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Southern Highlands, New South Wales


The Southern Highlands of New South Wales have a rich history which began with the Indigenous occupants of the land, the Gundungurra and Dharawal people, and later European settlers who first explored the area in 1798 and began settling here in the early 1800s.

The 1860s saw rapid development with the opening of the Main Southern Railway Line and soon afterwards the Highlands became a popular place for city dwellers, and particularly Sydney’s elite, to escape the summer temperatures. Fast forward to today and nothing much has changed, except that now they come every weekend.  

Formerly a Sydneysider myself, I now live in the Southern Highlands and witness the regular weekend exodus of Sydney residents to Bowral, the central town of the Highlands, when its population of around 13,000 swells to at least double that number.



I willingly concede that the Highlands make for the perfect country escape where you can browse through antique shops, enjoy a long lunch at a local winery or curl up with a book by a log fire in winter.

There are several townships to explore, each with its own unique offering. And you can get here in about 90 minutes from Sydney (one hour from Sydney International Airport) by car or train, making it an easy destination for those wanting to enjoy a bit of the country life.

Just 60 miles south of Sydney, the Southern Highlands resemble the English countryside in many ways, and some would say they resemble the English climate when it’s winter here and the classic Australian heat vanishes from these elevated parts.

With over 60 wineries and 15 cellar doors, the Southern Highlands make up a significant cool-climate wine region.

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Bowral is the heart of the Highlands, a vibrant town with upmarket shops and restaurants and it is one of the few regional towns with its own cinema. It has attractive parks and gardens and is surrounded by verdant hills and woodlands. Although it hasn’t been held for a few years, the Bowral Long Lunch was an annual event that became an institution. The main street was closed to traffic and long tables were set out for the lunchtime feast. It wasn’t just an indulgence, all the proceeds went to a local charity. The pictures below are from two separate years.





Corbett Gardens (below) is where the annual Tulip Time festival is held, attracting visitors from all over Australia and even some from overseas.



From the range to the east of Bowral you can see down to the Pacific Ocean.


Bowral’s rich pastures yield delicious fresh produce and acclaimed cool-climate wines. A visit to Centennial Vineyards on the hills above Bowral provides a good example of what’s on offer locally. Set on 32 hectares, this winery produces some famed ripening varietals, from chardonnay to pinot gris and gewurztraminer. If you enjoy savoury and sweet treats with your glass of wine, a high tea is also available.

In the centre of town and filled with plants and travel memorabilia, Harry’s on Green Lane makes for a quirky lunch or dinner. There’s also a handful of country pubs serving up bistro staples, including the Scottish Arms Hotel – my local – and The Royal Hotel. Spring is a good time to visit when the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Festival is held.


Berrima is an historic town full of character and charm. It was the second settlement to be established in the district, dating back to the 1830s, and it survives today as the last remaining, largely intact, Georgian-period town in mainland Australia.



The old Berrima jail is sometimes used as a concert venue. Above: preparing for Opera Night.

Last year Berrima won gold at the inaugural 2021 Australian Top Tourism Town Awards. It was awarded the Gold Medal for the Small Tourism Town (population under 5000) category. Not bad when you consider it was competing with towns from all over Australia.

Berrima hosts an historical vehicle club that attract enthusiasts from far and wide.




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The Surveyor General Inn at Berrima, one of Australia’s oldest licensed pubs, built by convicts in 1834.


Berrima’s elevation and cool climate is perfect for high-quality pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. You can sample some of these drops at the Southern Highlands’ oldest winery, Joadja Estate, operating since 1983.

For a taste of European-styled cuisines, you can dine at the award-winning Eschalot. This restaurant delivers fresh, seasonal produce sourced from its own gardens in a beautiful cottage-like setting.


The grand and picturesque Bendooley Estate on the edge of town is home to an incredible Book Barn, which houses thousands of old and new books in a renovated hayshed.

The Berrima River Walk takes you past riverside heritage, displaying what the German merchant seamen built along the Wingecarribee River, while they were interned in Berrima for four years during World War 1.




This new, signposted walk guides you along the riverbank and displays photographs of various huts, leading to the area where the internees held regattas to help pass the time. The walk is a 3.6-kilometre, one-hour return trip.

The Southern Highlands experiences four distinct seasons with cold winters and warm summers. Spring is the perfect time to visit; the weather is mild and the region hosts a range of culinary and community events. Agricultural shows are common throughout the region.




I’ll write about other towns and villages in the Highlands in a future blog. It is somewhere that visitors to Sydney should consider including on their itinerary, if they are interested in seeing beyond the city.


To close, a picture demonstrating that although Christmas falls during the Australian summer, some people still like to decorate their houses traditionally. Merry Christmas everyone.

Photos © Judy Barford


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