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New South Wales

Photo by Ross Fowler

New South Wales destinations

Around New South Wales

Blue Mountains

Byron Bay

Hunter Valley

Lord Howe Island

South Coast

Sydney

New South Wales

Australia’s most populous state is also its oldest in terms of European settlement – the First Fleet set up its ragged penal camp on the shores of Port Jackson in 1788 and the country’s oldest, largest and most economically powerful city, Sydney, was born.

Home to many of Australia’s largest regional cities, New South Wales can be roughly divided into four main areas.  The narrow coastal strip north and south of Sydney features countless beautiful beaches and coastal waterways and subtropical and temperate rainforests and is flanked by the Great Dividing Range that runs along the eastern coast of the continent. In the south are the snow-covered peaks of the Australian Alps, more commonly known as the Snowy Mountains (or just ‘the Snowies’), and west of the range are the central-western plains that gradually peter out into harsh outback and desert in the far western reaches of the state.

Check Where to Go for prime NSW destinations we are or will be covering.


When To Go

When to go depends on where you want to go – New South Wales is so geographically diverse that there is always somewhere that is in peak season at any given time.

The north and south coast is blessed with a temperate climate and a range of year-round events, which means that there is no really bad time to visit, although if you’re keen to get wet then summer and early autumn is best – keep track of school holidays though, as coastal centres and campgrounds get very busy during January and Easter holidays.

The Snowy Mountains are indeed snowy during winter, offering snow sports from June through to early October, with great walking and mountain biking in summer.

The north-west tablelands can be very cold in winter but lovely and fresh during summer, while the outback – anywhere west of Dubbo – is best visited in winter, when days are warm but nights are cold: during summer the heat (and flies) can make for challenging – if not downright dangerous – travel.

How Much Time To Spend

You could spend months travelling around NSW and not see it all, so the best advice is to pick a region and explore it in depth. You’ll need at least 10 days to get around the far west and outback, three or four days if you’re heading up into the Snowies, and a week for either the south or north coast, plus a few days in Sydney.

High and Low Season

Winter time (May through to September) is peak season in the outback and Snowies. The north and south coast are popular destinations in summer, especially the six-week holiday period between mid-December through to the end of January. School holidays (Easter, late June-early July and mid-Sept-early Oct), will also push prices into peak season brackets.  The north-west and central west are relatively tourist-free year round, and the place to go if you want to get off the tourist trail and immerse yourself in small-town Australia.

Weather and Climate

Summer – November to March – can be humid and sometimes quite rainy on the coast, while winter – June, July and August – can be quite cool at night but most days are sunny and mild.  The average summer temperature, which is often tempered by sea breezes, is in the mid to high 20s (high 70s-low 80s in the F scale); winter averages are usually in the mid teens (60-65 °F).

Expect snow on the higher peaks (Snowy Mountains, New England Tablelands, Barrington Tops, Blue Mountains) between June and October, when many roads may be closed by ice and snow.

Summer temperatures in the Outback can nudge the mid-40s (Celsius – 110-120 Fahrenheit) and getting lost or stranded out here in those sorts of temperatures can be (and often is) life threatening. During winter, Outback days are warm enough for short sleeves and can plummet to below freezing at night.

Events and Holidays

National Holidays 

January 1: New Year’s Day
January 26:  Australia Day
March/April: Good Friday and Easter Monday
April 25: Anzac Day
December 25: Christmas Day
December 26: Boxing Day

Almost everything is closed on Christmas Day and Good Friday. On other national public holidays, banks, post offices and liquor outlets may be closed or open for limited hours.

In addition to the national holidays above, New South Wales also has public holidays on the Queen’s Birthday (second Monday in June and traditionally the start of the ski season) and Labour Day (first Monday in October) .

Time Zone

To check the local time in New South Wales, click here.

Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) covers Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and Tasmania. Central Standard Time (CST) is used in the Northern Territory and South Australia, and Western Standard Time (WST) is the standard in Western Australia. When it’s noon in New South Wales, the ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania, it’s 11:30am in South Australia and the Northern Territory, and 10am in Western Australia.

All states except Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia observe Daylight Saving Time (DST) during spring and summer. At 2AM on the first Sunday in October clocks are advanced one hour. On the first Sunday in April at 2AM, clocks shift back one hour to standard time. However, not all states switch over to daylight saving on the same day or in the same week, so it pays to check if you are travelling at these times.

What To Pack and Wear

Coastal weather is changeable, with southerly breezes turning hot days cool within minutes, so even in summer you’ll need to pack a light jacket or jumper (sweater).

