NSW, discover the best ways to holiday here this year…
Be revitalised on the Sapphire Coast, NSW
The residents of Tathra, Eden, Merimbula and their bracketing hamlets tend to find themselves in the right place at the right time more than your average human. Humpbacks hug the bays here in relatively prolific numbers, particularly abundant and frisky in the September-to-October migration and Lana Willis, co-owner of Eden-based Cat Balou Cruises, gets to introduce many of her patrons to whales for the first time. “We get a lot of tears. Some people have waited a long time to see whales; it can be a very emotional experience,” says Lana.
But humpbacks aren’t the only reason to get out on the water. Head slightly inland from Eden to Kiah to join Kiah Wilderness Tours to explore the other watery wonders atop a kayak on the Towamba River. Spot sea eagles, kangaroos, plovers, ducks and azure kingfishers. “We’ve even had a huge alpha-male Australian fur seal laying around in the paddock for days,” says owner Jenny Robb.
And if it’s the taste of the sea you’re after, there’s plenty of it to be enjoyed on NSW’s Far South Coast. Start by joining oyster farmer Brett ‘Sponge’ Weingarth on one of his two-hour Magical Oyster Tours. Then get Broadwater Oysters on Pambula Lake to shuck a bucket of them right in front of you. Don’t leave before dining nearby at Wheeler’s seafood restaurant.
Head further north to Fat Tony’s Bar & Grill in Tathra for well-considered lavish portions of fruit-of-the-sea-focused mod Oz. And for something other than seafood, stop in at The Wharf Local cafe for sublime sea views, sensational coffee and light, fresh and local land-bounties.
Accommodation by the water on the Sapphire Coast is in plentiful supply, but a night at one of the three agreeably restored gas-fireplace-warmed cottages at Green Cape Lightstation Keepers’ Cottages is something extra special. Alternatively, check into Tathra Beach House apartments or The Anchorage in Bermagui.
Have a vintage summer holiday on the Tweed Coast, NSW
The Tweed Coast towns of Cabarita Beach, Hastings and Pottsville are the stuff of by-gone summer dreams. This cluster of sleepy seaside towns on the NSW Far North Coast have long been an under-the-radar treat for those in the know. Now the area is embracing its burgeoning hotspot reputation, but in a typically laid-back Tweed Coast kind of way.
It all started with the arrival in Cabarita Beach of Halcyon House, a former 1960s Besser Block motel that was transformed into a very chic boutique hotel by Brisbane sisters Elisha and Siobhan Bickle, with the help of design star Anna Spiro. Then came the recent opening of The Hideaway, a boho chic glamping site up the road from Halcyon, but a large majority of the holidaymakers still flock to the bustling caravan park in nearby Hastings Point, perfectly situated overlooking a stunning stretch of beach on one side and Cudgera Creek on the other.
From here it’s a few minutes’ drive to the cute town centre of Pottsville, where local chef Ben Devlin has taken up residency at Pipit. The modern Australian menu is produced from the best Northern Rivers produce, while the dining room has a pared-back yet welcoming Scandi vibe.
Then tick off a few foodie hotspots, starting with the Cubby Bakehouse in Chinderah for seriously good baguettes and a karaage chicken bahn mi. Pick up fresh produce at Farm & Co or dine at the paddock-to-plate cafe after a wander through the sunflower field. Follow it up with a rum and gin tasting at Husk Distillers’ cellar door. And finally, head to Taverna in Kingscliff for the Sunday night Chef’s Table banquet.
Work it all off with a surfing lesson at Tweed Coast Surf School or take an easy hike through the lush subtropical rainforest of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wollumbin National Park along the Lyrebird Track. And, there are plenty of other spots along the Tweed Coast to do endless hours of nothing in – try the beaches at Kingscliff, Casuarina and Fingal Head (Dreamtime Beach).
Do an empty Esky tour of Shoalhaven, NSW
Long summer’s days in the Shoalhaven region on the NSW South Coast normally pass in a sun-drenched parade of beach visits and drowsy, relaxing afternoons. But 2019/20 was the Shoalhaven’s lost summer, when the mammoth Currowan fires burned for a total of 74 days.
