The Southern Highlands offer a slice of serenity akin to the English countryside.
This compact region is conveniently located one-and-a-half hours’ drive from both Sydney and Canberra, and just an hour from the Illawarra Coast. The rolling green hills are dotted with historic villages, and the clean country air will exhilarate and inspire you to explore. The heart and soul of the area is the hip town of Bowral — the childhood home of cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman, and now home to the Bradman Museum. Other charming villages include Mittagong, historic Berrima, Moss Vale, Bundanoon and Exeter.
There are so many amazing reasons to spend some time in the Southern Highlands. Love nature? You’re close to three national parks and two state forests; hiking trails, cascading waterfalls and expansive lookouts showcase the spectacular natural environment. Is fine food and wine your thing? You have cellar doors and local providores to discover around every bend in the country road. Want to get cultural? Follow the gallery trail or chill out at Berkelouws — the Southern Hemisphere’s largest book barn.
If you need more convincing, here are eight great things to do in the Southern Highlands.
There are over 60 vineyards in the region, which produce a range of grape varieties including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. Visit Joadja Estate — the oldest winery in the Southern Highlands. The rustic cellar door and picturesque setting are a delight. While you’re in the ‘hood’, continue on to Joadja Distillery — which does a uniquely Australian malt whisky. In Berrima, stop by Bendooley Estate and enjoy a glass of one of their fine drops in front of the welcoming fireplace. If you’re not a wine-lover, check out the boutique beers and ciders brewed at Eden Brewery or Southern Highlands Brewing Co.
The Southern Highlands could well be Australia’s regional caffeine-consuming capital. With no fewer than one hundred barista-operated coffee outlets across the region, you’re spoilt for choice for a good brew. Download a map and follow one of the most extensive coffee trails in the country. A good place to start is Bowral, which boasts an astonishing 37 different spots to order a latte!
You can’t beat a freshly baked meat pie with sauce, and pie-lovers will be overjoyed to hear that the South Highlands boasts more bakehouses per square kilometre than anywhere else in Australia. Visit in June to witness the judging of the NSW/ACT Best Pie Competition, and treat your taste buds at Stones Patisserie in Bowral — which took out the honours in 2018.
The small village of Berrima (established in 1831) is one of Australia’s best-preserved towns of days gone by. Ghost tours bring the dramatic past back to life at the historic Berrima Courthouse, and sellers of antiques and old wares line the Georgian-era streetscape. Visit Australia’s first iron works — the Fitz Roy Iron Works in Mittagong, and pop into one of Australia’s oldest general stores at Burrawang.
The Southern Highlands’ cool climate grows gardens bursting with wondrous floral displays. The region is famous for its annual Tulip Time festival in September and Open Gardens season in October, but just wandering along quiet village backstreets will reveal cottage gardens to rival Downtown Abbey. Think lilacs, daffodils and peonies flowering in glorious profusion.
Inhale the scent of eucalyptus as you trek to the area’s three highest waterfalls — Belmore, Carrington and Fitzroy Falls. Climb the short track to the top of towering Fitzroy Falls and try to spy the mountain parrots that inhabit the lush forest. Another option is to hit the trails around Mount Gibraltar — the highest point in the region — or tackle the steep two-kilometre Erith Coal Mine track in Morton National Park (you can cool off at the end under concealed cascades). To get a different perspective of the landscape, head underground at spectacular Wombeyan Caves.
Shopping for antiques and period paraphernalia is big business in the Southern Highlands. The top spot to indulge in some retail treasure hunting is Dirty Janes in Bowral. This warehouse-size venue houses over 75 independent vendors of antique furniture, vintage clothing, kitsch homewares, and much more. You’re also likely to turn up old gold at the vast Mittagong Antiques Centre.
There are lots of fun-filled guided experiences on offer in the Southern Highlands. Wine tours are understandably popular. Check out the various itineraries offered by Highlands Food and Wine Tours. Local butcher Maugers Meats conducts a semi-regular Paddock to Plate Tour of their working farm. For a change of pace, head out on a chauffeur-driven adventure with Highland Trike Tours.
For more information, please visit www.southern-highlands.com.au.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of great things to do in the Southern Highlands? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of Destination NSW. Additional images: Bigstock
Susan Hinchey is a freelance travel writer who, even as a teenager growing up in country New South Wales, knew she wanted to see the world. A couple of years out of high school Susan embarked on an eight-week European Contiki tour. Since then she has visited Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Greece, parts of North America, and Britain several times. Susan’s go-to getaway is a camping trip anywhere along the Australian coast. Her favourite travel moments have included sailing the Mediterranean and visiting Denali National Park in Alaska.