The 8 Best Winter Weekend Getaways From Sydney
Idyllic retreats for the perfect escape.
Sydney is known for its summers. It’s the endless golden beaches, outdoor bars and restaurants and sprawling parks that have made the harbour city so famous. But just because the weather has cooled down and winter is setting in, doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in and around Sydney.
The off-peak season is full of crisp, clear days, and it truly never gets all that cold. There’s also the added bonus that hotel and hostel prices are generally much lower from April to August than they are through the crazy summer months. Sydney locals Bonnie Sutherland and Sian Edwards let us in on how to make the most of a gorgeous winter weekend getaway.
#1 Hunter Valley
If wine and cheese are your thing then get ready to gorge yourself. Some of New South Wales‘ best vineyards are just two hours north of Sydney by car, with scores of different cellar doors open for tastings. Throughout Pokolbin and the surrounding area you can find everything from Airbnb and hostel accommodation through to luxury resorts and romantic cabins. A visit to the Matilda Bay Brewhouse for a warming lunch and craft beers is great as a palate cleanser, or if you simply prefer your grains to your grapes.
Hit up the Binnorie Dairy or the Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese Shop to find something delicious that matches all those great reds you’ve picked up throughout the day. Haven’t got a designated driver? Play it safe and get a wine-tasting guided trip for the day. There are even a few companies that do horse-drawn carriage vineyard tours. Then snuggle up at night and enjoy the tasty spoils of your trip. (BS)
#2 Blue Mountains
Think Jurassic Park in the wintertime. Sydney’s famous world heritage site, The Blue Mountains can be found under two hours drive west of Sydney. Once your car begins the ascent up the winding mountain roads you’ll feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city life. The air is fresher, the roads are wider and the smiles are much friendlier.
Take your time driving through the small mountain towns like Glenbrook, Faulconbridge and Leura, finding tiny cafes with hot soup specials and visiting local antique shops for fun vintage finds. Upon entering Katoomba, you’ll easily find your way to the Three Sisters, a pit stop on most cheesy school excursions in the past. It is here that the term ‘breathtaking view’ will take on new meaning in the chilly winter air.
Get your adrenalin pumping with a range of adventure activities that will have you abseiling down ravines, canyoning through hidden caves or simply strolling through this beautiful national park. The National Parks website is perfect for planning your escape. It’s easy to navigate and provides tips on how to get there, grades of difficulty, and what to bring. A personal recommendation is the Burramoko Ridge (also known as Hanging Rock) cycle trail, where you can eat a sandwich at the end overlooking a stunning view. It’s great for solo, couple and family travellers alike. (SE)
#3 Jenolan Caves
Sticking to the Blue Mountains area, when the weather gets cold, head underground. At close to 400 million years old and with around 40 kilometres of cave passages to explore, the limestone wonderland that is Jenolan Caves needs to be seen to be believed. The labyrinth-like complex stays at a constant 15 degrees Celsius all year round and at any given time between five and ten of the gigantic caves are open to the public, with guided tours helping visitors get the most out of the experience.
Visitors can also do a (slightly spooky) night tour, with the group’s headlamps helping cast ghostly shadows through the silent caves. Twice a month (normally Saturday afternoons, but check ahead) there are unforgettable classical music concerts inside one of the main cave chambers. There is accommodation around the caves but it tends to be pricey, so maybe combine your trip with a stay in nearby Oberon, and join in on the local Christmas in July celebrations that just sometimes feature real snow. (BS)
#4 Southern Highlands
Spinning the compass a complete 180 degrees will have you heading towards the Southern Highlands, another perfect destination for a chilled out weekend away. Think: local markets, art galleries, hot pastries, a round of golf or two perhaps or a lazy afternoon driving around the wineries.
Home to the towns of Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale, Berrima, Bundanoon and many other sleep country villages, there are four main tourist drives that will take you on different paths depending on what you’re interested in.
