We’ve seen the articles talking about the best countries to visit, but this is not the year for that. With international travel off the books for the foreseeable future, and many state borders remaining closed, it’s time we look in our own backyard for the next holiday destination or weekend getaway. But why go where everyone else is going? New South Wales is the oldest state in Australia with so many experiences just waiting for you to discover, and a wealth of scenic and exciting locations to explore. So this year get away from the bustling crowds of tourists that can ruin the experience – forget Sydney, Byron, or the Hunter. In no particular order, here’s eight underrated and out-of-the-way travel destinations to help you plan the perfect NSW weekend getaway or holiday.
1 – Kangaroo Valley
The Blue Mountains have been a solid NSW holiday destination for nature lovers for a long time, but if you’re looking for rugged scenery, green landscapes, and the opportunity to ride, hike, golf, and kayak through the mountains and valleys, this time visit Kangaroo Valley instead.
Located on the south coast of NSW about two hours from Sydney, Kangaroo Valley is a classic Aussie country town quickly earning a reputation as a foodie haven. Sample award-winning pies, spiced malt bread, or pair locally grown olives with wine from a local vineyard for a relaxed afternoon. You can work up an appetite on one of the many walking tracks in Morton National Park, or stop and watch water plunge 80 metres down a cliff face at the Fitzroy Falls. The valley is also home to Australia’s last wooden suspension bridge – take in the view from the canopy as you cross the distance between enormous sandstone pillars.
Make sure you keep an eye out for the namesake kangaroos while you walk, and even wombats!
2 – Yamba
Nestled in the far north of New South Wales, Yamba is Byron Bay as it was 20 years ago – without the influencers that now populate Byron’s beaches and laneways.
About an hour and a half south of Byron Bay, it’s time to take it easy in Yamba with your choice of five beaches, even more parks and picnic areas, farmers markets, and cute cafes for brunch, lunch, and afternoon tea. And Yamba isn’t just for lazy afternoons on the soft, white sand; nature lovers can find spots for surfing, kayaking, hiking and riding in the area. Walk part or all of Yuragir National Park, which stretches for 65 km along the coast between Yamba and Coffs Harbour, or kayak as far as you’d like up the clear waters of the Clarence River. It’s the perfect mix of family holiday and weekend getaway in NSW, without the price tag and crowds associated with more popular beach destinations.
3 – Bateman’s Bay
NSW’s south coast is a a popular holiday destination for a reason, and with so many picturesque coastal towns to explore, where do you start? Nestled between the Clyde River and Pacific Ocean four hours south of Sydney, Bateman’s Bay is another hidden gem that locals love for its beautiful beaches, coastal caves, fresh seafood and fantastic opportunities for water sports.
Avid cyclists may have already heard of this coastal town, which on top of everything else boasts 15 different cycle trails to explore. The main route, Bateman’s Bay Cycleway, tours through 18km of beaches, boardwalks, nature, and part of the town itself, with plenty of pitstops for sightseeing, picnicking and rest. Don’t just pack the bikes – this is another family-friendly option with plenty of safe spaces for kids to try their hands at surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and fishing. Nature lovers have two main options – Murramarang National Park, and Birdland Animal Park, which also gives the kids the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s iconic native birds and animals.
4 – Port Stephens
Ancient, awe-inspiring landscapes are the backdrop to life in Port Stephens, just one hour north of Newcastle. Here you can always find space for yourself, with 26 white-sand beaches dotted throughout the bay, protected from the ocean by two volcanic headlands.
Explore the sand dunes, lay back and watch for whales and dolphins in the bay, or in season pay to swim with pods of bottlenose dolphins. With a marine park twice the size of Sydney Harbour, Port Stephens is a haven for water sports, especially big game fishing, boating, surfing and kayaking. Locals talk of monster whiting, flatheads like crocodiles, bream, snapper and more! There’s also plenty of choice when it comes to accomodation options in Port Stephens for families, couples, and everything in between. Spend your holiday camped right on the ocean’s edge in special ‘glamping’ safari-style resorts, or wake up in an oceanview penthouse.
