Things to Do in New South Wales
Few sights are as instantly recognizable as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the grand centerpiece of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. The historic structure dates to 1932 and is the world's largest steel arch bridge. It's also an important transport hub, linking downtown Sydney with the north shore, Manly, and the area's northern beaches.
The Three Sisters is an ancient rock formation located in the Blue Mountains National Park in the town of Katoomba. The towering trio of stone has a mythical dimension in the Aboriginal Dreamtime legend about three sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley and fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe whom they were forbidden to marry.
The Sydney Opera House, a world-class performing arts venue and iconic Australian landmark, defines the Sydney Harbour in the heart of the city. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, the structure is a masterpiece of late 20th-century architecture, despite challenges that plagued the 15-year project before it was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. Distinguished by soaring halls with a white ceramic-tiled exterior shaped to evoke the sails of a yacht, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-see Sydney attraction.
With the iconic silhouette of Sydney Opera House and the dramatic arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge etched against a backdrop of glittering ocean and soaring skyscrapers, Sydney Harbour is Australia’s quintessential postcard image. The harbor, the natural heart of Sydney, features more than 150 miles (240 kilometers) lined with golden beaches, lush gardens, and vibrant neighborhoods.
Situated at the heart of Australia’s Blue Mountains UNESCO World Heritage Site, Scenic World offers the rare chance to explore the mountains from all angles. Ride overhead in a cable car, hike along the valley floor, ride a train through mountain tunnels, and discover some of the most impressive scenery in Blue Mountains National Park.
As Australia's easternmost and strongest lighthouse, Cape Byron Light is a main attraction for both the historical aspect of the building itself as well as the spectacular views it provides from the edge of Cape Byron. Opened for operation in 1901, the lighthouse provides Byron Bay visitors with a glimpse into the marine industry from years past when lighthouses had to be manned by live-in keepers so passing ships remained safe along the coast. Still active today, Cape Byron Light changed to a fully automated system in 1989, making a live-in keeper obsolete.
The eastern coast of Australia sees humpback whale migrations each year, and the lighthouse platform acts as the perfect vantage point for its 500,000 annual visitors, as well as the Southern Cross University's Whale Research Centre, which is located on the premises.
The lighthouse itself stands 74 feet tall (22.5 meters); an internal spiral staircase reaches from the lobby to its viewing platform. Onsite still stands the original lighthouse keeper's residence next to the assistant keepers' duplex. The original, kerosene-based light source has been upgraded over the years with a switch to electric in 1956. This is also the time when the light became the most powerful in all of Australia's lighthouses with an intensity of 2,200,000 cd.
With sun-blushed golden sands, surf-worthy waves, and a backdrop of forested hills; Main Beach is Byron Bay’s flagship beach. Stretching along the town’s seafront promenade, it’s a favorite among locals and draws sunseekers from all around the country to swim, surf, and scuba dive.
With everything from a classic F-111 to the first Australian-built Vampire F-30 fighter, Fighter World boasts an impressive collection of Australian fighter jets. The aviation museum, located on the Royal Australian Air Force Base in Williamtown, offers the chance to peek behind the scenes and climb into the cockpits.
Stockton Beach has sand like any other beach, but this New South Wales spot has dunes of sand that reach up to 90 feet high. Historically the beach has been the site of several shipwrecks; the wreckage of some continues to wash ashore. The most well known wreck was the Sygna, an enormous Norwegian freight ship that crashed during a storm in 1974. What remains of the ship can be seen from the beach and has become a local landmark.
Today the area is a popular camping, sand boarding and 4WD vehicle area due to its firm sands and massive sand dunes. Camel and horseback rides, quad biking, and surfing make the Stockton Bight sand dunes an adventure and activity hub. There is also fishing and scuba diving in the waters off the coast. Clear rock pools nearby are a fun way to see various marine wildlife as well. The coastal desert wilderness stretches nearly 20 meters.
Anyone who’s seen a picture of the Blue Mountains should recognize Echo Point. Famous for its view of the Three Sisters, this sweeping viewpoint on the outskirts of Katoomba defines the Blue Mountains’ beauty. From this cliff top ledge, the jagged escarpment vertically drops towards the distant valley floor—a void where clouds can linger in the treetops nearly a thousand feet below.
