The small town of Bowral is roosted in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, where the climate is cool and humid.
Crops and flowers from temperate zones love Bowral’s mild weather and the range’s fertile volcanic soils.
In times past, Sydney’s upper class would flee to this town in the summer, building themselves posh estates like Retford Park, which is now in the care of the National Trust.
The Tulip Time Festival is a time-honoured spring celebration, overflowing with colour at Corbett Gardens.
Bowral is also the town where Donald Bradman, arguably the greatest cricket batsman of all time, grew up, and since the 2010s the museum for his life and career has become an overarching hall of fame for cricket.
1. Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
Even in a nation known for its sporting prowess, the cricketer Donald Bradman (1908-2001) was a giant.
And for those who are unfamiliar with this sport, Bradman’s career test batting average of 99.94 and national hero status puts him in the same bracket as greats like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth.
Such is Bradman’s status in the cricket world, that the International Cricket Hall of Fame is in his home town.
So while you trace Bradman’s humble origins in Bowral you can immerse yourself in this sport played around the world.
You’ll discover cricket’s origins, and its heroes, various formats, landmarks and controversies, in high-tech interactive galleries.
Beside the museum is the, Bradman Oval, the heritage-listed cricket pitch where Bradman developed his game, while even the adjacent children’s playground has a cricket theme.
2. Corbett Gardens
In 1911 a piece of land in the middle of Bowral and inauspiciously named Deadmans Paddock was bought by the town’s tourist association to become a public park.
For more than six decades this has been the venue for the Tulip Time Festival, for two weeks in September and October when thousands of tulips bloom in an array of colours.
During this time there’s a fee to enter Corbett Gardens, but you can tour the pristine formal flowerbeds, shrubs and specimen trees for free at all other times.
There’s a sweet pavilion with a domed roof, as well as facilities like a picnic area and toilets.
3. Southern Highlands Wine Region
The mild temperatures and rich volcanic soils of the Southern Highlands nurture a beautiful wine region where vineyards are draped over bucolic countryside.
The first commercial wineries arrived in the 1980s, and among the grapes that thrive in this cool climate are Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and most of all Cabernet Sauvignon.
This produces single varietals with light-berry notes, but is often blended with other grapes, while the Southern Highlands are also famed for their sparkling wines.
In Bowral you’ll be perfectly located to fall in love with Southern Highlands wine, paired with first-class food made with the freshest produce from this fertile region.
A few names just a short hop from the town are Centennial Vineyards, Artemis Wines, Cherry Tree Hill Vineyard and Tertini Wines.
4. Mount Gibraltar Reserve
Mount Gibraltar Reserve is spectacular on misty mornings in winter. A favourite of ours is the stone staircase from the Bowral Lookout. Happy Friday!
This wooded volcanic ridge stands as a powerful natural boundary between Bowral and Mittagong to the north.
Mount Gibraltar is 863 metres above sea level at its highest point and is nicknamed “The Gib”, with broadcast and telecom towers on its rocky summit.
During the Great Depression scenic lookouts were built and landscaped on the slopes as work programs, and these still exist today.
On the Bowral side you can survey the town and its verdant countryside, taking in the Wingecarribee River Valley, Moss Vale and Gingenbullen Mountain far to the south-west.
Meanwhile the Jellore Lookout on the Mittagong side grants vistas 20 kilometres north to the namesake mountain, and the Mittagong Lookout lets you see across a rippling volcanic landscape as far as Sydney on a clear day.
5. Tulip Time Festival
Around the turn of October the 75,000 tulips planted in Corbett Gardens burst into flower.
These are accompanied by another 15,000 annuals, and across the surrounding shire are a further 40,000 bulbs bringing dazzling colour to the landscape.
The blooms are the core of a ten-day festival that has been going for six decades now and is centred on Corbett Gardens.
Typically there will be live music, a marketplace with dozens of food trucks, flower sketching workshops, lots more family entertainment and open garden viewings around the town.
6. Bradman Trail
At the lobby of the Bradman Museum you can get hold of a free map for a leisurely 1.7-kilometre stroll around Bowral, past sites linked with Donald Bradman when he was growing up.
There are ten stops on the Bradman Trail, all of which are labelled and include his childhood school, church, two homes, his first workplace and Corbett Gardens where Bradman was welcomed in November 1930 after an epochal performance in The Ashes.
The old Empire Cinema on Bong Bong Street is also on the route, where Bradman had been given an official farewell in March 1930 before the tour.
7. Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens
In a town like Bowral where everything seems to grow so easily, it’s amazing to think that there hasn’t been a botanical garden here until the last few years.
In the south-east of the town, this was in the pipeline for years before work began in earnest in 2016. As you’d expect, this sort of attraction will be decades in the making, but you can come along to see the first collections and discover the gardens in their early stages.
