With a mix of everything from coastal allure to the charming countryside, a road trip through NSW will pull out all the stops. Here are NSW’s best road trips that have it all.
1. Sydney to Ulladulla, South Coast, NSW
Every NSW childhood inevitably includes a summer holiday escape to the South Coast, renting a house near the water and living out a coastal daydream of long, hot days filled with beach excursions and barbecues.
My own South Coast idyll was found in a caravan park in the town of Ulladulla, where I managed to score the coveted top bunk for the duration. I realise I have come a long way as I pull into the tree-dappled driveway at Cupitt’s Estate bound for a stay in one of its newly minted luxury pods.
Ulladulla Harbour has some of the most beautiful sunrises. (Image: Destination NSW)
Sydney to Royal National Park
The reason that the drive to the South Coast is renowned as one of the country’s best is evident as soon as you clear the city traffic and enter the Royal National Park on the first leg of the Grand Pacific Drive. Navigating the winding road through this pristine expanse of vegetation, with side roads darting off towards amazing walks and sparkling beaches, the temptation is to stop constantly, but that’s for another road trip (see entry #65) so continue cruising and take in the scenery.
Stargazing has never been as stunning than at Wattamolla Beach in the Royal National Park. (Image: Filippo Rivetti)
Wollongong to Shellharbour
Once past the park’s limits, it is 60 kilometres of easy roads – including the stunning sweep of Sea Cliff Bridge – to the coastal city of Wollongong, which boasts wide, welcoming beaches such as Thirroul and Austinmer and a laid-back seaside lifestyle; grab a bacon and egg roll and a coffee at Lili J to fuel up for the next leg.
Absorb breathtaking views along the coast-hugging road at Sea Cliff Bridge, Illawarra. (Credit: Destination NSW)
It’s only another 20 kilometres to Shellharbour, which should allow enough time for your brunch to go down so you can take a quick dip or – if you have packed your board – catch a few waves at The Farm, the surfing reserve at Killalea Reserve.
Catch some waves at The Farm. (Image: Destination NSW)
Kiama to Nowra
Kiama is the next stop on the journey, celebrated for its naturally occurring blowholes, which spew foaming sea water at surprising intervals. While these whimsical natural wonders have served as the town’s major drawcard for decades, more and more visitors are stopping here for the delightful cafe culture fuelled by the likes of Bouquiniste, a curated bookstore, cafe and wine bar, The Hungry Monkey and Parfait Patisserie.
Make a trip to Kiama’s Blowhole Point Rock Pool. (Image: Destination NSW)
The town of Gerringong, a 12-minute drive through lush coastal-meets-country scenery, is also developing a foodie reputation with inviting wine bars Gather By The Hill and Bella Char Restaurant & Wine Bar worth investing some time in, if not on this journey then at another time.
Take advantage of the gourmet food and wine in Gerringong. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Shoalhaven hub of Nowra, 40 kilometres from Kiama, is the end of the official Grand Pacific Drive route, but from here more coastal delights await.
Watch the sunset over Hanging Rock Lookout and the Shoalhaven River in Nowra. (Image: Destination NSW)
The family-owned and run Cupitt’s Estate presents itself as the perfect base for exploration and enjoyment on this blissful part of the coast, including the towns of Milton and Mollymook. With bucolic views in all directions, the property is the picture of a restive country escape, especially since the installation of a collection of graciously chic accommodation pods. There is constant industry going on here, from winemaking and tastings to boutique cheese production to considered farm-to-table dishes being served with a smile in the Dining Room, all of which should be sampled during a stay here.
The all-new Luxury Pods at Cupitt’s Estate. (Image: Elise Hassey)
The Grand Pacific Drive is 140 kilometres; it’s another 60 kilometres to Ulladulla.
Words by Leigh-Ann Pow
2. Sydney to Port Macquarie, NSW
While you can pack a lot in along the Legendary Pacific Coast highway from Sydney to Port Macquarie, you can also just pull out all the stops so you can drop and flop when you arrive in the seaside city that is known for its beaches, surf and pristine coastline.
The Port Macquarie coastline is perfect for watching the waves. (Image: Destination NSW)
Start off on the right foot with breakfast at Little Turkey, and lunch at Cassegrain Wines followed by a quick jaunt down to the harbour for Port Macquarie SUP Fun.
