The world’s oldest caves? The beach with the world’s whitest sand? A Jurassic Parkesque island? At first glance, you’d think these places are something out of a movie. But you don’t have to go too far to experience the magic yourself. Some of the most outrageously beautiful places in the world lie just a stone’s throw away from the city. Check out these extraordinary places in NSW that will make you feel lucky to call it home.
1. Jenolan Caves
The Jenolan Caves are regarded as the world’s oldest and Australia’s most spectacular cave system. Located just a three-hour drive from Sydney along a winding road through the beautiful town of Katoomba, these awe-inspiring limestone caves are replete with natural landscapes and underground rivers. To better explore the area, you can take one of the many guided tours which take you around specific parts of the caves. With the Lucas tour, you can explore the highest and widest chambers in the caves. See two huge, awe-inspiring caverns, famous for fossils and helictites up close with the Temple of Baal tour. Meanwhile the Orient tour will take you to the ‘Pillar of Hercules’ (Jenolan’s tallest stalagmite) and the brilliant ‘Crystal Basin’, which often fills up with pale blue water. Check out all the tours available here.
Other must do’s in the area include exploring the scenic blue lake and the Kanangra-Boyd Lookout that offers uninhibited views over the Blue Mountains area.
(Please note that the Jenolan Caves are currently closed due to a landslide. They are expected to open on August 1. You can keep an eye on their website for official announcements.)
2. Woy Woy Waterfall
If there’s one thing NSW is not lacking in it’s natural landscapes. National parks, hiking trails, beaches, stargazing spots, you name it and it’s likely to be within reach. It’s also blessed with incredible waterfalls splashed around the entire state. But what’s special about the Woy Woy Waterfall is that the super hidden spot cascades into a natural infinity pool.
The gorgeous spot is hard to find and naturally blew up on social media not too long ago. Located within an hour from Sydney you’ll find the waterfall deep within the Brisbane Water National Park at Woy Woy. If you’re willing to do a bit of trek to get to it, and we promise it is worth it, you’ll want to check out our complete guide on the beautiful falls.
3. Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay
Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay has received worldwide popularity for having the whitest sand in the world and stunning turquoise blue water. That as a result has led to people storming the village especially from Canberra and Sydney. But if you do time your trip properly and visit off season, it is a pretty magical spot. With clear, sparkling water and white, white sands it’s a sight to behold. And given it’s proximity to Sydney (it’s about a 3-hour drive from the CBD), it’s a sought-after weekend getaway for many locals.
It’s best experienced during the warmer months when you can partake in a number of water sports and other activities. But if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, winter might be your best bet. If you’re lucky you could even get the whole beach all to yourself.
Apart from beaches, Jervis Bay also has national parks, an expansive bush to explore and heaps of excellent food options. Check out the Secret Sydney guide to Jervis Bay and start planning your trip to this incredible spot in NSW.
4. White Cliffs
For a true Australian outback experience, White Cliffs is the place to go. If you haven’t heard much about it, we wouldn’t really fault you. Located 1,041 km north-west of Sydney via Dubbo and Wilcannia, this largely hidden town has a tiny population of about 200 people. And because of how hot it gets in the summer, most of the people have been forced to live underground. The residents have used mining equipment to dig extensive homes in the hillside to avoid the heat. There’s only one bed and breakfast and a motel — also underground. Opal has continued to be mined in the area since the late 19th century.
But that’s not the only thing you get there. Thanks to being far removed from urban population, the night skies are brimming with stars along with heaps of shops selling opals. There’s only one pub and general store in the area and the lifestyle has remained relaxed and easygoing over the years. Interestingly an aerial image of the town will show you nothing but mining holes so if you’re tired of city life this might pique your interest.
5. Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island has received a lot of publicity of late. Thanks to its wonderful island lifestyle and brilliant beaches, it remains a coveted spot for Australians around the country. So what’s so special about it? Well it’s more or less Australia’s answer to Jurassic Park. In fact Destination NSW even refers to it as a Jurassic Park doppelganger. One look at an image from the island and it’s easy to see why. It’s a standout thanks to its volcanic features, stunning views and exotic wildlife. And we don’t use the word exotic lightly. It’s home to species like the Lord Howe Woodhen — a ground-dwelling bird which can only be found on the island. For a true Jurassic Park/Castaway experience head to the Capella Lodge. Although a dinosaur or two you probably won’t see, the scenery is the closest you can get to a real life Jurassic adventure.
6. Wendy’s Secret Garden
At this point, Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden has become an indelible part of Sydney’s history and culture. In fact it’s often referred to as one of Sydney’s worst kept secrets. The garden — which has been thriving since the 90s is a gorgeous, hidden oasis in the heart of the city with stunning views of the harbour all around. Wendy and her renowned artist husband, the late Brett Whiteley set up their home in the late 70s. Following the passing of her husband, a grief-stricken Wendy began obsessively clearing and creating a garden which resembled a giant painting. It’s now become one of the most beautiful gardens in Sydney and an oasis for people seeking rest from the daily grind. Wendy’s Secret Garden is also a reminder of all the extraordinary places we can find in our own backyard. Read more about this iconic spot here.
7. Eagle Head Rock, Royal National Park
A scenic coastal walk in the Royal National Park starting at Wattamolla leads to Curracurrong Falls or Eagle Rock which resembles an Eagle’s beak, making it one of the most iconic images from the Royal National Park till date. But that’s not all there is. There’s something truly magical about this spot and all who’ve visited would attest to the same. The gorgeous waterfall sometimes looks like it’s flowing upwards and it’s also one of the very few waterfalls in the world where the water flows directly into the ocean. And it’s not just the waterfall but the route itself that stays with you.
One of the relatively easier hikes in the Royal National Park, you’ll find the falls just an hour south of Sydney. On the way you’ll be met with exceptional views of the bush and spectacular lookout points. It really is as brilliant as it sounds and if you’re after extraordinary places in NSW, you’ll want to keep this high up on your list.
8. Munmorah Sea Caves
The Munmorah Sea Caves or the Cotton Candy Caves as they’re more commonly known, are a striking natural wonder just two hours from Sydney. If you haven’t heard about them already, the caves are a stunning pink in colour thanks to the brute force with which the saltwater strikes against the rock formation complimented splendidly by clear blue water.
Getting to the pink caves is also surprisingly easy although you need to be ready for a long albeit easy walk. The caves are located along the Moonee Beach Trail in the Munmorah State Conservation Area and an absolute beauty to visit up close. It is advised to only visit the caves at low tide and visitors are warned to remain a safe distance away from the rock formations given the unpredictability of the tides.
9. Bioluminescent plankton, Jervis Bay
Bioluminescent display are one of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders. And lucky for us, we get a vivid display just a few hours from Sydney. You’ll find incredible bioluminescence on the shores of Jervis Bay — one of the few places in Australia where you can witness it. While the displays are few and far between, 2020 saw one of the brightest light displays ever. Some plankton or algae can glow in the dark thus emitting a blue glow which results in this stunning display. It’s hard to predict what the best time to see bioluminescence is but historically the months between May and August are when the event tends to repeat itself. You can spot it at Barfluer Beach, Callala Bay and Blenheim Beach.
10. Guestlands, Arcadia
Want a taste of Italy but can’t really afford the trip right now? Less than an hour from the CBD, you’ll find an Italian inspired village located in the beautiful gardens of Arcadia. Right from stone paved entrances to a wonderful chess garden with oversized pieces, it’s a true blue medieval Italian experience right here at home. With a number of water features, oriental themes and an exclusive sunset bar you’re bound to feel like you’ve been transported to Italy. Unwind in their pool or spa or dive into some pizza and wine, it’s a true indulgent experience you won’t be forgetting soon.