Spectacular things to do in the Southern Highlands
Australia’s best kept secret is the beautiful Southern Highlands region in New South Wales which boasts an incredible number of things to do, eat and see. Accessible on a day trip from Sydney or as part of a longer stay, this part of the world is spectacular at any time of year.
From stunning waterfalls to blooming, vibrant gardens, the Southern Highlands and neighbouring Kangaroo Valley make the perfect weekend getaway from the hustle of Sydney.
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Where to stay in the Southern Highlands
Bowral is a great town to make your base as you explore the Southern Highlands, but there’s also plenty of options in neighbouring towns.
I like Bowral because there are a handful of Ubers around at night – which makes it handy if you’re planning on a night out at one of the friendly local pubs.
How to Get to the Southern Highlands
Despite being situated out in the lush NSW countryside, the Southern Highlands has its own train line, so visitors without a car are able to hop from town to town without a care.
From Sydney’s Central Station, its one stop across to Redfern Station to get the red T3 Campbelltown Line.
Ride that for an hour to the end of the line and then change to the green Southern Highlands line, which stops in most of the main towns in the Highlands including Bowral, Mittagong, Yerrinbool, Moss Vale, Exeter, Bundanoon and Penrose. The trip from Campbelltown to the Southern Highlands will take around another hour and fifteen minutes, depending on which town you’ll be hopping out at.
Trains run around every 30 minutes. The total trip from Sydney to the Highlands will take around 2 hours and 40 minutes, so be sure to bring a book and a snack to keep yourself entertained.
You’ll need an OPAL card to catch public transport in Sydney – they’re free to pick up from most newsagents, 7-11 stores and supermarkets. Just top up your card online or at the station and tap on to start your journey.
If you have access to a car and don’t mind the drive, you’ll definitely save some time, shaving off around an hour and twenty minutes from your journey compared to the train. The drive is an easy 115kms of fairly straight road and once you arrive in the Southern Highlands, you’ll find it easier to move around from town to town.
Driving has its other advantages, too. There are many picturesque lookouts in the Highlands that aren’t accessible via public transport, so you’ll be able to see more of this spectacular countryside than you’d be able to if you caught the train. You’ll also be able to explore at your leisure, unbeholden to train timetables.
Things to do in the Southern Highlands
Marvel at the beauty of Fitzroy Falls
I’m a sucker for a beautiful waterfall and Fitzroy Falls is truly one of the best waterfalls I’ve visited in Australia. It rivals the Blue Mountains for craggy outcrops and cliff walks, and the waterfall itself is a sheer 81m (266ft) drop at an elevation of 822 metres (2697ft) above sea level.
The waterfall is one of the main features of Morton National Park and a walk to Fitzroy Falls from the carpark and Visitor’s Centre is short and sweet. There are longer walks continuing on from the Falls viewing platform for those feeling more active. The Visitor’s Centre also has a lot of informative insights on the local indigenous population who first inhabited the are.
Parking at Fitzroy Falls will cost around $4 per car, a small price to pay for one of the best things to do in the Southern Highlands.
Visit Corbett Gardens in Bowral
Bowral is arguably the most populous town in the Southern Highlands region, and I’d wager the most visited, too. Whilst there are many reasons to spend time in this quaint town, it is hard to go past the spectacular floral phenomenon that is Tulip Time in the Corbett Gardens.
To celebrate the arrival of Spring, the Corbett Gardens’ annual tulip festival is famous throughout the Highlands and even in Sydney. Locals and tourists alike flock to the explosion of coloured flowers that add even more vibrancy and beauty to the town. The downside, of course, is that parking becomes more of a challenge.
The Corbett Gardens are lovely year-round, but if you’re set on seeing the famous tulips, then aim for a visit towards the end of September to mid October. Admission during the official festival costs around $12 AUD for an adult and $7 AUD for concession. Kids under the age of 13 are able to visit for free. Tulip Time is a long-loved favourite on the list of things to do in the Southern Highlands.
Do A Cellar Door Tasting at Centennial Vineyards
Less than ten minutes’ drive from Bowral lies the rolling grape vines of Centennial Vineyards, where a cellar door tasting is possible from 10am – 5pm, seven days a week. This winery specialises in cooler climate wines such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Tempranillo as well as sparkling wines.
