By Tim Falk
October 2, 2020 | 6 minute read
Walls of China Mungo National Park
Take a look at a map of NSW and a host of iconic and well-known road trip destinations stand out. But if you’re looking for somewhere different to put into the GPS, you’ll love these spots. With the ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions, there’s no better time to travel within Australia, and if you want to miss the crowds at the "popular" spots these less-busy NSW destinations will tick all the boxes.
For other road trip guides on NSW see Five Less-Busy Destinations on the North Coast, Five Top Road Trips out of Sydney, Three scenic drives out of Sydney.
OK, so a quick drive north up the Pacific Highway isn’t exactly taking the road less travelled — but stopping in at this pretty seaside village will take many road trippers into new territory. Located roughly 3.5 hours from Sydney, Old Bar is often overlooked by travellers heading to popular holiday spots further up the highway. That’s a real shame, as it offers the same laid-back beachy vibe for which the North Coast is famous, but without the crowds.
Start your adventure with a morning swim at Old Bar Beach, then grab a coffee from Blowfish Café to enjoy in the beachfront park. This usually laid-back precinct becomes a hive of activity when the popular Old Bar Beach Festival is held every October long weekend, the colourful procession of VW Kombi vans a particular highlight.
When you’re ready to go exploring, make the 10-minute drive out to Wallabi Point, where you can watch from the headland as kite surfers make the most of the afternoon wind. Then follow the coast south to Saltwater National Park, where you’ll find the best local surfing spot and the Headland Walking Track that winds through the rainforest to a whale watching platform.
Back in Old Bar, finish the day off with tapas and a cocktail at Flow Bar, or sit down for a feast at Sai Thai Table and Tea. When the sun rises again, head back to the beach to start planning your next adventure.
Sandwiched between Batemans Bay to the north and Narooma and Bermagui in the south, Moruya is another pretty town often overlooked in favour of its nearby neighbours. Located on the banks of the river that shares the same name, Moruya is a laid-back charmer in the heart of the Eurobodalla region.
Many visitors are drawn to the area by the fresh produce on offer at the SAGE Farmers Market, while the Saturday Country Market always draws a crowd. If you’d rather let someone else do the hard work of sourcing gourmet ingredients, the French-inspired but locally sourced cuisine at The River Moruya should put a smile on your face.
For those wanting to get out on the water, the Moruya Kayaking Trail leads you on a winding, 14km journey along the river. And if you want to feel the sand between your toes on a pretty South Coast beach, Shelly Beach is just 10 minutes away at Moruya Heads.
The cute country town of Coonabarabran, located a couple of hours west of Tamworth, is heaven on earth for anyone who enjoys gazing up at the heavens. The town’s clear air and high altitude make for ideal stargazing conditions, so it’s no surprise to find several observatories, such as the Siding Spring Observatory, for celestial searchers.
But Coonabarabran, affectionately known as ‘Coona’, also has a whole lot more to offer. It’s the gateway to Warrumbungle National Park, where the iconic Breadknife thrusts skyward and the Grand High Tops walk provides a rewarding challenge for hikers. It’s also home to the Australian Museum Diprotodon Exhibition, where you can get up close and personal with the skeleton of the largest marsupial to have ever walked the earth.
And with Pilliga National Park and its remarkable Sandstone Caves just a short drive to the north, outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to enjoy in this corner of NSW.
Coonabarabran Siding Spring Observatory
There’s much more to wine in NSW than just the Hunter Valley and Mudgee. Located less than an hour’s drive north of Canberra and three hours from Sydney, Murrumbateman was once a gold mining town but is now becoming synonymous with an array of quality cool-climate wines.
There are over 20 boutique wineries to explore in the area, including award-winning Clonakilla, Shaw Wines and Helm Wines. And because wine and quality eateries seem to go hand in hand, make sure you bring a healthy appetite with you.
Olleyville at Shaw Vineyard Estate makes the most of the beautiful local produce — try the 12-hour Braised Lamb Shoulder — while the pizzas at Four Winds Vineyard will also impress. When you need to take a break from cellar-door hopping, head to Robyn Rowe Chocolates to try the Clonakilla Muscat Mousse or Coconut Lime Zing.
If you’re the type of person who lets their taste buds dictate their travel plans, this is one destination you’ll want to add to your shortlist.
What better way to finish this list of unique road trip destinations than at a place that’s right off the beaten track. Tucked away in the southwestern corner of NSW, roughly a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Mildura, the ancient landscape of this World Heritage site is rich in natural beauty and history.
It’s here that Mungo Lady and Mungo Man were laid to rest some 42,000 years ago, and where you’ll find fossil human footprints dating back 20,000 years. The scenery is also astounding in its own right, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to another planet.
The Walls of China, a series of lunettes carved out by the forces of nature over thousands of years, are a particular highlight. The best way to take them in is to pack your bike and pedal your way around the 10 km track from the Mungo Visitor Centre.
It may not be the best-known destination in NSW, but Mungo National Park is home to some of the most important sites anywhere in the country. Load up the car and check it out while you have a chance.
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