New South Wales has plenty of famous sights, but that doesn't mean you should explore lesser known spots and off-the-beaten-track wonders. James Ottery highlights 11 of the best hidden gems
Bungonia Gorge (Sara Fife / Capital Country Tourism)
This gorgeous limestone swathe of the Southern Tablelands plays home to some of the deepest caves in the country, making it a magnet for climbers and spelunkers.
Located within a couple of hours of both Sydney and Canberra, the national park also has some excellent bushwalking trails and a good campground.
The caves in the park have been protected since as long ago as 1872.
Shelly Beach (Dreamstime)
The coastal Sydney suburb of Manly draws beach-lovers in droves, most of whom are drawn to the long sweep of Manly Beach itself.
Take a short walk to the southern tip of the bay, however, and you’ll reach this charming, tree-sheltered little spot. It’s particularly popular with snorkellers, thanks to the variety of marine life in the shallows offshore, and it has a full range of facilities. At the Beach House, you can even enjoy what some claim to be Sydney’s best fish and chips.
Windsurfers at Merimbula, Sapphire Coast district (Nick Rains / Destination NSW)
Located on the so-called Sapphire Coast, around 450 kilometres south of Sydney, Merimbula is fringed by national parks and serves up a swoonsome choice of shimmering lakes and golden beaches.
It’s perhaps best known, however, for its seafood, and in particular its rock oysters. Wheelers Oyster Farm runs dedicated tours that give a full overview of the town’s oyster-farming past, with an on-site restaurant to showcase the oysters themselves.
Mollymook beach, South Coast (Adam Taylor; Destination NSW)
The pleasingly named Mollymook is another haven on New South Wales’ long south coast, with good surf, a beachside golf course and a backdrop of wooded mountains. It’s a well-known spot among locals.
The fact that Rick Stein has an Asian-influenced seafood restaurant here tells its own story. However, the town often gets overlooked by the majority of overseas travellers. The beach here has also hosted international volleyball.
Water baths at Lightning Ridge (Nick Rains / Destination NSW)
The New South Wales Outback is a land of stark plains and broad horizons, so it serves as a natural home to Lightning Ridge.
The township’s suitably dramatic name is just the start. It also bills itself as the black opal capital of the world and gives opportunity for fossicking (searching for gold) and mine tours.
Don’t miss the unique Black Queen Theatre, created from 14,000 glass bottles and still hosting play performances daily.
'Courthouse Coffee' cafe in the Armidale mall (Paul Foley / Destination NSW)
Surrounded by a wealth of vineyards, gorges, waterfalls and national parks, the Northern Tablelands town of Armidale could never be accused of lacking in things to do.
It’s actually Australia’s highest city, although a population of under 25,000 means it’s no metropolis. You’ll instead find country-style pubs, an excellent regional art museum and an Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
North Beach, Wollongong (Dee Kramer Photography / Destination NSW)
New South Wales’ vibrant street food scene isn’t restricted to Sydney. The coastal city of Wollongong, known in typical Aussie fashion as 'The Gong', hosts the Eat Street Market every Thursday on Crown Street Mall between 5pm and 9pm.
Expect everything from truffle burgers and pulled pork to banana crepes, with a slant towards organic and seasonal produce. There’s also live entertainment.
Rock formation near Boyd's Tower at Red Point (Nick Rains / Destination NSW)
This two-to-three day walk through Ben Boyd National Park showcases the raw, ocean-bashed scenery of the far south coast, taking its name from the points that mark the start and end of the trail: Boyds Tower and the Green Cape Lightstation.
There’s very good whale-watching potential here, particularly during the southern migration months between September and November, while the land-based scenery varies from heathland and coves to red rock formations.
Cockatoo Island, Sydney (Destination NSW)A UNESCO-listed island in the western reaches of Sydney Harbour, Cockatoo Island was once a penal establishment for convicts, then latterly became the site of one of Australia’s biggest shipyards.
Bowral streetscape, Southern Highlands (James Horan / Destination NSW)
This little town is best known for being the former home of legendary cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, widely seen as the best batsman of all time.
There’s a good Bradman-related museum, as well as various flower gardens and restaurants, and the town’s location in the Southern Highlands makes it an enjoyable base for exploring the region.
Bowral’s other claim to fame is that the writer PL Travers reportedly wrote her Mary Poppins books here.
Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains (Jenolan Caves)
Less vaunted than visitor staples such as the Three Sisters and Wentworth Falls, the Jenolan Caves show a different, but no less spectacular, side to the Blue Mountains.
The subterranean network of nine caves displays some stunning rock formations and underground rivers, and maintains a constant 15 degrees Celsius throughout the year. Choose between guided, self-guided and themed tours. There’s even a night time option. Naturally, adventure caving is also on offer.
Main image: Beach at Merimbula, Sapphire Coast district (Nick Rains / Destination NSW)