There’s a set of native gardens fluttering with birdlife, a birch grove with 22 types of silver birch, a eucalypt grove, a garden holding the Australian national collection of dwarf dogwoods and a children’s playground that opened in June 2020. Kids can also have fun tracking down the 15 teddy bears hiding in the gardens, and there’s a nursery for unusual plants open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
8. Cherry Tree Walk
In Settlers Park along the Mittagong Rivulet, you can find Bowral’s Vietnam War Memorial.
As a town with a high reputation for its gardens, Bowral’s has remembered its victims of this controversial war in touching style, with scores of great white cherry trees along a five-kilometre walkway.
First planted in the mid-1990s, the Cherry Tree Walk has 526 trees to commemorate each of the Australian deaths in the conflict.
Since it was completed, the memorial has become the site for Bowral’s Vietnam Veterans Day events, on August 18. The trees are magical in flower, and usually bloom around late-September, early-October.
9. Milk Factory Gallery
Established in 2005, the Milk Factory Gallery is housed in a bright and airy former dairy depot that was built in 1921. Right in Bowral’s CBD, the gallery is an impressive place to sample work from a variety of disciplines, with lofty ceilings that rise seven metres.
There are eight or so exhibitions each year, for painting, sculpture, glass, photography, etchings and prints.
These are also condensed into the annual Summer Exhibition in January, February and March, hanging a mix of pieces from the gallery’s stockroom and highlights from the previous 12 months.
The gallery shop is crammed with lovely handmade gifts, from jewellery to vases, and opens Friday to Sunday.
10. Lake Alexandra Reserve
Almost a month ago and looking so different now.
A few minutes north in neighbouring Mittagong, there’s a small reservoir in the heart of the town and a cherished place to take some time out.
Lake Alexandra was dammed in 1890 to provide water to the steam engines serving the town’s iron mines.
With heavy industry long consigned to the past, the reserve is a little oasis, with grassy, tree-covered banks, lots of birdlife, picnic tables, an excellent playground for wee ones and toilets.
You’ve also got a pleasing view of Mount Alexandra, which climbs to the north and has a lookout up a meandering road.
11. Retford Park
This sumptuous Italianate mansion and its elegant estate was gifted to the National Trust of Australia in 2016 and opens for tours garden visits on the first weekend of every month.
The house at Retford Park was built in rendered brick in 1887 for merchant and stockbreeder Samuel Hordern (1849-1909) and his wife Jane.
At that time the house was an agricultural property and it was only from the 1960s that the grounds were landscaped into dainty gardens.
Ready to be enjoyed are hedged gardens, a knot garden, sculptures, luxurious swimming pool and pavilion.
12. Berrima District Museum
For anyone curious about life in the Southern Highlands down the years, this local museum in nearby Berrima is replete with interesting objects and well-researched information.
The venue is a pretty weatherboard cottage, and despite the rusting setting the museum uses plenty of modern technology to tell Berrima’s story.
There’s a digital gallery where you’ll encounter an exhibition about the artisans of the Southern Highlands in vivid HD.
Prisoners in Arcady goes into detail on German internment at Berrima Gaol in the First World War.
13. Dirty Janes Bowral
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The largest indoor market in the Southern Highlands awaits you on Banyette Street in Bowral, set inside a massive warehouse joined to a bijou shop called The Emporium.
There are dozens of different vendors in the market selling all sorts of cute things like handmade gifts, vintage clothes, accessories, lighting, signs, furniture, art, tableware, historic home appliances, signage and a lot more.
Sharing the space is the Tea Salon, for tea and scones, or sandwiches, tarts, soups and cakes, served on fine bone china.
14. Eden Brewery
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Only opened in 2017, Eden Brewery in Mittagong is a flourishing craft brewery with an ethical bent, using 100% renewable energy and donating 10% of its profits to Oxfam.
When we compiled this list in May 2020, Eden’s range included a pilsner, a witbier, a cherry sour, fruity IPAs and pale ales, a cider and a choc-peanut butter milk stout.
The tasting room is visited by a lineup of food trucks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, or you can go behind the scenes to learn every aspect of brewing, from grain to glass, on a tour.
These also take place Friday to Sunday, at 10:00-11:00 and 11:00-12:00.
15. Mary Poppins Statue
Australian-English writer P.L. Travers (1899-1996), most famous for creating the magical nanny Mary Poppins, spent a big chunk of her childhood in Bowral.
She moved here with her mother in 1907 following the death of her father, and would pass the next ten years in Bowral.
In the 2010s, to mark the centenary of Travers’ time in the town, sculptor Tanya Bartlett was commissioned to make a likeness of Travers’ most popular creation, umbrella in hand.
Standing in Glebe Park, this was unveiled in 2013 and bears the inscription, “Mary Poppins birthplace statue”.