For the 49 towns and villages that stretch across the region, the fires were a collective tragedy: even if individual locations weren’t directly impacted by the flames, they all felt the pain. For an area that relies on the summer season to sustain businesses and the local economy through the quieter winter months, the effects were devastating. But now it’s finally time to join the Empty Esky movement and head south to shop up big.
First up, stop in Kangaroo Valley for tea and homemade scones at The General Cafe before grabbing a loaf of freshly baked bread at Kangaroo Valley Bakehouse and stocking up on sweet treats in the Kangaroo Valley Fudge House. And pie lovers won’t want to miss the chance to try Southern Pies’ cheeseburger version: an Angus beef burger, cheese and dill pickle encased in pastry.
Head to Nowra to shop at Nowra Farmers Market, filled with an array of fresh produce and locally made products including Daily Grind coffee, South Coast milk and Ravenous Food Company’s crunchy and sweet muesli.
If you are doing a day tour of Shoalhaven Heads, time it right so that you arrive for lunch at Bangalay Dining, where the menu is filled with local produce and wine. And if you are spending a few days here, book a room in one of the 16 luxury villas.
While it’s worth visiting the charming town of Berry for the Berry Donut Van alone, there is so much more to recommend it, from the twice-monthly produce markets and weekly farmers’ market to chocolate shops and Milkwood Bakery.
While you’re in the Shoalhaven area, you should also check out the towns of Ulladulla, Milton, Mollymook and Huskisson.
Eat, drink and stay in Coogee, NSW
Less than five kilometres down the road from Bondi, the beachside suburb of Coogee offers up the perfect alternative to its scenic neighbour. Here, we present the perfect two-day itinerary.
Head to breakfast at The Little Kitchen, the menu includes everything from avo toast to The Full Monty fried breakfast. Take your coffee to go and head to the beach for a swim.
Try lunch at X74 cafe, where the on-site organic kitchen garden supplies ingredients for its menu of sandwiches, burgers and super bowls, and then spend the afternoon taking in the coastal scenery on the Coogee to Bondi walk.
Back in Coogee, head to the prominent Coogee Pavilion. Take up position at the Rooftop for pre-dinner drinks and then score a seat at Mimi’s to sample the mod-Med menu. After dinner, make a beeline for the recently revamped Crowne Plaza Sydney Coogee Beach, with its bright and breezy new restaurant spaces and seriously stylish room upgrades.
Coogee is home to a number of stunning natural rock pools and coastal baths, including the heritage-listed Wylie’s Baths; take a dip and then head back to the hotel for breakfast.
Spend the rest of the morning snorkelling at Gordons Bay, north of Coogee; the secluded beach boasts an underwater nature trail, complete with a chain trail and information displayed in steel plaques.
Head for a long lunch of spicy Asian fusion dishes at Sugarcane. Now all that’s left to do is grab a takeaway coffee at The Diver Cafe and cruise past the beach for one last look at this delightfully laid-back destination.
Go wild in the city at Taronga Zoo Sydney, NSW
Living out your wildest dreams in the middle of the city is a cinch at Taronga Zoo Sydney’s luxe eco-conscious Wildlife Retreat. Comprising 62 rooms, the retreat, owned and operated by the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, offers privileged access to the zoo’s inhabitants, while promoting an agenda that leans satisfyingly towards education, conservation and sustainability.
The five low-rise lodges have been constructed with reconstituted timber and metal and plentiful sandstone and native plantings soften the built edges; the property is targeting a five-star Green Star rating.
While the communal hub of the property is the ‘nest’, a central lounge bathed in natural light and looking out at the Opera House, Harbour Bridge and city skyline through floor-to-ceiling windows, its heart and soul is the Sanctuary, a purpose-designed and built native habitat created exclusively for guests.
It is here that you can interact with an array of Australian native animals (led by zookeepers), including two resident echidnas, Tammar wallabies, a red-necked pademelon and koalas.
And it is also here that the strength of the message being told at the Wildlife Retreat becomes clear: with the privilege of access comes the responsibility to protect and safeguard these creatures and their environment for generations to come.
Find out what’s hip in Newcastle, NSW
Introduce yourself to the city properly with a Newcastle Afoot walking tour. Owner Becky Kiil will guide you from the harbour to the laneways, with tidbits about the city’s convict and industrial history and recommendations on some of the best spots to eat and drink around town delivered along the way.