A raincoat and umbrella is mandatory, year round, as is a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

In winter you’ll need a warm coat or jacket, especially at night if you’re heading west of the coast fringe.

Sturdy boots are recommended for outback travel, but otherwise, pretty much anything goes – Australia’s a pretty casual place, just remember to wear a hat and sunscreen whenever you head outdoors.

What it Costs

You’ll find regional centres a bit kinder on the wallet compared to Sydney. An average three-star country motel room will usually cost between $100-150 per night – most hotels are pretty good and usually very clean and even the most basic room will include tea and coffee making facilities, a fridge and TV; wi-fi should be free, but sadly, seldom is. A good meal at a pub costs around $20-30.

Fresh fruit and vegetables have to travel a long way to get to the outback and far west, so expect to pay more than you would on the coast. Fuel is also more expensive outside of Sydney – sometimes as much as 10c a litre more.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $AU.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
Free
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-70 per person
$$$ => Tickets $70 per person

Sleep
$ => Rooms less than $200 for a double
$$ => Rooms $205-300 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

Eat
$ => $1-$35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $35-$80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $80 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

Shop
N/A => Not applicable

Tours
$ => Tickets less than $20 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fly the Friendly Skies

Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.

But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.

Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.

That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.

Have Car, Will Travel

Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping, and the major companies like Hertz, Budget, Avis and Europcar all operate around Australia, alongside smaller local companies that are worth investigating.

There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ’em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.

Ride-sharing company Uber is relatively new to Australia and is currently under scrutiny by state governments where it operates.  It currently operates in Sydney and Canberra but not in regional areas. Rides are ordered through a smart phone app, it’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.

Insurance

Hopefully, your trip to Australia goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?

Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.

Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:

Trip Cancellation – About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.

Medical – Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.

Trip Interruption – For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.

Travel Delay – Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.

Baggage – Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.

Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.

Do I need travel insurance?

If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Standard medical and travel insurance is advisable for travel to Australia. Divers including the Great Barrier Reef or other Australian diving destinations should also ensure they have the appropriate insurance.

How do I choose an insurance provider?

Do your homework – check around.

The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.

Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).

If you have pre-existing health conditions – Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.

Credit card insurance – If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly wha’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.

The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.

For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Australian dollars come in $1 and $ coins, and $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 notes.  Each is a different colour, so they are easy to tell apart. Other coins are 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents. The $1 and $2 coins are gold, all the others are silver.

Prices sometimes end in a variant of 1 or 2 cents (for example, 52 cents or $1.78), a relic from the days before 1-cent and 2-cent pieces were phased out.  In these cases, prices are rounded to the nearest 5 cents, so 52 cents rounds down to 50 cents, and 78 cents rounds up to 80 cents.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

Banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm, and some, especially in the larger regional cities, are open from 9.30am to 12.30pm on Saturday.

ATMs

ATMs are everywhere in larger towns but are not so common in the small country towns and outback communities.  Most use global networks such as Cirrus and PLUS. Australian ATMs use a four-digit code, so check with your bank and make sure you change yours before you leave home.

If you get money from an ATM, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Australian banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash out” when paying for your goods – this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.

Credit Cards

Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout Australia.  Visa and MasterCard are universally accepted in Australia; American Express and Diners Club are less commonly accepted, so it pays to check first, especially in small towns. Always carry some cash, because some traders won’t take cards for purchases under $10 or $15.

Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card – which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.

Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

Tipping is always appreciated, but is not widely practiced or expected in Australia. It is usual to tip around 10% to 15% or round up to the nearest A$10 for a substantial meal in a restaurant, but certainly not mandatory. Some taxi passengers round up to the nearest round figure in a cab, but it’s okay to insist on every bit of change back. Tipping hotel porters and housemaids is sometimes done, but no one tips bar staff, barbers, massage therapists and spa employees or hairdressers.

Other costs

Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and chemist shops (pharmacies/drugstores) will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.

Transportation

NSW is bigger than you think. Covering more than 10 per cent of the continental land mass, it takes two long days of driving to get from the coast to the western border, and a day in either direction if you’re heading north or south from Sydney along the coast.

Most of the larger regional centres are serviced by long distance buses, a select few have airports, and the coastal towns are serviced by trains, but to really explore the state you’ll need your own set of wheels.

Getting There

Sydney is the gateway to New South Wales.

Airports & airlines: Sydney International Airport is 8km from the city centre. There are three terminals: T1 is the international terminal; T2 is home to a number of domestic and regional airlines including Jetstar, Virgin, Regional Express, Aeropelican, Tigerair and Qantas flights QF1600 and above; T3 is the terminal for domestic Qantas flights QF0400-1599.