Paddock-to-plate dining at Twotriplefour Restaurant onsite at Cassegrain Wines, Port Macquarie. (Credit: Destination NSW)
You can also string together experiences such as a Hastings River Horse Riding tour, sundowners at the Little Shack and a coastal walk along the breakwall to Tacking Point Lighthouse. As well as being one of the best spots for spotting dolphins and whale watching on the NSW east coast, the watery playground is a top spot to enjoy slurping down a cheeky dozen oysters.
Spot some whales and dolphins at the Tacking Point Lighthouse. (Image: Destination NSW)
387 kilometres via M1 and Pacific Highway from Sydney.
There is an abundance of accommodation to choose from, but we recommend you grab a group of friends for an exclusive stay at private eco retreat Mansfield Estate or in the heart of the city at Sails Port Macquarie.
Words by Carla Grossetti
3. Central Coast, NSW
Known for its 40-plus beaches and laid-back surf culture, the Central Coast is a mecca for sun-sand-and-sea lovers. Beyond its waves, it has a newfound label as a culinary hotspot, with award-winning restaurants that rival big-city dining (including Osteria Il Coccia in Ettalong and Yellowtail in Terrigal) as well as four breweries and a distillery, where you can enjoy gin and gelato in a pretty garden setting.
Yellowtail is a restaurant experience you can’t beat.
The region is also home to NSW’s only pearl farm, Broken Bay Pearl Farm, which offers immersive tours from its ‘shellar door’, and Sydney Oyster Farm Tours, which hosts unique in-water shucking experiences, both on the sparkling Hawkesbury River.
See how oysters are farmed with a Sydney Oysters Farm Tour. (Image: Sydney Oysters Farm Tour)
On land, the Coast has multiple walking tracks that weave through pockets of rainforest (Strickland State Forest) and trace cliffsides above crashing ocean (Bouddi Coastal Walk).
Vibrant native shrubs bloom along the Bouddi Coastal Walk. (Credit: Nikki To)
The Central Coast has roughly 80 kilometres of coastline.
The secluded eco villas at Glenworth Valley combine luxury with adventure (horse riding, quad biking, abseiling and more).
Go horse riding at Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures. (Image: Destination NSW)
Words by Megan Arkinstall
4. Kosciuszko Alpine Way, NSW
The twists and turns of the Kosciuszko Alpine Way, which carves a course up and over NSW’s Snowy Mountains through landscapes of mountain forests mythologised by Banjo Paterson, can be driven in under three hours. But we choose to slow right down and savour what this classic winter destination has to offer us in summer.
Setting out from Cooma and cruising past the huge glassy expanse of Lake Jindabyne, we roll into Kosciuszko National Park with its pine-clad ridges immortalised in The Man from Snowy River.
See the stunning Lake Jindabyne pool out before you on the drive from Cooma. (Image: Destination NSW)
We stopover in Thredbo to stretch our legs on Australia’s highest peak, hiking through alpine meadows strewn with granite outcrops and wildflowers. And we amble through snow gum forests that hug the Thredbo River on a track that starts right outside our digs.
With its loft bedroom kitted out with In Bed linens, a Japanese-inspired onsen and an uninterrupted view of Mt Kosciuszko, The Eastern Thredbo Village’s Cedar Cabin is heaven for connoisseurs of both design and the outdoors, rivalled only in style by its sister Oak Apartment. Its balcony is the perfect place to perch and contemplate our surrounds over a cup of coffee before continuing.
Spend a dreamy winter afternoon sequestered at Thredbo Village’s Cedar Cabin. (Image: Monique Eastern)
The Alpine Way winds for 90 more scenic minutes to Khancoban in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, where we can choose to explore further: the Snowy Valleys Way forks from here – west to Beechworth in Victoria’s High Country and north to Gundagai in NSW’s Riverina.
Marvel at the scenery that flanks the winding road along the Great Alpine Way. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Words by Imogen Eveson
5. Broken Hill via White Cliffs, NSW
The direct route between the NSW towns of White Cliffs and Broken Hill takes just under three hours along the Barrier Highway, but you can amp up the outback by packing in some diversions and going the long way round.
