The Southern Highlands, New South Wales, is made up of 16 towns all within easy reach of Sydney, Canberra and the Illawarra. The region is a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and is complete with natural wonders, historic townships and some of the best food and wine anywhere. There are so many things to do in the Southern Highlands, so much to see and do, that honestly we won’t be able to cover it all in just this one article.
However, consider this a taster, an intro, a first step into the region and the gorgeous Southern Highlands towns separated by bushland and green pastures. Find out how to get there, a few of the main towns and villages and also what kinds of things you can do and see because once down there you will feel as if you are a world away from Sydney—and yet, you’re only 130 kilometres down the Hume.
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There are plenty of things to do in Southern Highlands. For starters, it’s the closest wine region to Sydney and we’re big fans of the wineries in the Southern Highlands. You should be too.
But that’s not all. It’s not even close to all the things you can do in the Southern Highlands.
Towns in the Southern Highlands
The first Southern Highland town you’ll see on your drive south from Sydney will be Yerrinbool and it is home to heaps of koalas. There’s not much else to do in Yerrinbool, but koalas. Also, it’s just 12 kilometres from the northern gateway to the region, the historic Mittagong.
Mittagong—The Northern Gateway
Whether you come by car or by train, you could spend the entire day in Mittagong relaxing by Lake Alexandra, feeding the ducks and barbecuing and picnicking it up. It’s the perfect plan for any sunny day. If that’s not enough, you can go drink some wine at the likes of Artemis Wines and Tertini Wines or go for beers at Eden Brewery and ciders at The Apple Thief.
The town has managed to blend the old with the new and a wander through its streets is almost like a walk through the 1800s. Make a stop at the Mittagong Antiques Centre, a popular thing to do in the Southern Highlands, and you might just pick up something that old too. Throw in a trip up to Mt Gibraltar and you’ll be able to take a look back from where you came—Sydney. It’s the perfect day trip from Sydney.
Robertson—The Eastern Gateway
If you’re driving down the coast, the drive east into the Southern Highlands will take you through Robertson. And when in Robertson, the one must-visit shop is the Robertson Pie Shop (more on pies later). In the area, you can also walk among the treetops with Illawarra Fly’s elevated walkway and explore a temperate rainforest, which is hiding just a short walk from the town centre.
Bowral is the largest town in the Southern Highlands and home to heaps of things to do in the region. It’s known for its gorgeous gardens like Corbett Gardens and the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens—both stunning places to visit in autumn—as well as gourmet tasting experiences at The Mill Courtyard or mouth-watering meals at one of its many acclaimed restaurants like Onesta Cucina, Centennial Vineyards Restaurant or BD Woodfired Pizza and Pasta.
In Bowral, you’ll also find the Bradman Museum and the International Cricket Hall of Fame, plenty of clothing boutiques as well as troves of antique treasures, galleries and designer homewares.
The rural centre of the Highlands, Moss Vale, has quickly become an urban centre featuring plenty of boutique and craft shops that even celebrities have been spotted in. There’s Suzie Anderson Home as well as Hunter & Gatherer Collections for a range of homewares you won’t find anywhere else.
Leighton Gardens in the centre of town is a sight of beauty and colour to behold in spring while Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
If you’re after food and drink, then Moss Vale has got your taste buds covered as well. From classy restaurants like Birch with its degustation menus to the American-style diner Bernie’s, your taste buds are going to be well looked after. Looking for a drink, find your way to the Southern Highlands Brewing Taphouse.
Walk and Hikes
If there was only one thing to do in the Southern Highlands, it could very well be walk, walk and walk and we wouldn’t complain.
A visit to Fitzroy Falls, home to the region’s most visited attraction is a must thing to do in the Southern Highlands. The waterfall is stunning and the surrounding area offers up spellbinding views and glorious nature. It cost $4 to park the car but it’s well worth it for any venture into Morton National Park. Make sure you pop into the visitor center, too. It’s award-winning and the perfect place to begin any adventure.
Another must-see is Wombeyan Caves. These limestone caves are so ancient that dinosaurs weren’t even around when they were formed. Underground passages and caverns feature striking and delicate formations that you can see on a tour or on your own at Fig Tree Cave. Above ground, you will find bush walks and even a limestone gorge where summer swims are pretty special.
The Best of Bowral and Bong Bong Track is a 26 km-long shared walking and cycling path. The first part combines the best of Bowral, obviously, mostly over flat terrain and takes in the scenic parts of the town along mostly residential streets. Then, at Yean Street, you can go off-road and along the beautiful Wingecarribee River.
