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Set your compass due south-west from Sydney and drive for around 90 minutes. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself in the high country – a land of meadows and little market towns, rough-cut log fences, rolling hills and parallel pinot vineyards. The air is cool up here. When you spot your first English tulip, you’ve officially arrived. Welcome to the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
The Southern Highlands is still a relatively well-kept secret. Most of the Sydney crowds tend to flock to the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley, but the canny ones drive south to Bowral, the most popular town in the Highlands, and spend their weekend idly browsing produce markets, touring cool climate wineries, or curled up in front of the fireplace.
We have some beautiful properties in the Highlands. Some are traditional English-style cottages, although ‘cottage’ might not be doing them justice, while others have appeared in Architectural Digest. It all depends what you’re looking for, really.
Fancy staying in one of Australia’s most iconic private homes? Meet Seidler House, designed by famed architect Harry Seidler back in 2000. It’s a modernist property straight out of the Hollywood Hills, and includes four bedrooms, viewing decks and a private pool. Seidler himself said he wanted this house to “defy gravity”.
‘Grandeur’ is the first word that leaps to mind here. Burradoo House was built in 1927, and it’s been faithfully restored to its former glory, complete with ornamental gardens (as you do), tiered water fountain and a spectacular two-storey glass conservatory. It sleeps twelve people. Don’t forget to bring the Cluedo.
Bowral is a great jumping-off point for exploring the Highlands, and Baynton is one of its most beautiful homes, set high on the enclave of Mt Gibraltar. There’s a large wood-burning fireplace in the lounge room, a herb garden for cooking, and a dreamy backyard pool, perfect for general lounging in luxury.
Five bedrooms. Four bathrooms. A lazy 170 acres of private farmland to explore. What more could you want for a weekend getaway? Springfield Farm is a classic Highlands country estate. You’ll find it in Bundanoon, on the northern edge of the state forest. There are hiking trails just nearby, and you can laze the day away on the wrap-around veranda.
Chef and owner Richard Kemp has created something pretty special in Eschalot. You’ll find this one on the Hume Highway in Berrima. It’s known as one of the finest restaurants in the Highlands. The cuisine is nominally European, but Kemp puts his own spin on things, mixing flavours like ponzu oysters and chrysanthemum consommé.
The Southern Highlands only got its official wine region designation in 1999, but it’s already home to some of Australia’s best cool climate wineries. Tertini is our personal favourite. Their cellar door has made it into Gourmet Traveller WINE Magazine’s Best Cellar Doors list every year since 2014. If you’re after a winery with more of a white-tablecloth-vibe, check out Centennial Vineyards or Southern Highlands Winery. Their restaurants are both excellent.
Brunch in the Highlands is taken very seriously. If you’re staying near Berrima, get up early and wander down to the town’s General Store. It’s everything you want in a Highlands café: cosy, friendly, and they do a Devonshire Tea that would make Miss Marple proud. McVitty Grove Café is another good option, particularly if you’re staying in Mittagong – it’s got some of the best views in the Highlands.
The Bowral Tulip Festival has been running uninterrupted for 59 years, which makes it one of the oldest flower festivals in Australia. For two weeks in late September and early October, more than 75,000 tulips blossom all over the shire, and Bowral itself turns into something resembling Tulip Palooza. There are tulip displays and garden shows, live entertainment, private garden openings and foodie events everywhere. Just keep in mind, a lot of places in Bowral book up around this time, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
The Southern Highlands, being generally high and vertiginous, are also home to some of New South Wales’ best walking tracks and waterfalls. The East Rim Walking & Wildflower Track is particularly beautiful in spring and summer, and you should definitely try to make time to visit Fitzroy Falls, Carrington Falls and the triple-tiered Belmore Falls. They’re all near the town of Robertson.
There are dozens of 19th century mansions in the Southern Highlands (the whole region has a remarkably well-preserved colonial history), but the most impressive is probably Harpers Mansion. It was built in 1834 and the National Trust of Australia has spend decades carefully restoring every inch of the property. It’s also home to one of Australia’s largest hedge mazes. Don’t forget the breadcrumbs – it’s harder than you think.