Three epic road trips to try in New South Wales, Australia
Sydney is a showstopper, but the state of New South Wales has a lot more to offer. Hit the road to experience homegrown delicacies, spectacular landscapes and wildlife encounters you’ll find nowhere else on earth.
If you’re visiting Sydney on Australia’s East Coast, nobody could blame you for wanting to stay put. Sipping a coffee while overlooking the iconic harbour with its world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House shimmering in the distance, it’s hard to imagine getting into a car and driving away. But the city is just one must-see stop in the diverse state of New South Wales. Take to the road to discover a whole new world of experiences, from wandering culinary markets and world-class vineyards to snorkelling with sea turtles, whizzing through treetops on a zipline and glamping under the stars.
1. The Grand Pacific Drive
Best for nature adventures
South of Sydney along the eastern coast is an 87-mile stretch of rugged cliffs and pristine beaches known as the Grand Pacific Drive. It starts amid the windswept grasslands and cliffs of the Royal National Park, perfect for hiking bush trails or exploring ancient Aboriginal sites.
Keep your camera handy for the Sea Cliff Bridge, a sinuous concrete curve around steep coastal crags on the way to Wollongong, a city nestled between golden surf beaches and the high-forested walls of the Illawarra Escarpment. Brush up your surfing skills at the beach or explore the coastal lagoon of Lake Illawarra by stand-up paddleboard.
At Kiama, just a 15-minute drive south, gentle green hills descend into the drama of black volcanic rocks, thrashed with surf. Check out the rock pools and the surging Kiama Blowhole, or head inland for an adventure among the treetops with a heart-thumping ride on Australia’s highest zipline, the Illawarra Fly Zipline Adventure.
Finish your drive at the whale-watching mecca of Jervis Bay. Around 30,000 whales migrate along the New South Wales coast between May and September along the ‘Humpback Highway’, while seals and dolphins can be spotted year-round. For a perfect end to your journey, stay in a luxury tent amid eucalypts and paperbark trees, where you can sit back, sip a locally brewed craft beer and relax under the stars.
2. The Legendary Pacific Coast Drive
Best for wildlife encounters
The coastal route that sweeps north from Sydney to the edge of Queensland has an epic name: the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive, and it’s not hard to see why. With sandy beaches, ancient rainforests, national parks, coral reefs and laid-back seaside towns, this multi-day journey has everything you could want in a coastal road trip — including unique wildlife encounters to look forward to.
Head north from Sydney, tracing the shores of the placid saltwater Lake Macquarie, to reach the town of Port Stephens. Perched on the natural estuary of the Karuah River, it has over two dozen beaches to explore, and it’s known as Australia’s dolphin-watching capital, so make sure to leave enough time for a swim with the local pod of wild bottlenose dolphins.
Follow the Pacific Highway north to Port Macquarie, where you can hit the surf on a bodyboard and get up close and personal with some of Australia’s fuzziest icons at the world’s first koala hospital, before continuing to Coffs Harbour. Here, you can wander out onto the fittingly named Look At Me Now Headland to meet the bounding resident population of grey kangaroos, or grab your snorkel to explore the coral reefs of the Solitary Islands Marine Park among sea turtles and manta rays.
3. Sydney, Wine and Wildlife Drive
Best for food and wine connoisseurs
With 14 wine regions and enough artisanal produce to satisfy the most demanding gourmand, New South Wales makes for a truly mouth-watering road trip. Start in the foodie haven of Sydney — known for its market-fresh oysters, cutting-edge cocktails and harbourside brunches. Climb the 440ft to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for spectacular 360-degree views, or simply stretch out on one of the city’s famous beaches and watch the world go by.
From Sydney, head west to reach the Blue Mountains, an undulating stretch of eucalypt forests, canyons and rocky cliffs running with waterfalls, where you can work up an appetite exploring bushland trails before tasting your way around one of the many growers’ markets, sampling local mountain honey, sourdough and kombucha. Afterwards, take the road northeast to the Hawkesbury River, a laid-back region of peaceful waterways and orchards, where you can pick your own apples and mandarin oranges.
Finally, drive north through the Central Coast region, with its line-up of coastal villages and perfect surf spots, until you reach the Hunter Valley. This is Australia’s oldest wine-growing region, with more than 150 cellar doors to visit and endless vineyards to explore. Try the signature local drop — the dry and fruity semillon — or choose from some of the best chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons in the New World.
Plan your trip
Flights to New South Wales are available from London to Sydney via Asia, the US or the Middle East. Sydney has good public transport, but outside the city you’ll need a car to explore the state. Audley Travel’s New South Wales trips offer expert local suggestions and planning, with flights, private transport and boutique accommodation built around a customised itinerary. To find out more, visit audleytravel.com
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