Australian long weekends: Get outta town
Author: KENDALL HILL
The attractions of Australia's capital cities are well-known - Sydney's white-sand beaches and beautiful harbour, Melbourne's funky laneways with their great hidden restaurants and bars, Perth's dazzling Swan River… But look a little further afield and you'll find a wealth of great touring options to round out your next mid-week escape or long weekend away. Here are our picks of the best short breaks within an hour of most capital cities.
South: Woodbridge and Bruny Island
The postcard panorama from Peppermint Bay across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel to Bruny Island is an apt match for the gourmet meals and wines served at this sleek and modern restaurant. Hunker down in the hills at the straw-bale-and-stone Peppermint Ridge Retreat, with its comfortably rustic interiors and six-metre windows framing the channel below - enjoy the spectacular views from the bedrooms, too (doubles from $160 including breakfast). Plan a casual lunch and a ramble around the farm at Fleurtys in Birchs Bay, sample organic sheep's cheese at Grandvewe, and board the car ferry at Kettering for Bruny Island, where you can taste perfect Pacific oysters at Get Shucked.
North: Coal River Valley and Richmond
Base yourself in Hobart's northern suburbs at Moorilla, which combines a winery, respected restaurant and luxurious accommodation with four striking pavilions perched above the Derwent River (doubles from $330). Rest and relax on your private balcony overlooking the water, then venture into the Coal River Valley to taste the wares at Craigow, Puddleduck and Meadowbank Estate vineyards, stopping for lunch at the latter's reliable restaurant. Nearby Richmond is a trove of Georgian architecture dating to the early 19th century - take a horse-and-carriage tour of the town, then spend the rest of the day browsing for antiques.
South: Huon Valley
The thriving Huon Valley is Tasmania's apple orchard, and much else besides. Stay at the picturesque Fair Light, a former shipwright's home, perched above Glaziers Bay (house is $660 per couple for three nights), then take leisurely outings to attractions such as the Wooden Boat School in the riverside town of Franklin, the arty village of Cygnet (the Red Velvet Lounge does excellent cakes) and book in a lunch at the boutique Home Hill winery in Ranelagh. Its rammed-earth restaurant showcases local produce such as pan-seared Huon salmon, paired with a glass of Home Hill's sylvaner. www.discovertasmania.com
South: Fleurieu Peninsula
Just 40 minutes' drive from the capital lies the Fleurieu Peninsula, a Mediterranean-style outpost of exceptional wines, produce and beaches. Dine at the Star of Greece in Port Willunga (08 8557 7420) for seafood and sparkling views; for fine dining in mid-19th-century surrounds, visit the Salopian Inn; or go casual at Russell's (08 8556 2571) for pizza; or the Victory Hotel at Sellicks Beach for the perfect pub meal. Standout local wineries include Coriole, d'Arenberg and Wirra Wirra. For accommodation options see www.fleurieupeninsula.com.au.
North-east: Barossa Valley
These days premier wine region the Barossa Valley is home to upmarket accommodation (stay at The Louise, a Peppers Resort, packages from $499 per couple including dinner and breakfast), diverting excursions (helicopter and hot balloon rides and hiking) and a distinct culture best witnessed at the Saturday farmers' market in Angaston. Local producers gather at this weekly institution to display their wares, from spelt bread and pear chutney to farmed rabbits, goats and yabbies. www.barossa.com.
South-east: Adelaide Hills
Autumn in the Adelaide Hills is a sight to behold. This misty, magical enclave lights up in golds, ambers and reds so impressive that there are now specific drives you can follow to maximise your seasonal sightseeing. Stay at Cladich Pavilions in Aldgate (doubles from $170 including breakfast) for distinctly sleek Australian accommodation. Tour cool-climate wineries, snuggle a koala at the Gorge Wildlife Park, and tuck into a famous chocolate Cow Pat at Melba's in Woodside. www.visitadelaidehills.com.au.
North: Macedon Ranges
The Macedon Ranges, a semi-rural idyll just north of Melbourne, is renowned equally for its natural beauty and its pinot noirs (for a list of wineries visit www.macedonranges.com). There are plenty of heritage hotel options, including Campaspe House (doubles from $350 including breakfast, Fridays and Saturdays only) and The 7 Chimneys Guest House (doubles with private bathroom from $110 including breakfast), from which to set out sightseeing. Hanging Rock provides a haunting contrast to the lush opulence of blue-ribbon Mount Macedon and the wintry warmth of historic Woodend. www.visitmacedonranges.com.au.
East: Mornington Peninsula
The Mornington Peninsula is blessed with stunning beaches, fertile soil and sybaritic pleasures. Stylish B&Bs dot the landscape alongside boutique vineyards, spas (revive yourself at the Peninsula Hot Springs resort), and no fewer than 18 golf courses to challenge dedicated clubbers. The best dining options are conveniently located beside cellar doors: long pizza lunches at T'Gallant's La Baracca Trattoria and Spuntini Bar are de rigeur, fine French dining at Montalto sets the standard for the region, and newcomer Ten Minutes By Tractor, which won Gourmet Traveller's Wine List of the Year for 2008, is a must. www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org.