The Southern Highlands Three Peaks Walk does exactly what its name says and that’s to climb three peaks: Mount Alexandra, Mount Gibraltar and Ninety Acre hill. Departing from Mittagong train station, this 20km loop passes the quarry, Lake Alexandra and Gibbergunyah Creek Gorge.
The Bowral Cherry Tree Walk is an easy, family-friendly jaunt (12kms) that will take you past the botanic gardens as well as the Vietnam War Memorial while if you’re in Berrima, the river walk is one you can do in under an hour. Check out the fully restored colonial Georgian house that is Harper’s Mansion while you’re there.
If you’re looking for Carrington Falls, there’s a handful of walks that will take you to the best vantage points as well as ones that include Nellies Glen while one of the best-kept secrets of the area is the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve not too far from Robertson.
The Boxvale Walking Track is another popular route and for good reason too as it cuts through pleasant bush and navigation is simple. However, it does get muddy (read: very muddy and dangerous) and can often be closed off for safety reasons.
For the easiest kind of walks, Red Cow Farm presents 2.5 hectares of 20 gardens to wander around in and get lost amongst its beauty. The property is open to the public on the first and third weekends of the month from 11am to 3pm and no pets are allowed.
Cellar Doors, Wineries and Distilleries
When it comes to wine, the Southern Highlands does cool climate varieties. Known predominantly for pinot noir and sparkling, the region has some of the most awarded wines in the country. It’s home to a number of stunning and picturesque wineries as well as others that offer hands-on experiences and tasting tours. It’s also home to one of our favourite sustainable vineyards where you can meet the wooly workers on a tour of the vineyards.
There are over 60 wineries in the Southern Highlands and 17 cellar doors that it might be easier to jump onto a wine tour of the Southern Highlands so that all the best decisions are made for you or join a wine experience like a Peppergreen Estate wine tasting tour or a cycle tour that includes breweries and food producers. Like we said, there are heaps of things to do in the Southern Highlands.
Take a look at all the wineries and cellar doors in the Southern Highlands region here. However, if you’re looking for a tipple that’s a little stronger than wine, look no further than Renegade Spirits in Mittagong.
Restaurants and Cafés
From cheap eats to fine dining, the Southern Highlands has you covered with quality, local produce full of flavour. There are bistros and pizza places, diners and Chinese restaurants as well as Indian, French, Italian and more delicious dishes to poke a fork at.
If you read through Towns in the Southern Highlands, then you’ve already come across a number of eating and drinking establishments that will make your mouth water and your stomach ask for more in Mittagong, Robertson, Bowral and Moss Vale. However, we don’t think you can be spoilt for choice when it comes to Southern Highlands food options since the region is home to so many more places to sit, eat and be merry.
There’s eschalot in Berrima Village which is simply one of the best restaurants anywhere. The award-winning restaurant by head chef Matty Roberts has won plenty of prestigious awards over the years, but its greatest claim is the love its locals have for the food he serves up. Its food is made for sharing and you’ll be coming back to try it all.
Katers in Sutton Forest is well known for its Trio of Dewsbury Pork: eight-hour slow-cooked pork shoulder, roasted honey caraway pork rack, fried pork croquette, with broccolini, carrots, baked potato, cider apple sauce and mustard aioli. Located in Peppers Manor House, it’s grand yet intimate, sophisticated and world-class.
If you’re looking for a bit of Spanish in your life, Carca Restobar is your place while Toshi’s is your go-to for Japanese and The Glass Cafe in Mittagong is all your Modern-Australian under one roof. Their breakfast menu is also a great start to any day exploring the Southern Highlands. Vegetarians haven’t been forgotten about it either with Veggie Nook in Bowral.
Other cafés you shouldn’t look past include Lil Piggy, Elephant Boy Café, The Shaggy Cow, The Press Shop Café, and 2 Park Road: The Corner Store.
Coffee fiends are in for a treat when in the Southern Highlands because there are close to 100 quality cafés to get a special drop of the good stuff. The region even has its own coffee trail for you to tick off your favourites and try new places every time you come back. Favourites include 4 Brothers Cafe, Plantation Cafe, Allumer Coffee and Eatery, and Rush Roasting Co.
Markets and Shops
The city might have a lot of pull when it comes to retail therapy, but the Southern Highlands’ attractions include shopping. Markets are held on a regular basis and there’s a variety of goods, products and treasures to find across the region on any given weekend. Take a peek to find out what’s on in the Southern Highlands market community here.
Antiques are in no short supply and you never know what you’re going to find at an op shop, let alone one in the country. Specialty shops include the Australian Alpaca Barn and places to discover eclectic finds include Nest and Burrow and Bowerbird on Argyle. Top Hats and Pussy Cats is also a great spot to stop for a unique shopping experience.
