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About NEW SOUTH WALES

NEW SOUTH WALES: AUSTRALIA'S FIRST STATE

New South Wales has it all - cosmopolitan and sun-drenched Sydney; 1,500 kilometres of magnificent beaches (including the beach with the whitest sand on earth, according to The Guinness Book of World Records); verdant wine-producing regions; Kosciusko National Park's alpine grandeur; World Heritage-listed subtropical rainforests; and the stark appeal of the Outback.

The popularity of New South Wales is demonstrated by the fact that it receives more international visitors than any other state. Sydney is the state's trump card. The vibrant city of skyscrapers and yachts is Australia's biggest single tourist attraction. It's popular with the locals too - about 60 per cent of the population of New South Wales live in Sydney.

New South Wales is about the same size as California. It offers endless special events, including the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in February/March, the Thredbo Jazz Festival in May, Whale Watch Weekend in Byron Bay in June, and the Hunter Valley Wine Show in August. For lovers of the outdoors, the state has more than 100 national parks.

For international visitors, New South Wales generally begins in Sydney, Australia's primary air gateway. The first view of the city is often while flying in at dawn on a fine day. Many international flights arrive at that time, allowing travellers to gaze down on a mosaic of terracotta roofs, silver water and grey-green valleys filled with eucalypts and mist.

LIFESTYLE CAPITAL

Diverse attractions and easy living make Sydney a strong contender for the title "lifestyle capital of the world". Its climate is warm and pleasing, seldom falling below 10° C in winter, with an average summer maximum of 25° C. Its coastline is inviting, its harbour sparkling, its citizens friendly and its shopping varied and worthwhile. No wonder Sydney was chosen to host the 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Sydney has been voted the world's best city for tourists by the readers of two international travel magazines, Conde Nast's Traveler and Travel and Leisure.

Sydney's beaches are justly renowned. Shore convolutions mean the city's coastline is actually 350 kilometres long, packed into a much more compact area. The shore wraps itself into pounding surf beaches, hidden-away harbour bays, dramatic cliff headlands, sleepy inlets and secluded coves.

Each beach has a different character. Some attract families; others appeal to surfers; one or two draw nudists. Some have views and crowds; others are tucked away and little known. In summer, Sydney life is a mosaic of beach scenes - ice cream, zinc cream, surfboards, family picnics by the sea, volleyball in the sand, sips of cold beer or crisp white wine to the sound of waves and cricket commentaries on the radio.

Sydney's most famous beach is Bondi, home to Australia's oldest lifesaving club, established in 1906. Its crescent of golden sand is flanked by boutiques, bars and cafes. Skimpily clad surf lifesavers, topless bathers and scores of restaurants spilling their trade onto the Parade make Bondi colourful and cosmopolitan. Backpackers love Bondi and thousands stage a wild party there each New Year's Eve.

Quiet beaches nearby include Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee to the south and, on the north side of the harbour, beautiful Palm Beach. Within Sydney Harbour, surf subsides and beaches are calmer. They include Balmoral, Chinamans, Nielsen Park and Parsley Bay.

Hundreds of kilometres of beaches and surf - as busy or as isolated as holidaymakers desire - are part of the New South Wales' attraction. Sydney's magnificent beaches give way to others, north and south, along the state's entire coastline. They are just as appealing as those in Sydney, but less known.

THE HUNTER VALLEY

The Hunter Valley is the premier winegrowing area of New South Wales, a two-hour drive from Sydney and a popular weekend trip.

The Hunter's 50 wineries harvest grapes in February and March and welcome visitors throughout the year. Gateway to the Pokolbin region - where most of the Lower Hunter Valley wineries are located - is Cessnock, where the local tourist information centre supplies touring maps and brochures.

Pokolbin is one of Australia's most attractive wine-producing regions. Its neat, rolling vineyards, spreading from the base of the Brokenback Range, are at their best on a warm summer evening with the sun at a low angle and the breeze sending a shimmering wave through the green sea of the vines.

Most of the Hunter wineries are open for cellar-door tastings and the biggest difficulty is knowing where to begin. Major wineries include Tyrell's Wines, Lindemans Winery, Wyndham Estate, the Hunter Estate, Rothbury Estate and the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Winery. While the excellent wines made by the big producers are an essential part of any Hunter wine tour, don't neglect the distinctive, limited-edition "boutique" wines. Many of these are obtainable only through a visit to the cellar door - where a bottle might well be bought from the person who tended the vines, picked the grapes, fretted over the fermentation and stuck on the labels.