A taxi from the airport to the city centre costs $45-$55 depending on traffic conditions.

The Airport Link train, which runs approximately every 10 minutes connects the international and domestic airports to the city circle stations (Central, Museum, St. James, Circular Quay, Wynyard, and Town Hall) and takes around 15 minutes. You’ll need to change trains for other Sydney stations.

Trains run approximately every 10 minutes, the journey into the city takes 15 minutes and a single fare from T1 to Central costs $17.80 adult; $14 kids. It can get crowded during peak hour (approximately 7-9am and 4-6.30pm) and the trains do not have dedicated luggage racks. If you have lots of luggage and you’re travelling into the city at these times, it’s probably best to take an airport bus (see below) or a taxi.

Airport Connect coaches operate to the city centre from bus stops outside the terminals every 15 minutes. This service will drop you off (and pick you up) at hotels in the city, Kings Cross, and Darling Harbour. Pickups from hotels require at least three hours advance notice, and you can book online. Tickets start at $15 one-way.

Cars: If you’re driving you’ll leave Sydney from the north on the Pacific Highway/M1 Motorway, from the south on the M5 and Princes Highway, and from the west on the Great Western Highway. All of the major freeways in and out of the city, as well as the Harbour Bridge, Harbour Tunnel and Cross City Tunnel have road tolls and are not payable with cash. You can get an E-Toll pass at www.rta.nsw.gov.au or call 13 18 65 before you travel or up to 48 hours after you travelled. Be mindful of T2 and T3 transit lanes; you must have two or three people in the car respectively in order to travel in these lanes.

Trains: Central Station is the main train station. All interstate trains depart from here, and it’s a major hub for suburban trains.

Buses: All major regional and interstate bus services arrive and depart from the Sydney Coach Terminal, which is on the corner of Eddy Avenue and Pitt Street, next to Central Station.

Getting Around

NSW is covered by a reasonable network of air, bus and train routes – between them you can get to most major towns, particularly on the east coast. However, connections are almost non-existent and timetables are not the most flexible, and to get to many of the smaller towns that are not on a major highway, or are in the western reaches of the state, you will need a car.

By air: Country NSW is serviced by Jetstar, Virgin Australia, Regional Express (REX), Pelican, Tigerair and QantasLink.  Almost all flights originate in Sydney, so if you are travelling from one regional centre to another, you’ll probably have to transit through Sydney.

By train: Countrylink travels to most regional centres throughout the state, although in many instances train services to smaller towns have been replaced by Countrylink buses. See www.nswtrainlink.info

By bus: GreyhoundMurrays Coaches and Premier Motor Services are the three main long-distance bus companies that service country NSW.

Background

Australia’s most famous storyteller, Henry Lawson, once famously declared, back in 1890-something, that to “know Bourke is to know Australia”. But given that Bourke, 764 km north-west of Sydney, is on the edge of the beyond (‘back o’Bourke’ is an the Aussie way of saying in the ‘middle of nowhere’ or ‘way out in the boon-docks’) a more accurate thing to say might be “to know New South Wales is to know Australia”.

New South Wales, the first state in Australia to be colonised by Europeans and the state home to more people than any of the others, not only has the might of history and political clout behind it, but it also has a little bit of all the geographical things (beaches, rivers, rainforest, reefs, islands, snow-covered mountains and hot dry desert) and historical and cultural elements – Aboriginal culture, convicts, explorers, squatters, gold diggers, bush poets and mad scientists – that makes Australia such an awesome place to visit.

Don’t have the time it takes to see all of the land down under?  No worries, New South Wales has a bit of everything.

History

Aboriginal people have lived in NSW for millennia – the world’s oldest cremated human remains, somewhere between 45-60,000 years old (the experts are still quibbling) were found, buried in the sand, in the far-west of the state on the shores of Lake Mungo, near the town of Wentworth in modern-day Mungo National Park.  When the skeletal remains were discovered, back in 1968, the estimated date for human occupation in Australia was around 20,000 years. Mungo Woman, as she became known, and another find in 1974 (known as Mungo Man) redefined world prehistory and helped ensure that the ancient lake system, which dried up around 15,000 years ago, was to become Australia’s first World Heritage-listed national park. Since then, more skeletal and fossil remains have been found, including, most recently, a set of 20,000-year-old human footprints.