Follow up the tour with a visit to the Olive Tree Market. The market, which launched in 2008, is the nucleus of Newcastle’s creative scene and hosts some 140 stallholders who sustainably and ethically create high-quality local products.
Among the locally produced wares – including hand-painted bike bells by Beep and exquisite pieces by ceramicist Anna Bowie – is Urban Hum, an artisan beekeeping enterprise. Between producing raw honey and selling it at the markets, the owners also hold apiarist workshops to train people about ethical beekeeping.
While the arts and culture scene is flourishing, Newcastle’s accommodation offering has been slower to catch up. But Hunter Street is set to welcome QT Newcastle, the city’s first new luxury hotel in decades. The 106-room hotel will feature a rooftop bar and signature dining. The Kingsley and Little National are also set to enter the market in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, a stay at historic Hayes House is sure to delight. It’s located in the charming Cooks Hill area within walking distance of buzzy dining and shopping strip Darby Street.
The all-important culinary scene is another space Newcastle is kicking goals in. Start the day with a fresh, plant-based brunch at Goodfriends Eatery. Dine at the refined California-cool-style restaurant Flotilla, or indulge in a Brazilian barbecue feast at Meet. Check out the city’s beloved watering holes, The Criterion, the iconic Great Northern and The Prince of Merewether – all of which have been given multimillion-dollar makeovers resulting in sleek interiors and local produce-driven menus.
Before you wrap up your weekend, squeeze in Nobbys Beach and Nobbys Lighthouse, a dip at the Bogey Hole or the Newcastle Ocean Baths and a walk along the ocean-hugging Bathers Way. And make sure to come back for the Big Picture Fest, which sees street artists from around the world transform the city’s drab pockets into vibrant outdoor art galleries over a three-day period.
Discover the other side of Byron Bay, NSW
Heading inland from the coast to Byron’s lush hinterland will deposit you in any number of quaint villages and towns that are definitely worth exploration. Start with the delightful town of Bangalow, its main street lined with heritage shopfronts and cafes, and shopping in abundance.
Score a table under the wide verandah at Woods cafe, a sister to Byron Bay’s popular Folk, and order brunch from the plant-based, ethically sourced menu. Browse Bangalow Pharmacy, with its wooden shelves stocked with scents, lotions and candles; and Our Corner Store, a modern take on the general store. And make sure you take five minutes to duck into the Bangalow Hotel to see its lovely Art Deco interiors.
The sleepy town of Mullumbimby, 24 kilometres north from Byron, is all abuzz come Friday, when the local Mullum farmers’ market takes up residence in the showground from 7am until 11am; expect locally grown and organic produce, raw-food treats, handmade candles and fashions with a bright, breezy, hippy vibe.
Newrybar is another cute country town that has become something of a hotspot, with local creatives setting up shop here. Many can be found at Newrybar Merchants, a collective of “local artisans and curators of fine goods”. Any trip to the town has to also include a visit to the celebrated Harvest, with its artisan deli, bakery and a continually hatted restaurant.
A 15-minute drive from Newrybar you will find the last piece of the Byron hinterland puzzle: The Farm Byron Bay, another collective that includes a market garden, grazing cattle, nursery, bakery and restaurant from the Three Blue Ducks crew.
Take your pick in Bilpin, NSW
It’s raining when I arrive at the gates of Eden Equine in Bilpin, a 90-minute drive along the Bells Line of Road from Sydney. Considering what the town went through just a few days prior to Christmas 2019, I’m not complaining. That’s when the vicious Grose Valley Fire threatened to engulf this tiny hamlet of roughly 665, which is renowned for its apple and fruit orchards.
I’m bound for the newest addition to the property, a collection of five bespoke self-catering cabins, collectively known as Eden Farm Escape. The cluster of cabins that form the luxury farm stay are tucked at the back of the property, adjacent to a menageries of farm animals that includes chickens, goats, alpacas, donkeys and one very large rescue pig.
