Having suffered through the Black Summer bushfires - a season that usually generates a third of annual income for NSW tourist hotspots - small towns were barely piecing themselves back together before COVID-19 hit.
Travel bans and social distancing restrictions forced the travel industry into more months of impacted business but as of December 1, more borders are open and people are free (mostly) to travel interstate again.
While some states are still closed to other states, New South Wales is open to every state.
With the major rolling back of restrictions in the state, meaning standup drinking is back along with 50 people allowed on a dance floor at one time and no capacity at venues - it’s time to pack up the car, download the best podcasts and explore the beauty of rural NSW.
Hello, country pubs!
Whether it’s mapping a pie trail in the Southern Highlands, exploring antique shops for that one-in-a-million find on the South Coast or hitting the best surf beaches at Port Macquarie - here’s your guide to rediscovering NSW gems after the rough year that was 2020:
About 90 minutes from Sydney are the jurassic sandstone cliffs of the famous Blue Mountains - and baby highland cows to meet!
If peace and serenity is what you’re craving after a big year, a farm-stay is a relaxing way to get back to nature and unwind.
Megalong Valley Station is a family owned and operated experience with the vision to share an authentic farm with the community.
It’s a working cattle station with a “Beef Door” which will offer a paddock-to-plate Argentine BBQ one Sunday a month this summer for everyone (not just guests) to enjoy.
Accommodations on the property include a beautifully refurbished modern Redledge Cottage with fireplace and fur babies are considered on request.
Glenbarry, a sprawling country home for bigger groups or families, is the other option.
Down the road you’ll find the Dryridge Estate Winery, Megalong Creek Estate and the quaint town of Leura ...
Leura is known as ‘the Jewel in the Blue Mountains Crown’ and it has a reputation for artisan goods. The delis are brimming with handmade chutneys, chocolates and cheese to make the most impressive of charcuterie boards.
Although famous for its Edwardian-style architecture, the tiny-house trend is hard to pass up. In2thewild’s Daisy House in Oberon Shire is perfect for sipping tea by the fire, reading a book with a view and savouring a bottle of local wine. The Daisy House comes with everything you need including luxurious and locally-owned Carlotta + Gee linen.
In NSW, there are 14 off-grid In2thewild tiny houses set in secluded locations. With self check-in and no crowds, a tiny house escape is the perfect post-iso getaway.
NSW’s Mid North Coast bore much of the brunt of the extensive and unprecedented nature of the 2019 bushfire season. According to Royal Fire Service statistics, the Lindfield Park fire in Port Macquarie burned for 210 days, more than 420,000 hectares of bushland was lost, one person was killed and local wildlife suffered greatly.
Liesa Davies, Group Manager Economic and Cultural Development at Port Macquarie-Hastings Council told HuffPost: “The Port Macquarie region is excited to start welcoming visitors back soon, and we’re certainly in a great place to do so.
“As one of the first areas to be affected by bushfires, our land and businesses were badly affected however the recovery we’ve seen here is tremendous – Port Macquarie Koala Hospital releasing 26 koalas into the wild earlier than expected due to recovered habitat is a testament to that.”
Port Macquarie is known for its 17 beaches but it’s not just surfing and water sports but lush hinterland, wineries, the Billabong Zoo, river cruises and great camping that’s on offer to visitors.
“Our regional communities are really feeling the emptiness of visitors and they quite simply need us to visit so let’s get back on the road and help our beloved holiday destinations rebuild together,” NRMA Parks and Resorts CEO Paul Davies said.
“Book early to get in first to secure a spot and receive up to 20% off for until June 4.”
Davies confirmed caravan parks and camping facilities have made some changes to ensure the safety of guests and staff in the wake of COVID-19, including contactless check-in, extra cleaning practices and social distancing rules in shared spaces.
Mudgee was named after the traditional Wiradjuri term “Moothi” which means “nest in the hills” and that’s exactly what the picturesque wine region is.
The refined country town is perched in rolling grassy hills four hours northwest of Sydney and offers over 40 family-owned cellar doors for the perfect sip and swirl experience.
Due to fresh produce being in abundance, the food scene is Mudgee is famous.
The breakfasts at Artisan on Lewis are as hearty as they are value for money and the 10-course degustation at the rustic Pipeclay Pumphouse is truly something to write home about - the slow-cooked lamb and mushroom ragu is a standout.
If it’s a food and wine adventure you’re after, Mudgee delivers. And with beautiful views to boot!
Gulgong and Rylstone
History buffs rejoice - visiting Gulgong is like stepping back in time with settlers from the gold rush of 1872. It’s not just the Pioneer’s Museum that offers a look back to colonial times, the main drag of town is almost exactly how it was 150 years ago - sans the modern cars of course.
Down the road is the quaint town of Rylstone, known for its brilliant dumpling restaurant 29Nine99 that does a wicked Yum Cha spread on weekends.
After lunch, head to family-run De Beaurepaire Wines for a tasting of French-style vinos handcrafted from selected parcels of grapes sourced from the property only.
Soil structure and high diurnal temperature range in the area means the region is similar to French wine country in Burgundy and Champagne. Win!
Less than a three-hour drive from Sydney, Shoalhaven boasts more than 100 beautiful beaches, friendly cafes and picturesque coastal walks. And, yes, it’s home to that famously dazzling white shoreline: Hyams Beach at Jervis Bay Marine Park.
Since we’ve all been cooped up in the home, Shoalhaven is one of those NSW destinations with plenty to offer when it comes to physical activity. From rock climbing to horse riding, renting a kayak, fishing, yoga, hiking and beyond, this is the place to get your body moving after lockdown.
Hawkesbury and Beyond
Overnight boating has been allowed in the state since June.
“From rivers, bays, lakes, estuaries, harbours and coastal waters, NSW has a smorgasbord of fabulous waterways on which to enjoy all manner of boating from paddle, power and sail,” Boating Industry Association (BIA) President Darren Vaux said.
“You will also be able to relax and stay overnight on a boat which can only help deliver social benefits all round.”
The relaxed restrictions means other water activities like whale watching, fishing charters and sightseeing cruises are all back on the cards.