12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in New South Wales
The oldest state in Australia, New South Wales is home to the nation's capital, Canberra, and one of the world's most glamorous cities: the stunning harbor city of Sydney. This sophisticated state capital, wows travelers from around the world with its glittering harbor, opera house, and top-notch restaurants, galleries, and museums. Venture beyond the big city, and travelers will find a state full of surprises with six of Australia's World Heritage Areas.
Topographically, New South Wales reflects the diverse landscapes of the country as a whole. The Great Dividing Range cuts through the center of the state, carving it into four natural regions: a narrow eastern coastal strip, the high tablelands and peaks of the Great Dividing Range itself; fertile farming country, which slopes gently down towards the interior of the state; and the stark beauty of the Outback to the west. Visitors can climb or ski the rugged peaks of the Snowy Mountains, visit red-earthed Outback towns, hike through rainforests and scented eucalyptus, dive the reefs of Lord Howe island, step back in time at Norfolk Island's World Heritage historic sites, and bask on the iconic beaches fringing the coast.
Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is one of the world's most alluring cities. Graced by the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, the sparkling blue harbor is the city's crown jewel. Hop aboard a ferry or harbor cruise to really appreciate Sydney's stunning waterfront location. In addition to world-class restaurants, festivals, galleries, and museums, visitors will find plenty of things to see and do here. Stroll along the cobblestone streets of the historic Rocks area, wander through the Royal Botanic Gardens, climb the Harbour Bridge, browse the shops and restaurants at Darling Harbor, or surf the breaks at Bondi Beach. Stretching northwest from Sydney, the picturesque Hawkesbury River and surrounding National Parks are great daytrip destinations with excellent opportunities for bushwalking, birding, and boating.
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2 Blue Mountains National Park
For more than a hundred years the Blue Mountains have been a favorite holiday resort for Sydneysiders. About 65 km west of the city, the mountains rise steeply out of the coastal plain, combining magnificent gorges, waterfalls, rock formations, and sacred aboriginal sites with excellent tourist facilities. Named for the blue haze created by the many eucalyptus trees, the Blue Mountains region is a World Heritage Site and a haven for nature lovers with excellent hiking, rock climbing, abseiling, and mountain biking. Top attractions in the area include Wentworth Falls; the towering sandstone rock formations called the Three Sisters; the Katoomba Scenic World with a Skyway, elevated walkway, and one of the world's steepest railways; Blue Mountains Botanic Garden Mount Tomah; and the Zig Zag Railway. At Jenolan Caves, the world's oldest known open cave system, visitors can view glittering stalactites and stalagmites.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Blue Mountains National Park
3 Snowy Mountains
Forming part of the Great Dividing Range, the Snowy Mountains are home to the continent's highest mountains, including 2,228 m Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest peak. Kosciuszko National Park here is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a popular year-round recreational area. Snowy winters lure skiers, while, in the summer, the easily accessible alpine terrain of snow gum forests and glacial lakes attracts hordes of bush walkers, climbers, anglers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and water sports enthusiasts. Famous for its excellent trout fishing, Jindabyne is a great base for adventures into the Snowy Mountains. Perisher Blue Ski Resort incorporates the popular Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Guthega, and Mount Blue Cow, while Thredbo Village, at the foot of the Crackenback Range, boasts a year-round chair lift. Near the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, Charlotte Pass is a great base for ski tours to the highest peaks in the Australian Alps.
4 Hunter Valley
Dotted with vineyards and farms, the picturesque Hunter Valley, about a 2-hour drive north of Sydney and an hour from Newcastle, is a popular weekend escape. Apart from the many vineyards, highlights of the region include the beautiful Hunter Valley Gardens, galleries, gourmet foods, cooking schools, and vast stretches of unspoiled bushland. At World Heritage-listed Barrington Tops National Park, visitors can hike through ancient rainforest and see picturesque waterfalls and a diversity of wildlife. Also in the region, Wollemi National Park, is one of the largest national parks in New South Wales. It's home to the famous Wollemi pine and offers excellent bushwalking, rock climbing, and canoeing. Accommodations in the Hunter region range from luxury spa resorts and boutique hotels to rustic cabins.
5 Coffs Harbour
Blessed with beautiful beaches and a mild, subtropical climate, Coffs Harbour is a popular family-friendly resort on the north coast of New South Wales. The town is famous for its Big Banana, an homage to the local banana-growing industry, with interesting displays and kid-friendly attractions. Along the coast, visitors can bask on uncrowded beaches, fish, surf, dive, kayak, and visit the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve.
About 50 km west of Coffs Harbour, nature lovers can explore the rainforest and waterfalls of Dorrigo National Park, a World Heritage Area. To the north, lies a string of pretty beaches (Emerald Beach is a favorite), and the town of Grafton. Famous for its jacaranda trees, Grafton has six large National Parks within easy reach, including the World Heritage Areas of Gibraltar Range National Park (Glen Innes) and Washpool National Park.
6 Byron Bay
On the north coast, the hip resort of Byron Bay is a hotspot for hippies, surfers, and New Age nature buffs. A wide stretch of golden beach fronts the ocean here, and a lovely hike along the Cape Byron Track leads to the most easterly point on the Australian continent and its famous lighthouse. Dolphins and whales frolic in the waters, and water sports abound. In the hinterland, lies the World Heritage-listed Wollumbin National Park (formerly Mount Warning National Park) with tranquil rainforests and waterfalls. Byron is also known for its colorful markets as well as its health and yoga retreats, spa resorts, and luxury boutique hotels.