Heading inside, my two-bedroom cabin is a gracious proposition. The open-plan living area offers a generous lounge room for relaxing in, while the adjoining kitchen has a big dining table and all the elements necessary to whip up hearty country breakfasts or roast dinners. The bedrooms off the living space continue the cosy rustic theme, while the bathroom is rendered in an exuberant blue patterned ceramic.
It is tempting to do little more than sit and relax, looking out over the property through the floor-to-ceiling windows, but one of the joys of a stay here is the chance to take one of the resident horses out for a ride, so I head for the stables instead.
After a restful night engulfed in country silence, the next day is all about exploring Bilpin itself before heading home. I visit the family-run Shields Orchard, taking a basket into the rows of trees to pick my own crispy Granny Smith and sweet Julie apples.
Down the road, these same Julie apples are used to produce the sweet cider available at Hillbilly Cider Shed, where you can enjoy the wares while munching on a wood-fired pizza. My last stop is at the iconic Bilpin Fruit Bowl to grab one of its Pink Lady apple pies to go. As I am leaving Bilpin, the clouds above break and the sun shines through, as if promising that after such heartache, the future here is sure to be bright.
Escape to the country in Bathurst, NSW
The historic Begonia House, located in the pretty surrounds of Machattie Park in the heart of town, is filled with a stunning show of flowers that are a joy to behold.
The Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum houses the internationally celebrated Somerville Collection, including a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
Bathurst is filled with stunning heritage buildings, many of which you can experience at close quarters: book a stay at Alfred on Keppel, a lovingly restored heritage terrace house; tour Abercrombie House, built in the 1870s; and visit Chifley House, the former home of Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley and his wife Elizabeth, left as the couple would have known it in the 1940s.
Drive through stunning countryside to reach the nearby gold rush towns of Hill End and Sofala; explore the impressive Abercrombie Caves Nature Reserve; and take the walking track to Grove Creek Falls.
Discover coffee and culture in Murwillumbah, NSW
With a main street lined with lovely heritage Federation-era buildings that hint at a prosperous past courtesy of the local banana and sugarcane industries, the town of roughly 9500 inhabitants is now attracting visitors with the strength of its coffee and the reputation of its regional art gallery.
First, the coffee: for the best brew in town head to Keith, a funky cafe-cum-bar situated in a 70s-era arcade. It trades in studiously brewed coffee, sandwiches and sweets (with lots of gluten-free options) during the day, while at night the space transforms into a cosy bar.
At the opposite end of the arcade from the cafe is Keith’s Shop of Really, Really, Really Good Things, selling deli items, breads, coffee paraphernalia and illustrated tote bags that are a seriously cool souvenir of your visit.
Next, the art gallery: Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre features a permanent collection and regular exhibitions by local artists. But the pièce de résistance here is the meticulous reconstruction of various rooms from celebrated artist Margaret Olley’s former home, including everything from books to furniture to crumpled chocolate wrappers placed exactly where she left them when she passed away in 2011.
Embrace the natural wonders of Wolgan Valley, NSW
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, in NSW’s World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains region, had no choice but to close temporarily due to surrounding bushfires late last year but its reopening brought with it a renewed sense of purpose.
As Australia’s first conservation-based luxury resort, Wolgan Valley prides itself on its symbiosis with, and respect for, nature and the environment. “We like to think we are the only place in the southern hemisphere that’s carbon-free as a resort,” general manager Tim Stanthorpe says over a lunch cooked open-air among the gum trees.
Everything on our plates is sourced straight from the chef’s garden or gourmet producers in surrounding communities. The property is set on almost 3000 hectares of nature and wildlife reserve.
Guests come here to relax in absolute wilderness: fine dining on seasonal fare, swimming in their own private pool or indulging with an organic spa treatment. But they also come to get out into that wilderness, whether on horseback, mountain bike or foot, and now – more than ever – by participating in the resort’s meaningful and wide-ranging conservation work.
After lunch, my small cohort sets off with activities and conservation manager Simone Brooks and field guide Kirra Tammjarv to plant trees. Other conservation activities guests can take part in include wildlife surveys, testing of water quality, feral animal monitoring and the mapping of significant trees to locate hollows, which provide homes for arboreal marsupials such as gliders and possums, and nocturnal birds, like owls, too.
