From world-class wine regions to endless golden beaches, scenic snowfields and rugged outback towns, Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales is also the country’s most diverse. Its backbone, the Great Dividing Range, invites travellers to cross red plains, conquer alpine peaks, wade under waterfalls and spark a sense of unknown adventure — all within a few hours’ drive of Sydney, its charming harbour city. Here, an eclectic calendar of events — including Vivid Sydney, Mardi Gras, WorldPride and SXSW — await, meaning you’re never short of something to see or do whatever the time of year. Other well-known spots, such as the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley, are also worth a visit, but there's even more to explore beyond the obvious. Here’s what not to miss according to five experts.
1. Discover the pearls of the Central Coast
Enjoy a 20-minute seaplane flight from Sydney to Broken Bay, where the Pittwater and Hawkesbury rivers converge. Here, you can cruise the waterways and discover the pearl farm before retreating to the newly opened Shellar Door for a hands-on pearl-grading experience.
“It’s fascinating stuff,” says Joshua Clarke, senior specialist at Audley Travel. “You get an insight into the history of Australian pearl farming and how local Akoya Broken Bay pearls are turned into magnificent works of art.”
After an insightful course on the intricacies of pearl farming, enjoy lunch and a glass of wine with a view of Spectacle Island — an old storage site for the colonial government’s gunpowder — before boarding the plane back to Sydney, where you'll have a bird’s eye view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.
2. Taste a colour-changing gin in Tweed
“No visit to the Tweed region is complete without a farm-to-bottle distillery tour at Husk Farm, followed by a long lunch and our colour-changing gin cocktails on the lawn while gazing over the valley," says general manager, Harriet Messenger.
Ink is one premium dry gin made with 13 organic botanicals (including butterfly pea flower which is highly sensitive to pH), which, when mixed with tonic water, changes instantly from blue to blush pink. A visit to the cellar door reveals a family farm in North Tumbulgum, surrounded by endless, verdant hills. Start with a behind-the-scenes look at the working distillery, including a gin- and rum-tasting flight, before moving onto a long lunch on the lawn. You can order cocktails with your grazing board of homemade pickles and local cheese.
3. Wake up surrounded by wallabies
Nestled in a valley flanked by the dramatic cliffs of the Blue Mountains, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley offers a chic conservation retreat in the heart of this UNESCO world heritage listed National Park. Waking up to grazing kangaroos and wallabies is very much the norm here, as is horseback rides through open grasslands and aromatic eucalypt forests, to evenings spent around the campfire under a million stars.
“I love watching our guests ease into the ride as they realise how gentle and kind our horses are,” says Rachel Case, horse guide at Emirates One&Only. “We spend a day on the trails, exploring the nature reserve on horseback. There's so much wildlife around us; it's incredible.”
There’s also the rare opportunity to see wombats on a night time safari, trek through a timeless landscape on a bushwalking tour, sneak through glowworm tunnels, take up archery or embark on a 4x4 safari to explore river crossings and encounter endemic wildlife, followed by a picnic lunch backdropped by dramatic escarpments and grassy lands.
4. Kayak down the Hawkesbury River
Flushed with fish, from bream to flounder and kingfish, the Hawkesbury River is an angler's paradise — and Marramarra Lodge is the ideal spot from which to explore it. Here, guests can enjoy a plethora of excursions including mud-crabbing expeditions, paddleboarding and sunset oyster tours.
“The kayaks are a great adventure, too,” says Cindy Wood, manager at Marramarra Lodge. “The most popular thing to do is paddle to Bar Island, but if you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can paddle an hour to Twin Beaches. Enjoy a picnic on the beach and paddle back when you’re ready.”
The uninhabited Bar island shelters a cottage, church and cemetery, all rich in European and Aboriginal heritage. Follow the signposts on the self-guided heritage trail and keep your eyes peeled for the glossy black cockatoos and populous whistling kites clinging to deciduous branches.
5. Walk in the footsteps of Aboriginal elders
What was once a disused container terminal, Barangaroo Reserve, Sydney, is now a 22-acre foreshore park with quirky restaurants, parklands and, more importantly, a place of spiritual and cultural importance.
“Learn about the world's oldest living culture,” says the Visitor Services Team at Barangaroo. “In these immersive tours, you'll learn about the native history of Warrane (Sydney Harbour) and the stories of the Eora peoples, as well as the importance of the land to Australia's Aboriginal heritage — all while surrounded by 75,000 native Australian plants.”
The Aboriginal Cultural Tours immerse you in native history, linking the modern and ancient worlds. An Aboriginal guide will show you tools, teach you how to identify native plants and help you connect with the country through the art of storytelling.
Plan your trip
Flights to New South Wales are available from London to Sydney via Asia, the US or the Middle East. Sydney has excellent public transport, but beyond the city a road trip is the best way to explore the state. Audley Travel’s New South Wales offer tailor-made trips, which include expert local suggestions and planning, with flights, private transport and boutique accommodation. To find out more, visit audleytravel.com
Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media