Before departing White Cliffs, you will want to take a Red Earth Opal Mine Tour to wonder at the gently shimmering hues of the opals that proliferate here (White Cliffs is Australia’s oldest commercial opal field) and learn about the ancient history of the Barkandji peoples at Mutawintji National Park (a four-hour return drive to the north-west of the town).
Marvel at the exquisite White Opals in White Cliffs. (Image: Destination NSW)
Then set forth for Broken Hill along the Opal Miners Way via Wilcannia, another of the state’s quintessential outback outposts.
It takes less than an hour to reach this town, with its proud historic buildings and proximity to the Darling River (take the River Walk to stretch your legs).
From here it’s another two hours to Broken Hill, where Broken Hill Outback Resorts’ deluxe cabins are the perfect base for exploring.
Explore the beautiful surrounds of Broken Hill for a fantastic bush adventure. (Image: Destination NSW)
329 kilometres via Wilcannia.
6. Dubbo, NSW
Dubbo is a no-brainer on any regional NSW road trip – especially with kids in tow; the thriving city on the cusp of the outback offers one of Australia’s most singular attractions by way of an African safari experience at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
But the region harbours a bounty of hidden gems that add up to a mini adventure in their own right: from the nature-steeped town of Wellington, a 30-minute drive south-east of Dubbo City, which lies in the foothills of Mt Arthur Reserve (refuel post-bushwalk at 1950s-style diner Milky Daze); to the unique alpaca farm and gallery Quentin Park (meet the furry creatures and picnic in a paddock); to Waverleigh cotton farm in Narromine and Orana Cactusworld in the small town of Gilgandra, where up to 1000 varieties of prickly cacti are ripe for exploration.
Take a stroll at Mt Arthur reserve and discover the many scenic lookout points.
(Image: Destination NSW)
338 kilometres round trip.
Taronga Western Plains Zoo offers lodges, cabins and camps for overnight stays.
The view of the giraffes from the front of a Zoofari Lodge at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.
7. Mudgee region, NSW
“Welcome to Burgundy”, says winemaker Richard De Beaurepaire, while walking us around his vineyard outside the Central NSW country town of Rylstone.
“Here, we’ve got the same soil structure, the same alkalinity, climate and temperature range as the great vineyards of Burgundy, where wine is the liquid expression of the land,” says De Beaurepaire, who settled on the region in 1998 when he had the revelation the limestone-enriched location and cool climate would allow him to produce the terroir-driven wines that lean into his French heritage.
After an immersive guided Vigneron Experience with De Beaurepaire, we gather for a tasting led by his daughter, Amanda, in the cellar door housed in 170-year-old stables. We also get a taste of the terroir at Lowe Family Wine Co, an hour’s drive away in Mudgee, where vines have been threaded onto the property, like dainty needlework, since 1973.
Enjoy a quintessential country experience at Lowe Family Wine, a biodynamic vineyard, winery and farm.
The sprawling Tinja family property now includes a tiered lawn bar, award-winning restaurant, Zin House, and rustic cellar door. Our food-and-wine-focused tour of the region also includes a visit to Three Tails Brewery and Smokehouse, housed in a heritage building in Mudgee (the town’s original post office), yum cha at 29 nine 99 on the cobblestoned main strip of Rylstone, and a five-course Warakirri Dining Experience at Indigiearth that showcases native ingredients found on Wiradjuri lands.
Take a detour to Rylstone for lunch at 29Nine99 Yum Cha. (Image: Destination NSW)
The drive from Sydney to Mudgee takes roughly three and a half hours; from Mudgee to Rylstone is 40 minutes.
Seek out eco-friendly accommodation at Strikes Mudgee, Glenayr Farm and Evamor Valley.
Words by Carla Grossetti
8. Northern Rivers region, NSW
In ordinary times, the Northern Rivers lays out a welcome mat of idyllic coastlines and lush, canopied hinterlands romped through merrily by seasonal hordes of holidaymakers. But these are less-than-ordinary times and, for years now, usual touring has been hampered by a doubling down of disasters.