5 – Orange
When you think of Australia vineyards you probably think of the Barossa and the Hunter Valley, maybe the Yarra and Granite Belt, but the Central Tablelands should definitely be on your radar. About three and a half hours west of Sydney you’ll drive through cherry blossoms, wattle trees, and acres of vineyards to reach the town of Orange and the start of your perfect NSW weekend getaway.
The birthplace of Banjo Paterson, Orange’s rich heritage and culture is matched only by the richness of its vineyards. On average the area is more than 800 metres above sea level, and the cool temperatures and rolling landscape make it the perfect setting for produce including truffles, figs, hazelnuts, and of course, wine. It’s the ideal place for food lovers to meet makers and growers and discover new and exciting flavour combinations. All up Orange is perfect for a foodie weekend, or a longer NSW holiday with time to hike the national parks and explore the local history through heritage trails and local museums.
6 – Corin Forest
Experienced skiers know about Perisher and Thredbo, but for first time skiers, or families looking to delight in a winter wonderland, head to a hidden delight in the Brindabella mountain range. The Corin Forest Alpine Resort is nestled right on the border of NSW and the ACT and advertises itself as the most accessible and affordable alpine resort in Australia.
The resort boasts a guaranteed slope for budding skiers, snowboarders, and those just wanting a romp, and the longest alpine slide in the Southern Hemisphere at 1.2km in length. Corin Forest is limited to 150 people, making it a safe and uncrowded alternative to more popular resorts, with extra deals with children and first timers. Kids will love the snowball fights and snowman building, and you can even load the family dog into the car with special ‘snow dog days’ in September so your furry friends can take part in the fun!
7 – Lake Macquarie
Looking for a watery escape but bored of the coastline? Slow down and get back to nature at Lake Macquarie. With 110km2 of calm water, Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest saltwater coastal lake. Located in the Hunter region, the lake is dotted by small towns on all sides and provides plenty of opportunities for swimming, fishing, water skiing, boating, and even hiking the picturesque green landscape.
This aquatic playground is the perfect place to finally learn to sail, with minimal waves and plenty of fellow boaters around for help. There’s also a myriad of walking tracks available through the extensive bushland and national parks surrounding the lake – try the Caves Beach Coast Track, a 5km return walk which meanders through the cliffs and coves of Wallarah National Park. Take in the sunrise from a sea cave, hire a plane for the day, and learn to water ski the next in a holiday for all ages.
8 – Broken Hill
Broken Hill, or the Silver City as locals know it, is a town of contrasts. The city has a proud mining history which continues today, and a vibrant artistic community. More than a dozen galleries can be found in the streets of Broken Hill, from up and coming artists inspired by the soaring skies of the outback, to the galleries of the iconic Australian artistic collective the ‘Brushmen of the Bush’. The town is also something of a Mecca for the LGBT community thanks to its history as a filming location for Australian cultural cornerstone ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’, and its annual Broken Heel Festival. Just don’t go recreating the movie’s breakdown!
With all that to its name, where do you start? Take in the city’s history and heritage with guided walking tours provided by the city council, or explore the myriad of museums yourself, each devoted to a different facet of Broken Hill’s culture and history. Once you’ve explored the town it’s time to head a little outside the city limits to the Broken Hill Living Desert Reserve. Created by a collection of international artists in 1993, 12 sandstone artworks pierce the sky in the middle of 180 hectares of nature reserve, for a sunset spectacle you’ll never forget.
Wherever you decide to go for your next weekend escape or domestic holiday, make sure you’re safe. Travel disruptions are just as likely to happen whether you’re planning a trip to Copenhagen or the coast, especially in the current climate. Nobody wants to think about it, but flights can be cancelled, cars can break down, pandemics can happen, and you can even be hurt, so make sure you prepare before you go.