When it comes to books, the Southern Highlands is a bookshop haven. It is also the first Australian representative of the international book town movement and there’s more than a handful of worlds of words sprinkled about the region.
Important Dates in the Southern Highlands
It’s not just Sydney that has important dates marked in the calendar every year.
Country towns are famous for pies and the Southern Highlands is no different, except for the fact that they have a time of the year called Pie Time and we are all for it. When is Pie Time? Pie Time is in June and coincides with Australia’s National Pie Day on 1 June in celebration of the humble meat pie. There are special-themed events happening during the month as well as activities like pie tastings, pie teas and pies & pinot. Get amongst Pie Time and mark it in your calendars for a pie-tastic day trip.
Or, download the pie trail pdf here for a list of more than 30 country town pie shops. The Southern Highlands is Australia’s home of the pie and the pie trail is the best way to find out why.
Springtime is Tulip Time in the Southern Highlands where 75,000 mass planted tulips in Corbett Gardens are the star of the show. But, there is also a Tulips After Dark experience on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the festival. Find out everything you need to know about this blooming good time, like what special activities are on and when, at the Tulip Time website.
The Southern Highlands is home to possibly the greatest concentration of artists, from writers to painters, and artisans anywhere in rural Australia. We can only imagine that it’s because of the fresh air, the natural beauty and the way of life that the region inspires you to live. To celebrate, November is Arts Time when the annual Southern Highlands Arts Festival kicks into gear.
With plenty of galleries, studios and workshops, you’re going to need to check out the ARTSfile website to find out where to go, what to do and what to see arts-wise in the Southern Highlands. You might just even pick up a piece of art to take home with you.
Accommodation in the Southern Highlands
A Southern Highlands day trip might be enough for some, but as you can see there are so many things to do in the Southern Highlands that you can keep coming back over and over again. Or, you could escape the city for a country weekend getaway to relax and recharge.
From Southern Highlands camping by the river to caravan parks and private cottages to rent on a historic farm, there are accommodation options for every traveller on every budget. That includes heaps of Southern Highlands hotels where you can get a room and a meal in the same place. Check out the accommodation page at Visit the Southern Highlands website for a huge list of options to suit every need.
However, one of the most luxurious options in the Southern Highlands has to be Bendooley Estate. They’ve got swanky and cosy cottages with lake views as well as an onsite restaurant that is the perfect place to sit by the fire in winter and tuck into a hearty meal. You can visit the cellar door and even browse the bookstore with its revered collection of books. Bendooley Estate is also one of the top wedding venues in New South Wales.
Getting to the Southern Highlands
The Southern Highlands is one of the most gorgeous road trips you can take from Sydney.
Get onto the Hume Motorway from the city and soon you’ll be leaving the concrete jungle behind. On your way south you’ll find yourself driving between national parks and conservation areas. You could make a quick detour to take in the views from Nattai Gorge Lookout. Well worth it if you’ve got the time, otherwise keep on heading south and Welcome to the Southern Highlands will appear just outside of Yerrinbool.
If you’re in no rush and prefer to drive along the coast, then head south of Sydney along the Grand Pacific Drive towards Woollongong. Pass Lake Illawarra (and optionally Shellharbour) to enter into the Southern Highlands from the east via Robertson.
We do highly recommend driving to the Southern Highlands. The region has even put together a Tourist Drive map (with four routes) so that you can tick off as many activities and sights to see in the area.
But, if you can’t drive to the Southern Highlands, then…
It’s train time.
There are two options when it comes to trains. The first is to catch the Southern XPLORER Regional Train (typically the 631 to Canberra) from Central Station. The journey takes from 90-105 minutes, so shy of two hours, and will cost $15-20 depending on the train and whether you hop off at Mittagong, Bowral or Moss Vale.
Again, if you’re not pressed for time and want to save some money on the train ticket, you can jump on the T8 (Macarthur via Airport) to Campbelltown and change service to the SHL (Campbelltown to Moss Vale) train. This route is not as quick (averages two hours and thirty minutes) but it does only cost a touch over $6. Use the NSW Transport trip planner to find train times.
Unless you plan to just hit up one town, which you most definitely can, once in the Southern Highlands you’re going to need to get around. If you’re still using PT, then Berrima Buslines is your friend.
No matter what you choose to do, or when you choose to go, you’re going to find the time to relax, escape and unwind in the Southern Highlands. Make sure to plan your visit to the Southern Highlands because bookings are essential, both for restaurants and overnight stays.
For more info on the Southern Highlands, make sure to hit up the Southern Highlands tourism website.