch from Wollongong south towards the Victorian border offers up some of Australia’s most breath-taking views and a huge number of windswept beaches that you’ll often have all to yourself. The 22km Kiama Coastal Walk is a must if you want to stand atop these isolated cliffs and gaze across towards distant New Zealand.

The stunning coastline of the Illawarra region.
The stunning coastline of the Illawarra region.

Wollongong is only an hour or so south of Sydney, making it a great day trip, but why not venture farther afield to the white, sandy beaches of Jervis Bay or the serene beaches & bays of Merimbula and the Sapphire Coast?

Like much of the east coast, surfing, swimming, sunbathing, and whale-watching are the order of the day, and the South Coast also has no shortage of quaint seaside towns perfect for a sleepy B&B or a bit of wine and fresh seafood.

#1 – The Outback

Lying roughly 1,000km from Sydney, the NSW Outback is perhaps Australia’s most accessible desert region – offering tourists the chance to see the famous ‘Red Centre’ in all of its glory. Take the Outback Explorer from Sydney to Broken Hill and you’re at the heart of what I like to call Mad Max country.

Looking like a shot from Mars, Broken Hill is eerily beautiful.
Looking like a shot from Mars, Broken Hill is eerily beautiful. Photo by Christian Ronnel.

There’s plenty to see once you get out there. Broken Hill is a wonderfully quaint old mining town that boasts a dynamic blend of art and stereotypical Aussie ocker culture and it’s also a good staging point for any visits you might want to make to the iconic Darling River. Nearby Menindee (where I lived for two years) is famed for its grapes and its picturesque lakes, Silverton is a real Aussie ghost town, and White Cliffs gives opal hunters and tourists a chance to sleep in a wonderful underground hotel.

Head north and you’re passing into the upper Darling region where you’ll find outback towns such as Bourke and Walgett, the opal mecca that is Lightning Ridge, and quaint country towns such as Nyngan and Cobar.

The serenity of an outback sunrise is something you won't find in Sydney.
The serenity of an outback sunrise is something you won’t find in Sydney. Photo by Steve Malarkey.

Head further north still and you’re into the real red center. You’ll find the haunting ruins of Milparinka (where I had my first date), isolated Tibooburra (where I lived for a year), and Cameron’s Corner where you can stand in Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia all at the same time.

There really is a wealth of beautiful sunsets, bizarre Australian fauna, sprawling red dunes, and lovable Aussie characters baking out in the harsh red centre. More people need to check it out.

You can learn a bit more about the area on the Outback NSW tourism site.

Your Say

As you can see, there is certainly a lot to be seen and done when you visit NSW – it’s just a matter of getting off the well worn tourist track and seeing what the place has to offer.

What are your favourite spots in NSW?

This is a sponsored post but opinions are my own.

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  1. Super stupid question, but I thought “the outback” was the whole of Australia’s middle. Is it a specific region, or a broader area?

    • You’re correct, mate. The outback is the name used to refer to the entire arid interior of the continent. The NSW outback is just the part of it that falls without New South Wales’ borders, and it’s the most accessible due to the train between Sydney and Broken Hill.

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