The Northern Rivers are characterised by stunning coastlines and vibrant beach towns. (Image: Destination NSW)
For much of the country at least, the pandemic has been overlaid with natural disasters, from drought to bushfires, and now, for the Northern Rivers in particular, the extraordinary flooding along the east coast. And while, yes, there are many rivers here, this unprecedented deluge has left townships and lives destroyed, and those who love and visit the area wringing their hands with helplessness.
But the best thing you can do is continue to go. Spend your money in towns that are still painfully trying to reassemble themselves, support local businesses and producers, and visit hard-hit places you may not usually add to your route.
It’s time to hit the road empty-eskied on a road trip to fill the cup of those in need. But this is not solely altruistic travel, there are plenty of gems to discover along the way, too.
Take a dip at one of the world-renown beaches along the Northern Rivers – you’ll be spoilt for choice. (Image: Elise Hassey)
Yamba, edged by the Pacific Ocean and the Clarence River has recently opened its first boutique hotel, The Surf, to much applause, but there are also plenty of adorable holiday lets you can use as a base to explore the incredible produce of the region.
Kick back in style at The Surf Yamba (Image: Elise Hassey)
Farmers have suffered crop and livestock loss due to the floods, so stock up on local goods and show support at the Yamba Farmers and Producers Market every Wednesday.
Spread the love around hard-hit hospitality places and make bookings at refined local eateries such as Barbaresco and Karrikin.
The Mullumbimby Farmers Market is hands-down the best in the Byron Shire. While the town itself was largely submerged during the floods, the local producers were also saddled with fruitless harvests and lost market days, so come along with an empty basket on Fridays to relish the particularly Mullumbimby vibe this shopping event is loved for. Pick up everything from fresh bread, breakfast and coffee, to sprouts and fungi.
The mountain-shadowed township also has plenty of wonderful eateries, such as pizza bar Milk & Honey and Wandana Brewing Co, as well as cutely curated boutiques.
Mullum makes a lovely side trip from Byron, but it’s also a destination in itself. Stay a while in the hinterland calm away from the famous beach hub, but with eyes on it, at Blackbird.
Discover the flavours of local produce at the Farmer’s Markets in Mullumbimby.
This gorgeous riverside town and her rural surrounds have been cultivating some under-the-radar appeal for a while. It’s known for its lively art scene, but unfolding quickly behind is an excellent culinary story.
Include Tweed River House, Bistro LIVI and Husk Distillers in your itinerary. And, of course, take in the M Arts Precinct in town and the Tweed Regional Gallery.
Shouldered by the protective sentinel of Mt Warning, which you’ll glimpse from almost every perspective, Mur’Bah, as the locals call it, is bordered by foothills and rural beauty. Settle in to take in this beauty in a luxury cabin at Mt Warning Estate.
Discovery scenery that will mystify the senses in Murwillumba’s stunning surrounds. (Image: Destination NSW)
Although no stranger to rising waters, historic Lismore was hugely devastated by the unfathomably deep flooding. This university city doesn’t often find itself in the tourism spotlight, but that’s a shame because there’s plenty to discover in the Richmond Valley.
Swing by alternative Nimbin, hike the Nightcap National Park, and admire the works on display at hard-hit Lismore Regional Gallery, then drink to Lismore’s future with a well-mixed cocktail at Augustine’s Wine Bar. Bed down in the stylish rooms above the Eltham Hotel in the beautifully bucolic Eltham village.
Rest and restore at the stylish Eltham Hotel, located in the quaint Eltham village. (Image: Jessie Prince)
Also, add to your itinerary
The villages of Clunes, Bexhill and Eltham sit between Bangalow and Lismore and are adorable fuel stops on a run to Lismore and beyond.
Make time for a pint and lunch at the tenderly reimagined and very cool Eltham Hotel; stop for a coffee and a bite at the Clunes General Store, which moonlights as a cafe, post office and elegantly curated cellar; and similarly, pause at the Bexhill General Store for a chicken roll.
How to help
As the waters began to recede, so too did some of the help. But there’s still loads of rebuilding, cleaning and healing to be done. While simply spending time and money in these embattled regions will do good, you can also log into local flood relief and support Facebook pages to find out exactly what kind of donations and help is needed, such as the Northern NSW 2022 Floods Community Clean Up & Help.
