Just a 90-minute drive away from the state capital you’ll find small towns and villages among rolling hills, sweeping green landscapes and coastal trails. Our tour of the area started in the pretty coastal town of Kiama. It’s easily accessible by car, or you can take the train (two hours, 15 minutes, costing $15-$22, around £6-10) which drops you in the centre of the town.
Famous for its blowhole, its pretty harbour has pelicans wandering the slipways looking for scraps from the local fisherman, with plenty of al-fresco cafes and bars, art galleries and bijou gift shops lining the main street.
A little further along the coastline and you’ll find historic Berry, a small town with a high street lined with antique and craft shops, and the famous Berry Donut Van – waiting out front with a batch of freshly cooked cinnamon donuts… delicious.
On the edge of Berry was our home for a few nights, Bangalay Luxury Villas (bangalayvillas.com.au). Right on the stunning Seven Mile Beach, each villa is an oasis, with neutral tones echoing the natural surroundings.
We had a spacious lounge, kitchen and dining area, so you can spend your evening cooking your own meal and relaxing in front of the fireplace. But I’d recommend the tasting menu in the Bangalay Dining restaurant. Overlooking the lovely pool area, the food is locally sourced and seasonal.
It’s worth getting up for the beautiful sunrises here – if you’re early enough you may spot whales breaching in the ocean, or even a kangaroo hopping in among the sand dunes.
This is also one of the newer wine regions of Australia and is well known for its quality cool-climate wines. Many of the vineyards in the area have Cellar Door signage, meaning they offer wine tastings, many with complimentary cheese and meat platters.
First on our list was the Coolangatta Estate, a third-generation winery.
Coolangatta was the Aboriginal word for “fine view”, and that is what you’ll find here, along with a rather fine Rose Frizzante.
If you end up sampling too much of their award-winning Semillon, you can stay overnight in one of their convict-built cottages dating back to the 18th century.
Having worked up an appetite, it was time to try out some local delicacies, and this meant a visit to Jim Wild’s Oysters, on the foreshore of the Crookhaven River.
Owner Jim Wild is an Australian Oyster Opening Champion and in 1984 was the fastest in the world – opening 30 in two minutes, 31 seconds.
His daughter “Wild Sal” McLean talked us through the three-and-a-half-year oyster growing process, from when they are spats – small black dots – to being freshly shucked right in front of you.
I’d never tried oysters before, so this seemed the right place to start. I watched as they were shucked before my eyes, then tried a Sydney Bay oyster – delicious with touch of Tabasco – followed by an oversized Pacific oyster. I can safely say I am a convert.
With stunning scenery all around, it was time to explore further. We made a quick stop in the sleepy town of Kangaroo Valley, with its eclectic bric-a-brac and pie shops, for a fine rendition of Australian folk songs by a local band in one of the oldest pubs in the area, The Friendly Inn.
Then it was on to Morton National Park, home to Fitzroy Falls. From your viewing point, nestled in the forest, you can watch the spectacular falls plunge 260ft down to the valley below while taking in the lush landscapes around you.
There are plenty of nature trails and walks in the park, with birds and wildlife down every track. And if strolls through the forests or bushland are not enough, there is kayaking, horseriding and rock climbing right on the doorstep, or whale watching and paddleboarding down the road in Huskisson.
Easing ourselves back to less rural pursuits, our final stop was the charming town of Bowral.
Famous for its tulip festival in September, when you’ll find more than 100,000 in bloom, it is also home to the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame which honours legendary Australian batsman Sir Donald Bradman – the Boy from Bowral – and other great cricketers… a must for cricket fans.
Full of old-world charm, the wonderfully named Bong Bong Street is filled with boutique clothing and gift stores.
At The Press Shop cafe, not only do they serve a mean cup of coffee (Australians love their coffee) but they also sell beautiful letterpress cards, stationery and wrapping paper and have original letterpress machines on display.
After a hearty lunch at Harry’s on Green Lane, we headed round the corner where we found the vintage paradise of Dirty Janes Emporium.
It’s the largest indoor vintage market in the Southern Highlands, and is filled with antiques, vintage clothing, collectibles, furniture and jewellery from more than 75 dealers in three large warehouses.
In need of a spot of refreshment after all that, we headed to another Cellar Door tasting. Tertini Wines (tertiniwines.com.au) is a 60-acre family-owned winery which produced its first batch of wines in 2005. Since then they’ve notched up hundreds of awards, and it is now rated in the top 10 per cent of wineries in Australia.
Wanting to make sure we really had sampled a wide variety of New World wine, our final stop was the Bendooley Estate in Berrima (bendooleyestate.com.au).
Not only a treat for wine lovers, it’s a bibliophile’s paradise. You enter through the Book Barn, a pretty building with cathedral ceilings and huge wrought iron chandeliers, showcasing endless rows of rare books.
Heading through into the wine tasting, you’ll find oversized comfy sofas, huge stone fireplaces and one of the best pinot gris wines I’ve ever tasted.
Treat yourself to a night in one of the chic cottages, with views of the lake, paddocks and hills.
Breakfast is provided in your kitchen area for the next morning, so you can get up and out early to go searching for wombats before heading back to the Antipodean urban jungle.
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