West: Werribee Park
The grandeur of Werribee Park offers history, nature and upscale accommodation in the one location. Chirnside Mansion, the seat of a once-great Victorian pastoral empire, provides a bygone contrast to the sharply modern lines of the Sofitel Mansion & Spa, a 91-room hotel and spa complex (deluxe rooms in the spa wing are our pick, doubles from $239). Adjacent to the hotel are 10 hectares of formal gardens, the Werribee Open Range Zoo, Shadowfax winery and the State Rose Garden, with more than 5000 bushes blooming between November and April. www.werribeepark.com.au.
North: Central Coast
The Central Coast is studded with getaway gems, but for a classic Aussie beach escape, head to the twin communities of Hardy's Bay and Killcare. Take a short ferry from Palm Beach or drive up the F3 and bed down in a waterfront holiday home or at adman John Singleton's five-star Killcare Bells, where Stefano Manfredi oversees the in-house menu (doubles from $350 including breakfast). Coastal walks in Bouddi National Park, fish and chips beside the bay and a Sunday afternoon beer at the Hardy's Bay RSL round out the perfect weekend away. www.visitcentralcoast.com.au.
South: Royal National Park
The Royal National Park, Australia's oldest - and the world's second oldest - lies just south of the city and is home to Aboriginal rock art, bracing coastal hikes, isolated beaches such as Wattamolla and Garie, and the charming community of Bundeena. Rent a modern beachfront home here (such as House on the Rock, house is $700 for two nights) or take a room at the five-star Beachhaven (doubles from $275 including breakfast), then spend a peaceful weekend bushwalking, swimming and gazing out to sea. Local artists exhibit their work on the first Sunday of each month at The Art Trail, or take a guided sea kayak tour - by day or night - of the local waterways. www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au.
West: Blue Mountains
Recharge in the World Heritage-listed surrounds of the Blue Mountains, where luxury accommodation and fine dining complement the primitive wilderness. The Orient Express-run Lilianfels (doubles from $705) is the pick of the inns and a fine base from which to discover the region's Aboriginal heritage, tramp the walking trails to Sublime Point (and Echo Point at sunset), or get a bird's eye-view of the bushland on Scenic World's cable car. Enjoy afternoon tea, a tradition here since Victorian times, at the Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains or Everglades heritage gardens. www.visitbluemountains.com.au.
East: Swan Valley
Take a ferry from Barrack Street Jetty and cruise up the river to Swan Valley for a weekend among boutique producers on Perth's outskirts. Big-name vineyards such as Sandalford and Houghton dominate the dozens of regional wineries, and there's local beer on tap, too, at microbreweries Mash and Duckstein. Historic Guildford, the valley's hub, trades in antiques and old pubs. Comfortable B&Bs and farmstays abound, or take a room at Novotel The Vines Resort & Country Club, with golf course at your door (doubles from $190). www.swanvalley.com.au.
West: Rottnest Island
The island playground of Rottnest is a protected reserve combining dozens of fine beaches and coral reefs with native flora and fauna - most notably the wallaby-like quokka. Perth families flock here in summer but outside the peak school-holiday seasons the living is easy; hire a bike and cycle along the 24km track around the island, visit the celebrated bakery, and stay in a holiday apartment or at the Quokka Arms Hotel, the former summer home of Western Australian governors (doubles from $120).
The boomtown of Mandurah, fringed by the Indian Ocean, is an increasingly popular escape from the capital. The new Ocean Marina Mandurah is lined with cafés and market stalls catering to weekend visitors and the owners of the fishing and recreational vessels crowding its moorings. Stay at river- and canal-side B&Bs or self-contained apartments such as Seashells Resort Mandurah right on Comet Bay (one-bedroom apartments from $200). Grab a serve of fish and chips from Cicerello's on the boardwalk and settle in for the sunset.
North-west: Glasshouse Mountains National Park
Step back in time - around 25 million years or so - to the Glasshouse Mountains National Park. Spectacular volcanic plugs punctuate this ancient landscape; walk or cycle through woodland and heath to the base of the imposing mountains, many of which can be climbed for panoramic views. Stay simply but comfortably at Glasshouse Mountains Eco-lodge - you can cook with vegetables and fruit from the garden (doubles from $80) and Australia Zoo is just 10 minutes' drive away. Or continue into the Sunshine Coast hinterland for more places to stay (such as Lyola Pavilions in the Forest at Maleny, doubles from $280 including breakfast). www.glasshousemountains.com.au.
East: North Stradbroke Island
North Stradbroke Island, one of the world's largest sand islands, combines convict history (visit the museum at Dunwich) and nature, with kilometres of beachfront fun. Activities include fishing charters, sea kayaking and sandboarding, freshwater swimming in inland lakes, 4WD tours and rewarding walks (watch for whales on the North Gorge Walk between June and November). The old Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel ('the Straddie' to locals) has been demolished and a sparkling new complex opened in its place featuring a spa, several dining options, 12 contemporary rooms and priceless views (rooms from $145, minimum two-night stay during mid- and peak seasons). www.redlandstourism.com.
South: Gold Coast
Beyond the theme parks and Surfers Paradise's metre maids, the constantly evolving Gold Coast offers dynamic dining and lodging options, most with dress-circle views of that famous sweep of shoreline. Fine diners include Vanitas restaurant at the glam Palazzo Versace (superior room from $435) and Meyjitte Boughenout's French cuisine at Absynthe in the soaring Q1 tower, plus there's a new wave of wine bars and eateries at Broadbeach. Fill in the downtime between meals with shopping, surfing and spa treatments, or get back to nature in the hinterland. www.verygc.com.