My own experience today rewards as an uplifting and genuine way to connect to Wolgan Valley’s blissful landscape. We finish our task, dust ourselves down and return to the main homestead for a deck-side cocktail made with the resort’s signature 1832 Wolgan Gin. Distilled with purified water from the pristine Carne Creek and infused with hand-picked lemon-scented tea tree straight from the nature reserve, it’s the perfect way to clock off.
Sample the dynamic food and wine scene in Orange, NSW
The Central West city of Orange has many attributes: a boutique wine region, a long-established reputation as the food bowl of NSW, elegant Edwardian architecture and deciduous trees with riotous autumn leaves; it’s also the birthplace of Banjo Paterson. But now, an influx of tree changers and returning residents have also shaken up the city’s hospitality landscape, redefining Orange as a foodie destination not to be missed.
We don’t make it to Orange’s two hatted restaurants, Lolli Redini and Charred Kitchen & Bar, but instead make a beeline for the newly opened The Arthouse Bar & Courtyard and Schoolhouse Restaurant in the historic Union Bank building. The restaurant showcases Orange region produce in a simple and vibrant way through a brasserie-style menu with nods to the Mediterranean.
Just out of town at Borrodell Vineyard, a lofty 1000 metres above sea level and also a cherry, plum and heritage apple orchard and trufferie, Sister’s Rock Restaurant is also elevating the local dining experience and is more than deserving of a stop on your itinerary.
Orange’s world-class cool-climate wine industry was first cultivated almost 40 years ago by a handful of innovators, including the names behind Canobolas-Smith, Bloodwood Wines, and Philip Shaw Wines; the cellar doors of which you can still visit today.
Nashdale Lane’s cellar door (and glampsite) is a 10-minute drive from the centre of Orange and well worth a visit for a tasting of its vibrant collection of award-winning, single-vineyard wines. A few kilometres further west of Orange, Heifer Station Wines runs its cellar door out of an old woolshed. It’s a proud family business and one that plays a big role in the local community. For four years it has hosted an annual drought-relief lunch, Feast for Farmers, and the morning of our visit is the night after Cold Chisel played A Day on the Green here on the property.
If there’s one place that epitomises all facets of Orange’s new energy, it’s Byng Street Boutique Hotel – a historic homestead that has been transformed into a 4.5-star hotel. Of its 22 guest rooms and suites, three are in the heritage wing. The rest are part of the hotel’s modern wing, which has been juxtaposed onto the back of the house with strong lines, light-filled spaces peppered with local artwork, and a pop artist’s palette.
Byng Street doesn’t fall short in the culinary department either. A two-course, à la carte breakfast showcasing fresh local produce is served in the Yallungah Dining Room.
Add these to your itinerary too: Ferment The Orange Wine Centre & Store is a wine bar and cellar door that is a perfect intro to the region’s offerings; Good Eddy is a hip cafe joined by a boutique and florist to form a cool retail hub called The Collective; The Sonic is a concept store that combines fashion, homewares and coffee.
The sights and culinary delights of the Southern Highlands, NSW
The towns of the NSW Southern Highlands, just over an hour’s drive from Sydney, represent the perfect day-trip destinations, filled as they are with interesting shops, fun festivals ( including the annual Southern Pie-Lands), country scenery and an ever-increasing roster of cafes and eateries.
Any caffeine and food circuit of the area should include breakfast at The Boston in the town of Mittagong, a sleek space tucked into a historic ivy-covered sandstone terrace. The focus here is on seasonal food and serious coffee using Campos beans.
The sleepy little town of Berrima springs to life come the weekend when Sydneysiders and visitors from further afield flock here to shop the boutiques, enjoy picnics on the village green and score a table for cake and coffee at Berkelouw’s Book Barn Bookshop & Cafe on Bendooley Estate. The Bendooley Estate Restaurant is also open for lunch, but bookings are a must.
Moonacres Kitchen in the enviably situated village of Robertson serves a seasonal menu utilising produce sourced locally or grown on its own farm. The team also bake their own breads in the on-site bakery.
