NSW places to go on a road trip: The A to Z of driving New South Wales

For years the trip-o-meters on the various vehicles I've owned have never made it much beyond the 25,000 or 30,000 kilometre mark before I ended up offloading them, even though the cars in question were never more than a few years old.

It's no surprise that researchers conclude that the cars of most urban dwellers remain idle for 95 cent of the time. In the main, my driving has been confined to the city with occasional modest country sojourns.

But, this, like everything else it seems, has changed. The trip-o-meter on my car now ticks over as quickly as members of Donald Trump's inner circle.

I have, like many Australians, re-embraced the road trip, relishing the opportunity to take to the tar on drives longer than I've undertaken for years.

Not only have these road journeys been a revelation, they have also been a therapeutic break from the daily doses of bad news and enabled me to re-engage with parts of the country that many of us tend to overlook in favour of the allure of overseas travel.

Here, then, is my A to Z of NSW road trips gathered from the thousands of kilometres I've managed to clock up so far in my pandemic peregrinations.

A is for the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra, Australia, 12 June 2016. From Mount Ainslie, it a strategic position to enjoy the sunset over Canberra city and the Brindabella hills. sataug29coverAtoZroadtrip 
Photo credit: iStock
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Photo: iStock

A tiny landlocked island in the middle of another landlocked island known as New South Wales. Underrated Canberra, which forms most of the ACT, is the only capital city other than Sydney that we are able to visit at the moment. In fact at 457,000 people (only just eclipsing Newcastle, north of Sydney) it is the largest city in the world to which we're currently legally permitted to venture. Make the most of it. See visitcanberra.com.au

B is for backroads

The awesomely-engineered dual carriageways of the Hume and Pacific Highways have done wonders for the road toll and the time poor but noticeably little for driver fulfillment. Head off piste and slow down to take the backroads whenever you can and experience another world of narrow, unmarked thoroughfares, forgotten villages, obscure hamlets and the serene, oft-unseen, day-to-day bucolic life.


C is for cruise control

A godsend for those long, tedious drives on dual-carriageways (see "E for Expressways", below) and a good way to avoid speeding fines and demerit points loss. Set but don't forget and be ever-ready to deactivate when speed limits change or dangers present.

D is for distances

For those of us who haven't undertaken serious road trips for a long time, or ever, the long distances in Australia (see "N for New South Wales", below) can be quite a surprise.

E is for expressways

Dull but necessary and a good way to get out of town as quickly as possible to begin your road trip in earnest. Factor in plenty of rest time and plenty of time generally to allow for side visits to the multitude of towns that have been bypassed across the state and elsewhere.

F is for flying

Thanks to the pandemic we've all gone from being frequent to infrequent flyers. Points? What's the point anymore? The road rules once again, at least for now, with the car representing the perfect travel bubble in a pandemic.

G is for Gulgong

Gulgong's heritage streetscape in the Mudgee region. sataug29coverAtoZroadtrip
Image supplied by Destination NSW
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Photo: Destination NSW

Head to one of the best preserved towns in the country, historic Gulgong, near Mudgee. For a gold coin donation a local will unlock the town's Prince of Wales Opera House so you can make your own private inspection. The venue dates to 1871 when there were 20,000 diggers drawn to the gold rush of the day. See visitnsw.com

H is for highway

There are 30 odd of them in NSW with the longest being the Newell Highway at 1058 kilometres, running north-south between Goondiwindi on the Queensland border and Tocumwal on the Victorian border. The shortest highway in NSW is the Bradfield Highway at 2.5 kilometres and extending between the Sydney CBD and North Sydney.

I is for intrastate

With the term "international" temporarily out of use until further notice from the vaccine gods, the new buzzword for curtailed travellers is "intrastate". It refers to the boundaries within which we are allowed to spend our holidays, even if those on the other side do share the same nationality and the same unused passports.

J is for Jugiong

A tiny, largely obscure village off the Hume Freeway between Yass and Gundagai. Jugiong is the home of the Sir George Hotel, one of the state's most pleasurable accommodation experiences. The top rooms at this converted, though still character-filled, country pub are the stone former stables from the 19th century. See sirgeorge.com.au

K is for kangaroos, koalas and kookaburras

Koala eating gum leaves at Oakvale Farm and Fauna World, Salt Ash in Port Stephens. sataug29coverAtoZroadtrip
Image supplied by Destination NSW
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Photo: Destination Port Stephens

Wildlife spotting is one of the joys of any Australian road trip, especially for city folk. Sadly, many of our native animals end up as victims of our motoring holidays (see "R for roadkill") and with more of us likely to be holidaying by road for the foreseeable future it pays to be aware. Pop the number for WIRES (Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) 13 000 WIRES or 1300 094 737 into the contacts on your mobile just in case. See wires.org.au

L is for Linga Longa

The name of a classic and newly spruced-up riverside country pub-cum-inn in the village of Gundy, perched in the lush equine-rich backcountry outside of Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley. A perfect reward for taking the backroads as a friendlier pub is hard to find. See lingalongainn.com.au

M is for motel

All of a sudden the humble motel (aka, motor inn) makes impeccable sense in a pandemic. The roadtripper can drive their vehicle right up to their room door with the key already waiting in it by prior arrangement. For the truly pathogen paranoiac, some motels are still fitted with breakfast hatches, those triumphs of grim anonymity. But do beware the blast of bracing cold air in frosty climes when your morning repast is delivered.

