We miss you, Australia. With borders closed and travel restrictions now in place, we here in NSW and the ACT miss our friends and relatives from interstate; we also miss their wine and their food, their beaches and their forests, their hiking tracks and their biking trails, their sand and their sun.
However, there's positivity to be sought in this crisis, and action to be taken before it is resolved. Because if this disrupted time in our history is an opportunity for anything, it's for taking the time to delight in the attractions we have of our own.
NSW and the ACT have all of those drawcards listed above. We have the beaches, the mountains, the culture, the sun. We have it all on our doorstep. And it's now time to experience it.
(And, sometime soon, it's going to be time for Victorians' to explore their own backyard again ... stay tuned)
INSTEAD OF The Barossa's wine and dine culture ...
TRY THE HUNTER VALLEY
Photo: Destination NSW
WHY IT'S GREAT You may think the Hunter Valley would have trouble competing with South Australia's famous Barossa region, but consider this: vines were first planted in the Hunter more than 20 years before the Barossa was developed; and this year, reviewer James Halliday's Wine of the Year was won by Hunter winery Brokenwood. With a burgeoning fine-dining scene, the Hunter also has plenty to offer on the food front.
DON'T MISS Call into some of the Hunter Valley's heavy hitters for a tasting – Brokenwood (brokenwood.com.au), Mt Pleasant (mountpleasantwines.com.au), Audrey Wilkinson (audreywilkinson.com.au) – and then sample some of the area's best restaurants. Try The Wood (thewoodrestaurant.com.au), Muse (musedining.com.au) or Margan (margan.com.au).
ESSENTIALS Wineries in the Hunter Valley, about 2.5 hours north of Sydney, are open year-round. Bookings, even just for tastings, are essential. See winecountry.com.au
INSTEAD OF The Bungle Bungles' otherworldly rock formations ...
TRY MUNGO NATIONAL PARK
The Walls of China in Mungo National Park. Photo: Destination NSW
WHY IT'S GREAT The Bungle Bungle Range in northern Western Australia is a thing of rare beauty, with undulating rock formations that capture the imagination. But wait until you see Mungo National Park, with its dry lake bed dotted with petrified sand dunes.
DON'T MISS There's more to Mungo than the rock formations, too: this part of Australia has extensive Indigenous history. It's the place where the world's oldest human cremation was unearthed, and 20,000-year-old human footprints have been found. This is also a great place to spot Australian wildlife.
ESSENTIALS Mungo National Park is near Mildura, in south-west NSW. The park is open year-round, with camping facilities on-site. Entry is $8 a vehicle. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
INSTEAD OF Coffin Bay's oyster farms ...
WHY IT'S GREAT South Australia's Coffin Bay is well known for its oysters, but also for its oyster tours, on which visitors spend time on a working farm and taste the freshest bivalves possible. That's also on offer in Merimbula and Pambula, on the NSW south coast, where some of Australia's best oysters are produced.
DON'T MISS Spend a few hours on Pambula Lake with Captain Sponge's Magical Oyster Tours, an on-water experience that includes visiting working oyster farms, learning how to shuck, and watching for native wildlife.
ESSENTIALS Pambula is a six-hour drive south of Sydney. Oyster tours cost $70 a person, $30 for children. See magicaloystertours.com.au
INSTEAD OF Perth's seaside beauty ...
Mahon Pool, Maroubra. Photo: Janie Barrett
WHY IT'S GREAT Few cities can boast the pristine city beaches of Perth, with their white sands lapped by turquoise waters – but Sydney is one of them. By some counts the NSW capital has more than 100 lovely stretches of sand, ranging from the surf-friendly to the family-friendly, from the deservedly famous (Bondi, Manly, Palm), to the pleasingly little-known (Chinamans, Store, Lady Martins). And Sydney's many beloved and historic sea pools, such as Maroubra's Mahon pool or Coogee's Wylie's Baths, are the icing on the cake.
DON'T MISS There are plenty of ways to enjoy Sydney's beaches (letsgosurfing.com.au), from taking a surf lesson in Bondi, to scuba-diving at Shelly Beach or Long Reef (divesydney.com.au), to tackling one of the many coastal hiking trails that link these beautiful patches of sand.
ESSENTIALS Sydney's beaches are free to access and open year-round. See sydney.com
INSTEAD OF Coober Pedy's underground dwellings
TRY WHITE CLIFFS
WHY IT'S GREAT Like Coober Pedy in South Australia, White Cliffs is an opal-mining town with plenty of character, and plenty of characters. It's also a dry, dusty place where the bulk of the dwellings, from houses to hotels, are underground, dug out of the living rock.
DON'T MISS There's plenty to do in White Cliffs even without the underground houses to check out: take a tour of a working opal mine (redearthopal.com), visit a local art gallery, see Australia's first solar power station, or visit nearby Paroo-Darling National Park.