Moss Vale is a bit of a hidden gem in the Southern Highlands, with many visitors ending their journey once they hit the hustle and bustle of Bowral 15 minutes down the road. But that’s a mistake as this lovely town is a cracking spot to explore, with a collection of boutiques, including the beautifully curated Suzie Anderson Home. As for the cafe offering here, the bright and breezy Highlands Merchant has homemade sweet treats or, cross the road and grab a booth at the retro Bernie’s Diner for burgers, fries and counter staff in bow ties.
Bowral has much to recommend it, from its annual Tulip Festival to the Bradman Museum. But it’s the cafes that will keep you coming back for more. Head to the must-visit Dirty Janes antique market to browse the vintage stock and then head to Harry’s On Green Lane, with its bookshelf-lined feature wall or The Press Shop, a cafe-cum-stationer. The eclectic Elephant Boy Cafe is another favourite with locals and out-of-towners.
Road trip through the Yass Valley, NSW
The Yass Valley presents the perfect long weekend escape to the country, complete with quaint towns, impressive cellar doors and quality cafes and restaurants using the abundant local produce. Here, the ideal itinerary.
The three-hour drive south-west from Sydney, through the stunning scenery of the Southern Tablelands, delivers you to the town of Yass, once the hub of all things sheep related.
After strolling past former bank buildings, the imposing post office complete with clock tower and elegant courthouse, head to the interesting local collective of Trader & Co. for lunch and seriously good coffee courtesy of socially conscious locals Six8 Coffee Roasters.
And be sure to pick up some baked goods along the way from Clementine Bakery, the new project from the team behind Clementine Restaurant.
The landscape surrounding the town of Murrumbateman, a 20-minute drive from Yass, is home to some of the region’s best cold-climate wineries. Park the car and use pedal power to navigate your way from one to the other down quiet country roads.
Standouts include: Shaw Wines, The Vintner’s Daughter, Clonakilla; and Murrumbateman Winery. Most offer cheese and share plates to accompany wine tastings. Swing by Robyn Rowe Chocolates to grab some hand-crafted treats to enjoy later with your cellar door purchases.
Yass isn’t the only town worth attention in these parts. Nearby Binalong, the childhood home of Banjo Paterson, also has ties to bushrangers such as Ben Hall; a mural in Pioneer Park recounting the death of bushranger ‘Flash’ Johnny Gilbert at the hands of the police, and there’s some impressive period architecture.
Twenty minutes away is Bowning, one of the area’s earliest settlements; check out the Cobb & Co. Coaching Station, Troopers Cottage and the Bowning Hotel, a quintessential Aussie pub where local legend has it, Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson used to drink.
The accommodation offering in Yass is just as impressive, including the design-driven Abode Murrumbateman; Tallagandra Hill Winery has three self-contained, stylishly decorated cottages to choose from; and Yass Tiny Farm and Accommodation has two eco-friendly, off-grid options.
Hit the road to Mudgee, NSW
Mudgee might just be the perfect country town – a place that balances old-school charm with plenty to satisfy the 21st-century palate. The NSW town is surrounded by rolling hills studded with vineyards that serve epicurean fare alongside their award-winning drops.
To get a taste of everything, time your visit to coincide with Mudgee Farmers’ Market on the third Saturday of every month or the Mudgee Wine + Food Festival in spring. Or go on a Mudgee Farm Walk, where you’ll join a guided visit to two farms (different each month) to engage with their farmers and be part of a real paddock-to-plate journey.
Or simply swing by any cafe or restaurant in town or surrounds and let the goods come to you: our picks are Alby & Esthers, tucked away in a gorgeous courtyard off Mudgee’s main drag; Roth’s Wine Bar, which has been serving up food, wine and music for almost a century; elegant Zin House on the organic and biodynamic Lowe Wines property; and unique fine diner Pipeclay Pumphouse at Robert Stein Winery.
Poke your nose around the plethora of other pretty country towns in the region, each distinctive in its own right. Starting with Rylstone, this sandstone-hewn heritage town and its surrounds are known for their olive estates and wineries. An extension of the Mudgee wine region, the town hosts Street Feast, with its popular long table lunch, each year. There’s also handmade dumplings to be had at 29 Nine 99 and good coffee at places like The Saffron Kitchen & Cafe.