Many community organisations need hands-on help with sorting donations already given, while others are calling for tradespeople to donate their time to help people rebuild. Others, who are currently homeless, simply ask for tents and marquees for shelter, groceries and fuel cards.
Help the communities of the Northern Rivers get back on their feet by donating time and supplies. (Image: Destination NSW)
9. Bathurst, NSW
The drive to the Central Tablelands city of Bathurst is often overlooked by weekend road-trip warriors, who stop at Blackheath when doing the Blue Mountains thing, or pass it by on their mission to reach Mudgee or Orange in good time. But both the drive to Bathurst and the allures of this NSW city are worth their own entry.
The journey starts to get interesting once you have descended the escarpment at Mt Victoria and are presented with infinite rolling fields and hills (complete with everything from alpaca to cows to horses) and behemoth rock formations on the driver’s side.
The historic town of Hartley is worth a 10-minute stop to wander past its honey-toned late-Georgian and early-Victorian sandstone buildings, some of which are now quizzically grand for such a lonely outpost, before continuing on towards Lithgow, where you’ll skirt the edge of the town along the Great Western Highway.
Keep your eye on the prize and eschew a pit stop in favour of more time at the end of the journey, which continues on a long, largely flat trajectory past grazing fields and thick bush punctuated by turn-offs for charming little towns like Portland, Wallerawang and the enigmatically named Napoleon Reef.
Once in town, drive along the wide streets lit with heritage lamp posts, past grand civic buildings and Machattie Park with its delightful Begonia House, browse the shops and grab something to eat at one of its cafes.
Lose yourself among the unique and fascinating rock formations at the Gardens of Stone National Park. (Image: Destination NSW)
200 kilometres from Sydney.
Among the sheep at the sustainable and chic Farmers Hut at Wilga Station.
Experience idyllic country life in style at Wilga Station. (Image: Leigh-Ann Pow)
10. Sydney to Wolgan Valley, NSW
Charting a course to the dramatic surrounds of the Greater Blue Mountains more often than not sees drivers ascending the hazy, undulating forms that dominate the Sydney horizon via the Great Western Highway, which weaves like a ribbon this way and that through thick bushland and enveloping mists. But taking the road (slightly) less travelled offers equal drama and diversions to fill a few hours or a few days (full disclosure: this is one of my favourite drives anywhere in the country).
Leave the city behind and take a journey into the wild, wild west in the Blue Mountains.
The journey out of Sydney tracks along the highway past Parramatta, before heading north-west towards the historic towns of Windsor and Richmond, where the picture-postcard appeal of this road trip really starts along the Bells Line of Road.
Cruise along the winding Bells Line Road as you head into to the Blue mountains, (Image: Destination NSW)
Windsor is worth being your first stop on the journey, sitting idyllically as it does on a wide expanse of the Hawkesbury River and boasting delightful Georgian houses to admire, gentle riverside walks and even a patch of ‘beach’ on the riverbank that locals treat with as much reverence as if it was Bondi Beach itself.
Search out the heritage-listed St Matthew’s Anglican Church on Moses Street to see a fine example of early colonial architecture, designed by Francis Greenway and constructed using convict labour (many of whom left their initials in the red bricks), and pick through the graves to find those of First Fleet surgeon Thomas Arndell and William Cox, who built the road over the Blue Mountains.
Heading out of Windsor past the green stretch of the local polo club, the road starts to climb through towns and trees. If you didn’t grab a coffee in Windsor, Kurrajong (less than 30 minutes’ drive away) presents itself as the perfect destination for morning tea, with its modest main street lined with boutiques and cafes, including The Village Kitchen, which offers expansive mountain views from its wide deck.
Meander around the charming boutiques of Kurrajong Village (Image: Destination NSW)
From Kurrajong, the Bells Line of Road continues through Kurrajong Heights until it reaches the charming town of Bilpin, which suffered the hardships of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20; the defiant green regrowth crowding charcoal-black tree trunks is a poignant visual reminder that the area is still in a stage of recovery.
This is apple country, and the chance to pick your own straight from the tree is a thrill in our over-homogenised times. Load up on fruit at Shields Orchard and then head down the road to Hillbilly Cider to taste what becomes of its trademarked Julie apple, in the form of Sweet Julie cider (the perfect accompaniment to Hillbilly’s wood-fired pizzas for lunch).
