New South Wales has been our home state for four years and we've loved taking every opportunity to explore. It's bigger than many countries and can take well over 12 hours to trip from the top to bottom.
It's the place I visited in 2003 that convinced me to want to emigrate here. Within one state you'll see paradise beaches, stunning mountains, one of the most incredible cities in the world and a lifestyle that is the envy of many. So why not hire a car, slow down the pace and take in some of our favourite weekend getaways from Sydney.
1 hour 30 from Sydney by car, 100km
It's would be criminal to visit Sydney and not see The Blue Mountains, especially as it is just a stone's throw away. It's one of our favourite places in the world and is a spectacular introduction to the Aussie Bush that caters for the adventurous and the cautious equally well.
We strongly recommend doing this independently as tours often rush through some of the main sites, stopping at a zoo and/or the Olympic Park en route. This normally leaves you with a couple of hours in the mountains before you have to turn around and go back.
The alternative is to drive which is a 1.5 hour journey from Sydney. We advise avoiding the rush hour traffic as Parramatta Road is stationary between 4.30pm and 6pm after work.
Where to stay in the Blue Mountains
Our Pick - The Fairmont
Based in leafy Leura, the Fairmont has an incredible view of the Jamison Valley from the lobby. The rooms are incredibly comfortable (as you'd imagine from an M Gallery Sofitel) and are the perfect place to rest after a day's hiking. The hotel also has walking tracks from the property to some great lookout points.
Bucket list: Wolgan Valley
We've been drooling over this place ever since we moved to Australia. It is one of the most luxurious hotels in the whole of Australia in a picturesque rural setting of mountains and kangaroos. We've always wanted to go but haven't quite managed to save up the $2,500 AUD per night to get the entry level room! We can keep dreaming though....
Budget - YHA Katoomba
The YHA Katoomba has often been our go-to hotel when visiting the Blue Mountains for a quick overnight stay after a long walk. It offers private en-suite rooms which are spotless clean, comfortable and incredible value. Being able to cook your own food in the kitchen also helps or you can walk a hundred metres to our favourite Indian restaurant - Anki's.
The Hunter Valley
2 hours by car, 160km
Aussie wine is giving the rest of the world wineries a run for their money and some of the best are grown in the Hunter Valley, a region that's two hours north of Sydney.
There are a vast number of wineries on offer so if you're a real wine buff you can really get quite niche.
There are regular testings, often free or you have the fee returned on buying a bottle.
The Hunter isn't just wine though.
It's a great spot for indulgent dining and is a stunning setting simply to just enjoy the Australian countryside.
If you're feeling active you can rent bikes and sip and cycle between the vines.
Our top vineyard picks
Brokenwood: A staple in our flat, Brokenwood makes some of the best red wine in the Hunter (we highly recommend The Cricket Pitch, a beautiful blend of multiple grapes). You can visit their cellar door for tastings, but they charge a small fee ($5).
Gun Dog: Another favourite of ours not only produces great wine, but has a great coffee shop on site too if you need a little pick me up from wine fatigue. The white wines here are particularly good.
Scarborough Wines: Scarborough is a great choice for white wine, but also has one of the best views for sunset. The vineyard points west and is on the top of a hill, making it the perfect spot for when the sun goes down. You'll likely see huge numbers of cockatoos squawking over the vines.
Audrey Wilkinson: Audrey Wilkinson is probably the most picturesque vineyard in the Hunter Valley and is set in a beautifully secluded rural setting. The wines are good, but you come here for the views.
Margan: Hands down our favourite restaurant in the Hunter Valley. Almost all food is grown and farmed on site and it's cooked to perfection. Also being a winery needless to say the wine list is excellent too. We had a special dinner here in the winter and enjoyed the roaring fire and beautiful setting. If you want to splurge, this is the place to do it.
Margan is in a quieter part of the valley, Broke, so if you're staying Pokolbin it will be around a 25 minute drive.
Where to stay
Our pick - Elfin Hill
Beautiful and stylish rooms that feel like you're a million miles away from civilisation. We stayed here for a friend's wedding and didn't want to leave after two nights! It's in a great location and is a very short distance from several of the wineries in Pokolbin.
High-End - The Crowne Plaza
A hotel that overlook a golf course with kangaroos that pretty much live there? Yep, that's the Crowne Plaza in the Hunter Valley. It's a place that comfortable and cozy (especially on those cool winter nights) and is in a great location for the wineries. You kinda know what you get with a Crowne Plaza!
Just over an hour's flight from Sydney or 9 hour drive
There's nowhere else in Australia like Byron Bay with it's laid back hippy vibe.
