New South Wales has some of the most variable landscapes in Australia, from snowy mountains and red desert sands, to dense rainforest, idyllic beaches and vast eucalypt wilderness. Here’s eight tough tracks that tackle some of the state’s most scenic areas.
1. The Coast Track, Royal National Park
Covering 26km of some of the most scenic coastline in Australia, this track is one of Sydney’s most well-known. While it might prove too much for most walkers to tackle in a day, the good news is that both ends of the walk are easily accessible, and there’s plenty of access points along the way. Depending which section you take on, you might find it anywhere from absurdly busy to peacefully isolated. (You could also take some extra gear and camp midway.)
Hit up the northern end from Bundeena for rocky cliffs, coastal heath, wildflowers, migrating whales and the iconic and much-photographed Wedding Cake Rock. Leave from Otford to the south for a harder walk, through coastal rainforest and palm jungle, down to gorgeous hidden beaches and the fantastic Figure Eight Pools.
2. Bungonia Gorge, Bungonia National Park
Bungonia National Park is hidden between Sydney and Canberra, just a twenty minute drive off the Hume Highway. While the surrounding woodland might not look like much from afar, it hides one of the most spectacular gorge systems in the state.
While there’s a network of walking trails to hit up, the Red Track is the one you’re after if you want to check out the gorge itself. At just under 4km it might not be long, but it is bloody tough, with a long and steep descent into the gorge, a rough climb over huge boulders into the slot canyon, and a long and steep climb back out. If you’re up for it, tack on the White Track, which heads to the top of Mt Ayre, before heading down to the meandering bends of the Shoalhaven River, where you can cool off with a swim before following the creek upstream through the gorge.
3. Rodriguez Pass, Blue Mountains National Park
Blue Mountains National Park, near Sydney, is overloaded with walking trails, and picking the best is a near-impossible task. Having said that, the Rodriguez Pass track into the Grose Valley is a personal favourite of mine, and one of the top choices to see the best of what the mountains has to offer – just check with NPWS first for closures as this area was affected by the summer 19/20 bushfires.
Beginning at Govetts Leap lookout, this loop track skirt the tops of towering clifftops, delves briefly into the confines of the incredible Grand Canyon, descends beside cascading waterfalls and rocky streams down into the valley, and follows Govetts Creek along the valley floor, before beginning the tough climb through the lush valley below Govetts Leap and Bridal Veil Falls. It’s about 9km all up, and while combined time estimates on the signs indicate it’s something of a 12 hour walk (ridiculous, I know), somewhere in the vicinity of four and a half hours is a little more realistic.
4. The Main Range, Kosciuszko National Park
Australia’s highest mountain also happens to be one of the easiest to climb, considering there’s a nice chair lift most of the way. While you could always begin from the bottom at Thredbo for a tougher walk, you’d be much better off tackling the Main Range Trail instead, which visits the summit of Kosciuszko before continuing on a grand loop across the incredible high country wilderness.
At 22km, it is possible in a day, provided you’re up to the task, as the terrain is generally gradual, if not a little relentless. Start from the ski lift above Thredbo or at Charlottes Pass, and head through stunning valleys, across the headwaters of the Snowy River, over alpine meadows and rolling hills covered in wildflowers, and past idyllic tarns and the incredible Blue Lake. The elevation also makes this a great option for a summer or early autumn overnight hike.
5. The Breadknife, Warrumbungle National Park
Some 450km from Sydney, the Warrumbungle Range is one of the most spectacular landscapes in Australia, a volcanically-carved vista of rocky pinnacles, rugged ranges and ancient formations. And, naturally, there’s some absolutely fantastic hiking trails.
The Breadknife and the Grand High Tops walk is commonly considered to be one of the best in the state, and you’ll get no disagreement from me. The 14km return trek climbs steeply to the top of the range, past the great shard of volcanic stone that is the Breadknife, and up to the Grand High Tops. Towering monolithic buttes rise from the gnarled ranges, rugged centre points of the sweeping vistas that encompass the spectacular landscape.
6. Careys Peak, Barrington Tops National Park
Caught somewhere between the Blue Mountains and Kosciuszko in terms of scenery, Barrington Tops, about two hours from Newcastle, is a mountainous expanse of sub-alpine wilderness sure to appeal to any outdoor enthusiast. Staggering ranges of deep blue hills, high plateaus, deep gorges and severe ravines hiding wild rivers and cascading waterfalls.
Again, there’s a huge amount of walking trails up here and it’s no easy task picking a best, but the 14km Careys Peak is probably the best you can get out of a day. (Or if you really can’t choose, you can go on an overnighter by stringing a few tracks together.)
Careys Peak is a relatively easy trail, meandering through primal Antarctic Beach trees, pockets of remnant Gondwanan rainforest, mossy Snow Gum woodland and sub-alpine swamps to a fantastic lookout over the wild blue mountains beyond.
7. Bynguano Range, Mutawintji National Park
Out in the far west of NSW, just north of Broken Hill, Mutawintji is a rugged slice of the Aussie outback with far more in common with the central Northern Territory than anywhere else in NSW. Red rocky gorges, orange sands, vast scrub-strewn plains, high sandstone ranges and desert greenery in the form of oasis-like billabongs.
The 7.5km Bynguano Range loop can be started from Homestead Gorge Campground. With a detour to Thaaklatjika Overhang and the Rockholes Loop, it makes for an incredible day of walking, following dry sandy creek beds through tight valleys and open gorges, and climbing craggy ridges up to bulbous fields of red pagodas and rocky pinnacles.
8. Light to Light, Ben Boyd National Park
Another fantastic stretch of NSW coastline can be found all the way down at the very south of the state, just south of Eden. This one though, is distinctly unlike just about everywhere else, due mainly to the area’s fantastic coastal rock formations. Vibrant red shelves of conglomerate rock tumble into the azure water of tranquil bays, forming platforms of red and black stone piled high with serrated chunks of rock and lichen-splattered boulders.
The Light to Light Walk runs 30km from Greencape Lighthouse to historic Boyds Tower, the remnants of mainland Australia’s first shore-based whaling station. The trek covers a good chunk of Ben Boyd National Park’s coastline, which is some of the only coastal wilderness area remaining in NSW. While it’s likely a bit much for most to tackle in a day, I’ve included it because the track still provides the opportunity for some fantastic long day walks. Rocky headlands and heathland, dense eucalypt forest, coastal littoral rainforest and pristine beaches make for some pretty enticing sights.