Pristine beaches, ancient rainforests, charming outback towns, alpine mountains – NSW knows how to serve up amazing landscapes. And whether you’re after an easy weekend getaway or a longer family-friendly trip to tackle over the long summer holidays, there’s a road trip to match. Here are five of the best.
Sydney to Kiama
Awe-inspiring views and salty air will be your almost-constant companions on the road from Sydney to Kiama. Pack a picnic lunch, then set off, driving 45 minutes south to the Royal National Park where you can lay out a blanket at Reids Flat picnic area. This riverside spot is just the place to idle away an hour or two (there are gas barbecues for those keen on cooking up sausage sangas). Before you leave, take a quick dip in the Hacking River.
Next up? A bushwalk on one of the national park’s many walking tracks, or hop back in the car and head to Stanwell Park to drive along the 665-metre-long Sea Cliff Bridge, which gives the feeling of being suspended over the Pacific Ocean. In under an hour you’ll be in Wollongong, where you can spend the afternoon on the beach. Pop in to Levendi for a fish and chip dinner, then pull up stumps at the popular Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort.
On day two, stop off at Nan Tien Temple on your way out of town – it’s the largest Buddhist shrine in the Southern Hemisphere – make a booking to secure your spot. Then finish your journey in the coastal town of Kiama, home to the famous blowhole. It will delight the kids as it blasts seawater some 30 metres into the air (yes, you’re bound to get sprayed). From here, it’s less than two hours up the M1 back to Sydney.
Byron Bay to Mebbin National Park
The Northern Rivers region is renowned for its natural beauty – all lush green landscapes, national parks and waterfalls. Make the 49-minute drive inland from Byron Bay to Whian Whian Falls, where you can swim, fish and hike. Nearby, you’ll find the Nightcap National Park and the beautiful Protesters Falls waterfall. Nightcap National Park is also a great place to bird watch and picnic surrounded by ancient rainforest. Trust us, you’ll want hours to explore it.
Spend the night in the counterculture capital of Nimbin in a minimalist farmhouse nestled against a lush rainforest setting, and after breakfast, make your way to the heritage-listed Mebbin National Park, a 30-minute drive north. There, you can wander the Byrrill Creek walking track, an easy one-kilometre return stroll that can be tackled with little ones in tow.
On the way back to Byron, stop off in the charming small town of Uki. Time your visit to the third Sunday of the month and you can shop for arts and crafts at the Uki Buttery Bazaar Market, a monthly market held in a former butter factory. Or head just up the road for a stay at Mavis’s Kitchens & Cabins, a 25-acre former dairy farm offering B&B-style accommodation and a restaurant plating up country-style meals made from locally sourced, organic ingredients.
Sydney to Lightning Ridge
For a truly epic getaway, set the coordinates for Lightning Ridge. The historic mining town is around nine hours’ drive north-west of Sydney, but if you’ve got a week up your sleeve, you could stop off in some of country NSW’s most charming towns along the way.
Start by making the (very slight) detour into Newcastle to get a day or two of sun, sand and salt water with a stay at Noah’s On the Beach. From there it’s just over a three-and-a-half-hour drive to the country music capital of Tamworth, where you can grab a photo in front of the Big Golden Guitar, hit the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame and take the kids to the Tamworth Marsupial Park, which offers free entry and the chance to spot kangaroos, wallabies and emus.
When you get behind the wheel again, head towards Wee Waa. It has both a great name and a great bakery, where you can grab a pie, freshly baked cake and a cuppa before driving another two hours and 20 minutes to Lightning Ridge. Check into a family-run B&B, like Sonja’s Bed and Breakfast, and spend a day or two unwinding in the town’s naturally heated bore baths, gem shopping or fossicking for your own opals with Opal Mine Adventure.
Take an alternative route back to the big smoke and go via Dubbo, about three-and-a-half hours from “the Ridge”, to visit the famous Taronga Western Plains Zoo. From here, it’s a five-hour drive to Sydney.
Sydney through the Blue Mountains
You could spend a day or a week exploring the Blue Mountains. The lower mountains are a quick one-hour drive from central Sydney. Stop in Katoomba, where you can see the famous Three Sisters, a trio of sandstone peaks formed thousands of years ago. Antique shop your way around town, find great coffee at Cassiopeia or a next-level high tea at the Hydro Majestic, a historic hotel a few minutes out of Katoomba that offers wide-angle views over the Megalong Valley. If scones and jam aren’t your thing, opt for the Eastern High Tea with steamed dumplings and rice paper rolls. The kids’ option is OTT enough to guarantee much squealing.
Head through Blackheath and Lithgow before you reach Bilpin, known for its many apple orchards. Pick your own apples from February to May at Shields Orchard, or have a drink and nibble on woodfired pizza at Hillbilly Cider Shed, where there’s plenty of grass for the kids to run around on.
Once you’re back in the car, travel towards the Hawkesbury River, the ideal place to stay for a few days, taking things slow: fishing, kayaking or even hiring a houseboat for the night are all on the table.
Canberra to Kosciuszko National Park
The coast and the outback aren’t the only road trip options in NSW. To see a different side of the state, travel south-west from the nation’s capital and through the Snowy Mountains – you’re guaranteed alpine adventures and bracing mountain air.
From Canberra, head 90 minutes down the highway to Cooma. Try your hand at fishing at the Eucumbene Trout Farm, then have the staff prepare your catch on the barbecue for lunch. Next up is Jindabyne, where you can walk or bike around beautiful Lake Jindabyne, before sampling schnapps at Wildbrumby Distillery and Cafe.
Stay the night at the laid-back Lake Jindabyne Hotel and then make the 45-minute drive to Kosciuszko National Park, which is ideal for bushwalking, kayaking, fishing or even mountain biking in the warmer months. For the adventurous, discover the glittering stalactites and stalagmites of Yarrangobilly Caves before taking a relaxing swim in thermal pools.