Local Escapes

The Most Beautiful Places In NSW To Visit On Your Next Vacay

By Cordelia Williamson
3rd May 2022

australian town estuary at sunset

There’s no doubt we all have one thing on our minds right now. A road trip. Some time away. A weekend camping trip. A spa day. We hear you—summer holidays are now a distant memory and you deserve a break. 

If you're in need of that sometimes necessary time away from the big smoke—the sort you find in shopping trinkets from small businesses, and memories of bush hikes, swims, or fishing trips—this list is for you. Get ready to feel an appreciation for the sheer beauty of NSW through its many national parks, camping spots, boutique stays, secluded beaches, and winding rivers.

Pack the car, prep your playlist and your podcasts, and buckle up—these are the best places to visit in NSW. 

Bellingen

People kayaking on riverIf the idea of a more relaxed Byron Bay appeals to you, then add Bellingen and its surrounds to your travel list. Not only is it closer than Byron (it's about a 5.5-hour drive from Sydney), but this stunning pocket of NSW boasts verdant pastures, flowing rivers, beaches, ancient rainforests, and waterfalls. Yep—it practically has it all. The charming town itself is located next to the Bellinger River and it's your golden ticket to a slow-paced vacay. 

If you're here to get back to nature, then you'll want to explore the nearby World Heritage-Listed rainforest, chase waterfalls, and canoe down misty rivers. Dorrigo National Park is located on Gumbaynggirr Country and is known for its serious Gondwana vibes—and it's a short 30-minute drive from Bellingen. Here, you’ll hike past 600-year-old trees, high-climbing ferns, plenty of birdlife, and majestic falls such as Crystal Shower Falls and Dangar Falls. Or, hire a canoe or kayak and follow the Bellinger River and you're bound to see your fair share of wildlife. But our pick has to be floating in the icy waters of Never Never Creek, located in Gleniffer's Promised Land. Yes, it's as magical as it sounds. The crystal-clear creek flows from a natural spring, making it perfect for a (very) refreshing dip—while surrounded by a tranquil forest we must add. If you're a beach lover, head to the long-stretching Bongil Beach set in Bongil Bongil National Park.

More into food, wine, and good times? Bellingen has them in spades. For ice-cold brews, look no further than Bellingen Brewing Co. Tucked behind a car park near the Federal Hotel (also very good for a schooey), the brewery is decked out with lush plants, plenty of timber, a woodfire pizza oven, and, of course, beer. For dinner, Bruno's is a top shout, serving up Mediterranean fare in a warm, convivial space. Qudo Cafe and Sake is another great spot for a feed, where you can feast on top-quality Japanese dishes while sitting out in its airy courtyard. For takeaway, Middle Eastern restaurant Za'atar is a winner. As for coffee, the slick concept store Hyde is our pick—and be sure to check out its luxe homewares after. 

Great for: Laidback life
Travel time: 5.5-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: This six-person retreat right on the river or this sleek cottage in the heart of town

Tuncurry

four wheel drive driving on a long stretch of sandWe’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the great northbound road trip from Sydney is basically a rite of passage. Since nothing really beats the slow reverberations of a sleepy coastal town, we want you to beeline straight to the Barrington Coast and make way for the summer haven known as Tuncurry. Known as the smaller twin to Forster, Tuncurry combines endless water adventures with an infectious small-town mentality you’ll never grow weary of. A whole heap of takeaway fish and chips should be on the cards here, mainly because Tuncurry actually means something along the lines of “plenty fish”.

When you are looking for a greasy newspaper burrito of the good stuff, you won’t have to go far. Thommo’s On Wallis is basically the undefeated champion of all things, with everything from a cheesy bacon and egg roll to crispy potato scallops. Elsewhere, you’ll want to give The Deck At Tuncurry a red-hot crack because a cafe-bar overlooking the incredible Wallis Lake always gets a yes from us. Wallis Lake also churns out some of the best oysters in the world and you can buy them directly from the farmers at Barclay Oysters (in Forster) or Hamilton Oysters Bar and Restaurant. 

In terms of how you’re going to fill out your days here, it’s Tuncurry’s Nine Mile Beach that gets our tick of approval. Kicking off from Tuncurry’s break wall and spanning all the way to Black Head, there are epic surf spots, rockpools, off-leash areas for your furry family members, and the real piece de resistance—4WD access.

