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Southern Highlands
Autumn treesThe Southern Highlands area of New South Wales has long been a popular escape for harassed city dwellers. In the summer, the hills provide relief from the heat and in the days before air conditioning it was a popular destination for day trips or longer stays.

The arrival of the railway in the 1860s saw the first major influx of visitors. Wealthy Sydney-dwellers built mansions on huge estates, while poorer folk made do with a day trip or short stay.

Today, the area remains a popular tourist spot. It is a great weekend destination from Sydney or Canberra, while there is plenty to do if you want to stay longer. Some of the historic guesthouses that date back to the area’s heyday are still in operation, and there is a wealth of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Tourists are drawn by historic villages, lush agricultural landscapes, spectacular waterfalls and bushwalks in the area’s National Parks, the gardens and the thriving antiques, art and craft trade.

The Southern Highlands has four distinct seasons and boasts a more European climate than lower-lying areas. This is emphasized by the many European-style gardens for which the area is renowned. Each passing season gives rise to a new floral emphasis - bulbs and flowering shrubs in spring, bright annuals in summer, golden leaves in autumn and maybe even a frosting of snow on the trees in winter.

How do I get there?
The Southern Highlands is easily accessed by road from Sydney by heading south on the M5/F5 freeway. It is about 1.5 hours driving time from Sydney. Access from Canberra is equally easy, travelling north on the F5 freeway from Goulburn.

Today, regular train services still carry passengers to the Southern Highlands from Sydney or Goulburn, or you can travel to the area by bus.

What are the main towns?
The main towns in the region include: Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Robertson.

What's there to do in the region?
Mittagong was once the site of a thriving pig-iron industry. Although the industry has now shut down, some of the fine buildings built by wealthy smelter owners remain, as does the lake built to supply water to the engines. Now known as Lake Alexandra, it is a wildfowl sanctuary and a favourite picnic spot with locals and visitors alike. Wombeyan Caves lie to the northwest of the town and tours of the caves are available daily.

Bowral’s most famous son was the legendary batsman Sir Donald Bradman. The Bradman Museum beside the oval that bears his name in the town is a must. In spring, Corbett Gardens is the focus of the Tulip Time Festival.

Berrima has a wealth of historic buildings and a walk around the village is like stepping back in time. A leaflet for a self-guided walk is widely available. The Old Courthouse is now a museum reflecting justice as it was handed down in the area’s colonial past. Stop at the Surveyor General, Australia’s oldest continuously licensed hotel or browse the craft and antique shops. Berrima Museum has an interesting collection of historical artefacts from the area.

The main street of Moss Vale is dominated by Leighton Park which runs along one side. Just north of the town lies Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve which is home to a wide variety of colourful native birds.

The southernmost of the Southern Highlands villages, Bundanoon lies on the edge of Morton National Park with its soaring sandstone cliffs and deep, wooded gullies. There are numerous bushwalks through the park, and visitors will be rewarded by stunning views from the many lookouts. Close by, glow worms are visible at night at Glow Worm Glen.

Robertson is perched on the edge of the Illawarra Escarpment and lookouts near the town have great coastal views. The lush countryside around Robertson may look familiar - it was featured in the movie “Babe”. The famous Cockatoo Run historic train ride goes from Port Kembla, close to Wollongong, up to Robertson before returning downhill to the coast. Close by, Fitzroy Falls have only been known to dry up once in living memory and the view from the top of the falls is spectacular. Macquarie Pass National Park preserves the rich indigenous rainforest of the area.

All around the Southern Highlands, be sure to check out the local antiques shops, art galleries and craft outlets for which the area is justly famous. There are many orchards and in the late summer you can buy freshly picked fruit and other produce. The area is noted for its gardens - both public and private. If you are a bit of a green thumb, be sure to visit either when one of the local floral festivals is in progress or when private gardens are open under the “Open Garden” scheme.

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