The Best of New South Wales

New South Wales is much more than just Sydney. Venture out to the mountainous western side of the state and the stunning coastline north of the famous city.

Highlights
1 Skinners Shoot Rd, Byron Bay NSW 2481, Australia
There is no place in the whole of Australia more laid back than Byron Bay, a once sleepy town on the New South Wales coast that now hosts yearly blues festivals. Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge is an extension of the vibe found throughout the town. Tucked behind the main drag on a long unpaved road, I was warned that I should bring mosquito spray, which I was soon glad to have. The backpacker haven is one of the most unique hostels you’ll find, as there are dozens of types of rooms, including tents, teepees, and even your standard dorm bunks. Amenities include a pool, courtesy shuttle, free yoga classes, laundry, kitchen and a cafe.
2600 Wolgan Rd
It doesn’t get more quintessentially Australian than this: waking up to a symphony of kookaburras and the heady scent of eucalyptus, the sight of kangaroos roaming freely about the 7,000-acre nature reserve. You might be tricked into thinking you’d slept under the stars—if it weren’t for the four-poster bed, flicker of a warm fire, and sunrise reflected from the glittering private pool. A three hours’ drive west of Sydney, this luxury ecolodge feels worlds away, surrounded by sandstone bluffs and sweeping plains filled with leafy gumtrees and Wollemi pines. It has 40 homestead-style villas that are as eco-friendly as they are indulgent: materials sourced within a 60-mile radius, solar panels for hot water and lighting. Highlights include the Aussie cuisine, mostly grown and sourced within 100 miles of the resort (and included in the all-inclusive rate, along with a premium minibar). A fruit orchard and edible garden supplies organic herbs, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.


The most intriguing aspect of the property is an original farmhouse, built around 1832, that hosted Charles Darwin in 1836. Today, the homestead functions as a museum that highlights the Indigenous, settler, and agricultural history of the valley. The comprehensive program of activities gets guests off the homestead: There are peaks to climb, glowworms to ogle, and horses to ride. Following a landslide in 2022, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley has faced access issues. It is temporarily closed.
Newcastle NSW, Australia
Take the train less than two hours north of Sydney for a relaxing weekend in Newcastle, a town of historic pubs, welcoming cafes, and beautiful beaches. A visit to the oddly named Bogey Hole is a quintessential Newcastle experience, as you can swim in the rock pool on the ocean carved by the convicts that populated the area. Known also as the Commandant’s Baths, it was constructed for the Commandant of Newcastle’s personal use in 1820.
34 Harrington St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Chiseled from a sandstone-and-brick wool factory on the site of Sydney’s first hospital, the Harbour Rocks Hotel is one of the most historic accommodations in the Rocks—and maybe the most haunted. Hotel staff say part of the building, named Scarlett’s Cottages after a well-known lady of the night, is watched over by Eric, a man who once lived here and who still searches for Scarlett in the labyrinthine corridors after she swore her love to him and then disappeared. Ghosts aside, the hotel’s 59 rooms are peaceful, with high ceilings, Georgian arched windows, brick walls painted dark gray, Old West–style textiles, and wool carpeting that recalls the building’s former life. The place is filled with fun artifacts, too, from the ancient luggage lift to old maps and letters framed on the walls. The early-20th-century history that pervades the building is also found in every direction outside its doors.
Bennelong Point, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House was inspired by its dramatic setting on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, a location that’s long been sacred to the native Gadigal people. While construction took 16 years, including four years to figure out the spherical solution to the icon’s soaring sails, any controversies melted away when the masterpiece was completed in 1973. The same outside-the-box thinking that built the shell-shaped sculpture seeps through its walls today in the form of boundary-pushing opera, theater, and dance as well as contemporary music and mind-opening lectures. The landmark is also home to the beloved Opera Bar and Bennelong Restaurant upstairs, where diners can eat pavlova shaped like the landmark in which they sit.
Sydney, Australia
Australia’s most famous beach has played many roles throughout history. In 1907, a group of local swimmers became the world’s first lifeguards; during World War II, it was fortified by barbed wire and iron stakes; and over the last few decades, it has become a play land for international backpackers. More recently, the bohemian surf hood has morphed into a lively dining and shopping hub, with restaurants ranging from standbys like Sean’s Panaroma to the friendly burger joint Bonditony’s to Italian favorite Da Orazio Pizza and Porchetta, opened by Icebergs Dining Room owner Maurice Terzino. (Don’t miss the pool and sauna at Icebergs either.) Once fed, check in at the QT Hotel, shop along Gould Street, and walk the stunning Bondi to Coogee coastal path.