Great for: Four-wheel driving on the beach
Travel time: 3.5-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: This epic lakehouse right by Wallis Lake or this stunning penthouse suite

Lord Howe Island

tropical island at sunsetPicture this—it’s a clear day and you’re paddling out in a kayak on the bluest lagoon you’ve ever seen with your significant human. A warm breeze rolls over, you’ve got sand on your toes, and a mega vista of Jurassic mountains. You can quite literally spot turtles swimming below you. Welcome to the romantic-adventure vibes at Lord Howe Island. The only downside to making a trip to Lord Howe Island is how exxy it can be (you won’t be shacking up in a hostel here) which is why this breathtaking island should be reserved for only the most special occasions (birthdays, weddings, anniversaries—you name it). Because how cool would it be if you actually spent a week on a now-extinct shield volcano which dates back seven million years? 

The beauty of this island is that it only allows 400 visitors at any given time so that means you’ll have absolute seclusion during bushwalks, snorkelling, and bike rides (the best way to get around). When you’re not busy sailing around the shallows or taking your paddleboard for a spin at sunset, you’ll want to tie up your laces and stretch those legs out. The Valley of the Shadows is an easy 1.2km trail that starts at Middle Beach and bends through palm forest. Drop-in yoga sessions at Anglican Church Hall are also a vibe and will only set you back $20.

Great for: Luxe, relaxing island vibes and special occasions
Travel time: 2-hour flight from Sydney
Where to stay: Blue Peter Beach House or Capella Lodge

Narooma

boat mooring at small islandFluorescent estuaries, ancient caves, and bearing more wildlife than a David Attenborough documentary, if Narooma ain’t on your list of places to visit in NSW you’re doing it all wrong. Diving down south (we suggest stop-offs in Nowra and Batemans Bay), Narooma is like any avid National Geographic reader’s heaven on earth. At any time of year, you’re in for a plethora of whales, penguins, a thriving colony of fur seals, and thousands of birds in the area.

For your feasting adventures, you really can’t go past Quarterdeck—a quirky tiki bar that got snapped up by Sydney hospitality king Justin Hemmes. And that's not all he's bought. You can also drop into the Hemmes-owned Whale Inn for a feed at its on-site bistro Chez Dominque, run by French-Australian couple Julian May and Elsa Marie. The menu is ever-changing but mainly leans towards championing local producers and vegetables.

When the food coma eventually passes, it’s time to hit the ground running with all the activities (spoiler, there are lots of them). Barunguba, which has also gone by the name of Montague Island, is about a 20-minute boat ride from the heart of Narooma. It’s here you’re going to witness all the wildlife, take underwater safaris (read: snorkelling with seals), explore a granite lighthouse, and take a mega walking track filled with exceptional vistas.

On the mainland, you can also hit Narooma Surf Beach, check out ancient rock formations of Glasshouse Rocks and Pillow Lava, picnic at Handkerchief Beach, and take the 21km cycling route all the way to Dalmeny.

Great for: All the wildlife
Travel time: 5-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: This pet-friendly, beachfront cottage or this sun-filled apartment with water views. Or stay on Barunguba at the Head Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage and Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage

Coonabarabran

Yep, of course, we've included good old Coonabarabran on the list. This central-west NSW town sits near the spectacular Warrumbungle National Park, which is Australia’s first and only Dark Sky Park. And what does this mean, you ask? Well, it’s an internationally recognised place of crystal clear skies, we’re talking an unholy amount of clarity to stargaze at night (Joshua Tree in California and Vrani Kamen in Croatia are two others). Warrumbungle is also where you'll find Siding Spring Observatory, the home of ANU's super-cool SkyMapper telescope. 

Coonabarabran sits on top of a volcanic mountain range and it’s the perfect low-key getaway especially if you’re keen to camp (we recommend Gunneemooroo Campground, which sits in the shadows of Mount Naman).

Back in town, the streets around here also come alive on the weekends with the aptly named Coonabarabran Townlife Markets. You’ll be in for some keen finds including native plants to take home and amp up your city digs, jewellery, local-made jams, nuts, honey, olive oil, dog products, and furnishings, too.

Great for: Stargazing
Travel time: 6-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: These Skywatch Observatory Domestays, a farmstay at Barkala, or this low-key colonial-era cottage.