ESSENTIALS White Cliffs is a 12-hour drive from Sydney, or 2.5 hours from Broken Hill. See visitnsw.com
INSTEAD OF Margaret River's coastal beauty
TRY BYRON BAY
Photo: Destination NSW
WHY IT'S GREAT Byron might not have the wine industry of Margaret River, but in terms of coastal bliss, you can't ask for much more than this idyllic spot in northern NSW. The vibe in modern-day Byron Bay ranges from the hippie to the hipster, from dream-catchers to dream villas – and all near those achingly beautiful stretches of sand.
DON'T MISS Though the town of Byron Bay is lively and lovely, don't forget to explore the surrounding area, including Brunswick Heads and Lennox Head on the coast, and Newrybar and Bangalow inland. Check out a local craft brewery, wander a market, eat at an upmarket restaurant.
ESSENTIALS Byron is an 8.5-hour drive north of Sydney. See visitnsw.com
INSTEAD OF Tasmania's hiking and biking
WHY IT'S GREAT Plenty of keen outdoor enthusiasts head to Tasmania chasing hiking and mountain-biking opportunities that are admittedly spectacular. However, with borders closed, why not head to Thredbo, ski resort in winter, and hiking and biking playground in the warmer months.
DON'T MISS For bikers, Thredbo offers Australia's only summer-long chairlift, which means access to a range of trails covering downhill, flow, all-mountain and cross-country styles. For those who prefer getting around on their own two feet, there's the chance to conquer Australia's highest mountain, part of an extensive network of trails through spectacular alpine scenery.
ESSENTIALS: Summer activities in Thredbo begin when the snow melts, with the Mountain Bike Park open from November 21. See thredbo.com.au
INSTEAD OF Melbourne's museums and galleries
WHY IT'S GREAT Yes, Melbourne probably still lays claim to being Australia's cultural hub. But have you visited Canberra recently? The nation's capital boasts an embarrassment of high-quality museums and galleries, from the famed Australian War Memorial (awm.gov.au) and the National Gallery of Australia (nga.gov.au) to the quirky and lesser-known likes of the Gallery of Small Things (galleryofsmallthings.com) and the National Archives of Australia (naa.gov.au).
DON'T MISS There are far too many special exhibitions and events happening in Canberra in the next few months to list here. One of the highlights, however, is the "Sidney Nolan and St Kilda" exhibition at the Canberra Museum + Gallery (see cmag.com.au).
ESSENTIALS Canberra is a three-hour drive south-west of Sydney. For museum and gallery exhibitions and opening times, see visitcanberra.com.au
INSTEAD OF The Whitsundays' white-sand beaches
TRY JERVIS BAY
WHY IT'S GREAT If you judge the beauty of a beach by the whiteness of its sand – a reasonable way to assess it – then you would love the likes of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays; but how about NSW's Jervis Bay? Hyams Beach has famously pristine sand lapped by clear water, and there are many quieter spots with just as much to boast.
DON'T MISS Steer clear of ever-popular Hyams and head instead to the likes of Greenfield, Chinamans or Huskisson beaches, or have a soak in Moona Moona Creek. Alternatively, venture out on a whale watching trip (dolphinwatch.com.au).
ESSENTIALS Jervis Bay is about a three-hour drive south of Sydney. See visitnsw.com
INSTEAD OF The Franklin-Gordon's pristine forests
TRY BARRINGTON TOPS
WHY IT'S GREAT Tasmania's Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park is well known for its old-growth forests which hug spectacular gorges and mountainsides. In NSW, meanwhile, we have Barrington Tops, a World Heritage area that is home to ancient Gondwana rainforests whose beauty and importance is almost unparalleled.
DON'T MISS To explore those forests, take to one of Barrington's many walking trails either solo or on a guided hike; have a picnic at Cobark Park; tackle the area's extensive four-wheel terrain; or just take in the splendour of Polblue Falls.
ESSENTIALS Barrington Tops is a three-hour drive north of Sydney. There are several picnic areas and campgrounds; see nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Itching to get out? These destinations are the furthest you can go in NSW
On the shores of the Murray River, literally a stone's throw from Victoria (if you've got a strong arm), Albury is a town divided right now, though still one with plenty to offer visitors. There are museums and galleries for culture buffs, a host of eateries and markets, plus fishing and boating on the Murray. See visitalburywodonga.com
Out in NSW's far south-west, at the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers, Wentworth is a small community with a big heart. There's excellent wildlife viewing out here, as well as river cruises, tours of nearby Mungo National Park, and plenty of local history. See visitwentworth.com.au
Broken Hill is Outback NSW at its finest, one of Australia's original mining boomtowns, a place with history and character, and one that's only a half-hour drive from the South Australian border. In Broken Hill you can visit an art gallery, take a 4WD tour, or walk the Silver City's Heritage Trail. See destinationbrokenhill.com.au
STURT NATIONAL PARK
Up in the far north-western corner of NSW, Sturt National Park is a sparse, rugged area that's known for its ancient connections to the Wangkumara people, as well as being a great place to spot rare waterbirds when Lake Pinaroo is in flood. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
You're so close to Queensland here you can almost touch it. But you can't, so instead concentrate on everything the Tweed has to offer, including great surfing along sun-kissed coastline, lush valleys dotted with character-filled communities, plus restaurants, distilleries and breweries. See visitthetweed.com.au