NSW's top tourist attraction named at awards

Sydney's Taronga Zoo was named the best "major tourist attraction" at the NSW Tourism Awards on Thursday night.

The zoo, which attracted 1.5 million visitors last year, was praised for its international appeal, its scenic harbourside location and for raising awareness of environmental conservation.

Some of the zoo's innovative programs - including Roar & Snore, which allows visitors to stay overnight in five-star tents - were also recognised, along with its showcase of 3386 animals.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo won the best "tourist attraction" category for smaller operators.

Western Plains is spread across 300 hectares of bushland and is the only zoo in Australia where visitors can drive around.

Australian zoos are riding high on a wave of popularity, with the Melbourne Zoo also winning the top gong at the recent Victorian Tourism Awards.

Meanwhile, three businesses - Jenolan Caves, Moonshadow Cruises (which operates dolphin and whale-watching trips), and Sydney Harbour YHA - were inducted into the NSW Tourism Awards Hall of Fame for winning their categories three years in a row.

Byron Bay's Bluesfest was the winner of the "major events and festivals" category.

The festival started 24 years ago with 6000 people and now attracts more than 100,000. It has also clinched big-name performers, including BB King, Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Brown and Bob Dylan.


Among the 32 awards announced at Royal Randwick was the new category of "health and wellbeing tourism". It was won by Billabong Retreat at Maraylya. The 18-bed nature retreat also won the "unique accommodation" category.

Hunter Valley golf and spa resort Chateau Elan at The Vintage won "luxury accommodation" and Fairmont Resort MGallery won for "deluxe accommodation".

The Minister for Tourism and Major Events, George Souris, said tourism is a major factor in the NSW economy.

"Tourism currently contributes more than $50,000 every minute to the NSW economy, reflecting an increase of over 6 per cent since 2011," he said. "Tourism is the lifeblood of many of our state's regional towns."