Kick back with an orchard-to-glass refreshment at Hilbilly Cider. (Image: Destination NSW)
As the morning transitions into afternoon, a stop at The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah should be prioritised for the return journey to give it due attention. Continuing along a mountain ridge that affords jaw-dropping views out to plunging valleys shrouded in thick bush, the descent into Lithgow indicates you are inching closer to your final, dazzling destination.
The heritage listed Garden Estate of Breenhold (near Mt Tomah) comes alive in autumn. (Image: Destination NSW)
It takes about 45 minutes from Lithgow to be delivered into the jaw-on-the-floor magnificence of the Wolgan Valley, home to Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley (full disclosure: this is one of my favourite resorts anywhere in the world). Having achieved internationally accredited carbon-neutral status upon opening in 2009, the resort is a blissful union of considered luxury and exacting sustainability that is the perfect exclamation point on a journey of discovery and drama.
Combine luxury with eco-friendliness with an unforgettable stay at One&Only Wolgan Valley. (Image: Destination NSW)
Words by Leigh-Ann Pow
11. Southern Highlands, NSW
Not that anyone needs an excuse to head to NSW’s Southern Highlands – its constellation of pretty towns and villages connected by picture-perfect countryside make it prime road-trip territory from both Sydney and Canberra, wedged as it is between the two cities.
Absorb the splendour of the Southern Highlands scenery on this picture-perfect drive. (Image: Destination NSW)
But the area’s first regional art gallery is now providing extra incentive. Ngununggula is a state-of-the-art cultural space spearheaded by Archibald-winning artist Ben Quilty and located in a transformed old dairy building at Bowral’s Retford Park.
Experience exquisite art and culture at the heart of the Highlands, at
Ngununggula Regional Gallery. (Image: Zan Wimberly)
Its name means ‘belonging’ in the traditional language of the Gundungurra First Nations people and the calibre of exhibitions is high: John Olsen: Goya’s Dog is on display until 15 May; brothers Abdul-Rahman and Abdul Abdullah present work alongside acclaimed artist Tracey Moffatt AO in Land Abounds (28 May – 24 July); and expect bold colour palettes in Ken Done + Rosie Deacon (6 August – 9 October).
121 kilometres from Sydney; 178 kilometres from Canberra.
Another new reason to hop in the car and head here is Bundanoon’s luxury boutique hotel Osborn House.
12. Lithgow round trip, NSW
While the NSW Central Tablelands town of Lithgow might seem like a road trip in its own right given it takes two hours to wind up and down the Blue Mountains to get there from Sydney, we’re suggesting that you use it as a starting-off point from which to explore a wide circle of dramatic countryside and unique experiences.
Before hitting the road, take the time to look around the historic former industrial town including the charming Hoskins Church and the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum.
Exploration done, chart a course west for 46 kilometres, bound for Capertee Valley, the world’s second largest canyon, where the breathtaking scenery is best appreciated from one of Bubbletent Australia’s see-through igloos.
Embrace the beauty of the Capertee Valley with panoramic views over the valley. (Image: Bubbletent Australia)
The next day, backtrack through Portland to see its vintage streetscape and Insta-worthy painted silos, before continuing another 80 kilometres on to Oberon, with its delightful small-town vibe and boho luxe accommodation in the form of the glamping tents pitched within the manicured, flower-strewn grounds of the must-visit Mayfield Gardens.
Embrace strolling (and glamping) the delightful grounds of Mayfield Garden.(Image: DNSW)
13. Darling River Run, NSW
Following the unsealed Darling River Run is part open-space therapy, part in-depth education in Australian geography and history.
Kicking off at the relative metropolis of Wentworth in far western NSW, the first stop (and highlight) is Australia’s cultural ground-zero, Mungo National Park. It’s home to the 40,000-year-old Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, and the mind-altering, shadow-bending Walls of China, clay ‘lunettes’-cum time capsules that rise resplendently from this ancient landscape.
