Things to see & do in New South Wales

The best thing about New South Wales is its incredible diversity. Yes, the stunning beaches, laidback coastal towns and stellar surf scene may immediately spring to mind, but go beyond the coastline and you’ll get a whole different take. Head a short way inland for the vineyards of the Hunter Valley and the mist-soaked Blue Mountains, to the far north for walks through thick rainforest, and way out west for the big skies and red plains of the outback. And at the heart of it all is sun-kissed Sydney, a dazzling urban centre in a glorious natural setting.
The state is also home to Australia’s largest Aboriginal population, and throughout you can discover Aboriginal rock art, stone artefacts and sites of cultural, historical and spiritual significance.

Where to go in New South Wales


Laidback, diverse and with natural beauty in spades, Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s urban crown. It has one of the most recognisable city skylines on the planet: a stunning harbour, where the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge loom large, backed by the gleaming skyscrapers of the business district. But it also has easy access to some stunning natural landscapes, from bushwalking tracks and outstanding public parks and gardens, to the famous beaches of Bondi, Coogee and Botany Bay, where European convicts first set foot in the 18th century. There are also world class museums and art galleries, a high-profile gay community, and a dynamic, multicultural population with a dining scene to match, and pockets of urban deprivation that seem far removed from the glitz of tourist imaginations.

Blue Mountains

If you want to join Sydneysiders to escape the heat and noise of the big city, then the UNESCO-listed Blue Mountains are an excellent choice. One of the most beautiful natural areas in Australia, they’re known for their historic villages, thick forests of eucalyptus, fantastic walking trails and spectacular views over valleys and sandstone plateaus. Far cooler than the city and beach areas, the mountains are often covered with a fine, blue-grey haze that gives them their name: it comes from an oily mist emitted by the local eucalyptus trees, which creates an optical illusion when hit by the light. The foothills begin 65km inland from Sydney, and it’s around a 90-minute drive from there to the main hub of Katoomba. As well as hikes and scenery this is also a place to explore Aboriginal heritage. For millennia Aboriginal tribes, including the Gundungurra and Darug, have called the Blue Mountains their home, and you can visit an excellent Aboriginal cultural centre as well as see some wonderfully preserved rock art.

Hunter Valley

This lush, green valley would be worth a visit for its scenery alone, but it’s the promise of booze that lures most visitors to the area. Since the 19th century, Hunter Valley has been producing internationally lauded wines, most famously Shiraz and Semillon, and today there are more than 150 wineries in the area, the majority of which are open for tastings. But it’s not just wine lovers who’re well served here; the place is brimming with gourmet eateries, farmers markets, delis, and even craft beer breweries, and you can round out your time here with a bewildering range of experiences, from hot air balloon rides and festivals, to golf courses, horse riding and motorbike tours.
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Snowy Mountains

You might not associate Australia with Alpine scenery, but the Snowy Mountains (or to use Aussie parlance, ‘the Snowies’) are first and foremost a winter sports destination, with the white stuff falling from June to August. Made famous by Banjo Paterson's late 19th century poem, The Man from Snowy River, they form part of the Great Dividing Range alongside the border with Victoria, and include the country’s highest mountain – Mount Kosciuszko – which stands at an impressive 2,228m and is part of a sprawling national park. If you didn’t visit Australia to strap on the skis, then the warmer months bring myriad outdoorsy pleasures, from hiking and cycling the abundant trails, to kayaking, horse riding and even trout fishing. Spring is particularly beautiful, as wildflowers burst into life across the valleys.

Dorrigo National Park

In an area covering northern New South Wales and southern Queensland is a collection of UNESCO-listed nature reserves called the Gondwana Rainforests. The most popular of these is Dorrigo National Park, a thick tract of ancient terrain whose towering trees and creeping ferns give some indication of what life in this part of the world must have been like millions of years ago, when it was still part of supercontinent Gondwana. There are hiking trails here or you can take a walk up in the canopy along the resident skywalk. Bring binoculars – the birdlife here is plentiful and colourful.

When to go to New South Wales

If a beach holiday is on your agenda, the summer months of December to February bring perfect sunbaking weather, with the soaring temperatures tempered by the ocean breezes, but hiking, biking, or even wine tasting in the Hunter Valley can be uncomfortable, so autumn and spring months are a better bet. Crowds are also a consideration. Students get time off from mid-December until late January, which means packed beaches and attractions and more expensive hotel rates and domestic airfares.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: Graeme Churchard] [Top box (Blue Mountains): Nasir Khan Saikat] [Hunter Valley: Kevin Rheese] [Hyams beach: Charliekay]