It's the perfect place for a relaxing getaway and the food is always amazing.
If you like falafel don't go past orgasmic falafel, it's the best we've even eaten.
Best things to do:
Take in sunset at the Lighthouse - The lighthouse at Byron Bay is an icon stop for sunset. You can combine sunset with a short walk from Wategoes beach and take in the coastal views along the way. We saw dolphins and sharks from the cliff tops here, it's a short but magical walk.
Chill at Wategoes Beach - Byron Bay is all about the chilled beach vibes and we'd pick Wategoes as the beach to visit. It doesn't get as busy as Byron beach and has some great views.
Minyon Falls -If you're looking for an epic waterfall, then Minyon Falls is the place to go. From the car park you can see the top of the falls or take the walking trail down through bush land to go to the base of the falls. The trail also offers pleasant views of the surrounding bushland but the falls are truly magnificent.
Just make sure it's rained before you go, as we recently turned up to find it bone dry (four months of drought in Australia can do that!).
Killen Falls is by far the easiest waterfall to get to in the area and is a short walk from the car park. It's a pleasant stroll to either a viewing platform or the base of the falls for a dip. Although Killen doesn't dry out, it's better after a bit of rain too!
The alternative is to fly to either to Ballina with Rex Airlines (30 minute drive from Byron Bay) or Coolongatta on the Gold Coast (1 hour drive).
Where to stay in Byron Bay
Our Pick - The Bower
You'll see why this is a favourite with Instagrammers as this place is so stylish (this is Byron Bay after all) and cozy, you'll find it hard to peel yourself away from the room. It's only a 15 minute walk away from Byron Bay and is the perfect place to base yourself while you explore.
Budget - YHA Private En-Suite
Australian YHA's are all of a great standard and the Byron Bay YHA is no different. Whilst the private rooms are a little on the small side, they are spotlessly clean and you can get yourself a private bathroom (something you'll want in a beachside town). It couldn't be in a better location, being really close to the beach and the Lighthouse. The private rooms can sell out quick, so you'll want to book in advance!
3 hour drive, 183km
Jervis Bay is an absolute must if you are planning a weekend away from Sydney.
It's hard to believe this absolute paradise lies just two and half hours drive from the city.
It made our favourite beaches in New South Wales, it's a no brainer when this beach is in the Guiness Book of Records for having the whitest sand in the world.
What to do
Hyams Beach is clearly a must, with the whitest sand in the world. The water is turquoise, and perfect for swimming, even in winter it still felt quite warm. It can get busy so if you want a more peaceful experience visit midweek or early mornings on a weekend.
There is a great cafe just behind the beach which we definitely recommend for coffee and cake!
Plantation Point is more of a locals beach and it was an incredible place to watch the sunrise. We wouldn't say to visit instead of Hyams but if you have time you won't regret it.
Huskisson is another popular white sand beach, it seems to stretch for miles so there's lots of room to spread out on this one. There's a nice walk/cycle way running behind it, the bay walkway, and it's a great place to look out for dolphins from the shore. You can also hire kayaks and stand up paddle boards if you want to get out on the water.
Greenfield is much smaller than the other beaches on this list. It definitely felt a lot more secluded. We came to it on the White Sand Walk and the only other people around were passing through on this track too.
Murray Beach was almost as good as Hyams in our opinion. Breathtaking white sand and turquoise water. It's located in the Booderee National Park so you do have to pay the ACT national parks pass ($12) to enter. The bay is sheltered by Bowen Island so the water was very calm. It was pretty busy in the middle of the day but it had a great, relaxed family vibe.
Where to stay: It's quite a big area and after staying in a couple of different locations we would definitely advise that you book accommodation around Vicentia or Huskisson. The first time we stayed in Callala and though it is quiet and pretty, it is further from most of the main attractions and the beach has quite a lot of seaweed, so it's not quite the paradise you will have seen in the photos.
1.5 hours, 120km
The Southern Highlands are often overlooked by international visitors, but it is well worth a trip.
Two hours south of Sydney you'll find a collection of picturesque towns set in a beautifully rural part of NSW.
It's an area that has great walking tracks, mountains, waterfalls and rolling countryside, making it a great spot for a weekend away.
Best things to do
Kayaking - On a sunny day, there's nothing better than leisurely kayaking down the Kangaroo River. It's pretty easy going and a really pleasant way to see the local area. It starts at the Hampden Bridge and most companies can arrange to pick you up along the river and drop you back to the start.