N is for New South Wales

Our state is 809,444 square kilometres in size (see "D for distance") with a coastline of 2137 kilometres. It ranks as the nation's fifth largest state or territory after Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia but with 185,000 kilometres of roads there's a lot to keep you going and going.

O is for one-lane bridge

One of the delights of back-road drives is the one-raised finger salute (the polite version) on your steering wheel salute as you allow others to pass. This traditional country acknowledgement requires that rare contemporary commodity - courtesy. You'll find some fine one-lane bridge examples in the Upper Hunter en route to the near ethereal Barrington Tops National Park. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

P is for potholes

There used to be a saying that you knew you could always tell you were passing by road from Victoria in NSW by the sudden bumps, the theory being that the former state's main thoroughfares were vastly better maintained than those of the latter. That's not so true these days on the major highways but head off them, including on the designated tourist routes, and you sure will feel the bumps. Take care.

Q is for the Republic of Queensland

A special-case Australian state whose border opens and closes with the frequency of an unlocked outback dunny door in a willy-willy (see T for Tibooburra, below). We look forward to the day - or perhaps year - when we can return to its tropical, if by then rust-belted, climes.

R is for roadkill

There are so many, perfectly appropriate and moving roadside memorials for those who have died in motor accidents on our highways but none for the millions upon millions of precious native animals who perish there each year. Congratulations to the people of Port Stephens on NSW's Mid North Coast who have erected prominent awareness-building signs recording the number of koalas tragically killed by cars this year. See portstephens.org.au

S is for sheep

Sign welcoming visitors to the Shear Outback centre in Hay. sataug29coverAtoZroadtrip
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Shear Outback: the Australian Shearers Hall of Fame in Hay. Photo: Destination NSW

There are 22.9 million sheep - only three million less than the entire human population of Australia - in NSW alone. For the roadtripper they are, of course, ubiquitous, and if you're really, really smitten, aside from the dubious Big Merino in Goulburn, there's the Shear Outback: the Australian Shearers Hall of Fame in Hay in south-western NSW. See visitnsw.com

T is for Tibooburra

Myth and Mirage 1999, an upside-down whaleboat suspended high in the air. A replica of Charles Sturt's boat replica located at Pioneer Park in Tibooburra, Outback NSW. sataug29coverAtoZroadtrip
Image supplied by Destination NSW
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Photo: iStock

NSW's most remote outback town, 332 kilometres north of Broken Hill, and the nearest to the (sigh, closed) borders of Queensland and South Australia. The Silver City Highway between Broken Hill and Tibooburra, along with the Cobb Highway, was until recently the last of two unsealed highways in NSW to be paved. Now it's bitumen all of the way between the two centres making a road trip to the state's remote outback more viable for travellers See visitnsw.com

U is for Upper

There are five towns with the word "upper" in their names (Upper Burringbar, Upper Crystal Creek, Upper Horton, Upper Kangaroo River and Upper Macdonald) but curiously only two with the word "lower" in the names (Lower Boro and Lower Bucca).

V is for Vodafone

If your mobile provider is anyone other than Telstra (hint: it starts with a "V") then you can probably forget about decent coverage outside major centres. Consider, quelle horreur, purchasing a printed map.

W is for Way

A "way" is classified as a minor arterial road. But there's absolutely nothing minor in terms of the scenic sights you'll see on some of the state's most wondrous, if often potholed, touring routes with the word "way" attached to them. These include the Alpine Way, through the Snowy Mountains, the Bucketts Way, between Gloucester and both Taree and Raymond Terrace, Thunderbolts Way (named after the bushranger) which runs between Inverell and Gloucester and the Waterfall Way which connects Armidale and Coffs Harbour.

X is for X marks the spot

Unfold your map NSW, close your eyes and put a pin somewhere on it. Go there. Keep your distance. Enjoy.

Y is for year

That's roughly the amount of time we may have to wait until something approaching full international travel resumes. That allows plenty of time for Australians to spend some of the $65 billion that is usually splurged per annum on trips overseas on domestic holidays, once borders fully reopen. See australia.com

Z is for Zero

The number of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths nationally that we can't wait to achieve so that considerate travel, in all of its forms - road trips included - can safely and fully resume.

See also: The best-kept travel secrets of New South Wales

See also: The seven wonders of NSW, named by the experts