Nature conservation

Parks, reserves and protected areas

How and where can I experience wilderness?

Wilderness areas are places for nature which provide places of solitude and inspiration in wild, untamed surroundings away from the pressures of modern life.

Wilderness occurs in many different landscapes including deserts, inland plains, river valleys and floodplains, forests, coastlines, mountains and alpine areas.

Types of activities allowed in wilderness areas

Some places on the edge of wilderness offer short walks and stunning views and can be reached by car. Other areas within wilderness are more remote, inaccessible by vehicle and provide opportunities for more adventurous, self-reliant activities, such as longer walks, camping, swimming, canoeing, rafting, nature study and picnicking.

Activities such as recreational use of motor vehicles and horse riding are generally not permitted in wilderness. A trial of horse riding in selected wilderness areas is occuring during 2014-2016. More information is available on the wilderness horse riding trial webpage.

Bicycles are only allowed on a small number of approved management trails. Vehicle access is only allowed for essential management purposes and in emergencies, such as fire fighting and search and rescue.

Car touring on the edge of wilderness

You can enjoy wilderness without needing experience or equipment. Many locations on the edges of wilderness areas offer stunning views or short walks and other visitor facilities. These can be reached by car and are readily accessible to people of all ages and fitness levels. Here are some suggestions:

  • In Border Ranges National Park, near the Queensland border, the Tweed Range Scenic Drive will take you right to the edge of the Lost World Wilderness Area.
  • Around Grafton, short nature strolls in Washpool and Gibraltar Range national parks offer superb wilderness views.
  • Near Narrabri, in central NSW, you can drive to several lookouts in one of Australia's most accessible wilderness areas, Mount Kaputar National Park.
  • Nearer Sydney, Blue Mountains National Park has lookouts at Leura, Wentworth Falls and Katoomba. From these vantage points, you can stare out to the forests, rivers and dissected sandstone plateaus of the Kanangra-Boyd Wilderness. You can get right to the edge of the same wilderness area by driving out through Jenolan Caves to the lonely beauty of Kanangra Walls, in Kanangra-Boyd National Park.
  • There are camping opportunities at Newnes, Dunns Swamp and Wheeney Creek, on the edge of the state's largest wilderness area, in Wollemi National Park.
  • South-west of Sydney, the pristine bushland of the Nattai Wilderness protects Sydney's water supply, and Burragorang State Conservation Area provides breathtaking views of wilderness areas.

Guided activities

Amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, effective from October 2010, seek to strike a balance between connecting people to nature and the conservation of park values. They improve equity of access and the safety of visitors to wilderness areas by allowing licensed tour operators to guide small groups of people into some of the more remote areas of the reserve system.

Guided tours will only be allowed for the types of activities that are already permissible on a self-reliant basis, such as walking or canoeing. This will help build awareness of the immense value of wilderness areas and will create new opportunities for nature-based tourism experiences in NSW. This is consistent with one of the objects of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, which is to facilitate opportunities for people to appreciate and enjoy parks as a means of fostering an understanding of and support for conservation. It is also consistent with the Wilderness Act 1987 which requires Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to promote public understanding and appreciation of wilderness.

More adventurous experiences

For those who are more adventurous, there are endless opportunities to hike, canoe and camp in wilderness areas and take in the perfect solitude of nature at its untouched best.

Any visitors venturing into these areas should be thoroughly prepared, self-reliant and adhere to the principles of minimal impact wilderness recreation. ffGenerally, access to more remote areas of wilderness is only by foot, although a trial of horse riding is occuring in selected wilderness areas during 2014-2016.

Opportunities for recreation activities that are not appropriate within wilderness areas are usually provided in other parts of national parks and State Conservation Areas - or on other public natural lands, such as state forests.

National parks that contain wilderness

The following list shows all NSW national parks and reserves that contain wilderness. The list is sorted by region.

Central NSW

Hunter and Mid North Coast

New England Tablelands

Northern Rivers

Outback NSW

South Coast & Highlands

Sydney & Surrounds

Page last updated: 13 October 2017