As you travel up to the cool Southern Highlands from Sydney, the first major town you’ll enter will be Mittagong.
This is the sort of place where you can pass an afternoon hunting for antiques and taking high tea, and the area is full of wineries and cellar doors that have cropped up in the lush rolling hills of the Southern Highlands.
So Mittagong can be a handy base for a wine-tasting holiday, or if you want something wilder you can hike in unfettered nature to waterfalls and lofty lookouts.
The town of Bowral, renowned for its flowers and as the childhood home of cricketer Donald Bradman, is almost on Mittagong’s doorstep at five minutes away.
1. Southern Highlands Wine Region
In the space of 30 years, the Southern Highlands has emerged as a premier cool-climate wine region, and Mittagong is one of its epicentres.
There are dozens of wineries, both big and boutique, within striking distance of the town.
As a wine region, the countryside is part of the charm, with idyllic green hills fluted with endless rows of vines nourished by the volcanic soils and an extended ripening season.
Sparkling wine is a speciality in the Southern Highlands, and the dominant grapes are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, while most wineries produce a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with light berry hints.
2. Donald Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame
The great batsman Donald Bradman (1908-2001) grew up ten minutes away in Bowral.
It’s impossible to overstate Bradman’s achievements and legacy in cricket, which are only equivalent to the likes of Michael Jordan in basketball and Babe Ruth in baseball.
In fact, such is the esteem in which he’s held, that in 2010 this first-rate museum charting his career also became the sport’s Hall of Fame, and a pilgrimage site for cricket fans from all around the world.
If you’re new to the sport or are a seasoned fan, the cutting-edge exhibits here will lead you through the history of cricket, outlining its movers and shakers and explaining the origins of its various formats.
Of course you’ll get to learn about Bradman’s astonishing career, and there’s also a walking trail around Bowral, stopping at landmarks from his childhood.
3. Lake Alexandra Reserve
You won’t have to stray far from Mittagong’s CBD for a slice of tranquil nature.
Lake Alexandra is a manmade reservoir, impounded in the late-19th century to supply water to engines working to transport coal from Mount Alexandra to the Fitzroy Iron Mines.
Those industrial days are long gone, and for well over a century Lake Alexandra has been a destination for leisure and relaxation, with the wooded slopes of Mount Alexandra as an impressive backdrop.
There’s an 800-metre mixed-use trail around the lake’s banks, profuse birdlife, picnic shelters, barbecues and a great children’s playground.
Don’t forget to pack something to feed the ducks, geese and turtles.
4. Artemis Wines
When this family-run winery arrived on the scene in 1996 it became the first in the Southern Highlands to plant the now widespread Pinot Noir vines.
Artemis is known in some quarters as the Pinot Noir Pioneers, and the presiding Balog brothers are from a family with seven generations of winemaking knowhow.
Artemis mixes Old World and New World techniques, producing wines with the kind of sophistication and texture you’d expect from Europe, with Australian varietal definition.
The cellar door is open Wednesday to Sunday, and offers cheese and charcuterie boards as accompaniment, as well as wood-fired pizzas on Sundays.
5. Sturt Gallery
Mittagong lays claim to the oldest craft centre in the country, founded in 1941 and still a leading centre of excellence for contemporary craft and design.
Sturt runs full-time and part-time courses in disciplines as diverse as metalwork, ceramics, basketry, textiles, woodwork and design and fabrication.
But as well as having an education vocation, Sturt is also a visitor attraction, wrapped in beautiful green gardens and putting on a year-round changing exhibition program showing the work of some of the most skilled artisans in Australia.
In addition there’s a superb retail space, providing a platform for some 300 designers and makers every year, and a cute pop-up cafe for sweet treats and refreshments.
6. Eden Brewery
There’s also great beer in Mittagong, at a craft brewery that was born in 2017 and is geared towards sustainability.
Ten percent of all of Eden’s profits go to Oxfam for water conservation activities, and the brewery uses only renewable energy.
You can pay a visit to the taproom from Wednesday to Sunday, 12:00-20:00. At the time of writing in May 2020 Eden was pouring an IPA, a Hefeweizen, a cherry sour, a Pilsner, a Bockbier, a black Porter and an apple cider.
If you need to get the inside track you can book a private tour, following beer’s progress from grain to glass.
Tours are available Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
7. Tertini Wines
Another of the essential cellar doors in the Southern Highlands is barely 10 minutes out of Mittagong in typically picturesque countryside.
