New South Wales is Australia’s heart and soul. There is Sydney, of course, at its economic, touristic and cultural centre, but there is so much more than the Big Smoke. If you dare to venture further and leave the big city behind, you will be surprised by the variety of experiences and landscapes that New South Wales has to offer.
From the deserts of the outback to the lush coastal regions, from skiing and hiking in the mountains to boating on the lakes, New South Wales spoils the visitor with a variety of options for the whole family.
Related Blog Posts: Country New South Wales
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The name New South Wales was devised by the explorer Captain Cook who apparently was inspired to name this newly discovered land after Wales in the United Kingdom. I am not sure if you can really find resemblance between these two very different countries, but one thing is for sure: New South Wales is a land of spectacular beauty, blessed with vast areas that have been protected in National Parks, dramatic coastlines and fascinating arid landscapes.
Many people will fail to see the bigger context that New South Wales provides Sydney with. In fact, it is more than just the surrounding countryside of a bigger city. Speaking in terms of geographical area, NSW is a country in its own right.
Broadly speaking you can divide the area into a handful of bigger sections, from the outback in the far west, to the Far North Coast, the Central Coast, the South Coast along the coast (from top to bottom). Inland you will find the Hunter Region, the Southern Highlands and the fertile farming regions on the other side of the Great Dividing Range in convenient driving distance to Sydney. The Blue Mountains and the Snowy Mountains are great for skiing and hiking, and there is even a remote island 600km out at see that beckons to be explored, Lord Howe Island.
If you live in Sydney or if you are planning to visit not just Sydney but also the countryside surrounding it, you will find a handful of rewarding destinations nearby. The wine producing region of Hunter Valley is perfect for romantic couple stays and exciting culinary experiences. The Blue Mountains with the amazing Three Sisters rock formation is fun for young and old. And the Southern Highlands charm with quaint rural living, Australian wildlife and luxury country escapes.
New South Wales is a country for adventurers. The variety of landscapes lend itself to some of the most exciting experiences, including kayaking, paragliding, horse riding, boating, surfing, fishing, skydiving, caving, fossicking and hiking. Due to the vast distances, road trips and camping are a great way to make the most of the experience, perfect for budget family vacations all your round.
As one of the first areas to be settled by white people, New South Wales’ country towns have a wealth of historic materials and stories to show for. Pioneer settlers, explorers, convict constructions, the gold rush, bush rangers, and sheep farming are just some of the reoccurring themes found in rural country towns. But of course there is also the rich Aboriginal heritage to can be explored here, with reminders including rock carvings, middens and sacred places.
When it comes to wildlife experiences, you will be spoilt for choice. During the whale migration season, NSW offers a multitude of vantage points up and down the coast. Kangaroos can not only be found in the Kangaroo Valley but in most rural areas, and dolphin cruises are just one of the many popular activities you can undertake in Port Stephens.
To get here, fly either to Sydney or to any of the regional airports around the country, depending on where you want to start your journey. While there is rail servicing great parts of NSW, consider a car or camper van your best option to fully enjoy the country. Most people will stick to the coast (resulting in giant traffic jams on the Pacific Highway during the peak travel season in summer), but consider the towns and areas on the other side of the Great Dividing range another worthwhile holiday destination.
Facts at a glance:
What to eat: Some parts of NSW are culinary destinations in their own right, such as the Hunter Valley, Byron Bay or the Southern Highlands. Once you leave these centres behind, however it is recommendable to stick to crowd pleasers such as steak, chicken schnitzel or fish and chips. Wines in the wine producing regions don’t need to hide on the global stage, and there are craft beer breweries popping up in the smaller cities such as Newcastle and along the South Coast.
What to buy: New South Wales is not exactly a shopper’s paradise but every region comes up with their very own local products and craft that can make great gifts or souvenirs. In the Hunter Valley, buying wine is a must, but there are also delicious cheeses, chocolates, and even spirits that will be a temptation to your wallet. Local art galleries all around the country foster a strong customer-artist relationship and can open your eyes to contemporary Australian culture. If visiting fossicking areas, don’t leave without taking home some precious stones or a small gold nugget.
Best beaches: Ah! Where to start? New South Wales has it all – surfing beaches as well as family-friendly swimming beaches. The choice is endless, and the scenery stunning. It is impossible to pick a favourite here, rest assured that you will be blown away by pristine coastal regions, many of them protected in National Parks, that cater for all kinds of purposes. Camping right by the ocean is not unheard of, and you may want to throw in a kangaroo or two for the quintessential Australian nature experience.
What to pack: What you need to pack depends on the season and the place that you want to visit. New South Wales offers a range of climate zones, from arid outback deserts to lush coastal rainforest. In summer, temperatures can easily peak at 35 degrees in the west of the country while in winter it may drop below zero. Don’t forget to pack an umbrella and sun protection, mosquito spray, and your swimmers.
When to go: I advise to avoid the NSW coast during the Australian summer holidays, as this is the time when the locals will hit the road, so traffic jams and high accommodation rates (to the point that whole towns will be booked out) are to be expected. The outback and some inland country regions in summer can also be badly affected by flies which can be a real nuisance. The shoulder seasons are perfect to explore this beautiful country, while the Snowy Mountains are of course perfect in winter.
Good to know: Do not underestimate distances in New South Wales, and if you do have the time to spare follow the signs to scenic (tourist) routes for some wonderful scenic views. The further you can get away from Sydney the more of a contrast to big city life you will experience. Make sure you fuel up regularly when you get into more remote areas, and be prepared to loose mobile reception as you head out west.
What I like most about Country NSW: I think New South is underestimated when it comes to day trip and holiday experiences. There is plenty to see here and a lot of things to try that you wouldn’t normally be doing in your free time. Visiting a small country town museum is usually a very fulfilling experience, as they tend to provide some exciting insights into the life of early settlers, very often from family heirloom that has been donated to the museum locally.
What I don’t like about Country NSW: Distances are an issue, and the fact that most areas can only be reached by car can be a real downer, in particular if you are stuck in traffic on the Pacific Highway. It would be great to find more luxury options along the coast for more exclusive weekend getaways, but at this stage the region is not developed enough. On the upside, for camping and outdoor enthusiasts New South Wales surely has a lot to offer.
Must-do’s: If you only have an afternoon, visit the Blue Mountains and experience the blue hue of the gumtree forests. If you have a weekend, sneak away for a cheeky couple escape to the Hunter Valley, and if you are looking for a family getaway drive to the Southern Highlands and then turn towards Kiama while passing through Kangaroo Valley before returning to Sydney. Personally, the outback is not getting enough attention, so this quirky and strange place is definitely something that should be featured more.
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