Hunter recreation includes horse riding, cycling, bushwalking, golf, tennis, water sports, hot-air ballooning, abseiling and, of course, wine-tasting. For the visitor with time to spare, there are unusual tours to get around the area - like a bicycle trip along the vine trail or a picnic on a horse-drawn carriage.

The commercial centre of The Hunter is Newcastle, about 170 kilometres north of Sydney, originally a brutal prison camp for troublesome convicts. Further north, Port Stephens offers safe swimming beaches, a range of water activities and good fishing. Its bay is home to dozens of bottlenose dolphins, which can be viewed up close on a cruise. Bushwalking and a chance to see koalas in the wild are options.

Port Stephens is famous for its oysters and much of the bay is included in the Myall Lakes National Park, one of the jewels of the New South Wales coast.

MOUNTAINS AND COAST

South of Sydney, Wollongong - "the Gong" to locals - runs a fleet of fishing boats from its harbour, which retains a 19th-century scale and appearance. Further south, visitors can soak up the seafaring atmosphere of the towns of Jervis Bay, Nowra, Batemans Bay, Merimbula and Eden by travelling along the coast road between Sydney and Melbourne.

About 520 kilometres south-west of Sydney is the busy winter ski resort area of the Snowy Mountains. Skiing holidays are available at Thredbo, Perisher Blue or Charlotte Pass between June and August.

The richly forested Blue Mountains, part of the Great Dividing Range, lie about 100 kilometres west of Sydney. Rising to a height of more than 1,300 metres, these offer crisp mountain air, gardens that burn with autumn colour, vast sandstone valleys where waterfalls shatter on the rocks and little towns of timber and stone.

Several grand, old-style hotels complement 24 historic towns, including Katoomba, Wentworth Falls, Leura and Mount Victoria.

The region is crisscrossed by immense, bush-filled canyons. Views from Echo Point or Govett's Leap take the breath away. The Blue Mountains' climate is cooler than Sydney's, with snow and frosts sometimes occurring in mid-winter (July). Local guesthouses use winter to stage "Yulefests", complete with Santa Claus and traditional Christmas fare.

A two-hour drive south-west of Sydney, travellers encounter the Southern Highlands, a cool-climate retreat dotted with little towns offering tea rooms, craft centres and antique shops. The movie Babe was filmed around there.

New South Wales country towns such as Bathurst, Mudgee, Parkes, Cowra, Cessnock, Dubbo and Orange keep visitors occupied with bushwalks, wildlife, wilderness and farmstay holidays. Mudgee in the central-west district is a wine-producing area, staging a wine and food fair every year.

THE OUTBACK

Outback New South Wales is accessible from Sydney by car, aircraft, coach or train. Aboriginal culture, World Heritage-listed national parks and spectacular ranges are among its attractions. The landscapes of Broken Hill, 1,170 kilometres to Sydney's west, are bathed in light so brilliant a group of artists set up residence there. The town now has 24 art galleries.

The ghost town of Silverton, with its red earth, stone churches and camels wandering the main street offers stark Outback landscapes of dreamlike intensity.

Bourke, in the state's far north-west on the banks of the Darling River, emanates a sense of pioneer history. The Australian expression "back of Bourke" means extremely remote. Outback New South Wales national parks include Mootwingee, 100 kilometres from Broken Hill, with its deep gorges, rock pools and Aboriginal rock art, and Mungo, a wild and lonely expanse of saltbush and sand dunes.

TROPICAL NORTH NSW

The north coast of New South Wales stretches from the northern outskirts of Sydney to the Queensland border and west from the coast to the New England plateau.

There's no shortage of attractions. The former convict settlement of Port Macquarie has resort hotels, cosmopolitan dining, several outstanding historic buildings and long, golden beaches. North of Port Macquarie is Crescent Head, a name renowned in the surfing world, with a fabulous curved beach like Bondi but 10 times longer and usually virtually deserted.

Just off the Pacific Highway, the Bellingen Valley is one of the prettiest coastal valleys in New South Wales, founded on the profits of the cedar trees that once blanketed the valley. These days, parts of the valley are surprisingly chic. Cafes there serve great cappuccinos.

Coffs Harbour is set in banana-growing country. Macadamia nuts, and avocados are grown as well. The town's white beaches fringe the Dorrigo World Heritage rainforest, which has abundant wildlife including native bat colonies.

Australia's most easterly point, Byron Bay, lies virtually at the topmost point of New South Wales and is known for its sunny, north-facing beach. The area is a mecca for surfers and laid-back lifestyle devotees. Paul "Crocodile Dundee" Hogan owns a house in the region. Restaurants abound. Residents indulge in shiatsu massage, tai chi, scuba diving, hang gliding and whale watching. "Barefoot charisma" is the style.