From Ballina in the north and Eden in the south and to Broken Hill in the west to Port Stephens in east (and everywhere in between), New South Wales has a total of 801,150 km² to explore (safely and considerately). To illustrate the premier possibilities that await in the Premier State, Traveller has compiled this guide to the experiences and attractions of NSW that really do make it unique and, in some cases, rather offbeat, for the prospective traveller.
Contributors: Anthony Dennis, Jane Richards, Jim Darby, Ben Groundwater and Brian Johnston.
THE PLACE Brewarrina fish traps
Photo: Destination NSW
WHO KNEW? Some believe these traps, created by the Ngemba people, could be the oldest man-made structures on Earth.
TELL ME MORE Though there's debate over the true age of the Brewarrina Fish Traps, with estimates ranging from 1000 years to 40,000, there's no doubting the importance of this site in north-west NSW. The elaborate network of rock walls and pools is both an impressive feat of engineering, and a spiritual site of some importance to the Ngemba, with links to Dreamtime stories.
ESSENTIALS Guided tours of the fish traps, hosted by local elders, are available year-round with advance bookings. See visitnsw.com
THE PLACE Lord Howe Island
Photo: Tom Archer/Tourism NSW
WHO KNEW? Elizabeth Reef, off the Lord Howe Island coast, is the southernmost coral reef in the world.
TELL ME MORE Lord Howe Island may not be The Whitsundays - at least in terms of water and air temperatures. But this UNESCO World Heritage-listed island does boast its own coral reef as well as many other unique natural features. A haven for divers, Elizabeth Reef is part of the underwater plateau known as the Lord Howe Rise and is separated by a deep 45 kilometre-wide oceanic pass.
ESSENTIALS Glass- bottomed boat tours incorporate the lagoon's coral gardens, home to green and hawksbill turtles and multi-coloured subtropical fish. Check COVID-19 guidelines before visiting Lord Howe. See lordhoweisland.info visitnsw.com islandercruises.com.au
THE PLACE Warrumbungle National Park
Photo: Destination NSW
WHO KNEW? This is the first official Dark Sky Park in the southern hemisphere and the only one in Australia.
TELL ME MORE Just west of Coonabarabran in northern NSW, Warrumbungle is a national park with plenty to offer, including walking tracks, campgrounds, rugged, mountainous landscape, and the key attraction: its star-gazing opportunities. As a designated Dark Sky Park, the night-time viewing here is incredible with huge blankets of stars and the colourful whorls of the Milky Way visible above.
ESSENTIALS Although the viewing here is world-class any time, winter is best for reliably clear skies. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
THE PLACE Kiandra, Snowy Mountains
WHO KNEW The world's oldest ski club was formed at Kiandra
TELL ME MORE Among the hopefuls of the 1859 gold rush here, were Norwegian miners, who knew one end of a ski from another. Two years later they formed the "Kiandra Snowshoe Club" (skis were known as snow-shoes) to race on the snow-covered hills. The club's name changed in 1935 to the Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club while by 1966, the KPSC moved its base to Perisher, where it remains.
ESSENTIALS The bushfire-damaged Kiandra Heritage Precinct is now closed but the Snowy Mountains Highway that runs through the area remains open and it's a glorious alpine drive. See kpsc1861.org.au and nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
THE PLACE International Cricket Hall of Fame, Bowral
Photo: Destination NSW
WHO KNEW? What started as the Bradman Museum in The Don's Southern Highlands hometown has become much more, now offering a comprehensive look at the world of cricket.
TELL ME MORE Learn the basics of cricket, listen to the world's top players talk about what the sport means to them, move fielders around a virtual pitch, and discover how the best bats are made. You can also delve into the history of cricket, the life of Sir Donald Bradman and the spread of the sport worldwide. There's thorough detail to satisfy cricket fans and enough interest and entertainment that even the casual visitor might become one.
ESSENTIALS The International Cricket Hall of Fame is open 9am-4pm Monday-Saturday. See internationalcrickethall.com
THE PLACE Age of Fishes Museum, Canowindra
WHO KNEW? This small Central West museum is reputedly one of only two fish-fossil museums in the world – the other is the Memory of Time museum in Byblos in Lebanon.
TELL ME MORE One of the world's greatest deposits of quality fish fossils, some new to science, has been dug up locally. While fish fossils mightn't sound fascinating, this clever museum weaves a compelling story about ancient evolutionary history, and allows visitors to touch many of the exhibits. Among them are a two-metre monster fish and fish so tiny you need a magnifying glass to see their teeth and scales. It's a great place for children, who can do rubbings and dig in sandpits for fossils.
ESSENTIALS Open 10am-4pm daily including most public holidays. See visitnsw.com
THE PLACE Barrington Tops National Park, Hunter Valley
Photo: Destination NSW
WHO KNEW? Topping out at almost 1600 metres, the peaks of this park represent the highest subalpine area outside of the Australian Alps.
