May 20, 2020

Visiting the NSW Southern Highlands

If any part of New South Wales resembles the country after which it was named, it's the Southern Highlands. Here the grass is greener, the air cooler and the countryside more prettily delicate than in the rest of the state. Tulips bloom in the spring, trees blaze russet in autumn, and sleek cattle graze on lush emerald slopes.

Situated 128 kilometres south of Sydney, the Southern Highlands stretch across a spur of the Great Dividing Range, from Mittagong in the north to Fitzroy Falls in the south. From Sydney, the most scenic route to the Southern Highlands is the steep and winding ascent over the misty Macquarie Pass.

Places of Interest 

The first Southern Highlands township you come to is Robertson, a quaint corner of old Australia, perched high on a hilltop with panoramic views to the coast. Stop for Devonshire tea in front of a log fire at Ranelagh House, a rambling old manor house where you can absorb the character of this unique area. Close to Robertson are some of the most attractive waterfalls in New South Wales – the Fitzroy, Carrington, and Belmore Falls.

Tulip Time in Bowral is always hugely popular. (Supplied)

Nearby is the quaint hamlet of Burrawang whose main street is lined with wooden cottages. The 127-year-old general store is a treasure-trove of old jars and potions. The owner makes his deliveries in a horse and sulky. From Burrawang you get good views over Wingecarribee Dam and the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir.

The main towns of the Southern Highlands are Mittagong, Moss Vale and Bowral. Bowral became a retreat for affluent Sydney folk in the late 1880s, many of whom built grand mansions here with magnificent gardens, like Milton Park which is now a luxurious hotel. Bowral nestles under Mt Gibraltar, the highest peak in the Highlands. This is a very appealing resort, especially in October, during the Tulip Festival, when Corbett Gardens blaze with colour.

Pies like these at Robertson are sought \
after all across the Southern Highlands
The showcase of the Southern Highlands is Berrima. The whole township has been listed by the National Trust and its main street, with colonial buildings clustered around a village green, is like a picturebook illustration of early Australia. Despite a profusion of craft shops and tearooms, Berrima retains the flavour of bygone days. Its impressive colonnaded courthouse was designed by Mortimer Lewis. Inside, the cells and courtroom exhibit startlingly realistic scenes with life-sized mannequins, while an interesting film explains the history of the region. The Surveyor General Inn is the oldest continually licensed hotel in Australia. Other historic buildings include forbidding Maitland Gaol, Harpers Mansion, Brian McMahon's Pub, Victoria Inn, the Barn Gallery and the Old Bakery.

Bundanoon, perched on the edge of the Morton National Park, was the honeymoon capital of New South Wales in the 1920s but today it is a naturelovers' capital with bush tracks to spectacular lookouts over rainforests, gullies and gorges. Bicycles may be hired here. Every April, a colourful highland festival transforms Bundanoon into Brigadoon.

Mittagong, on the Hume Highway, is a pleasant town with fine old sandstone buildings and craft shops. Lake Alexandra is a good picnic spot edged by a parkland reserve teeming with birdlife. A scenic drive leads to the top of Mt Alexandra.

At Moss Vale, 14 kilometres from Mittagong visitors can browse in antique shops, visit the historic Throsby Park Homestead, and picnic at the Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve on the banks of the Wingecarribee River where eighty species of bird have been recorded.

Scenic Attractions 

Don't miss the Wombeyan Caves which are situated in a scenic valley 65 kilometres from Mittagong. These cathedral-like caverns are renowned for their unusual formations. Daily tours are available, but you can explore one cave independently. A bushland reserve surrounds the caves, with tracks leading to a creek and waterfall.

One of the most beautiful drives in this region leads from the spectacular Fitzroy Falls, down Barrengarry Mountain, to Kangaroo Valley. The medieval-style, castellated Hampden Bridge spans the Kangaroo River which meanders through picturesque countryside and is ideal for canoeing, swimming and bushwalking. The trails start from the Pioneer Farm, a delightful recreation of life on an early dairy farm.

National Parks 

Morton National Park covers over 150 000 hectares of spectacular scenery and extends for 130 kilometres from Belmore Falls in the north to Yadboro Creek in the south. Striking features of this Park are deep rugged gorges and sandstone cliffs over 250 million years old which tower over deep gullies eroded by the Shoalhaven, Kangaroo, Endrick and Clyde rivers.

The Visitor Centre at Fitzroy Falls has maps and useful information to help you identify the main features along the tracks. Check with them before starting off, as the condition of tracks can change. A picnic area with fireplaces is provided nearby.

The Fitzroy Falls Lookout is very close to the Visitor Information Centre. The falls are a stunning sight, plunging 82 metres over a sandstone cliff into the rainforested slopes of the Yarrunga Valley below.

Two magnificent walks, one on each side of the escarpment, provide stunning views from a series of lookouts along the way. Each track is about 3 kilometres long, and takes one to two hours easy walking. After one kilometre on the west rim walk, you come to the Twin Falls, an unusual double cascade. The East Rim walk which leads to Lamond Lookout is a wildflower track.

Less famous than the Fitzroy Falls, Belmore Falls provide an incomparable picnic spot. These attractive falls drop into two rocky pools and divide into two waterfalls. A short walk through eucalypt forest leads to several lookouts. There's a fantastic view of Kangaroo Valley and the steep sandstone escarpment above the rainforest from Hindmarsh Lookout. Among the many birds here are Lewin honeyeaters, grey shrike thrush, superb fairy wren and rufous fantails. For the best view of the upper and lower falls, follow the loop track to Belmore Falls Lookout.

The Bundanoon section of Morton National Park has sixteen walks which vary from short strolls to long, steep hikes. You can reach the main lookouts by car, or cycle around the Park's circular track. One of the easiest walks leads from William Street to Glow Worm Glen. As glow worms are only visible after dark, you'll need a torch to see the track. You can follow tracks to Grand Canyon, Dimmocks Creek, Fern Tree Gully and Fairy Bower Falls. A steep descent leads from Track Junction to Bundanoon Creek. For something different, walk from Gambells Rest to Erith Coal Mine, which was opened in 1860.

Animals that inhabit the Park include the grey kangaroo, swamp wallabies, red-necked wallabies, spiny anteaters, bandicoots and platypuses. You may see wombat burrows near the walking tracks. Two threatened bird species – the eastern bristle bird and the swamp parrot - various types of parrot and large birds of prey such as the wedge-tailed eagle and whistling eagle. Other birds include scrub wrens, shrike tit and the noisy gang-gang cockatoos. The satin bower bird and grey thrush are sometimes seen near Fitzroy Falls.

Budderoo National Park, currently being developed, features Carrington Falls. The Park can be reached by turning off the Jamberoo Road, Nature Reserve with its bird observatory, walking trails and picnic facilities. Carrington Falls drops 50 metres into Kangaroo Valley, and can be viewed from several lookouts. There are walking tracks, picnic and barbecue facilities, and a specially constructed track for disabled people. A 600-metre loop walk leads into a rainforest gully.

The outstanding feature of this Park is its pocket of Minnamurra Rainforest, near Jamberoo. A 2-kilometre loop walk, with access for the disabled, has been designed to show visitors the rainforest vegetation.

Macquarie Pass National Park is located along the Illawarra escarpment near Robertson. It consists of steep, densely timbered ridges and rainforest gullies towered over by cliffs. You can walk into the forest along Clover Hill Road, the Cascades Walking Track and Glenview Road. There are picnic and camping areas available.

- Original text from Gregory's Touring Australia

MORE: History on the Hume series

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