In between, squeeze in the scenic drive from Rylstone to Mudgee to visit the village of Lue and its local icon of a pub, the Lue Hotel – serving cold beers since 1912. Thirty kilometres north of Mudgee, Gulgong is a former gold mining town that feels like a time capsule back to the 19th century.
You can even visit the oldest still-operating opera house in the southern hemisphere: the Prince of Wales Opera House opened in 1871 and in its heyday saw the great Dame Nellie Melba grace its stage. The town and surrounds are a haven for ceramicists and artists, and an international clay festival is held here every two years.
Eat your way around the Murray River Valley, NSW
The mighty Murray River is the longest in Australia, weaving its way through three states – NSW, Victoria and South Australia. Concentrating on the stretch running from Albury in NSW to Echuca in Victoria in the Murray Valley food bowl – one of the country’s most productive agricultural areas – offers up the perfect bite-sized (literally) road trip, filled with scenery, food and passionate locals.
Start the journey from Albury and aim to cover the roughly 227 kilometres to make it to the border town of Moama by late afternoon. The first stop worth making along the way is in Corowa, a quick 45 minutes from Albury. The drawcard here is Corowa Whisky & Chocolate. You can sample its whiskies in the cosy tasting room, but designated drivers would be best sticking to the thick, sweet hot chocolate in the cafe instead.
It’s another 45 minutes’ drive to the town of Yarrawonga, stop here to shop the award-winning olive oils, gourmet foods and beauty products at the family-owned Rich Glen Olive Estate’s on-site store and cafe.
Continue on to Moama and head to Perricoota Vines Retreat, an award-winning lakeside village populated by comfortable self-catering villas and some excellent leisure facilities, which is the perfect base for the next few days given its handy proximity to sights and sustenance.
After breakfast in your villa head out on foot to St Anne’s Winery (an easy 15-minute walk) for the daily tastings conducted at the rammed-earth cellar door. The property produces a range of wines, from light whites and full-bodied reds to rich, sticky muscats.
You can work off your late-morning tipple by walking another 15 minutes towards town for lunch at Three Black Sheep. A popular breakfast and lunch spot with locals, the menu is made up of eclectic cafe fare and the servings are generous (and delicious).
With lunch done, grab a coffee to go and head back towards Perricoota Vines Retreat, and keep walking another 10 minutes past it to arrive at Pacdon Park, purveyors of all things pork. Find pork pies, pork sausages, streaky bacon, black pudding, white pudding, gammon steaks and haggis (buy up big while you are here and that’s dinner taken care of) .
On the return trip back to Albury break up the journey at Lake Mulwala and stay for a meal at Blacksmith Provedore, a stylish restaurant and bar that trades on the feels of summer holidays of old, while hinting at the future direction for the town.
Back in Albury, head to Circa 1928 for the night (a boutique spa hotel housed in a former Art Deco bank building close to the town’s botanic gardens and Murray Art Museum Albury before returning home the next day with a bagful of local produce from this most delicious of bite-sized road trips.
Visit the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and towns of the Mid North Coast, NSW
Halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, NSW’s Mid North Coast is the perfect road trip destination for families wanting to make classic summer holiday memories.
Lace together an itinerary that stretches from the Great Lakes of Forster-Tuncurry to the simple sunshine and saltwater pleasures of Yamba, taking in the tranquillity of South West Rocks and Coffs Harbour, with its raft of nature-rich experiences, along the way. And, at the heart of the region, Port Macquarie: with its warm and welcoming laid-back charm, 17 beaches and lush hinterland to explore.
Here, you’ll also find a range of attractions to entertain absolutely everyone who’s packed into the car, but don’t miss the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital – where you can see for yourself the important work it does and make some furry friends. This beloved rehabilitation centre saw an overwhelming wave of support following bushfires in and around Port Macquarie in November 2019, which devastated the region’s genetically diverse koala population.
Its crowdfunding page, initially set up to raise money to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations to burnt areas, has seen about $8 million pour in from more than 150,000 donors all around the world. These funds will not only allow for the installation of 100 drinking stations, but will help establish a wild koala breeding program, too.
Journey through the Greater Blue Mountains, NSW
The best way to experience the compelling attractions of the Blue Mountains is on a road trip. Try this four-day itinerary for a good start.
