As Sydney Siders continue to flee the city for (quite literally) greener pastures, regions of NSW like The Riverina, Central Tablelands, Sapphire Coast, and Lake Macquarie have seen a surge in popularity over the past 12 months. Wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s a teaser.
Didn’t know there was a difference between Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast? Never admit that to a Lake Macquarian. Around here, they pride themselves on their Hunter Region membership and their proximity to beach, lake, and mountain. Just 90 minutes’ drive north of Sydney, Lake Macquarie boasts a laidback lifestyle most would think only attainable on holiday, full of quant lakeside towns like Belmont Bay, Belmont, and Coal Point.
It’s crowning feature is its namesake, the largest saltwater lake in the Southern Hemisphere that almost dwarfs Sydney Harbour in size. Dotted along a breathtaking 32km of coastline, you’ll find Blacksmiths Beach and its adjoining kid friendly lagoon, ‘Granny’s Pool’, while at Caves Beach, you’ll find….you guessed it! The popular spot near Swansea has a network of sea caves you can explore when the tide is low. But what sets Lake Macquarie apart from its Central Coast neighbour is its contrasting mountain terrain, namely the Olney State Forest.
Part of the Watagan Mountains, you’ll find some of the most stunning forest trails in the state, as well as a spot to pitch a tent in the Basin Camping area.
About six hours south of Sydney you’ll find the sparkling Sapphire Coast, a region comprised of renowned seaside suburbs like Bermagui, Merimbula and Pambula. But while its white sand beaches make it a popular summer holiday destination, perhaps this region’s biggest draw card is that it’s home to Australia’s favourite yellow block maker, Bega Cheese. A dairy wonderland, Bega’s rolling hills and expansive farmland will leave you wincing at the thought of returning to city life. Shared walls? Balconies instead of backyards? Parking permits?!
If you’re on a diary-free diet (my condolences), skip Bega and shuck your way along the oyster trail, which extends from Bermagui in the north to Wonboyn in the south. Bermagui houses the iconic white-sand beach Horseshoe Bay, as well as the much grammed Blue Pool rockpool, while nearby Merimbula is a surfer’s paradise. If you’re looking for a dose of coastal charm, Pambula’s well stocked with cafes, farmers markets, boutique shops and bakeries (namely Wild Rye’s).
Clocking in at just under six hours’ drive South West of Sydney is ‘the heart of Australia’s food bowl’, the Riverina. With that in mind, come hungry. And thirsty. The Riverina produces 90% of NSW’s citrus and 60% of its wine grapes, plus almonds, rice, olives, fruit and vegetables. So it goes without saying that the local produce here is primo, and you can sample it all at farmer’s markets throughout the region in Wagga Wagga, Nerranderra, and Leeton. Taste your way around town on an artisan adventure that includes pit stops at Griffith’s Bertoldo’s Pasticceria, Coolamon Cheese, and the old school chocolate factory, Junee’s. All this and we haven’t even touched on the world-class wineries in the area. Family-owned and operated vineyards like Borambola and Courabyra Wines offer tastings amongst picturesque views, while Cottontails Winery in Wagga Wagga offers a unique dining experience among the vines.
If you’d rather get your rural fix in almost half the travel time, drive west of Sydney for a little over three hours and you’ll enter the Central Tablelands region of NSW. Locals in Orange and Mudgee have witnessed a mass migration to the area over the past year, as city dwellers opt for more space and less rat race. Suburbs like Orange, Bathurst and Lithgow are stepped in history, with heritage listed sandstone structures and gold rush era monuments dotting the streets.
Right now Orange is having a bit of a moment—the ex-mining town is now a hotspot (the good kind!) for cool wine bars, delicious bakeries and cafes, and even a hatted restaurant, Lolli Redini. Still plenty of rough-around-the-edges charm here, though—just pull up a stool at the local pub and see.