Book a window seat for your flight to Sydney: day or night, this city sure is good-lookin’. Scratch the surface and it only gets better. Nature National parks ring the city and penetrate right into its heart. Large chunks of the harbour are still edged with bush, while parks cut their way through the skyscrapers and suburbs.
Byron Bay & Northern NSW
The NSW coast tumbles north of Sydney in a ribbon of rugged headlands, separated by vast expanses of buttery beach and flanked by the peaks and troughs of national parks. Inland, green hummocks of farmland ripple at the edges of mountains and ancient rainforest in the beguiling hinterland.
If it’s off-road rugged beauty you’re after, point the compass squarely in this direction. The spectacular and nonchalant South Coast, stretching 400km by road to the Victorian border, remains a parallel universe to its rowdy northern counterpart.
From Newcastle, you can choose to zoom north along the Pacific Hwy or enjoy a far more pleasant trip by making a series of meandering diversions along the coast. The best thing about the Pacific Hwy driving south from Grafton is all the chances you have to drive off it.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was carved out of the Limestone Plains, a region of New South Wales 280km southwest of Sydney and 150km inland from the coast. Its weathered ranges, quintessential bushland and untamed landscape are a perfect partner to the tidy city it cradles.
Designed by visionary American architect Walter Burley Griffin, who was assisted by his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, Canberra features expansive open spaces, aesthetics influenced by the 19th-century Arts and Crafts Movement and a seemless alignment of built and natural elements.
Southwest & The Murray
Between Sydney and Albury, a string of atmospheric old inland towns straddles the Hume Hwy, each of them with a claim to some kind of fame, be it bushrangers, drought, rich grazing land or old money. Northwest of the highway, the land flattens out, becoming incrementally redder and drier.
The Central West's relative proximity to Sydney and its population of eager tree-changers, weekend-awayers and holiday-homers has no doubt given many of the agricultural cities and towns just beyond the Blue Mountains a leg-up.
New South Wales doesn’t want for beaches. In fact, go a short distance north and south from Byron Bay and you’ll find untrodden sands stretching beyond your vision. Byron’s beaches are nice as well, but what makes them special is Byron itself: one of Australia’s best beach towns. Low-rise, funky, walkable, relaxed are all good descriptions.
A region with more gorges, gum trees and gourmet restaurants than seem viable, the spectacular Blue Mountains was an obvious contender when Unesco called for Australian nominations to the World Heritage List, and its inclusion was ratified in 2000.
Far North Coast
This is where the coast heats up in activity, hype and temperature. Byron Bay is the centre of the attention, with its nightlife, stunning location and beach. But there are places with equal beauty that are quieter. Lennox Head and its surrounds are more serene than the tourist Babylon to the north, while Yamba offers some colour on its estuary.
Far North Coast Hinterland
It’s not all beach. Away from the coast, the lush scenery, organic markets and alternative lifestyles inland complement places such as Byron Bay and make the far north coast region one of Australia’s most appealing places – for locals and visitors alike.
Sydney may possess the glitz and the glamour, but the state’s second-largest city has down-to-earth larrikin charm instead. Newcastle is the kind of place where you can grocery shop barefoot, go surfing in your lunch hour and quickly become best buddies with the Novocastrian sitting next to you in any bar.
NSW is rarely credited for its far-west outback corner but it should be. Grey saltbush and red sand make it easy out here to imagine yourself superimposed onto the world's biggest Aboriginal dot painting, a canvas reaching as far as the eye can see. The mining town of Broken Hill is its unique heart-centre, close to much-photographed Silverton.
New England misses out on the kind of exposure Australia's desert landscapes and vast coastlines attract, but the area's rolling green hills and farmland, autumnal foliage and vast tracts of bushland are worthy of exploration. The verdant scenery prompted the original settlers to name the area New England in 1839.
The Snowies, as they are known, form part of the Great Diving Range where it straddles the NSW–Victorian border and they lay claim to the highest mountain on the Australian mainland, Mt Kosciuszko (koz-zy-os-ko), at 2228m.