Just under 2 hours south of Sydney is easily one of the best weekend getaways from Sydney; the Southern Highlands. The Southern Highlands towns, including Bowral, Berrima, Moss Vale, Mittagong, Fitzroy Falls and Robertson are some of the most picturesque I’ve seen in Australia. The Southern Highlands is also a renowned wine region with over 60 vineyards and 17 cellar doors. These Southern Highlands wineries are highly regarded, having won numerous awards at national and international competitions. For nature lovers, the Southern Highlands are a fantastic destination for waterfall chasing. The Southern Highlands are home to the breathtaking Carrington Falls, Belmore Falls and Fitzroy Falls and all three can be seen in one day trip.
The Southern Highlands are incredibly peaceful, naturally beautiful and great for couples, friends and families whatever your interests. You can also catch a train to one of the many Southern Highlands towns if not driving, another reason as to why this destination makes my list of the best weekend getaways from Sydney.
Southern Highlands Accommodation
Will and I have visited the Southern Highlands twice, both times for our wedding anniversary. There’s a huge range of accommodation in the Southern Highlands, and it’s home to probably my favourite unique AirBnB we’ve stayed in. This Southern Highlands AirBnB, near the small town of Robertson is called Spiral House and it the ultimate romantic destination. It’s perched on the highest point of the Illawarra escarpment and Mount Murry with unbeatable views, best admired from the outdoor bathtub. You’re totally secluded, with a wood-burning fire, well-equipped kitchen and luxuriously cosy bed.
You can’t beat Spiral House for Southern Highlands accommodation. However if you’re looking at other options, there are plenty of bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, boutique luxury guesthouses and motels available, as well as larger Southern Highlands AirBnBs that sleep more than 2. For luxury guesthouses check out Peppers Manor House, Briars Country Lodge and Inn and the Berida Hotel, as well as the 1920s Robertson Hotel.
Things to do in the Southern Highlands
With so many things to do in the Southern Highlands, whatever your tastes, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There are lots of eclectic one-off shops to check out in the Southern Highlands, especially if you like antiques. Bowral, the largest of the Southern Highlands towns, is home to Dirty Janes, a collection of over 80 independent antique dealers, decorators and general up-cyclers. There’s also some great modern homewares shops, as well as a few boutique fashion options. You can find Dirty Janes, along with some other shopping options, on Green Lane.
Berrima, a town that reminds me of Arundel in my home county of West Sussex, UK, is home to Bare Body Beauty Co, an all-natural and organic skin care range which offers a beautiful array of products. There’s also the cute Mrs Oldbucks Pantry, a famous jam shop with plenty of delicious pantry goods to take back to Sydney with you.
One of my all-time favourite wineries near Sydney, Cherry Tree Hill Winery, is located in the Southern Highlands. What makes this winery stand out amongst the other Southern Highlands wineries to me is their unbeatable off-dry Reisling. Their Reisling (all varietals) is recognised as the vineyards’ ‘rising star’ and is consistently lauded by some of the best critics in the country.
Check out this post for more information about Cherry Tree Hill Winery and some of my other favourite boutique wineries in Australia.
There’s plenty more notable Southern Highlands wineries worth visiting including Tertini, Artemis and Centennial vineyard. On our most recent visit, we actually had lunch in Centennial vineyards restaurant which serves up classic Australian dishes with gorgeous views over the vines, before wine tasting at the cellar door. The highlight of wine tasting at Centennial vineyard was probably the 2016 Limited Release Shiraz, a full-bodied, spiced red, and their incredibly strong Raspberry nectar, perfect for a boozy desert or to top off a glass of sparkling.
Check out the 2021 James Halliday companion guide for more details on the cool-climate Southern Highlands wineries.
Nature & Hiking
There’s plenty of ways to explore the scenic natural beautiful of the region, from hiking in national parks to formal gardens. There are three well known waterfalls in the Southern Highlands; Carrington Falls, Belmore Falls and Fitzroy Falls, each with accessible or more challenging walking trails.
1. Carrington Falls
The Carrington Falls in the Budderoo National Park are a short drive from one of the Southern Highlands towns, Robertson. There are several picnic areas to choose from and a few different Carrington Falls walking tracks to explore. We opted for the easy 1.1km return Izzards Lookout Track for views of both the Carrington Falls and the forests of Kangaroo Valley. Afterwards, we completed the Missingham Lookout Track on the western edge of the escarpment. This Carrington Falls walking track offered a wide angle view of the falls and gorge and is about 4km return.
