New South Wales Travel Guide

Stretching north past the seaside resort town of Byron Bay, west to outback Broken Hill, south to the mighty Murray River, and loosely centred around Australia's largest city of Sydney, New South Wales was the first state in Australia. It has the largest population and is home to historic buildings, the remarkable Blue Mountains and a great climate between the heat of north Queensland and the freeze of the southern states. If you could only visit one state in Australia, New South Wales would be it.

Regions of New South Wales

The state is divided into 152 local government areas, and while they all have their virtues, you can loosely group them together in the following 'tourist regions':


Sydney is located roughly in the middle of the state on the coastline. It's the state capital and has a population of over 4 million people.

The South Coast

Drive an hour and a half south of Sydney, past the coal mines in the imposing mountains behind Wollongong, and you'll start finding small surfing and dairy farming communities hugging the rugged coast. The beaches get more deserted (and beautiful) as you head further south while the waves get bigger and the water gets colder. The naval base and marine park at Jervis Bay is a particularly spectacular highlight, but the real charm lies in the seaside towns; the names, such as Mollymook, Ulladulla and Huskisson, say it all.


Head an hour and a half north of Sydney and you'll hit Newcastle. BHP shut down its giant steel mills a few years ago, and there were fears the city (the sixth-largest in the country with around 500,000 people) would collapse, but it soldiers on and is full of history.

The Central Coast

A favourite weekend getaway destination for Sydney-siders, this part of the coast (between Sydney and Newcastle) was once a string of sleepy seaside towns. These days it's a land of giant shopping malls and chain resorts.

The Snowy Mountains

They aren't as high or as cold, (and quite frankly they're not as snowy) as the mountains on other continents, but in winter they are a ski playground and in summer it's a bushwalking/mountain biking/fly fishing paradise. Base yourself in Jindabyne and save a bit of money, or splash out and head to the resorts at Perisher Blue and Thredbo.

Northern NSW

Set against a backdrop of gorgeous mountain ranges, cane fields and desolate surf beaches, northern NSW gets more alternative as you go. Port Macquarie is an historic river town dating back to colonial days and hugely popular with families, Byron Bay is the original place to turn on, tune in and drop out, while Nimbin hosts the annual Mardi Grass festival.

Western NSW

Head over the Great Dividing Range and it won't be long until you find yourself in the outback; a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding plains. Small towns hang on for dear life, drought-wracked farms pray for rain while the mining centres like Broken Hill carry on doing what they've been doing for a hundred years.

The Murray Region

The irrigated Murray Region, following the Murray River along the border of NSW and Victoria is famous for its vineyards and orchards.

Check out our things to do in New South Wales page for holiday ideas, attractions and links to the best places to stay.

History of New South Wales

Captain Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia in 1770 and named the whole thing (4500km of coastline) in honour of South Wales in Great Britain. The visual link between the two areas is tenuous, although in 1770 they both featured lots of trees (and these days they both have their fair share of coal mines). Cook's view of NSW was entirely coastal and presumably his acquaintance with South Wales was similar. They both have beaches, cliffs and trees, but the similarities stop there.

If Cook had ventured inland he would have found that on the other side of the Great Dividing Range (the strip of mountains and plateaus which stretches the length of Australia's east coast) it was pretty much all desert. Regardless, Cook though it was a good place for a new British settlement and made particular mention of a bay on the south side of present day Sydney, which he thought would be a great place for a new city.

The History of Australia and the History of Sydney fill in the next 50 or so years, but to cut a long story short; in 1788 England did indeed send a fleet of settlers to Sydney to form the colony of New South Wales. The settlers struggled at first to make ends meet, but numerous explorers and surveyors were sent inland to find suitable farming territory and by the 1830s a profitable wool industry had developed. In 1836 the colony of South Australia was carved off from NSW and was quickly followed by Victoria (in 1851), Queensland (in 1859) and the Northern Territory (1863), leaving NSW with its current borders and size (a bit bigger than Texas and a roughly similar shape). Gold, timber, sheep, wheat and whaling produced much of New South Wales' income for the rest of the 19th century and by the time Australia became a federation in 1901, NSW had a population of around 1.4 million.

When the Australian colonies became a federated nation in 1901, New South Wales continued to grow from strength to strength. Sydney's proximity to the sheep and wheat regions west of the Great Dividing Range cemented its status as the country's major shipping port and irrigation and power-generation schemes in the south of the state attracted new waves of immigrants and opened up new farming regions along the Murray River.

In the years following World War II waves of migrants flooded in to the main cities from across Europe, and the coastal towns within a few hours' drive from Sydney quickly became popular holiday and weekend getaway destinations, especially as motor vehicle technology and highway standards progressed. The mining and production centres of Wollongong, Newcastle and Broken Hill also became established cities in their own right, while other country towns, which had traditionally been important geographical centres for the farming industries, gradually began to die off as faster transport and communications technologies made them increasingly redundant.


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