Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales, is just a stone's throw from national parks, sandy beaches and beautiful mountains, and tourists miss out on the region's incredible natural beauty if they don't venture beyond the confines of the city.
From the coastal regions north and south of Sydney to the mountains, valleys and wineries found further inland, within a three hour drive of the city there's a lot of variety in the landscapes. And while New South Wales offers plenty for adventure travellers willing to rough it in more basic accommodation, the more discerning traveller can enjoy luxurious, tailor made holidays to Australia staying in sumptuous lodges and spas even in the most remote of destinations.
Blue Mountains National Park and Thirlmere Lakes
Driving inland from Sydney for about an hour and a half, you find yourself amidst the hazy blue forests and sandstone outcrops of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains National Park, exploring the landscapes to the sounds of squawking parrots. Attracting more than three million visitors each year, this dreamy region offers spectacular bush walks with views of deep canyons and gorges, rainforests, waterfalls, eucalyptus trees and Aboriginal sites. The Katoomba Scenic Railway, originally constructed for a mining operation in the Jamison Valley in the 1880s, is the steepest railway in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records, and is now open to tourists. Alternatively, if you have a head for heights you can ride on the Scenic Skyway, a glass-bottom aerial cable car that glides across the gorge above the Katoomba Falls, 200 metres above the valley floor. If heights isn't your thing, the Megalong Australian Heritage Centre offers land-based wilderness adventures on horse back or in a 4x4.
Within a couple of hours' drive north of Sydney, the Central Coast boasts some lovely coastal towns, stunning beaches and several National Parks with lakes and abundant bird and wildlife.
The Entrance is one of the region's most attractive coastal towns, in a beautiful setting surrounded by lakes and lagoons, bush walks and surf spots, while Tuggerah Lake is great for a lazy day cruising across the water, and Bateau Bay offers whale-watching trips from May to October. Avoca Beach has some well-known surf spots, and Ettalong Beach is popular with young families, with Bouddi National Park nearby.
For cheese and wine tasting, you can't beat the Hunter Valley, located just a few hours' drive north of Sydney. Home to many working wineries, some offer tours and tastings – including Rothbury Estate, McWilliams Mt Pleasant Estate and Tyrrels. Fast emerging as a gourmet region as well as a wine-producing centre, there are plenty of good al fresco restaurants scattered about the valley offering fine dining, and the drives themselves are beautiful, passing through rolling countryside and bush land. Once the novelty of wine-tasting has worn off, you could go canoeing on the Hunter River; play golf at one of the region's courses; visit Tomago House, a beautiful National Trust property; ride on the Richmond Vale steam train; or splash out on a hot air balloon flight at sunrise.