Four ways to hike your way to heaven in NSW
Whether between beaches, through waterfall-cooled rainforest, atop a snowy mountain or across the wild Outback, hiking opportunities throughout NSW are as diverse as they are dazzling.
With 225 national parks and even more wilderness reserves, NSW won’t disappoint the avid hiker. Lace up your shoes and explore ancient rainforest; scale clifftop lookouts to spot whales, then drop to deserted beaches; marvel at extinct volcanoes and their remnant jagged rock formations; and discover glorious native plants and animals across the rooftop of Australia when summiting the country’s loftiest peak.
Whether you have one hour or several days, these four hiking adventures await.
Revel in rainforest
The Waterfall Way is one of Australia’s most epic road trips, traversing 210km inland from Coffs Harbour on the mid-North Coast to Armidale. Your route begins by the sea 530km north of Sydney, then cuts through Dorrigo National Park, part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and the most extensive strip of diverse rainforest on the planet.
Visit the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre to gain perspective from the cantilevered Skywalk lookout, then map any of dozens of treks through the vast valleys below. The 30min Walk with the Birds route is a tree-canopy boardwalk revealing some of the park’s 150 avian species, while the hour-long Lyrebird Link track offers the chance to spot its eponymous noisemakers, plus king parrots and rose-crowned fruit doves. Extend your outing with the three-hour Wonga Walk and cool off at Tristania and Crystal Shower falls. The national park’s namesake town is the perfect base for explorations and provides country swagger to spare.
Just south of the Waterfall Way, more Gondwana rainforest awaits in New England National Park. The soaring snow gums and arctic beech are mesmerising on hikes such as the two-hour Eagles Nest track, your path backdropped by the Great Escarpment’s imposing basalt ridge. Thanks to the park’s diversity of terrains and altitudes, natural drama is a constant, whether you stroll 200m to a lookout or tackle a multi-day wilderness adventure.
Feel the sand between your toes
NSW boasts more than 900 beaches and some of the finest can only be accessed on coastal hikes. Many beaches lie on the 90min White Sands Walk, looping from powder-white Hyams Beach through Jervis Bay National Park to the town of Vincentia on the state’s South Coast, 190km south of Sydney.
Be sure to bring your swimsuit, as you’ll pass Chinamans Beach en route; the sand here is just as blinding as at Hyams, but crowds are thinner, which means you can make fresh tracks on your way to the water. Depart the coast and return to Hyams via the Scribbly Gum Track, snaking through the woodland home of possums, gliders and wallabies.
Bottlenose dolphins somersault offshore year-round, then from May to November they’re joined by migrating whales seeking warmer Pacific waters to feed and nurture newborns. Whales are also a common sight on hiking trails through Booderee National Park, set on a peninsula near the southern reaches of Jervis Bay Marine Park. Stretch your legs on the shaded paths of the Aboriginal-owned Booderee Botanic Gardens, or fill your pack and hike to lookouts and far-flung beaches around Steamers Head.
Have an Outback adventure
To say Warrumbungle National Park is remote is an understatement. Some 550km northwest of Sydney, this National Heritage-listed wilderness area is far from big city lights and highways, making it a natural destination for NSW’s only Dark Sky Park. The dazzling night skies are rivalled only by an ancient volcanic landscape of jagged sandstone peaks and pinnacles, all swathed in dense forest.
The most distinctive feature is The Breadknife, a 90m volcanic dyke cleaving the countryside. You’ll need a full day to explore it on the Breadknife and Grand High Tops walk; less stamina is required for the 2km Burbie Canyon track through a sandstone gorge frequented by wallabies and koalas. Many hikers pitch their tents in designated campgrounds, with more accommodation available in the nearest town, Coonabarabran.
The end-of-Earth landscapes continue in the far southwest of the state, close to where the Murray River etches the border with Victoria. Here – two hours’ drive (140km) from Mildura airport – you’ll discover Mungo National Park, a place as humbling for its heart-stopping vistas as for its ancient human history. This World Heritage-listed expanse shows evidence of Aboriginal communities dating back more than 50,000 years, with the visitor centre offering a glimpse into staggeringly ancient relics – including the bones of both humans and megafauna – found in surrounding ethereal dry lakebeds and distinctive red sand dunes.
Camp or check in to Mungo Lodge, then set your sights on days filled exploring the shore and dry bed of ancient Lake Mungo (the Foreshore Walk takes an hour) or gazing over the Walls of China from the Mungo Lookout, the sand and clay dunes here formed through thousands of years of erosion.
Reach your peak
Australia’s highest range, the Snowy Mountains is the go-to destination for alpine adventures at any time of year. The towns of Jindabyne, Talbingo, Cooma and Adaminaby are ideal bases for explorations into the vast Kosciuszko National Park, with a web of hiking trails in every direction. Fly to Snowy Mountains Airport outside Cooma, or drive four hours (400km) south from Sydney, and head off on a road trip along the legendary Kosciuszko Alpine Way to Jindabyne and onwards through the national park.
Have your head in the clouds on the day trek to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko (2,228m), the country’s loftiest peak. Take a ride on the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift from Thredbo, transporting you to the start of a 13km walkway leading to the mountain’s summit and back, passing the jagged granite spine of the Ramshead Range en route. In winter, this is a white wonderland with snow and ice glistening in the high-altitude sun (snowshoes essential). In warmer weather, the rooftop of Australia is blanketed in alpine wildflowers.
In the Thredbo area, less strenuous but equally scenic hikes include the 2.5km (one-way) Bullocks Walking Track, which meanders alongside the crystal-clear Thredbo River in the shadow of the Ramshead Range. The river is known for its large population of elusive platypuses. Perisher’s Waterfall Walk earns its name; the 6km loop track through towering alpine ash eventually rewarding hikers with its promised respite.
Only 100km west from Sydney lies 11,400sqkm of World Heritage-listed wilderness in the Blue Mountains. The countryside here is characterised by sheer sandstone escarpments, rainforest-clad valleys and dramatic waterfall-cooled gorges. This is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, its hiking bounty ranging from full-day rambles along remote clifftops, to scenic strolls among dramatic rock formations, such as the Three Sisters. On the outskirts of Katoomba, the area’s largest town, a 45min hike to the Three Sisters reveals the drama of the Jamison Valley, with spectacular views of its soaring sandstone turrets up close, extending all the way to Mt Solitary in the distance.