When was the last time you truly love your vacation and missed it deeply after you returned ? If you love long road trips with scenic view, then this is one of the best there is. Just about an hour drive from Sydney, this route is known as the Grand Pacific Drive and is one of Australia most spectacular driving routes. Most visitors are familiar with the metropolitan capital city of Sydney or iconic Gold Coast, so where is New South Wales located?
New South Wales (abb. NSW) is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. NSW’s state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia’s most populous city. Based on a census in March 2017, the population of New South Wales was over 7.8 million, making it Australia’s most populous state. Just under 2/3 of the state’s population (4.67 million) live in the Greater Sydney area.
Road Trip Route
Our “mountain to coast” road trip logged around 900km, with some detours included. But the lovely experience transcends measurement. That’s the beauty of a road trip, especially in beautiful New South Wales. I hope after reading my travelogue, it will awaken you to the beauty of the region.
Farm Fresh Produce @ Appleshack, Glenbernie Orchard
Our trip first stop was the Darkes Apple Shack of Glenbernie Orchard, a 4th-generation family owned and run business where you can buy fresh and dried fruits, juice, cider, honey and preserves. For city dwellers like us from highly urbanised Singapore, the sight of ripening fruits still attached to its stem on the tree is truly something special and spirit-lifting.
Imagine sniffing the fragrance and freshness of freshly plucked nectarines, peaches, etc. This is definitely an eye-opening experience for children, too, transforming what they see in school books or television into something real. ‘Pick your own fruit’ opportunities are available between November and April subject to advance booking.
Another try-before-you-buy opportunity is with several types of honey. The farm organically-produced honey are superb and worth the effort to carry home. Australian honey is something that is a must-buy item for me as it is reasonably priced and quality-assured product.
Wild Lorikeets in the orchard, attracted by the abundance of ripe fruits. While looking beautiful, birds like Lorikeets do inflict some amount of damages to the crops as only those in perfect condition are accepted in the market. But the orchard netting and exclusion systems used kept their intrusion to a manageable level.
The farm owners Glenn and Jo-Anne Fahey. We had a fruitful time at the farm as Jo-Anne took time out to show us around the farm and explain the working of the plantation. Guided 1-2 hours farm and fruit picking tours are available for the chance to get close and personal with the orchard.
Apart from the fruits plantation, the farm has also made a name for themselves with their range of ciders and alcohol. Like this Mallee Honeymead wine made from their honey. The word ‘Honeymoon’ seems to have stemmed from an Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon (a month) after their wedding. Mallee is a deep-rooted hardy eucalypt tree, standing up to the ravages of drought and bushfire. In it’s first few weeks of bottling it received a Bronze medal at the Australian Fruit Wine Show, held at Hobart, January 2015.
The farm apple cider can be mixed with a variety of their products for a fabulous tipple! Too bad I am driving. Anyone who loves mixes will do well buy some home.
Amazing coastal view@ Sea Cliff Bridge
You can’t miss the iconic 665 metre Sea Cliff Bridge on the Great Pacific Drive. The imposing S-shaped bridge hugs the coast and looks out to the turquoise water of the Tasman Sea. Driving along this route is a gorgeous experience but to appreciate it well, you should park your car at the end of the bridge (some park along the broader stretch of the road) and stroll down the bridge walk where you can feast your eyes on the majestic view. I had planned to do a drone aerial footage but the gusty wind and heavy vehicles movement put a rest to that thought.
Rocking good time @Cathedral Rocks
Along the Grand Pacific Drive is Kiama. This is a charming seaside town and of course, a visit here would be incomplete if you missed out on the Cathedral Rocks. It’s situated just along Jones Beach. Sunrise lends a magical touch to this place so the ideal time to visit would be during dawn or blue hours during dusk.
This area with distinctive rock formation is part of the geologically fascinating coastline. The volcanic rocks, while intensely hard, have many joints which have been eroded for many years, creating this mysterious rocky landscape. I didn’t manage to access the famed cave at the venue as the waves were strong that morning, cutting off the path that leads to it.
These rocks are certainly a photographer’s heaven. Just be extra careful when walking among the nature artwork as you shoot your own masterpiece, as the waves are pretty strong and the rocks edges pretty rough.