Fitzroy Falls - Fitzroy Falls is a big waterfall set in a stunning cliffside and you can enjoy multiple views of it and the surrounding valley on the short walking trail. It's best to go after there's been a bit of rain to see it in full flow.
Gloworm Glen - If you love your gloworms then head to Bundanoon. It's a short walk to the glen which lights up with hundreds of gloworms. It's best to go as late as possible as you'll have the whole place to yourself.
Sleepy Burrows - Sleepy Burrows is a heart-warming sanctuary for orphaned wombats. These endangered animals are looked after by the incredibly hardworking and dedicated Donna and Phil. Visits need to be organised in advance, but it's well worth seeing this amazing cause in person.
Where to stay in the Southern Highlands
Our pick - Yallambee B&B
Yallambee is one of our favourite B&B's in Australia and it's worth going to Bundanoon just to stay here! David & Bronwyn offer hospitality unlike we've ever seen at this beautiful little B&B in the heart of rural New South Wales.
The breakfasts they served were home-cooked wonders and we looked forward to the breakfasts so much that we got up early like it was Christmas Day! The rooms are also really comfortable, cozy and immaculate. We also regularly saw wombats and king parrots on the roads near the house and it's also walking distance to the gloworm glen.
Cedars has various cozy self-contained options, but if it's available go for the yurt! You'll be surrounded by quintessential rural New South Wales with farmland, wildlife, gumtrees and the highlands in view. It's the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
The South Coast
1.5 - 3 hours, 80 - 220km
We'd argue that the best beaches in New South Wales are on the south coast and there are hundreds to chose from.
But it's not just beaches, there's wildlife, amazing hikes and interesting villages along the way too.
Best things to do
Chill on your own beach - The South Coast is the place to go for stunning beaches that you can have all to yourself. There's so many and you can choose from the surf at Mollymook, to the wild national park fringed beaches at Murramarang National Park.
Hike - The South Coast has some of our favourite hikes in the state with the classic Murramarang loop, the leg burning Pigeon House Mountain and the phenomenal views at Drawing Room Rocks.
Get close to the wildlife - The South Coast has some of the best spots to get up close to Aussie wildlife. You can chill with the roos on the beach at Pebbly Beach or watch whales and dolphins at Jervis Bay.
The town of Berry is a great choice for a weekend away and is the entry to the Southern Highlands.
To most Sydney-siders, the town is known as a stop en-route to places such as Jervis Bay and Ulladulla (it's also known for it's famous doughnut van), but it's a great destination in it's own right.
Especially now the by-pass has been completed, taking away the traffic that congested the town.
It's full of great coffee shops, the wonderful Berry tea room (try the pear and chocolate cake) and restaurants as well as several shops in a rural Australian setting. It's a good place to base yourself to hike up Drawing Room Rocks, take in the sea at Shoalhaven Heads or venture down to Kangaroo Valley.
Bawley Point isn't on most people's radar, but if you're looking for wild beaches and untouched national park, then look no further.
It has one of our favourite walks in New South Wales (check out the Murramarrang Hike in our blog) and you can even spend time with the local kangaroos on the beach.
It's also got plenty of beautiful beaches and it's a great spot for camping.
Where to stay in Bawley Point
Our Pick - Bawley Point Bush Retreat
There aren't too many options in Bawley Point, but Bawley Point Bush Retreat is the best place to stay. Although it was fully booked when we visited, we've heard good things and would recommend it.
Ulladulla / Mollymook
If you're looking for coastal towns with a bit more bustle, then the towns of Ulladulla and Mollymook should be your choice.
These seaside towns are great for surfers and have a bit more going on than many of the other nearby towns.
It's the entry point for the Pigeon House Mountain hike, which provides incredible panoramic views of the area and is a great adventure with ladders up sheer rockface.
Where to stay in Mollymook
Our Pick - Bannisters
A stylish place with ocean views from the top of a cliff and one of NSW's best restaurants on site. Yep, Bannisters has it all. We visited this place when Rick Stein (famous UK Seafood chef) owned it and we immediately fell in love with the place. Once more, it's one of those places where you'll find it hard to leave the room to explore!
Budget - Harbourview Apartments
A great option in Ulladulla, Harbourview ticks all the boxes whilst saving on the pennies. The rooms are spacious and really comfortable, and it is really close to town. We stayed here during the October long weekend and found it to be a great place to explore this part of the South Coast.
If you're planning on visiting Sydney then check out our following blogs:
The Australia Lonely Planet Guide
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Are you planning on visiting New South Wales? What part of this great state would you visit? Let us know in the comments below.