Take a deep breath and drink in the beauty of the Blue Mountains’ southern flank, and then consider walking the “Giant Stairway” that drops down into the valley. Over 800 stairs that are carved from the mountain descend 1,000 vertical feet, where numerous hiking trails weave their way along the forested valley floor. Climbing the walls of the “Ruined Castle” is a popular valley hike, and is a good way to escape the crowds that tend to gather at the viewpoint. Rather than hiking back up the stairs, take a ride on the “Scenic Railway” that leads back to the top of the cliff. At inclines of up to 60° it’s considered the world’s steepest railway, and drops passengers at Scenic World—a short walk from Echo Point Lookout.
More Things to Do in New South Wales
From the lookout at Minyon Falls, visitors will hear the roar of cascading, rushing water as it falls over the rock formations and gathers in a natural swimming pool down below. In addition to the waterfall, travelers can also catch coastal views and let the surrounding rain forest engulf their senses. Whether visiting the falls while passing through on a hiking trek or a cycling adventure, stop and enjoy this World-Heritage-listed wonder at Nightcap National Park.
Provided picnic tables and barbecue pits make the falls an excellent place to rest and refuel for the journey back out of the park. Take a dip in the freshwater pool beneath the falls before heading off!
Though six times the size of Sydney Harbor, Jervis Bay remains relatively undiscovered, despite containing the whitest sand beach in the world (Hyams Beach, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.) The clear turquoise waters located in the park are lauded as some of the purest in the world. Outside of its beautiful beaches, the park has wetlands, forests, and bays rich in Australian wildlife and Aboriginal artifacts. The diverse landscapes offer excellent bird-watching, hiking, snorkeling, and swimming.
Whales and dolphins have been known to make appearances, and fishing is plentiful and popular here. Greenfield Beach is a favorite area, with facilities for visitors. The main town of Huskisson is a launching off point for the many aquatic activities available in the Jervis Bay Marine Park. The protected area lies on 4,854 hectares in total, so there’s plenty to explore.
As Australia’s most famous beach—and the star of its own reality TV show, “Bondi Rescue”—Bondi Beach delivers with its crescent of golden sand, crashing waves, and crowds of bronzed sunseekers. Just minutes from downtown Sydney, this is the spot to work on your tan, hit the waves, sip cocktails at a beachside bar, or hike along coastal cliffs.
The sheltered, picturesque Wategos Beach is popular on Cape Byron for surfing and relaxing. Numerous picnic tables and electric barbecues allow visitors to enjoy the pristine surrounds over lunch. The nearby Cape Byron Walking Track passes behind the beach, calling for an afternoon stroll. Lifeguard patrols provide a safer beach environment during the busier summer months.
Little Wategos Beach offers a more secluded vibe given the fact it can only be reached by foot from the neighboring Wategos Beach. Little Wategos sits on the tip of Cape Byron, making it the easternmost beach on Australia's mainland. Although usually inviting, swimmers are encouraged to practice caution as strong currents can form even on mild days.
Besides swimming and surfing (longboarding does well here), the Wategos Beach area sees its fair share of fishing, particularly for flathead and whiting.
Perched on the edge of Sydney Harbour and backed by the sleek skyscrapers of the city’s central business district, Circular Quay is the scenic gateway to Manly Beach, Taronga Zoo, and Watson’s Bay. From this transportation hub—from which ferries depart every few minutes—you can enjoy unobstructed views of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Australian Reptile Park is a hands-on zoo and educational center on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Visitors to the park have opportunities to walk alongside a giant Galapagos turtle, take pictures with a koala, feed kangaroos, see tarantulas and venomous snakes, and watch a crocodile named Elvis eat his lunch.
Located in central Sydney, the historic precinct of the Rocks is the oldest area in the city and the site of the first European settlement. Full of history and character, today the Rocks is home to fashionable boutiques, artisan markets, historic pubs, trendy restaurants, and a thriving arts and culture scene.
This unique landmark—a massive rock fashioned into a cozy bench—was carved from sandstone in the early 1800s by Gov. Lachlan Macquarie for his wife Elizabeth. As the story goes, when the weather was warm and the sun high, Mrs Macquarie loved to relax at the point of this scenic peninsula and stare out over the ocean.