The setting could not be more perfect and whilst the vineyard is stunningly beautiful at any time of year, for my money the autumn season is the most picturesque. If you have time, schedule in a long lunch at the vineyard, where seasonal produce and wines to match is the order of the day.
Finally, for those particularly interested in exploring the vineyard further, thirty-minute winery tours in an original military-style Jeep are available for booking. The tour offers up plenty of stops and photo opportunities along the way, making it a unique and fun thing to do in the Southern Highlands.
Visit the Mount Gibraltar Lookouts
One of the main benefits of having a car in the Southern Highlands is that it makes getting up to the Mount Gibraltar Lookouts way easier. Under ten minutes from Bowral or from Mittagong, this reserve offers breathtaking views back over the Southern Highlands. The lookouts on Mount Gibraltar are free to access and explore.
There are three lookout points on the mountain: Jellore Lookout, Bowral Lookout and Mittagong Lookout. From the Bowral Lookout you’ll be able to have a birds’ eye view of the Bradman Oval commemorating Australia’s most famous cricketer, who was born in the town and played on the ground back in the 1920s.
The Jellore and Mittagong Lookouts offer a lovely aspect of the Mittagong town region, showcasing lush, green, rolling hills. On a clear day, the views from this point are stunningly beautiful, though beware that even on a fine day the wind from these lookouts can be extremely strong. Hold on to your hats!
Make a stop in the historic Kangaroo Valley
Though Kangaroo Valley is technically just outside of the Southern Highlands region, it is definitely worth adding a stop here to your Southern Highlands itinerary. Nestled in between the Southern Highlands and the South Coast of New South Wales, the Kangaroo Valley township has been around since 1870 and definitely packs a punch when it comes to history and charm.
The town boasts Australia’s last remaining wooden suspension bridge, which is visible firstly by spotting the large sandstone turrets poking up above the tree line. Entering the town is an activity in itself, as cars on both sides navigate the one-way bridge that runs over the Kangaroo River.
The main street of Kangaroo Valley is as quaint as the entrance into the town, with a heritage listed pub being the feature on the main drag. Olden style sweet shops with homemade fudge are also plentiful and the great Australian meat pie also gets a look in at the Southern Pie shop.
Take one of the Southern Highlands Tourist Drives
There are four main Tourist Drive options through the Southern Highlands, each with different stops to make. The two shortest options are both around 25kms long and begin in Mittagong. One takes drivers off to Sutton Forest via Moss Vale and Bowral; the other through Berrima and onto Moss Vale.
The longer drives range from 63km to 75 km long and cover a lot more ground. The longest starts in Moss Vale and goes all the way to Goulburn via Sutton Forest, Exeter, Bundanoon, Penrose and Wingello. It also trails through Glow Worm Glen in Morton National Park which is always a favourite of visitors young and old.
Finally, my favourite drive is the 63km long Bowral to Moss Vale via Glenquarry, Kangaloon, Robertson and Fitzroy Falls. For waterfall lovers, this route gets you access to not just the beautiful Fitzroy Falls, but also to the equally lovely Belmore Falls in the same area. Carrington Falls is also accessible from Robertson on this drive.
Towns in the Southern Highlands to visit
The Southern Highlands is made up of many different towns in close proximity. They’re all quaint and charming and driving between them is a joy – particularly in Autumn as the leaves begin to change colour.
To make sure you don’t miss out on any of these cute villages, here’s a list of the towns that make up the Southern Highlands of New South Wales:
- Moss Vale
- Colo Vale
- Wingello and Penrose
- Sutton Forest
- Fitzroy Falls
- Hilltop and Yerrinbool
Where to stay in the Southern Highlands
I’d recommend staying in either Bowral, Mittagong or Berrima when it comes to overnighting in the Southern Highlands. This will enable you to find plenty of dinner and drinks options not too far from where you’re staying, so you can forget the need to designate a driver and just enjoy yourself.
There are plenty of high end options, budget options and AirBnBs available in the area.
In summing up, I don’t think I can heap praise on this part of Australia enough. Every time I have visited, I’ve been utterly charmed, no matter what the season. In fact, as we speak, I am researching and planning my next trip back to discover more things to do in the Southern Highlands.
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