The new Hunter Valley

The new Hunter Valley

Over the hills and south from Sydney’s smoke lies a vast piece of land that the locals like to call “Bush Eden”.

From Mittagong to Fitzroy Falls, the Southern Highlands are perfect for a quick escape from the hustle and bustle or for a romantic getaway.

Driving into the area may be a cultural shock for some. There are no roaring aeroplanes, no pollution or loiterers begging for money – just peace and quiet.

If you’re not a nature lover and prefer to boogie in the discothèque – beware. Unlike on Oxford Street, there are no glittery nightclubs or House of Priscilla. Instead there’s an array of country pubs with good old home-cooked meals. The most popular venues include the Bowral Hotel and Sutton Forest Inn.

Last year there were an estimated 1.4 million visitors, with winter being the peak period.

For years, Southern Highlanders have been famous for scones and alpaca wool. The little town of Berrima is full of this animal fur, hidden in scarfs and toilet mats. The White Horse Inn holds an elegant afternoon high tea, but make sure you book 24 hours in advance so you’re not turned away.

Winter at times resembles a little Antarctica, so it’s extremely important to find accommodation with the right heating. The gay-friendly Craigieburn is the warmest lodging, surrounded by a picture-perfect golf course and acreage. This newly renovated resort has superb facilities including an onsite beauty clinic and a delicious breakfast buffet – though there’s no BYO in the restaurant.

Travellers in search of a health fix need to go no further than Bowral’s main street. Equilibrium has opened to help repair nicotine-filled lungs and polluted skin. This environmentally focused store is full of chemical-free products and alternative health services – crystal salt lamps and a flowery body whip are a must-buy.

Many tourists flock to the small village of Robertson, the location used for the feature film Babe. The small settlement is famous for its cheese tasting and its chocolate shop. There’s also a gigantic brown potato slumped in the town’s centre – attracting budding photographers.

Beyond the farms are extensive rain forests and unique waterfalls. Although they’re a hike to get to, Belmore Falls are surely the highlight of the area, home to many native animals and a good spot for a picnic. Located on the edge of an escarpment, southeast of Burrawang, the falls tumble giddily 78 metres down to the floor of the valley.

The vineyards are well worth visiting, with wines comparable to those of the Hunter Valley wineries. The rich soil and cold weather make for perfect grape growing, and the award-winning Centennial Vineyard is most popular for its sauvignon blanc and tempranillo.

The Southern Highlands turn out to be much more than a country hick’s ghetto. Only an hour and half drive from Sydney, they’re a great diversion from today’s rat race.

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