Breath-taking views are just the beginning when exploring New South Wales' natural attractions, writes Nina Karnikowski
Whether you prefer bushwalking through otherworldly landscapes or hot-air ballooning over winelands at sunrise; kayaking or houseboating down majestic rivers or hiking along rugged coastlines, New South Wales provides an abundance of outdoor adventure options. Here's why you should put it on your must-visit list as we look forward to borders opening again.
Warrumbungle National Park
Crafted from intense volcanic activity more than 13 million years ago, the Warrumbungle National Park in central-west New South Wales offers incredible walks through dense bushland punctuated by soaring rock spires. Follow the 14km Breadknife and Grand High Tops trail to see the park's most famous formations, or the Belougery Split Rock track, which snakes up an ancient lava dome. Keep an eye out for rare flora, including brilliant orange pea flowers and nodding blue lilies, and Aboriginal artefacts along the way. Australia's only Dark Sky Park, this region is also perfect for stargazing and is home to Siding Spring Observatory, which has Australia's largest optical telescopes.
Royal National Park
Less than an hour's drive south of Sydney's CBD, the Royal National Park is the world's second-oldest national park after Yellowstone in the US, and is home to one of Australia's most stunning coastal walks. The two-day Coast Track walk between Bundeena and Otford weaves along the sculptured sandstone coastline, passing secluded inlets and beaches including Wattamolla, Burning Palms and Garie, and with panoramic views over the Pacific. Hire a boat to take out on the quiet waters of Hacking River, check out some of the fascinating Aboriginal rock carvings dotted throughout the park, and visit during migration season (May to November) to spot humpback whales breaching off the coast.
Mungo National Park
In the 1960s, human remains thought to be 42,000 years old were unearthed in Mungo National Park, indicating its ancient indigenous history. Covering more than 110,000ha of blazing ochre landscape between Adelaide and Sydney, Mungo is part of the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, a series of ancient dried-up lakes that look like a Star Wars set. Hike, bike or drive past pinnacles of sand and clay sculpted by wind and water over tens of thousands of years, spotting emus, kangaroos and birds of prey along the way.
Blue Mountains National Park
A 90-minute drive west from Sydney, the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains combine dramatic sandstone cliffs, gorges that plunge 1000m deep, and eucalypt forests that give the area its famous misty blue haze. The park's most striking vista is the iconic Three Sisters rock formation which, according to Aboriginal legend, represents three young women who were turned into stone. The park is criss-crossed with walking trails, weaving past waterfalls cascading off cliffs, and through gorges and canyons that are a haven for wombats. Leave time to visit the Jenolan Caves, one of the world's most impressive cave systems filled with otherworldly limestone formations and underground rivers.
Tomaree National Park
If it's a spectacular sunset you're after, plan a dusk hike to the summit of Mt. Tomaree near Port Stephens, where you'll be treated to 180-degree views over the clear waters of Shoal Bay, and across to Fingal Spit and Zenith Beach. No matter which of the numerous scenic walks you choose within the national park, keep your eyes peeled for koalas dozing in the eucalypts and the tell-tale spray of humpback whales on the horizon. And bring your togs and picnic basket — the beaches here are ideal for picnics, swimming, snorkelling and surfing.
Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island
A volcanic relic dating back seven million years and rising to 875m, Mount Gower is Lord Howe's highest mountain, set at its southern end. The challenging eight-hour return trek takes you through dense rainforest, past precipitous cliff ledges and up steep rock staircases, but it's worth every challenging step for the astonishing views over the island from the summit. Recover by flopping on one of the island's pristine white-sand beaches or snorkelling on the southernmost coral reef on the planet. And if you're looking for a sumptuous stay, check out the stunning Capella Lodge.
Yuraygir Coastal Walk, Yamba
The multi-day Yuraygir coastal walk starts in Yamba and hugs the majestic Clarence River, following the longest stretch of protected coastline in New South Wales. As you pass through the traditional homelands of the local Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl people you'll weave through littoral rainforests, past paperbark swamps, creeks and lagoons, and along lengthy sandy beaches where you can stop for ocean swims. Plan overnight stays at beach campgrounds, or inns in the picturesque villages along the way, including Yamba, Angourie and Brooms Head.
Hunter Valley Hot Air Ballooning
The last stars will still be being snuffed out of the night sky when you arrive for your hot-air balloon ride over the Hunter Valley wine region. But it will be worth the early rise for the bird's-eye views over the region's vineyards and rolling hills, and the sense of weightlessness and peace as you float up above the world. Post-flight, indulge in some wine tasting at some of the region's best vineyards, including Tyrells, Brokenwood, Krinklewood and Harkham Wines.
Snowy River Kayaking
Travel down one of Australia's most iconic rivers on a multiple day kayaking or rafting trip, visiting along the way Aboriginal sites that have hardly been touched since European settlement. Paddle through magnificent steep-sided granite gorges and through wild rapids, camp on the sandy riverside under the stars, and spot native wildlife including emus, kangaroos, platypus, Snowy River brumbies and more. Spring is the best time of year to visit, when the river flows higher due to the snowmelt in the mountains.
Houseboating down the Murray River
Seeking a less active aquatic adventure? Consider cruising down the serene, gum-lined shores of the majestic Murray River on a houseboat. Floating down Australia's longest river, you'll stop for swims in the cool, tea-coloured water, moor on the grassy banks for a wander, or maybe throw a line in to catch some fresh Murray cod for dinner as pelicans and black swans swim by. After the sun sets over the smooth water, lie on the deck under the night sky, soaking up the deliciously slow pace of life.
Glamping at Paperbark Camp
If you like the idea of camping but don't want to actually pitch a tent, Paperbark Camp in Jervis Bay provides a solution, with 12 smart African-inspired canvas tents set permanently amongst eucalyptus and paperbark trees. The tented bush retreat is solar-powered, accredited by the Ecotourism Association of Australia, and serves food that's either grown on-site or locally sourced at their Gunyah treetop restaurant. Spend your days bushwalking, creek kayaking, swimming and surfing, or simply reading in bed as kangaroos bounce by.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Australian borders are currently closed to New Zealand passport-holders but a transtasman bubble is being investigated by both Australia's and New Zealand's governments. In the meantime, go to sydney.com/nz for more information, ideas and inspiration.