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Forget the Blue Mountains – this is New South Wales’ best kept secret

Sydney-siders have long known the charms of the Southern Highlands. They just haven’t told you about it.

Forget the Blue Mountains – this is New South Wales’ best kept secret

Welcome to Shoalhaven. (Photo: Bangalay Luxury Villas)

The Blue Mountains are lovely, but when folks from Sydney want an idyllic weekend escape, they head away from the tourist path – 100km south to the Southern Highlands. That’s a 90-minute drive out of the city to get to a picturesque region lush with magnificent waterfalls and national parks, charming towns and heritage villages, white sand beaches, and plenty of places to shop, eat and drink in between.

READ: Pack your sunscreen and swimming gear: The world’s best beach resorts beckon

The eat and drink part is key since the Southern Highlands was never a dining destination until several years ago when escalating property prices in Sydney and the frenzy of big city life drove notable chefs, producers, and entrepreneurs to the highland life. With them emerged an exciting, nascent gourmet scene that has reinvigorated the region.

And we’re not talking small-town, run-of-the-mill restaurants. In chic Australian fashion, the Southern Highlands’ eateries are mostly photo spread-gorgeous, farm-to-fork-focused, and housed in historical buildings bathed in sunny, natural light.


Case in point: The Press Shop, set on the main street in the town of Bowral. In this veritable temple of fine design, blonde wood furnishings are accented by the gleam of brass, marble and soft shades of blue. Guests can stop in for a cup of good coffee, a platter of impeccably cooked local vegetables, to pick up a clutch of fine stationery, or commission work by the acclaimed design studio Bespoke Letterpress.The Press Shop is set on the main street in the town of Bowral. (Photo: The Press Shop)

On paper, the mix sounds incongruent. In the flesh, it is a beautifully harmonised space that pays homage to all things local. 

The Press Shop’s head chef Nathan West moved to the Southland Highlands from Sydney almost three years ago and has made it a point to focus solely on produce from around the area.

Dishes like Badger Flame beets tossed with local sheep’s milk curd focus solely on produce from around the area. (Photo: The Press Shop)

Organic vegetables are front and centre on his menu, with the likes of crisp baby purple daikons and Badger Flame beets tossed with local sheep’s milk curd, and utterly delicious pillows of seared gnocchi served on a silky bed of Jerusalem artichoke puree.

“Everything on the plate comes from no further than half an hour from where we sit now,” said West. And happily, this impeccable freshness is evident in every mouthful.


Further out, the historic beachside town of Berry has become a bit of a sleeper foodie hit. Most visitors come for the pristine beaches and sprawling mountains, but stay for the bevy of great cafes and restaurants.

Among them is Queen Street Eatery, a lovely white-washed establishment whose menu draws inspiration from French bistro classics, but given a fresh south coast spin.

That means imaginative takes on classics like tuna tartare served with celeriac remoulade, potato crisps and shaved cured egg yolk, and coq au vin cooked in white wine with a mustard emulsion.

A few doors down is The Famous Berry Donut Van, whose name is no hyperbole. For the last 55 years, it has commanded queues down the block as people wait patiently for their freshly-fried fluffy donuts sprinkled with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar.

Take it from us, there is no overstating how good these warm donuts are. 

A 20-minute drive away in the town of Nowra, Wharf Road Restaurant and Bar serves up ravishing views of the Shoalhaven River from the historic space that once served as the Harbour Master’s residence. On the menu are dishes made with produce from nearby farms.

Lunch over sublime views of the Shoalhaven River. (Photo: Wharf Road Restaurant and Bar)

Think crisp zucchini flowers with preserved lemon and yellow chilli mayo, Angus scotch fillet with porcini jus and confit potatoes, and Berrima Bay baby octopus with silver beet, almonds and ink mayo.


Naturally, there are vineyards to stroll into and wine tastings to be enjoyed. The Southern Highlands provides ideal terroir for growing exceptional Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay grapes, leading the area to become one of Australia’s fastest growing wine regions.

It is enough to inspire a move to this alluring sliver of paradise.

While driving through the Highlands, make stops at Tertini Wines in Mittagong, the acclaimed Collangatta Estate in Collangatta, and Bendooley Estate in Berrima. The latter boasts the added attraction of the atmospheric Berkelouw Book Barn, which purveys rare, second-hand and new books.


Where once accommodations in the region were dominated by grand, bucolic estates, the influx of young families and entrepreneurs has ushered more contemporary options.

Surf up a slice of the good Highland life. (Photo: Bangalay Luxury Villas)

At the top of the pile is the stunning Bangalay Luxury Villas in Shoalhaven, hidden away in the coastal Bangalay Sand Forest. Each of the 16 villas were designed to follow the flow of the ocean breeze during the summer and faces the sprawling golf course or splendidly manicured garden.

Villas face either the sprawling golf course or manicured garden. (Photo: Bangalay Luxury Villas)

The property is a great base from which to observe a slice of the good Highland life as locals stream into its restaurant for breakfast and coffee before or after a spot of surfing on the beach that fronts it.

It is enough to inspire a move to this alluring sliver of paradise.

CNA Lifestyle was in New South Wales at the invitation of Destination NSW.

Source: CNA/pw