A great way to explore the area and soak in the spectacular natural attractions is along the Kiama Coast Walk, a 22 km trail that can take you from Minnamurra to Gerringong. Follow the walk at your own pace, exploring the secluded beaches and bays. You’ll be delighted with the breathtaking ocean views, especially during sunrise.
Feel the power of nature @Kiama Blowhole
The Kiama Blowhole is Kiama’s key attraction and most of the time, it’s basically what everyone goes for. For a more enjoyable outing at this lovely venue, I would suggest coming real early to avoid the crowd. The blowhole’s tremendous display is generated by powerful southeast ocean swells. The area is floodlit until 1 am, offering an amazing night-time attraction. If the water spout is placid, take a ten minutes drive south to the Little Blowhole, which relies on the prevailing northeast seas.
This picturesque Kiama Lighthouse, located just stone throw from the Blowhole, was established in 1887, 10 years after the creation of the Robertson Basin, a man-made harbour to service Kiama’s supply of crushed blue metal and paving blocks for the streets of Sydney. The sunrise was lovely that morning, with cool fresh ocean breeze caressing our face. A memorable moment indeed.
We could have simply sat here for a longer time to enjoy the beauty. But time dictates we should move on to more adventure ahead.
As typical of popular attractions, you can expect plenty of tourists, locals and also school children exploring and enjoying the lovely place.
Exciting Aerial Adventure with Southern Biplanes
Based at Illawarra regional airport, Southern Biplane Adventures is the go-to place in New South Wales for aerial adventure. You can choose between relaxed scenic flights or adrenaline pumping aerobatic flights over Shellharbour’s and Wollongong’s beaches. Besides flight packages, the company is also a pilot training school specialising in advanced flying skills and flight screening preparation. For aviation junkies, I definitely recommend the aerobatic package.
The restored biplane, a Boeing-Stearman or Kaydet, served as a primary trainer for the United States Army Air Forces, the United States Navy and with the Royal Canadian Air Force as the Kaydet throughout World War II. After the war was over, thousands of surplus aircraft were sold on the civilian market. In short, though very old, this is a reliable aircraft with an excellent track record.
The hangar director and flight pilot preparing the Stearman for the flight ahead. Every moment leading up the impending flight is pleasantly exciting. You know you are in for the ride of your life.
There I was, with the plane making a loop over the South Pacific Ocean with the coastal area of Illawarra below me. The G-force achieved during the flight was about 4G max. I recommended riders not to have a heavy meal prior this flight. A sick-bag is available on request if the content in your stomach decided to defy gravity. You can check out my full article on the flight experience here.
Dolphin Watch @ Jervis Bay
For beach lovers, Jervis Bay on the NSW South Coast is the ultimate seaside escape. Once you drive into Jervis Bay, you will immediately feel the beach town ambience, with many dive shops, dolphin and whale watch service providers lining up the street. From the crystal-blue waters, resident dolphins to splendid beaches and fun water sports, this coastal paradise in the Shoalhaven region will stay in your memory for a long time to come.
At the bay, resident bottlenose dolphins are used to human presence and come right up to the tour boats. Do explore two national parks bordering the Jervis Bay Marine Park, which are also a haven for fur seals, little penguins, sea dragons and migrating whales.
We were lucky to chance upon a mother Humpback Whale and her calf swimming in the bay. We were told this pair was the last as the rest of the whales have since gone back to Antarctica, as their migration period is between May and November.
We had a great outing with Jervis Bay Wild, which offers great service and well-designed spacious boat, with commentary provided by the knowledgeable crew.
The company also owns and operate a cosy cafe just beside the pier where you board their ferry. It serves excellent food and beverages. This company has possibly the best thought-out sight-seeing and meal arrangement at Jervis Bay.
Savour the Countryside @Kangaroo Valley
Kangaroo Valley has been described as one of Australia’s most beautiful valleys and a “hidden gem”. This laidback place is a popular destination for kayaking, canoeing, golf and wine tasting. The Kangaroo River flows through the secluded valley, nestled between the Southern Highlands and the South Coast. In the picture above, you see the historic Hampden Bridge, Australia’s last surviving wooden suspension bridge with four large sandstone turrets. Ironically, contrary to the valley’s name, we didn’t chance upon any kangaroo during our time at the valley.