7 South Coast
The South Coast of New South Wales, from the southern fringe of Sydney to the Victorian border, is home to some of the state's most beautiful white-sand beaches set against the dark summits of the Great Dividing Range. Rolling green hills, lakes, inlets, and forests fringe the coast, and the climate is mild throughout the year. Strung along the coast are a series of small holiday resorts, many with fantastic fishing. Kiama is home to the world's largest blowhole and Jervis Bay is a standout with its radiant powder-soft sands. Nearby, Hyams Beach claims the world's whitest sand.
Along the Shoalhaven River, water sports are popular. Bega is famous for its excellent cheeses, and Merimbula and its sister village Pambula are popular holiday spots famed for their beautiful beaches. The holiday resort of Batemans Bay is known for its crayfish and oysters as well as fantastic surfing, swimming, and fishing. One of the most southerly places on the coast is the old fishing village of Eden, once a prosperous whaling station. North and south of town lies the Ben Boyd National Park with magnificent views of reddish sandstone cliffs from Boyd's Tower, a former lighthouse.
8 Norfolk Island
Once a brutal convict colony, Norfolk Island is now a charming holiday resort with World Heritage-listed historic sites. Although the island is an external territory, it remains part of the Commonwealth of Australia and is home to the Pitcairn Island descendants of the Bounty mutineers. Today visitors can tour ruins of the old settlements and learn about the island's Polynesian heritage and colonial past at its excellent museums. A third of this emerald island consists of national parks and reserves with scenic hiking and biking trails, excellent birding, and sweeping green landscapes dotted with native Norfolk Island pines. Diving, swimming, and snorkeling are popular pastimes. Beach lovers will find a few secluded coves carved into the rugged and rocky coast. Coral reefs lie offshore, and the fishing is superb in these remote waters. Norfolk Island is about a 2.5-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane.
9 Editor's Pick Lord Howe Island
World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island is a haven for serenity-seekers and nature lovers. Surrounded by the world's most southerly coral reef, this spectacular island, about 660 km off the New South Wales north coast, only allows a maximum of 400 guests at a time. The island encompasses a number of islets, which are part of a former volcano, with dramatic cliffs rising along the rugged coast, white sand beaches, pristine native forests of pandanus and kentia palms, and spectacular views from atop 875 m Mt. Gower.
Nearly two-thirds of the island is protected. Birding is excellent on Lord Howe with more than 130 permanent and migratory species, and the island is also home to a rich diversity of flora. The Lord Howe Island Marine Park protects offshore coral reefs with superb diving and snorkeling. Fishing, surfing, kayaking, and hiking along the many walking trails are also popular activities. Bicycles are the main mode of transport, and visitors will find no cell phone reception here, which helps to preserve its peaceful ambiance. Lord Howe Island lies less than a two-hour-flight away from Sydney or Brisbane.
10 Port Stephens
About an hour drive north of Newcastle, Port Stephens is a large and beautiful blue-water bay enclosed by two volcanic headlands. Natural bushland fringes many of the 26 white-sand beaches here, and whales and dolphins are often spotted in the bay. Despite the many holidaymakers who come here in summer, beach lovers can still find a quiet stretch of coast, as well as excellent fishing and a wide range of water sports. For panoramic views of the Port Stephens coastline, take the Tomaree Head Summit walk. The main holiday resorts are Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay, but visitors can also stay at Soldiers Point, Fingal Bay, and Lemon Tree Passage. Nearby, Myall Lakes National Park encompasses one of the state's largest lake systems and is excellent for swimming, surfing, fishing, kayaking, and boating.
11 Outback NSW
Outback New South Wales is a land of sacred aboriginal sites, harsh deserts, and haunting beauty. Mungo National Park in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area holds records of aboriginal life dating back some 40,000 to 60,000 years. At Warrumbungle National Park, in the zone of transition between the arid areas to the west and the rainy east, spectacular rock buttresses and domes are the result of volcanic activity. On the summits of the hills are snow gums, while deep spring-fed gorges lie in the valleys.
In addition to exploring the Outback's rugged national parks, visitors can hunt for opals at the mining towns of White Cliffs and Lightning Ridge, visit the Living Desert Sculptures of Broken Hill, and explore the rich history of Dubbo, home to the popular open-range Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
The Australian capital city of Canberra lies about 280 km southwest of Sydney, at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory. A central feature of this carefully planned city is sparkling Lake Burley Griffin, a long artificial lake surrounded by parks, picnic areas, and a walking trail. Canberra's streets are laid out on a generous scale, with many of them flanked by colorful flower gardens and thousands of trees with glorious autumn colors.
Canberra's principal buildings lie within the Parliamentary Triangle and include the National Gallery of Australia, with three levels of exhibitions and a sculpture garden; the National Library of Australia; Old Parliament House, now a museum depicting the story of Australian democracy; and New Parliament House. Visitors can also pay their respects at the Australian War Memorial, and view an impressive collection of the country's native plants at the Australian National Botanic Gardens.