Anyone can swim in this glorious pool for a mere $5.50. Mon-Fri: 6:00-6:30pm Sat, Sun: 6:30-6:30pm Closed Thursdays.
Named after the blue haze that cloaks the region—which some link to oil droplets from the multitude of eucalyptus trees—the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage area is a staggering 2.5-million-acre swath of sandstone canyons, cliffs, and tablelands, just a few hours west of Sydney. The Blue Mountains are a stronghold of natural and cultural values, from Aboriginal rock art caves and relics of early industry to rare plants and animals, including the glossy black cockatoo and the wollemi pine, a descendant of a 200-million-year-old tree family. For a day hike, you can’t beat the National Pass, which takes in deep canyon views and three waterfalls. Adventurers can also rock climb, abseil, mountain bike, or endure the 28-mile Six Foot Track.
Mrs Macquaries Rd, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
Sydney’s 158-acre botanic garden, which hugs the harbor between Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House, is home to nearly 9,000 plant species. Depending on the season of your visit, you might seek out spring peaches and wisteria or tropical orchids and summer lotus flowers. On any occasion, don’t miss descendants of the 200-million-year-old Wollemi pine, a dinosaur of a conifer only discovered in 1994. The gardens are also studded with sculptures from historical statues to modern works by Bronwyn Oliver, Paul Selwood, and Keld Moseholm. The quartz-and-sandstone Wurrungwuri depicts an Aboriginal shield once used by the traditional owners of this land. Tours are offered throughout the year, including a 1.5-hour Aboriginal history tour on the food and medicinal properties of native Australian plants.
Sydney NSW, Australia
I love visiting big iconic bridges during the sunset. Trips at dusk to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge have resulted in spectacular photographs of the urban landscape. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was another great experience! The bridge is accessible by foot or by bike and is surrounded by some of the biggest attractions in Sydney. More adventurous types might opt for the Bridge Climb Tour (http://www.bridgeclimb.com/) where participants get to scale the summit of the 134-meter arch for panoramic views of the city. And yes, they offer a Twilight Tour near sunset (and a dawn tour at sunrise). We were content walking across the bridge on the pedestrian walkway. It was a brisk spring evening in Sydney, and we didn’t envy the tourists climbing the bridge overhead. The views from the bridge are stunning in every direction, and it is a magnificent vantage point to see the Sydney Opera House and the Central Business District.
140 George St, The Rocks NSW 2000, Australia
Set on the western side of Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) is the country’s leading institution for modern art. While access to touring international exhibitions from the likes of Tatsuo Miyajima and Annie Leibovitz incurs an entrance fee, the permanent collection of more than 4,000 contemporary works by Australian and Torres Strait Islanders, from Gary Carsley to Lena Yarinkura—plus a rare collection of artist notebooks, music, letters, and sketches—is always free. Come on Wednesday night when the gallery is open until 9 p.m., or for the adults-only Art Bar on the last Friday of the month. The rooftop café offers occasional live music and DJs plus glittering views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge after dark.
Harbour St, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia
The largest and most storied of the Sydney Harbour islands, Cockatoo was once an Aboriginal fishing ground, a naval shipyard, a girls’ reform school, and a gruesome prison. Today, it offers fascinating walking tours, a casual café, and a number of events such as the Biennale of Sydney. When most visitors line up in the evening to catch the ferry home, those staying on the island are just setting off on a leisurely sunset stroll. They can watch the city light up from what feels like another world and then retreat to their campsite, canvas “glamping” tent, heritage home, or modern apartment until they wake up to birds and boats the next morning.
Newcastle NSW, Australia
Take the train less than two hours north of Sydney for a relaxing weekend in Newcastle, a town of historic pubs, welcoming cafes, and beautiful beaches. A visit to the oddly named Bogey Hole is a quintessential Newcastle experience, as you can swim in the rock pool on the ocean carved by the convicts that populated the area. Known also as the Commandant’s Baths, it was constructed for the Commandant of Newcastle’s personal use in 1820.
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