With heritage towns amid rolling hills and unspoilt bush, the Southern Highlands is one of Sydney's favourite weekend getaways.
By Ute Junker
There is more than a touch of old England to the Southern Highlands, where pretty towns modelled after quaint English villages are set amid green landscapes. Spend the morning browsing through the antique shops of Bowral and Mittagong before hiking one of the many trails that wind through lush rainforest framing sandstone escarpments. Each season has its own attractions, from the springtime tulip festival and autumn's magnificent foliage to cosy winter nights by log fires.
- Discover historic towns such as Bowral and Berrima
- Feast on fine food at the acclaimed Biota restaurant
- Admire Fitzroy Falls, which plunge dramatically over a steep escarpment
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Top things to do in the Southern Highlands
Explore historic Berrima township
With its striking collection of historic sandstone buildings, Berrima is the best preserved Georgian village in mainland Australia. Many of the buildings are made of sandstone blocks carved out by convicts, including the Surveyor General Inn, the oldest continuously licensed inn in Australia. Another highlight is Harper's Mansion, a hilltop home surrounded by extensive cool climate gardens and a maze that will enchant the children.
Become a locavore
At Bowral's award-winning Biota restaurant, it's all about thinking local. Chef James Viles sources his produce from nearby farms and from his own extensive gardens. Do not, however, expect a simple farm-style meal. From the minimalist decor to the intricately constructed dishes – confit duck may be teamed with puffs of aerated cauliflower, pickled curls of shaved cauliflower and pine needles – this sophisticated restaurant deserves its reputation as one of Australia's best regional dining destinations.
Surrounded by national parks, the Southern Highlands has plenty of great hiking trails, winding their way through dappled rainforest glens and ancient eucalyptus forests. The walks around the dramatic Fitzroy Falls are always popular, but the nearby 6.7 kilometre (4.2 mile) East Rim Walking Track is also remarkable, especially during spring (September to November) when vast numbers of wildflowers are in bloom. The fun doesn't stop when the sun sets, either: an evening visit to Bundanoon's Glow Worm Glen is a highlight. You will need a torch to find your way. Once you are there, switch it off to get the full effect of the dazzling display put on by these luminescent insects.
Tiptoe through Bowral's tulips
The town of Bowral is the liveliest spot in the Southern Highlands. Beyond its inviting collection of homewares and antiques stores and cosy cafes, Bowral's other highlights include the International Cricket Hall of Fame, which has an impressive collection of memorabilia associated with Australia's favourite sporting hero – and Bowral boy – the legendary cricketer Don Bradman. The town is at its most glorious each September, when Corbett Gardens is planted with 100,000 tulips as part of the annual Tulip Time festival.
Go wine tasting
In recent years the vineyards of the Southern Highlands have been attracting attention. This is one of Australia’s exciting new wine regions. More than 60 wineries produce cool climate wines such as pinot noir and pinot gris. Among the most acclaimed is Artemis, which produces highly awarded wines such as the Close Vine pinot noir. Also worth a visit is Centennial Vineyards, which makes a dazzling selection of about 30 different wines. Try some of its sparkling wines, such as the citrus-tinged sparkling pinot chardonnay, or the toasty blanc de blancs.
How to get there
It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Sydney to Bowral along the Hume Highway.