Tertini Wines is one of the region’s most acclaimed producers, making premium, cool-climate wines that benefit from a prolonged ripening period, low cropping and hand-pruning and picking.
if you’re buying to expand your cellar, Tertini Wines are known for their high natural acidity, which means they’ll age well.
Pouring Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and a sparkling Chardonnay, the cellar door is open seven days a week, 10:00-17:00
8. Mount Gibraltar Reserve
At 863 metres high, the ridge of Mount Gibraltar is a hefty barrier between Mittagong and Bowral to the south.
Known locally as “The Gib”, this is a volcanic remnant, as you can tell from the conical peak, and if you catch a clear day it’s possible to see as far as the Sydney skyline from the summit.
During the Great Depression, scenic lookouts were created on the slopes as public works programs.
On the south side is the Bowral Lookout, minutes from Bowral’s CBD.
Among the trees you’ll find benches, and the lookout’s wooden platform has a sign labelling the landmarks on the horizon, encompassing Bowral, the Wingecarribee Valley and Capital Country.
9. Jellore and Mittagong Lookouts
On the Mittagong side of Mount Gibraltar are two more majestic vantage points, both effortlessly close to the centre of town.
The Jellore Lookout is posted on the north-west side, where you can trace the Southern Railway Line on its way between Mittagong and Bowral, and look north towards the Nattai Wilderness and the Blue Mountains.
East of this perch is the Mittagong Lookout, to savour the full beauty of the surrounding district and its volcanic peaks.
10. Mittagong Antiques Centre
Just the kind of place you’d hope to find in a town like Mittagong, this antiques centre is a veritable treasure chest.
Based here are more than 45 dealers, selling antiques and collectibles sourced from all over the world.
For just a brief summary you can pore over silverware, collectibles, automotive accessories, old medical kits, china, upcycled objects, clocks, religious artefacts, furniture, clothing, jewellery, militaria and vintage toys.
There are items from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods, and in the Art Deco style, while you can also pick up some of the best work by contemporary arts and crafters from the Southern Highlands.
11. Box Vale Walking Track
This walk, beginning in Welby takes you into the Southern Highlands in a surprisingly undemanding way.
That’s because the Box Vale Walking track follows the course of a long-abandoned 19th-century colliery railway, so the grade is never steep.
For 4.4 kilometres (one way) you’ll hike through beautiful bushland, along embankments and cuttings.
The best bit is a 1.8km tunnel roughly hewn from the rock.
There’s a picnic area and toilets at the trailhead, and on the route you can make a detour to a waterfall, which we’ll talk about below.
12. Nattai Gorge Lookout
At the end of the Box Vale Track you’ll come to the edge of the Nattai Escarpment where your payoff will be a view that unfolds for many kilometres over seemingly uninhabited country.
At the Nattai Gorge Lookout you can gaze along the gorge, and when the skies are clear you can see the peaks of the Blue Mountains at Katoomba, 80 kilometres to the north.
13. Joadja Estate
The oldest wine estate in the Southern Highlands is 15 minutes by road in Berrima.
Joadja was first planted in 1983 and has recently been acquired by new owners.
You call into the cellar door for a tasting, and in the selection as of 2020 there’s a zesty sparkling Pinot Noir/Chardonnay, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with currant notes, a peach-tinged reserve Chardonnay and a sparkling Moscato, to name just a handful.
Joadja also produces a boysenberry liqueur, distilled from boysenberries grown right here in the Southern Highlands.
Keep up to date with Joadja’s website for details of special events like live music.
14. Forty Foot Falls
Off the Box Vale Track there’s a short, but demanding detour to this waterfall, which is 12 metres high if you’re not used to imperial measurements.
Forty Foot Falls is deep in the rocky, fern-laden gorge on Nattai Creek, only a few hundred metres from the Hume Motorway, although civilisation will feel very distant.
After departing the Box Vale Track you’ll need to scramble over some tricky terrain, especially if you want a view of the falls from the front rather than the top.
The water drops over the rockface in a gossamer curtain creating a rainbow in the right light, and you could easily spend an hour hopping from rock to rock and looking at the falls from behind in the cave.
15. Tulip Time Festival
One of the country’s oldest and most attended floral festivals is held close by in Bowral over two weeks at the turn of October each year.
During this event more than 75,000 tulips and some 15,000 annuals planted in the dainty Corbett Gardens burst into bloom in marvellous displays.
Added to that are another 40,000 tulips blooming across the Shire, creating a bed of vibrant colour across the district.
Complementing the public gardens and their insta-worthy blooms there’s live entertainment, classes for flower art and the chance to view sublime private gardens around the town.