There’s also the nearby Minnamurra Rainforest Centre nearby if you want to learn more about this spectacular rainforest.
2. Belmore Falls
The Belmore Falls, which are also near Robertson, are accessible via a narrow, winding, dirt road, so take care when driving. There is a crossing at Barrengarry Creek, which we accidentally drove over, but this can be dangerous when the falls are high. The easy Belmore Falls walking track takes between 30 minutes to an hour and is 1.8km return. The walking track has several lookouts, the last of which provides views over Belmore Falls. The Belmore Falls walking track was well worth the visit, and easy to fit into a busy itinerary.
3. Fitzroy Falls
Lastly, there’s the unbeatable Fitzroy Falls. The Fitzroy Falls, in the Morton National Park, are highly rated as some of the best waterfalls in Australia. Measuring 81 metres high, the Fitzroy Falls drop dramatically into bushland. The Fitzroy Falls Visitors Centre, a short walk from the falls themselves, have lots of information and guides on which Fitzroy Falls walks to enjoy. We visited quite late in the day during winter, so the staff were great in helping us select one of the shorter Fitzroy Falls walks before the sun set.
There’s both the West Rim (3.5km return) and East Rim (7km) walking tracks, each offering different but great experiences. The West Rim has lots of different lookouts from which to observe the Falls, whereas the longer East Rim dips into a rainforest gully. We opted to do the first part of the East Rim walk, the East Rim Wildflower Walk, past Ferny Glen to the Warrawong lookout.
4. Southern Highlands Gardens
The Southern Highlands towns are home to some of the most beautiful private gardens in Australia, inspired by English gardens and manor homes. It’s a lovely place to be when feeling homesick. Check out the gardens at Red Cow Farm in Sutton Forest, the Southern Highlands Botanical Gardens or the Corbett Gardens in Bowral, for the annual Tulip festival in Spring.
Southern Highlands Restaurants
The Southern Highlands towns have become known as fantastic foodie destinations in their own right. The choice and quality of Southern Highlands Restaurants is definitely why this destination is up there as one of my best weekend getaways from Sydney.
Some standout brunch spots or cafes include the Grand Bistro in Bowral (don’t miss the Ricotta pancakes), the Robertson Old Cheese Factory (great for takeaways for a cheese board at your Southern Highlands AirBnB and Coffee Culture in either Bowral or Mittagong.
For more fine dining, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Eschalot in Berrima. Escalot is located inside an old-English style historic building, with lots of small, cosy dining areas, giving you lots of privacy for a special occasion. There’s a large kitchen garden where most of the fresh produce comes from, as well as a comprehensive wine list. Thank you Eschalot for introducing us to Cherry Tree Hill!
The menu is seasonal and regularly changes, and there’s the option to order a la carte, or opt for the 6 course tasting menu or ‘feed me’ menu, if dining in a group of 4 or more. We opted for the some specials of razor clams crudo, balmain bugs with squid fettucine and chorizo cabbage and WA Marron, which is a species of crayfish. Everything was presented creatively and tasted divine! They also do breakfast, which I didn’t know so I’ve bookmarked this for our next trip.
If you’re researching other Southern Highlands restaurants, the Centennial Vineyards restaurant is also a good, slightly cheaper, fine dining option, with traditional Australian classics. I’ve also heard very good things about Harry’s on Green Lane in Bowral for lunch, smarter than a café but not as formal as Eschalot, so we’ll be making a visit there next time.
Why this region makes my list of the best weekend getaways from Sydney
I don’t tend to get homesick very often in Sydney, I feel very comfortable and at home here. However, there are some things about the UK which I do miss. What makes the Southern Highlands one of my best weekend getaways from Sydney is probably the old English feel to the towns, and the cooler temperatures, especially in winter.
There’s delicious local produce to enjoy and some excellent restaurants to visit. There’s beautiful cool climate wines best enjoyed in front of a roaring fire with views over the vines. There’s plenty of waterfall chasing to be had, before relaxing and recuperating in your boutique romantic accommodation. What else could you need?