Today, travelers enjoy a leisurely walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair from the iconic Opera House or wander over to this historic attraction after a visit to the nearby Royal Botanic Garden. In a bustling city that’s alive with energy, the stone bench offers visitors a perfect place to unwind, relax and take in the some of the best views of Sydney Harbour.
The Southern Highlands of New South Wales are a combination of natural sites, including mountains, caves, and waterfalls, and quaint villages filled with historic homes and heritage sites. Visitors to the area can picnic, hike, or bike through Morton National Park or enjoy a leisurely afternoon in the Corbett Gardens of Bowral. Alternatively, visit the many historic manors and mansions that dot the small towns like Berrima, Bundanoon, and Bungendore. Charming cafes and traditional pubs round out the experience.
The rolling green hills of the Southern Highlands are home to cooler temperatures, with ideal conditions for producing wine. A handful of excellent vineyards are open for tours and tastings. Whether you’re exploring the outdoors — the Fitzroy Falls, Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk, Wombeyan Caves, to name a few — or soaking in the historic ambiance of small, old towns, the Southern Highlands provides a contrast to the bustle of urban life in Sydney.
Bondi beach might be Sydney’s most headline-grabbing beach, but another local favorite is right nearby – Tamarama Beach. The small bay stretches just 80 meters along the coast and it’s an idyllic setting, with its golden sands framed by rugged sandstone headlands and lush parks.
Tamarama has long had a reputation as one of the city’s most exclusive beaches and its young, fashionable crowds has earned it the nickname ‘Glamarama’ among locals. The consistent surf and big breaks also make Tamarama a top choice for adventurous surfers, but with dangerous riptides at both sides of the bay, swimmers are advised not to venture outside of the marked safe zones.
Australia is home to some of the world's most fearsome and fascinating wildlife, and at Featherdale Wildlife Park outside Sydney, visitors can meet over 1,700 of the country's colorful critters. Discover how echidnas are mammals (yet lay eggs); learn about the saltwater crocodiles that can grow to well over 2,000 pounds; admire the plumage of native birds such as brolgas, emus, and bustards; and view a collection of some of the world's most venomous snakes.
Guided feeding sessions are immensely popular at the park, with animal food available for purchase throughout the park for $2 and Featherdale staff members on hand to assist guests in feeding the kangaroos, wallabies, and pademelons. Guides also provide additional information about how the park is involved in conservation, highlighting the work done to reintroduce endangered species into the Australian wild and the park's ongoing research into some of Australia's most intriguing yet lesser-known species.
Although not offered by Viator, Featherdale also offers private animal encounters with a trainer for an additional fee (starting at $149), as well as personal koala encounters (starting at $20), during which travelers can pet and have their photo taken with the mammal. Guests are not allowed to hold koalas in accordance with New South Wales law.
With 65 hectares (175 acres) of fruit orchards and plantations open to visitors, Tropical Fruit World is one of the Gold Coast’s most unique tourist attractions. The eco-friendly, family-run farm grows over 500 varieties of tropical fruits, and visitors can not only go behind-the-scenes to discover the workings of the farm, but sample a delicious array of exotic fruits.
There’s plenty to see and do at Tropical Fruit World - take a Plantation Safari by tractor train, enjoy a wildlife boat cruise, ride a miniature train and get close to kangaroos, emus and Clydesdale horses at the fauna park. Of course, the best part is tasting the exotic fruits, juices and ice creams, so head to the Plantation Café to try unique varieties like cheese fruit, chocolate pudding fruit, caramel fruit and champagne fruit. There’s also a recreational area, with mini golf and a children’s playground; a fruit market where seasonal fruits like dragonfruit, jackfruit and papaya are on sale; and a shop, where you can purchase souvenirs like avocado oil cosmetics or home-made fruit jams.
Wentworth Falls is a charming town located in the Blue Mountains Heritage Site about 60 miles (100 kilometers) west from Sydney. Known for its eponymous waterfalls, the town has a number of walking and hiking trails, picnic and BBQ areas, a well-preserved Aboriginal site, and a charming downtown with historic buildings and gourmet coffee shops.
Stretching along the coast of Sydney Harbour against a backdrop of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney’s Royal Botanic Garden and neighboring park, The Domain, offer spectacular views and beautiful scenery. This inner-city oasis boasts exotic plants, a tropical rain forest, woodland, flowers, and rare horticultural exhibits.
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