Aboriginal people, loosely called Koori (in NSW and Victoria) but made up of many different clans and language groups, lived beside rivers, hunted in the mountains and roamed through the deserts right across the state, leaving a rich cultural legacy of stories, rock art and sacred sites, many of which are still used in cultural ceremonies today.  Sadly, with the arrival of the Europeans many were killed by diseases they had no resistance against – small pox, common cold, flu, measles, venereal diseases and tuberculosis. Worse still, thousands were killed by settlers in skirmishes and massacres known as the frontier wars, and government policy forced most from their traditional land and into ‘missions’, forcibly removing children from their parents – known as the stolen generation, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised in 2008. In the past decade or so several national parks have been returned to their traditional owners – Mutawintji National Park in the far west was the first in 1998.

European history

When British explorer James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia (known then as New Holland) for England in 1770, he named it New South Wales. Back then the British colony included the places we now know as Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand.

Sydney was established in 1788 with the arrival of the First Fleet of convicts, and for the first few years NSW was Sydney.  In 1804 those in charge decided Sydney would be better off without the worst of the convicts (those that re-offended, had gone insane or were otherwise troublesome) and founded a new settlement to the north at the mouth of the Hunter River. That camp, now called Newcastle, grew to become one of the colony’s most important industrial centres on the strength of its rich coal deposits in and around the surrounding valley and the nearby subtropical forest full of cedar.

A few years later, in 1813, the massive ridge of mountainous wilderness west of Sydney known as the Blue Mountains – impenetrable for the first 25 years of the colony – were finally crossed in by the trio of Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson, opening up the western hinterland to settlement. Proclaimed in 1815, Bathurst is Australia’s oldest inland town.

Back on the north coast, a third penal settlement was established in Port Macquarie in 1823. Cedar cutters who were initially stationed around the Hunter region followed the convicts north, reaching the Macleay in 1837, the Clarence in 1838 and moving further north to the Richmond River in 1842. Logs transported on the rivers were intercepted at ports downstream before being shipped to Sydney. Once the cedar was logged out, farmers moved in, farming cattle, dairy, crops and sugar cane.

The strip of coast to the south of Sydney was largely settled by whalers and timbergetters in the 19th century – the forests and annual whale migration are now two of the region’s biggest drawcards – followed by fishers and farmers.

In 1851, the first payable gold in the country was found at Ophir (not that far from Bathurst), sparking a gold rush that transformed not only the colony of New South Wales but the entire country, bringing settlements to far flung areas of the state. Today, gold rush towns like Hill End, Sofala and Gulgong look much the same as they did 150 years ago.

Sheep farmers and squatters followed the gold diggers west, establishing expansive selections of prime grazing and farming land. By the end of the 19th century more than 100 paddle steamers plied the Darling and Murray rivers, ferrying more than 40,000 bales of wool downstream to coastal sea ports each year.

Further west, where the grasslands turn to desert sand, vast riches of silver, lead and zinc were found in the 1880s, giving birth not only to the outback city of Broken Hill, but one of the world’s richest mining companies, BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary).  The mine is still going, but these days Broken Hill is one of the state’s most important arts centres, the unique outback light and landscape attracts artists from all around the world.

Meanwhile, cowboys headed into the southern hills, which Aussies like to call alps. First settled in the mid-19th century by graziers who summered their stock in the high country, and immortalised in AB (Banjo) Paterson’s epic poem (and subsequent film adaptations), The Man From Snowy River, the rugged peaks of the Snowy Mountains hold a significant place in the psyche of most Australians.  However, it was not until the second half of the 20th century, with the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme – still the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia – that the rugged and inhospitable area was really opened up. Work on the system started in 1949 and was finished 25 years later in 1974, employing more than 100,000 people from more than 30 countries. Seventy per cent of the workforce were migrants from post-WWII Europe, and the snowy scheme is seen as one of the most influential factors in the shaping of Australia’s multicultural society.

But back to history: Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land) became a separate colony in 1825, South Australia went out on its own in 1834, NZ got its independence in 1840, Victoria in 1851 and Queensland in 1859. NSW held its first election in 1843 and became a state of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.

Etiquette

In general, the same rule of good manners applies in NSW as it does anywhere else in the western world, even if Australians can seem, to a first time visitor, more casual than people on the other side of the world. We always (those of us with manners, at any rate) say please and thank you to staff, servers, drivers etc, give a firm handshake on greeting and look people in the eye – although if you are talking to an indigenous person, they will consider it rude to make eye contact.

Always ask first before taking photos of people.

When travelling on escalators or moving walkways stand to the left, and when walking on busy streets you should also try to keep to the left.

Smoking is banned in all enclosed public places, including public transport, offices, hospitals, hotels, bars and restaurants. Some hotels have outdoor sections where smoking is permitted, often called “beer gardens”. It is also illegal to smoke in cars carrying children under the age of 16.

See Tipping & Costs That Add Up.