One of the key highlights was the many pies shops in the Kangaroo Valley, each vying for a slice of the visitor’s wallet. But we were attracted by “The World’s Best Pies” accolade of the shop situated within The Old Barrengarry Store, which is a heritage listed shop established in 1880, with all the ambience of a bygone era.
The old-world charm within. You can stock up on local produces like jams, preserves and some other groceries. The shop is run by a couple named Irene and Choo, who took over
The shop has seven types of pie, but their signature pie – Traditional Aussie, is the one to go for. You may find it a tad salty but it’is best enjoyed together with the pie pastry and washed down with the gourmet latte. The pies are baked in small batches which run out fast as the shop serves many tourists as well as locals who flock to the shop.
The shop front verandah offers wonderful views of Kangaroo Valley, making the snack session all that more memorable.
Fitzroy Falls @ Morton National Park
New South Wales has many national parks, in fact, over 225 of them. We chose Morton National Park as it’s along our driving route and has the beautiful Fitzroy Falls. This enormous park has something for everyone, be it bushwalking, wilderness hiking or nature photography. Entry fee is simply based on per vehicle per day, which is AUD$4.
Fitzroy Falls is a village in the Wingecarribee Shire, located within the Southern Highlands region. The locality was known as Yarrunga, but was renamed after the 81-metre (266 ft) waterfall. The waterfall was named in honour of Sir Charles Fitzroy, the Governor of New South Wales during his visit to the area in 1850.
You’ll find imposing gorges dissecting the landscape along valleys of rainforest that are full of wildlife. Almost felt like this is the Grand Canyon in USA but with lush vegetation.
Special Mention for B+B – Amaroo @Bellawongarah
I don’t usually feature accommodation but this bed and breakfast (B+B) are just too beautiful to pass up. Situated just about 15min drive from the town of Berry, this luxury mountain is a destination by itself.
The guest suite at nightfall. Serene, peaceful and beautifully set for a great night sleep.
The lounge provides a place to relax with comfortable furnishings to enjoy tea or coffee overlooking the main dam with lush greenery. I even spotted several Jack Rabbits foraging for food. This area of wide-open space is perfect for drone flying and to capture beautiful aerial scenery.
A pond just beside the room. The resident flock of wood ducks simply livens up the surrounding.
Certainly a beautiful setting for bird watchers and wildlife photographers.
Idyllic countryside ambience from the living room. Enjoy tea or nicely brewed coffee from the suite coffee machine and the continental breakfast provided.
With comfortable high-quality linen and pleasing decor, the bedroom is designed for optimal sleep quality.
The living room, furnished with screen TV and a wide range of DVD movies for the night entertainment.
The spacious minimalist styled design, high-quality bath fixtures and non-slip sandstone tiles all combined to give one of my most enjoyable shower experience ever.
Experience the Biggest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere @Nan Tien Temple
If you want to see the biggest Buddhist temple in Southern Hemisphere, then don’t miss visiting the Nan Tien Temple. Since its official opening in October 1995, the temple has been drawing visitors both locally and worldwide. The grand architectural details, art and culture exhibitions including Buddhist festivals, vegetarian culinary delights, etc, make this temple a big attraction. Within the temple ground is Pilgrim Lodge, Wollongong’s most unique accommodation with a 100 room facility. It is opened all year round and suitable for general guests or special interest groups seeking to experience Buddhism on longer stays.
The eight-level pagoda, serving as a columbarium intended to house the cremated remains of 7000 people.
The temple is one of Wollongong’s key tourist highlights and conducts regular weekend retreats for visitors interested in exploring Buddhism and Chinese culture. Retreats can involve classes in t’ai chi, calligraphy and meditation. Come springtime, the beautifully manicured garden is a feast for the eyes, especially with Jacaranda trees in full bloom.
Unique Farmstay Experience @Mowbray Farm
Our next stop brought us to the family owned and operated Mowbray Park Farm, which has a rich history dating back to the early days of European settlement in Australia. The History of Mowbray Park Farm began in 1822 while the farmstay came into existence in the early 1980’s and over the following 30+ years has evolved into one of the best farm experiences in Australia, winning many awards.