TELL ME MORE Pack your hiking boots rather than snow skis for a visit to the spectacular Barrington Tops National Park which last year marked the 50th anniversary of its establishment. Located in the Upper Hunter Valley between the towns of Scone and Gloucester and part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed gondwana rainforests, this incredible place is a sanctuary for native wildlife, particularly the superb lyrebird (that's it's proper name).
ESSENTIALS Barrington Tops National Park is under four hours driving time north from Sydney. Take care when visiting in the sometimes snowy winter months. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
THE PLACE Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, Albury
WHO KNEW? As you blast past on the freeway, just a few minutes downriver on the banks of the Murray is one of NSW's most remarkable art installations.
TELL ME MORE The Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, with works by contemporary Indigenous artists, stretches along five kilometres of the Murray River pathway, a walking and cycling track that follows the river and Albury's riverside parks. The sculptures are bold and tactile, like Tamara May Murray's "Reconciliation Shield", or "The Big Googar" (goanna in Wiradjuri) created by Pastor Darren Wighton. The sculptures are accompanied by interpretative panels and a smartphone guide that tells the history and cultural significance of the Murray River for Aboriginal people.
ESSENTIALS The sculpture walk is always open and free to wander. See alburycity.nsw.gov.au
THE PLACE Carcoar, Central West
WHO KNEW? Heritage heaped upon heritage, this entire town is listed by the National Trust
TELL ME MORE A walk down Belubula Street is gobsmacking – the tiny town of Carcoar has no less than 35 surviving buildings that date from 1845 to 1941 and they are all so well maintained that they have been used in many films. Don't miss the imposing courthouse, the brick and sandstone St Paul's Anglican Church designed by colonial architect Edmund Blacket, and Stoke Stable, built in 1849 from convict labour. The quirky 20th Century Toy Museum on the site of the Commercial Bank, the scene of Australia's first (failed) daylight bank robbery by bushranger Johnny Gilbert, is also worth a look.
ESSENTIALS Carcoar is off the Mid-Western Highway 258 kilometres west of Sydney and 52 kilometres south-west of Bathurst. See visitnsw.com
THE PLACE Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
WHO KNEW? Most people know that NSW's Royal National Park was Australia's first; but did you know the country's third national park was Ku-ring-gai Chase?
TELL ME MORE Few national parks are as easily accessible as Ku-ring-gai Chase, just a half-hour drive north of the Sydney CBD. Here you will find opportunities for bush-walking, for cycling, fishing, camping, bird-watching, and learning about the area's Indigenous heritage. With marinas, cafes, kiosks and picnic areas, Ku-ring-gai Chase is perfectly equipped for everyone from day-trippers to longer-term explorers.
ESSENTIALS The park is open year-round, with access via sealed roads; courtesy boat moorings are also available. Visit in spring to see wildflowers, and spot whales from Barranjoey Head in winter. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
FIVE MORE STATE SECRETS
AUSTRALIAN FOSSIL & MINERAL MUSEUM, BATHURST
Photo: Destination NSW
This brilliant little country museum takes you 250 million years into the past under the looming cast of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Among the utterly compelling fossils here is a 150-million-year-old dragonfly. See museumsbathurst.com.au
HERITAGE WINERIES, HUNTER VALLEY
There's nothing like an aged wine or even an aged winery. Australia's oldest wineries are to be found here with Tyrrell's origins stretching back to the mid-19th century. Inside one of the winery sheds is a classic earthen floor that remains preserved from the label's earliest days. See tyrrells.com.au
NAN TIEN TEMPLE, WOLLONGONG
One of the southern hemisphere's largest Buddhist temple complexes lies just off the Princes Highway, and is both a place of worship and a cultural centre that welcomes visitors. The main shrine features 10,000 Buddha statues. There is also a teahouse and museum arranged around a large courtyard. See nantien.org.au
Whether it's the world's most beautiful harbour is debatable. But something that is indisputable is that Sydney Harbour, home to almost 600 species of fish, is the world's deepest natural harbour crowned by the tallest steel arch on the planet. Enjoy its splendour from dry land while tackling part or all of the 26-kilometre Sydney Harbour Circle Walk. See visitnsw.com; bridgeclimb.com
MUSEUM OF HUMAN DISEASE, SYDNEY
A museum for the times, if there ever was one, this institution at the University of New South Wales showcases the only pathology collection in Australia that is open to the public. This isn't a museum for sensitive souls or for a first date, but if you're fascinated by the vagaries of the human body look no further. See diseasemuseum.med.unsw.edu.au
STATING THE FACTS
The blue groper (achoerodus viridis) is NSW's fish emblem; the bird emblem is the kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae)
The total coastline length of NSW is 2101 kilometres (Australia's shortest) compared with Western Australia's 20,788
NSW's land border length is 4625 kilometres (Australia's longest) compared with Queensland's 3337
The shortest of Katoomba's Three Sisters (named Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo) is 16 metres lower than the tallest
Aside from the dominant lion and kangaroo, the NSW coat of arms includes the Golden Fleece and a sheaf of wheat