From inspirational horseback adventures to kayaking and surfing, New South Wales has a wealth of invigorating outdoor adventures to choose from. James Ottery outlines 10 guaranteed to get hearts racing
Horse riding, Wolgan Valley resort and spa (James Horan / Destination NSW)
Taking to the saddle can be an enormously rewarding way of immersing yourself into the drama of the New South Wales outdoors. As with most activities here, the experience comes in myriad shapes and sizes. You can canter through the waves in Port Stephens, join a guided long-distance trail ride in the Blue Mountains or learn the cowboy-style horsemanship of a jackaroo or jillaroo in Tamworth.
The various ranches, schools and centres around the state cater for all skill levels, from beginners upwards, and many also give the option of accommodation in farmstays or remote homesteads.
Surfers heading out to catch a few waves (Destination NSW)
There’s arguably no outdoor activity more synonymous with Australia than surfing. A whole culture exists around the sport, and New South Wales is an excellent place to see what all the fuss is about.
Experienced surfers can head straight for the breaks at Crescent Head or Newcastle’s Merewether Beach, while those starting out can learn the basics from surf schools at iconic spots such as Diggers Beach, Coffs Harbour and, of course, Bondi Beach. In the north of the state, meanwhile, the fabled Byron Bay is a widely renowned surf hotspot in its own right.
Couple in Port Stephens with Paddling Eco Adventures (Destination Port Stephens)
Drifting through a sunny Australian morning with a paddle stroking the water and time on your hands is a blissful way to enjoy the region.
From mellow inland waterways and forest-ringed lagoons to river rapids and coastal journeys, New South Wales serves up a world-class range of different settings for kayakers.
One of the beauties of the sport is that it takes very little tuition, so even those launching out for the first time can be assured of a great experience. Almost all hire outlets also give options for canoeing and Stand-up Paddleboarding.
Byron Bay is a great bet, with guided kayaking tours with dolphins, whales and turtles.
Couple walking along trail through heathland, Blue Mountains (Destination NSW)
In a state with hundreds of protected parks, forests and reserves, few things are more liberating than strapping on your boots and yomping into the hills. The beautiful Blue Mountains make for a natural focal point, with dozens of short walks to choose from as well as longer, multi-day expeditions for serious hikers.
Various tour companies also offer fully guided walks that bring to life the flora, fauna and indigenous heritage of the area. Options elsewhere in the state are abundant, from Sydney’s famous Bondi to Coogee Coastal Walk to an ascent of Mount Gower on Lord Howe Island.
Snowboarding at Perisher, Snowy Mountains (Perisher)
In the south of the state, the Snowy Mountains become a winter sports playground between August and October each year, with options for downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, snow-shoeing and even night skiing.
There are four main resorts, the best known of which is Thredbo, where the country’s longest ski runs are found. It also has a good snow sports school.
The most notable of the other resorts is Perisher, which stands as the largest ski area of its kind in the southern hemisphere. The Snowy Mountains can be reached by road from Sydney, while the regional airport of Cooma makes internal flights another option.
Cyclists enjoying NSW's coastal views (Destination NSW)
New South Wales is heaven-sent for exploring on two wheels. Whether you’re after on-road or off-road cycling, coastal trails or rainforest routes, vineyard routes or mountain climbs, family-friendly loops or epic long-distance rides, the state has it all.
A classic option is the 90-kilometre Sydney to Wollongong cycle, which travels via the Royal National Park, while mountain-bikers won’t want to miss Tommos Loop, a 20-kilometre bushland adventure that gives deep scenic views across the Central Coast region.
If you’re after a large-scale event, L’Étape Australia draws thousands of riders to the Snowy Mountains every December.
Girls learning to abseil, Snowy Mountains (Jon Armstrong / Destination NSW)
The ancient rumpled topography of New South Wales lends itself brilliantly to caving, climbing, abseiling and canyoning.
In the Blue Mountains, the cluster of adventure tour operators in Katoomba offer a range of different rock-based options, with the Empress Canyon a particular focal point for beginner canyoners thanks to its lush scenery and suitability for wild swimming.
Other adventure hotspots around the state include Nowra on the south coast, renowned for its rock-climbing possibilities, and Bungonia National Park in the Southern Highlands, which is great for both climbing and caving.
Skydiving in Wollongong (www.skydive.com.au)
If you thought New South Wales looked good from the ground, wait until you see it from up high above it. Hot air ballooning, parasailing, hang-gliding and skydiving are all on offer here, meaning Champagne-sippers and fully badged adrenaline junkies are equally well catered for.
Balloon rides can be taken everywhere from the vineyards of the Hunter Valley to the coastal region around Byron Bay, while Port Stephens is where to head for parasailing.
Tandem skydives, meanwhile, are available at various locations across the state. Operator Skydive The Beach even have a drop zone just an hour south of Sydney.
Main image: Couple kayaking by Lagoon Beach on Lord Howe Island (Destination NSW)