Our farm guide for the day was Chris Ferry, a UK citizen on vacation work. We certainly picked up much farming and animal knowledge from him during the 2 hours guided tour.
Travel mate Cindy feeding dried oat and wheat to the farm animals. We found out why the animals come running to us as it tastes sweet compared to the grass on the ground. Thus, the animals won’t come to us if they see just grass in our hand.
Everyone’s favourite part, the milking of the cow. Each milking session yields about 12 litres which goes to feed the cow’s calf as well pigs calves in the farm. And no, visitors are not allowed to drink the freshly extracted milk as it may contain bacteria that will make us really sick.
Chris feeding the cow’s calf with the milk from the milking session. The calf can guzzle down about 4-6 litres of milk per feed. It takes just 2 years for a calf to fully grow into a cow.
Cindy roasting a damper over wood fires. This definitely brings the outback feel to the tour when we take in the smoky aroma of the burning wood fire in the air as we make our own bread.
Damper, a Bush Tucker bread, is a traditional Australian soda bread, historically prepared by swagmen, drovers, stockmen and other travellers. It consists of a wheat flour-based bread, traditionally baked in the coals of a campfire or in a camp oven. The basic ingredients of damper are flour, water, and sometimes milk.
Chris spinning the Billy Tea, using the centrifugal effect to separate the tea from the tea leaves in the billy. There must be NO hesitation in this action, for obvious reason.
Boomerang throwing session. It looks easy till you try to get your boomerang coming back to you. But it was good fun and experience.
The whip-cracking session. The sound it produces can be deafening and scary. The whips generally are used on animals to provide directional guidance or to encourage movement but not through physical pain. Handling it wrongly can scar you painfully for a few weeks.
The accommodation at the farm’s Majellan Lodge. Bearing in mind this a working farm with a long history, it’s quite cosy and nice for a comfortable night. The farm has a wide range of lodges spread out on the farm for personalised needs.
View from the bed, pretty nice but need to stand at the verandah for a better view.
One of the meals served at the farm, the beef in the meat pie comes from the farm while the salad ingredients are from local produce. All lovingly prepared by a resident stay-in farm chef.
Three Sisters Rock @The Blue Mountains
The Blue Mountains always evokes a magical feel. Though this is my 2nd visit, it’s still a pleasant experience to breathe in the cool fresh air and take in the wide gorgeous vistas. ‘The blueness of the national park is due to the densely populated oil bearing Eucalyptus trees. The atmosphere is filled with ‘finely dispersed droplets of oil, which, in combination with dust particles and water vapour, scatter short-wave length rays of light which are predominantly blue in colour’ (Wikipedia).
For over a hundred years, honeymooners have been making a beeline for this famous spot called the Honeymoon Bridge, for that special picture. It’s quite a challenge to trek along the narrow and steep pathway to get to this vantage point. But once there, you will enjoy the amazing view. The horizontal level of the Honeymoon Bridge (as in the picture above), are shot from Echo Point Lookout using a long lens.
The Scenic Skyway, suspended 270 metres above the ravines, provides a thrilling experience as you take in the view with see-through electro-glass cabin floor. With 360° views, the 720-metre journey provides the best views of Katoomba Falls, the Three Sisters, and Jamison Valley stretching to the horizon.
Riding the steepest passenger railway in the world, the Scenic Railway, at a 52° incline. The Railway experience descends 310 metres through a cliff-side tunnel, emerging into the ancient rainforest at the Jamison Valley floor. Operating since 1945, this 5th generation Scenic Railway has thrilled 25 million passengers since opening in 1945.
Enroute to the Echo Point Lookout, you will definitely drop by Katoomba, which is the largest and most visited town in the Blue Mountains. With plenty of accommodation and amenities, it serves as an ideal base to explore the wide range of adventure activities in the region.
Cafe Moment @Wentworth Bakery
The beauty of self-drive trip is the flexibility to uncover and discover culinary highlights, using online reviews and Google map to lead us in the right direction. Bakehouse on Wentworth, just 12 minutes drive from Katoomba, came highly recommended. And indeed, it was well-worth the drive.