Cricket fans can head straight to the epicentre of Australian cricket history, Bowral, to soak up the atmosphere at the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame ($20). While nature lovers can enjoy the stunning Morton National Park which is home to natural wonders like the Fitzroy or Belmore Falls. In Summer come back to see the Glow Worm Glen that glows bright at night. (SE)
If you were to design a country town for a winter weekend away, you’d probably come up with somewhere like Berry. It has a truly excellent pub, (The Berry Hotel – try the alpaca burger!) a roadside van selling hot, freshly made doughnuts (The Famous Berry Doughnut Van) and one of the state’s best sweet shops (The Treat Factory). Add in some seriously good restaurants, a main street filled with cute boutique stores and stunning valley scenery and you’ve got it made. If you want to take in the fresh mountain air and see nature from a different perspective why not try some horseback riding? Kangaroo Valley Horses is just down the road and offers gorgeous trail rides, often past the river or through rainforest, for riders of all abilities. (BS)
If it’s more of a country break that you’re after, give Mudgee a try. The once-sleepy town in the New South Wales Central Tablelands (around three and a half hours north-west of Sydney) has for the past few years been sneakily transforming itself into a foodies paradise, with winemakers, olive oil makers, chocolatiers, whiskey distillers and more setting up shop in the area. For maximum sampling and deliciousness try to time your trip to coincide with the monthly farmers markets.
Find yourself and your mates a huge farmhouse with a wood fire for weekend hire on Airbnb or through websites like Stayz, or if you’re more after a romantic getaway try one of the region’s many quaint little bed and breakfasts. For something a little different, check out the calendar of the Mudgee Polo Club to see when the next tournament is taking place. Champagne, gourmet food, music and ponies in a paddock? Yes please! (BS)
The country’s capital city is a good 10 degrees colder than the rest of the country so stock up on your long johns and definitely don’t pack those thongs. Canberrans don’t let the ice on their cars stop them, and neither should you. Check out a Brumbies or Raiders match at the GIO stadium (beanies are a must!) or let your inner child warm up by running around Questacon.
There’s no denying it gets cool in the capital in winter, but the locals embrace it with their winter wonderland creations like an ice skating rink in the city centre or festivals like the annual Truffle Festival held from mid June through mid August (depending on the season).
The cafe culture has certainly upped its game and you will have to fight the brunch crowds for a table at hot spots like Lonsdale Street Roasters, Penny University or The Cupping Room. Once fed, the options are endless. You can drop into the National Art Gallery or National Museum of Australia which is free to enter (some exhibitions are ticketed) or wander the various weekend markets like the Old Bus Depot Markets.
Head a little further north of the city and you’ll find yourself on The Poacher’s Way where you’ll find local wineries, restaurants (the Poacher’s Pantry has an epic smokehouse and walk-in deli) and friendly country folk. They host the Fireside Festival in August which is another popular event pulling in crowds with their delicious produce. (SE)
#8 Snowy Mountains
Snow season is drawing closer so get ready to book your season passes. After the cinematic success of Frozen, it won’t just be the adults that are keen to put on their ski boots. Just a few hours south of Canberra, The Snowy Mountains is well known for its ski fields (usually open early June to late October) and being home to the highest mountain in Australia, Mt Kosciuszko. Whether you’re into snow sports or just sitting by the fire enjoying a hot chocolate at one of the four main resorts (Perisher, Charlotte’s Pass, Thredbo and Selwyn Snowfields) there’s something for everyone in the snowy region.
You can take a journey underground and explore the Yarrangobilly Caves ($18-30) to see amazing frozen waterfalls, limestone caves or get fresh with a dip in the thermal pool that stays a balmy 27 degrees all year round. Yes, it’s open in Winter. Brrrr.
And there’s no way you can miss exploring the Kosciuszko National Park, where you can go hiking, mountain bike riding or even horse riding like a stockman through the countryside before bedding now at a stockman’s hut or local lodge. Bask in the warmth of an open fireplace or enjoy a tipple from one of the local wineries. There’s even a Schnapps brewery! (SE)
(Lead image: Hunter Valley Gardens via Wyncliffe / Flickr)