Orange

If it’s a food and wine adventure you’re after, set your sights on Orange. Arguably one of our state’s coolest new wine regions (not by temperature so much, more by awesomeness), Orange is just under a four hours' drive from Sydney and features over 60 vineyards and about 40 cellar doors.

Tucked into rolling vine-covered hills and pretty country lanes and set against the backdrop of an ancient, extinct volcano called Mount Canobolas, Orange is Australia’s highest elevation wine region—making it perfect for chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, merlot, shiraz and emerging drops like gewürztraminer, viognier, and tempranillo.

As for which cellar doors to head to first, we love Cargo Road Wines. It’s one of the oldest vineyards in the region, set on the slopes of Canobolas with a  jaw-dropping view. Winemaker James Sweetapple takes a holistic, sustainable approach to grape-growing, and his dedication to the soil, the grapes, and the natural way of the land results in some damn fine wine. His zinfandel might be one of the tastiest reds we’ve ever had, just quietly.

Heifer Station has all the bells and whistles: a stunning cellar door and courtyard drenched in sun, a petting zoo complete with an extra happy white alpaca called Snowy, and a super tasty Chardonnay that should absolutely be on your booze bucket list. Last but not least, make sure you drop into Nashdale Lane Wines. The vineyard has built a stunning, breezy cellar door with a wood fire and enormous windows that pour out over the surrounding green hills. 

Great for: Food and wine
Travel time: 3.75-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: Nashdale Lane Wines' on-site luxe glamping cabins or this quaint cottage with spectacular views

Broken Hill

For those of you with a stellar road trip crew (ie. one that won’t do your head in after a 12-plus-hour driving slog)—hit the highway and make your way to Broken Hill. This drive will be filled with all the moon-like landscapes, national parks to dip into, and, for the love of God, the most striking, dusty sunsets you’ll ever lay eyes on (Santorini eat your heart out).

Out here, you’ll be able to throw yourself at art galleries, groovy cafes, mining landmarks and if you really want to treat yourself and support a whole heap of local business, take a detour through Mudgee (about four hours from Sydney) which, just quietly, sports over 35 cellar doors to quench your thirsty soul.

Also on the way is the iconic Western Plains Zoo, the sister zoo to Sydney's beautiful Taronga Zoo and home to lions, tigers elephants, and elegant wild horses known as Takhi. This detour will also bring you to the schnitty haven of Cobar (also known as Copper City). Order the parmy at the Great Western Cobar Hotel. It’s a great time.

When you actually reach Broken Hill, there are a number of sites you’ll need to make sure you tick off your outback bucket list. There’s NSW’s oldest regional gallery and The Living Desert sculptures, the Line of Lode Miners Memorial and if you don’t mind driving a touch further, Kinchega National Park

Great for: The road trip and desolate landscapes
Travel time: 13-hour drive from Sydney or a 2.5-hour flight
Where to stay: Mount Wood Campground or Homestead Creek Campground for camping, otherwise this beautiful renovated miner's cottage

Snowy Mountains

Alright people, if you’re planning on having a jam-packed getaway, then cast your eyes over to the Snowy Mountains. Here, it’s all about horseriding, fishing, mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, and bushwalking in and around stellar lakes and waterways. The towns in this region surround Kosciuszko National Park, where you can climb Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko.

For the foodies out there, we guarantee you’ll really get to loosen your belt here with Australia’s only schnapps distillery, Wildbrumby Distillery, as well as cold climate wines from Courabyra Wines, Sundance Bakehouse, Snowy Vineyard Estate and Microbrewery, Macenmist Truffles and Wines, and Kosciuszko Brewing Co—Australia’s first mountain brewpub.

Alongside adrenaline-pumping bushwalks and hikes, you can also head down this way for a bit of R&R. Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa should really be your first point of call when road-tripping is allowed again because this spot (which is also just 15 minutes from Thredbo and Perisher), is the ultimate sanctuary to reset. You can treat yourself to rejuvenating facials, an infinity-edge bath, and deep-tissue massages to relieve all those WFH aches and pains.

Great for: The great outdoors
Travel time: 5.5-hour drive from Sydney
Where to stay: The super-luxe Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa or this serene oak apartment.

For more adventure scheming and dreaming, check out NSW's most otherworldly destinations.

Image credit: Destination NSW, Destination NSW, Destination NSW, Destination NSW, Destination NSW, Nashdale Lane Wines, Denis Degioanni, Nashdale Lane Wines, John Suske, Oliver Strewe, Andrew Merry

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