Heading out of the city, your ascent into the heart of the Blue Mountains passes by or through a string of quaint villages and towns. Turn off the highway at Faulconbridge to visit the gracious home and gardens of the celebrated artist Norman Lindsay, author and illustrator of The Magic Pudding.
Stop for morning tea in the town of Leura, with its main street lined with cafes (try the Red Door Cafe) and shops, including Moontree, filled with scented candles and works by local artists, the brilliantly curated interiors shop The Cat’s Meow and Josophan’s Fine Chocolate, for some road trip treats.
From Leura, it’s a five-minute drive to the town of Katoomba. A white-knuckle ride on the vertiginous Scenic Railway as it plummets through the lush vegetation to the Jamison Valley below is almost mandatory in these parts. Katoomba is also the starting point for some great bush walks: try the easy Echo Point/Prince Henry Cliff Walk/Katoomba Falls or medium Minihaha Falls walks.
Bed down for the night at the heritage-listed Carrington Hotel, with its glory-days decor and generous family rooms.
It’s a 15-minute drive to the pretty town of Blackheath to grab your morning coffee or hot chocolate at Anonymous Cafe. Get it to go and browse the shops – including the mountains outpost of Gleebooks and the estate jewellery in the historic Victory Theatre Antiques Centre – or time your visit to coincide with the annual rhododendron festival in November.
Continue along through Mt Victoria. Stop in at the Hartley Historic Site, one of the best collections of historic buildings in the country. Continuing 45 minutes down the road to Newnes Plateau is the home of the magical glow worm tunnel, a former railway tunnel now filled with nature’s own version of fairy lights.
Spend the night at Parkside at Blackheath, a gracious 1930s mountain cottage that has been meticulously transformed into a chic weekender.
Head out of Blackheath for the 20-minute drive down to the picturesque Megalong Valley. Book a trail ride with Blue Mountain Horse Riding to traverse misty valleys, and finish your morning with a plate of fluffy scones at Megalong Valley Tea Rooms.
From Blackheath, it’s a one-hour drive to the lovely rural community of Oberon. Head to the Mayfield Garden, the largest cool-climate garden in the world. Spend the rest of the day wandering through meticulously manicured gardens. Mayfield Garden’s glampsite operates during autumn, with the bonus of early-morning and night access to the gardens.
The Long Arm Farm Cafe and Produce in town is a good choice for breakfast, with its local-produce-heavy menu. Once filled up, load up the car and head back towards Lithgow (stop at Jenolan Caves) and the Bells Line of Road.
It takes 30 minutes to reach the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden in Mt Tomah. Explore the gardens, then have lunch at The Potager (insider’s secret: you can stay the night within the gardens at Camellia Cottage or the Jungle Lodge). The last stop of the day should be Trees Adventure at Grose River Park in Yarramundi, with its tree-top obstacle courses that variously require you to dangle, climb and swing your way through the forest.
The rustic yet super-cosy Hidden Valley Retreat Cottages are perfect for your final night, all situated within a blissful valley setting.
See the world’s second largest canyon, NSW
While the Grand Canyon in the United States is renowned as the largest canyon in the world, it often comes as a surprise to find out that the world’s second largest canyon can be found here in Australia. On the other side of the Blue Mountains to be precise, less than three hours’ drive from Sydney.
Blanketed in World Heritage-listed nature, Capertee Valley encompasses three national parks – Wollemi, Gardens of Stone and Capertee – and is resplendent with stunning scenery and abundant flora and fauna.
Formed over millions of years, the valley has played host to an eclectic array of residents and visitors in its time, from the local Wiradjuri people, who can trace a 2000-year history here (and left behind rock paintings), to bushrangers using its remote reaches to hide rustled cattle, to Henry Lawson, who included a mention of the valley in his 1891 poem, Song of the Old Bullock Driver.
Nowadays, it is hikers and twitchers who flock here for the challenging walks (including to the top of the imposing monolith of Pantoneys Crown, literally the crowning glory of the valley) and outstanding birdwatching. It also plays host to Bubbletent Australia’s three unique igloo tents – Cancer, Leo and Virgo – which boast big beds, en suites, telescopes for stargazing and outdoor bathtubs from which to soak up the grandness of it all.