Neds Beach and the view of the island from Malabar Hill, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales, Australia

Australia //

Coastal New South Wales and the ACT

New South Wales is Australia’s premier state in more ways than one. The oldest of the six states, and also the most densely populated, its 6.4 million residents make up a third of the country’s population. The vast majority occupy the urban and suburban sprawl that straggles along the state’s thousand-plus kilometres of Pacific coastline, and the consistently mild climate and many beaches draw a fairly constant stream of visitors, especially during the summer holiday season, when thousands of Australians descend on the coast to enjoy the extensive surf beaches and other oceanside attractions.

South of Sydney, there’s a string of low-key family resorts and fishing ports, good for watersports and idle pottering. To the north the climate gradually becomes warmer, and the coastline more popular – the series of big resorts up here includes Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour – but there are plenty of tiny national parks and inland towns where you can escape it all. One of the most enjoyable beach resorts in Australia is Byron Bay, chic these days, but still retaining something of its slightly offbeat, alternative appeal, radiating from the thriving hippie communes of the lush, hilly North Coast Hinterland.

Just over 280km southwest of Sydney is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which was carved out of New South Wales at the beginning of the twentieth century as an independent base for the new national capital. While Canberra struggles to shed its dull image, it is the principal gateway to the Snowy Mountains, where the Great Dividing Range builds to a crescendo at Mount Kosciuszko (Australia’s highest at 2228m), and which offer skiing in winter and glorious hiking in summer.

Lord Howe Island, 700km northeast of Sydney, and on the same latitude as Port Macquarie, is technically a part of New South Wales, despite its distance from the mainland. Its nearest neighbour is Norfolk Island, 900km further northeast, an external independent territory of Australia, though geographically it’s closer to New Zealand. The approach to tourism of the two subtropical islands couldn’t be more different: Lord Howe is the perfect eco-destination, attracting outdoor types with its rugged beauty, while Norfolk Island concentrates primarily on its status as a tax haven. Neither island caters to budget travellers.