Explore the entrancing patterns formed by the lunettes in Mungo Mungo National Park. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Run’s breaths-of-fresh-air keep on coming: cruising the bird-magnet of Menindee Lakes; overnighting at the country-sized Trilby Station; and delving into Henry Lawson’s Australia at the Back O’ Bourke Exhibition Centre.
Drop by Brewarrina to see and hear about what some claim is the world’s oldest human-made structure, the Brewarrina Fish Traps.
Hit the open road and discover the natural beauty that lies along the Darling River Run. (Image: Destination NSW)
Mungo Lodge is the smartest digs (with a nice on-site restaurant) for hundreds of kilometres in either direction.
Rest and recharge at the doorstep of Mungo Mungo National Park. (Image: Destination NSW)
950 kilometres (route dependent)
Words by Steve Madgwick
14. New England High Country, NSW
I’d say there are no two ways about it, except that there are: a road trip to Armidale is ridiculously scenic. The first time we travel there is along Thunderbolts Way. Named in honour of the ‘gentleman bushranger’ who once roamed these parts, it twists, turns and careens through a scenic landscape marked strikingly by the unreal landscape of the Barrington Tops and invitingly by pretty, historic towns.
Travel along Thunderbolts Way.
In Walcha we look out for sculptures that comprise its open-air gallery and in Uralla we stop at The Alternate Root Cafe, admiring the original pressed-metal ceiling, deliberating over the inventive menu and perusing the wares made by local creative types. There are diversions along the way: to the eclectic Dobson’s Distillery, with its cinematic speakeasy vibes in the sleepy village of Kentucky, and to the pure air, walking trails and waterfalls of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park – a rugged gorge country that falls away dramatically from the gentler swathes of the tableland, the Great Dividing Range’s highest.
Browse the Selection at Dobson’s Distillery. (Image: Destination NSW)
Another time, we travel to Armidale from the quirky riverside town of Bellingen along the true-to-its-name Waterfall Way: ascending up into the mist-shrouded rainforest and stopping to go back in time at Dorrigo National Park, part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.
We make our way to the true-to-its-name Waterfall Way.
Our destination, the lofty city at the heart of NSW’s New England High Country always packs a punch on arrival: with its wealth of cultural experiences, from the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) to historic Saumarez Homestead; and its cool but unpretentious pubs, cocktail bars and cafes including The Welder’s Dog, Charlie’s Last Stand and Goldfish Bowl. Combined with a stay in one of the country’s finest restored Art Deco hotels, Tattersalls, and its many outdoor pursuits it’s well worth the journey to get here. Even if that journey is reward in itself.
Tattersalls Hotel Guest Lounge (Photo: Sally Scott)
474 kilometres (Sydney to Armidale via Thunderbolts Way); 156 kilometres (Bellingen to Armidale via Waterfall Way).
15. Hunter Valley winery trail, NSW
Its vast rolling landscape has been cultivated for wine production since the early 19th century, making the Hunter Valley the country’s oldest wine region. Home to 150-plus wineries (including Dalwood Estate, the ‘birthplace of Hunter Valley wine’), this picturesque region is also renowned for its excellent dining, making it a satiating road trip for the eyes and stomach. Venture beyond the main hub of Pokolbin (home to highly acclaimed Brokenwood Wines and two-hatted Muse Restaurant) to the lesser visited regions of Broke and Wollombi for a slower-paced journey through countryside dotted with farm gates touting produce, historic buildings and quaint towns, and boutique cellar doors that you’ll likely have to yourself.
Sample wines from the country’s oldest wine region, Hunter Valley. (Image: Destination NSW)
85 kilometres round trip from Pokolbin.
Redleaf, set on 40 hectares near Wollombi, is a charming Italian-style manor that sleeps 12.
16. Orange winery trail, NSW
An easy meander from Sydney – four hours’ drive over the mountains and onto the Central Tablelands – a trip to Orange and its bucolic surrounds is the stuff long weekends are made of. This dynamic regional city blends heritage and the fruits of its rich volcanic soils with more than a dash of the new to create exceptional food and wine experiences.