This bakery cum cafe is famed for its sourdough bread and confectionery. Sourdough is a bread made with the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria in flour. In traditional sourdough recipes, you’ll find three ingredients: sourdough starter (which consists of flour and water), salt and flour. There is no yeast, no milk, no oils and no sweeteners. It’s about as natural as you get when it comes to bread.
So how do this ‘Tender Beef and Gravy’ pie compared with that from the “World’s Best Pies” in Kangaroo Valley? I like to say both pies are really delicious. Australians really know how to do a great pie.
Special mention – Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains (MGallery Collection)
The Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains (MGallery by Sofitel) deserves a special shoutout here as I believe after a long exciting day out at the Blue Mountains, coming back to a plush and comfortable hotel room will sweeten the end of the day and a great start for the next. This is our 2nd stay here and it never failed to please.
A great looking hotel lobby always sets the right tone for a pleasant stay at any hotel. And in this instance, you will love the hotel instantaneously. Great service, superb amenities and express checkout make staying here a joy.
The spectacular view of The Blue Mountains directly from the lounge and breakfast dining hall was one of the plus points of the hotel. And the breakfast offering are one the best I came across in all the hotels I stayed in Australia to date.
Resident wood ducks and other wildlife just steps from the hotel compound keep you enthralled with the natural beauty of the vicinity. When wildlife takes up “residency” at the hotel, you know instinctively that you are in a great place.
Jacaranda Canopy @Kirribilli
Kirribilli is a suburb of Sydney. The name Kirribilli is derived from an Aboriginal word Kiarabilli, which means ‘good fishing spot’. But this lovely suburb is attracting attention for its other beauty -the gorgeous lane of Jacaranda trees along McDougall Street. The trees usually start blooming from mid-October before a peak in mid-November.
The beautiful Jacaranda blooms are the equivalent of Cherry Blossoms, making Sydney even more lovely.
The famous “infamous” Jacaranda lane, where hordes of Asian tourists descended to shoot selfies, welfies pics on the lane, sometimes bringing traffic to a standstill. No, we didn’t add to the mayhem. We waited till conducive traffic condition before shooting. Other this venue, there are several other good spots for Jacaranda trees photography.
Chill out @Coogee
Our final stop of the road trip brought us to Coogee. A laidback seaside town that is likened to a ‘little sister’ to the renowned Bondi Beach. But that is exactly the appeal of Coogee. Relax ambience with many activities that will endear any visitors to return.
A great day to be out at the beach in Coogee. Or a stroll along the coastal walk to take in the beautiful sights is highly recommeneded.
One of several oceans baths along the coastline. Here a lady playing ‘throw and fetch’ with her pet dog at Giles Bath, which is known as Bogey Hole.
The coastline has many nice rock formation that you can shoot unique angles, especially good for your Instagram.
A must-visit venue at Coogee has to be Coogee Pavilion. It is a multi-storey dining establishment created by Sydney hotel baron Justin Hemmes. Located on the beachfront, the pavilion has a rooftop with sweeping views of the ocean and serves beach-inspired cocktails and a good list of local beers. Downstairs, things are more family friendly, with a dedicated wood-fired pizza menu and nostalgic games room replete with giant Scrabble, ping-pong and an in-house theatrette. This place gets packed during summer, so it’s best to book in advance. (Australia Guide)
Lovely artwork menu, with many great dishes and drink you can choose.
Enjoy the brisk service and vibrant ambience of the lifestyle hub.
Reasonably priced freshest Pacific Oysters for the seafood lovers. Love the pizza too.
The Coogee Pavilion at dusk. Perfect for a night out. Australian suburbs tend to quieten down after sundown but not this venue at Coogee, so it nice to have a place to stretch the enjoyment.
Our trip to the fabulously beautiful New South Wales was definitely memorable. Steeped in nature, adventures and wonderful cuisine. The 1-week road trip felt like only 3-4 days as we truly enjoyed every single day. Be it for couples or families, NSW has something for anyone and everyone.
Many sincere thanks for coming along my pixels journey. Should any readers be keen to go on a similar self-drive trip in the future, please feel free to drop me a message or check out Jetabout Holidays package HERE!
Footnote: All pictures used in this travelogue are copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography and Jetabout Holidays and all rights reserved. The opinion expressed is factual, objective and that of the author.