Find boutique family-owned wineries like Nashdale Lane (Image: Destination NSW)
Base yourself in its heritage heart (check out The Byng Street Boutique Hotel or The White Place) and spend your days on country drives to villages such as Nashdale, where you’ll find boutique family-owned wineries Nashdale Lane and Printhie Wines; historic Molong, home to cellar doors including the eclectic Heifer Station Wines; and Millthorpe, with its destination fine diner Tonic. But if you’re still in the mood for more, there are plenty more wineries to visit in Orange, and breweries and distilleries.
Base yourself in its heritage heart and spend your days on country drives to vineyards. (Image: Destination NSW)
17. Hire That Pink Merc, NSW
Let vintage-lover and pink Mercedes owner Katrina Holden do the driving for you.
When did you buy your pink Merc?
I purchased this beautiful 1975 Mercedes Benz 450SEL in June 2021; right as we were due to collect it NSW went into lockdown. It was a bit of a leap of faith as the car had to be placed on a transport truck [from northern NSW]. I had it wrapped in a soft baby pink acrylic wrap. I wanted to showcase a classic in a fun, fresh way.
Feel pretty in pink as you tour the streets in this vintage 1975 Mercedes Benz.
Where’s your favourite place to drive your passengers?
As I’m from the Northern Beaches [in Sydney], I have a particular affinity for the area. I think you can’t beat a leisurely drive up the peninsula, past beaches such as Manly, Newport, Bilgola, Avalon and then arriving at Palm Beach. I also think cruising around the city is pretty special, doing the scenic loop near Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.
If you were in the passenger seat, what would be your ideal That Pink Merc itinerary?
Being a vintage lover, I’d head to the Southern Highlands, stopping at Twisting Vintage in Mittagong and Dirty Janes [in Bowral], followed by lunch at Harry’s On Green Lane.
18. Northern Beaches, NSW
Here in Australia we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to ‘oh wow’ beaches, but there are still some (relatively) secret gems to be discovered. Case in point: Sydney’s Northern Beaches, which interstate visitors should be putting on their to-do list alongside (or, dare we say, instead of) Bondi. The drive to get there can be a bit snarly if you hit Sydney’s notorious peak-hour gridlock, but once past Mona Vale the traffic seems to thin and the pace slows. From there the drive along Barrenjoey Road presents plenty of opportunity to get some sand between your toes, including Newport, Bilgola, Avalon and Whale beaches, before coming to a full stop in ultra-glam Palm Beach.
Head to Manly and beyond, to see some of Sydney’s most beautiful yet underrated beaches. (Image: Destination NSW)
30 kilometres (Manly to Palm Beach)
Can’t face the traffic again? Spend the night at Crane Lodge amongst trees and birdsong.
19. The Royal National Park, NSW
From its beautiful laid-back beaches, to its soaring coastal cliffs, groves of gums, stunning waterfalls and Instagrammable swimming holes, Royal National Park on Dharawal Country in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire is an accessible escape from the city. The Nasho, as it is affectionately known, covers more than 15,000 hectares and hugs Australia’s east coastline from the Port Hacking River to its southernmost tip in Otford, one of Wollongong’s northern suburbs. As the country’s first official national park (second only to Yellowstone in the world), it offers up opportunities for surfing, fishing, barbecuing, hiking and bushwalking.
Grab your hiking boots and swimmers, Wattamolla makes for a refreshing rest stop if you’re hiking in the Royal National Park. (Image: Destination NSW)
While you can access the park via a scenic route that corkscrews through the park from Loftus to the Audley Weir, you can also drive to Cronulla and board the historic Tom Thumb ferry bound for Bundeena-Maianbar to visit the community of artists who live on the fringes of the national park. Once ensconced in the park, you can explore Cabbage Tree Basin with Bundeena Kayaks, hire a rowboat and explore the river, see Indigenous rock art near Jibbon Beach and enjoy coffee and cake at Audley Dance Hall Cafe, all just a step away from full-blown wilderness. Download your digital NSW National Park pass before your visit.
Launch your journey into the National Park with a scenic ferry ride. (Image: Destination NSW)
It’s about 42 kilometres from Sydney’s CBD to the Royal National Park.
Skip back to Sydney or make a night of it; you can stay in the Royal National Park in one of three historic homesteads: Weemalah Cottage, Hilltop Cottage and Reids Flat Cottage. Or lush it up in The Periscope House.
Words by Carla Grossetti