One country, eight capital cities, 16 weekend getaways – half of them impossibly cool, the rest timeless and classic. Find the best Australian short break for you.
Blue Mountains, NSW
Where to stay: The Blue Mountains region is about two things – the great outdoors and the cosy indoors. Spicers Sangoma Retreat at Bowen Mountain in the foothills of the range is your choice for the latter, with adults-only bush suites that are the pinnacle of comfort.
Where to eat: The Sonoma sourdough and Proud Mary Coffee make Dbl Ristretto (212 Macquarie Road, 0490 133 059) in Springwood the pick of the brunch places at the mountains' midway point. Or for locally sourced, Asian-inspired creativity served in a stylishly renovated 19th-century cottage, lunch or dinner at Lochiel House is always memorable.
Where to drink: At the northern end of the area, bushfires forced Bilpin’s New Apple Bar (2488 Bells Line of Road; 0466 158 814) to close repeatedly over the summer but this neighbourhood favourite is back stronger than ever. Stop by for a locally brewed Hillbilly cider and woodfired pizzas.
What to do: Visitors generally flock to the Three Sisters and Govetts Leap lookouts but for something a little more rugged, lace up your hiking boots and walk the eight-kilometre loop from Glenbrook to the Red Hands Cave, site of some of the most striking Indigenous art in the area.
Where to stay: If it’s a central buzz and great amenities you’re searching for, The Lucky Hotel offers boutique rooms upstairs, with a pub and bistro below. For the perfect souvenir, purchase the Newcastle edition of Monopoly from behind the bar – the hotel is one of the green properties on the board.
Where to eat: Hidden CBD cocktail bar and restaurant Ginger Meg’s slings Yuzu Negronis and pan-Asian snacks, such as salt and Sichuan pepper squid with lemongrass, coriander, makrut lime and nam jim, in a moody, mural-covered two-storey space. The tastiest on-the-go lunch snack is a fiery Cuban sandwich from hole-inthe-wall Little Castro (555 Hunter Street; 0497 706 243).
Where to drink: Housed within what was once an early-1900s theatre, the dramatic, Art Deco-style Babylon on King Street has one of the biggest whisky lists in NSW.
What to do: Newcastle Art Gallery in Cooks Hill has an impressive collection of historical and contemporary Australian works, Japanese ceramics and a sculpture garden. If you’re around on a Sunday, head to the Newcastle City Farmers Market in Broadmeadow to score fresh Hunter Valley produce, art, jewellery and more.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Where to stay:If water views are a priority, the five-bedroom Ocean House in Lorne will dazzle. Just 100 metres from North Lorne Beach, the luxury home features glass-and-timber pavilions and wraparound balconies to maximise the connection to the landscape.
Where to eat: The Bottle of Milk in Lorne is a relaxed, retro-style café for coconut porridge at breakfast or a burger at lunch. For a fancy dinner, there’s Apollo Bay's La Bimba, where owner and chef Steve Earl sources almost all of his meat, seafood and vegetables from the region, including freshly caught fish from Apollo Bay Co-Op and poultry from Great Ocean Ducks.
Where to drink: Timboon Railway Shed Distillery, near the 12 Apostles, crafts its own single malt whisky and the enthusiastic staff are always keen to take you through a tasting.
What to do: There are nature walks around every bend but the short stroll to the giant California redwoods on the banks of the Aire River in the Great Otway National Park is worth a detour. Prefer your wildlife under the water? Consider a dolphin or seal swim on a tour departing from Queenscliff Harbour, near Point Lonsdale.
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
Where to stay: The award-winning RACV Cape Schanck Resort, at the southern tip of the peninsula, boasts spacious rooms and villas, plus an 18-hole championship golf course with distracting clifftop views. The Stay & Play package includes one night’s accommodation, breakfast and a round on the greens.
Where to eat: One of Victoria’s most creative chefs, Brigitte Hafner, has opened Tedesca Osteria in Red Hill, offering a fixed-price “nonnastyle” menu featuring regional produce lovingly cooked in a magnificent woodfired oven and grill. Or for a dinner that’s as experiential as it is delicious, Doot Doot Doot at Jackalope, Merricks North, is a Mornington moment you can’t miss.
Where to drink: Many Little in Red Hill is a bistro by day and a bar/lounge in the evening. Drop by for a range of wines, spirits and beers sourced from big names and micro-producers.
What to do: Immerse yourself in nature by taking the short ferry ride from Stony Point to French Island, where most of the bushwalks and the thriving koala colony thankfully escaped the fires that recently threatened the area. On the mainland, a soak in the warm mineral waters of Peninsula Hot Springs in Fingal is a rejuvenating way to refresh and unwind.
Where to stay: The 20 permanent glamping tents of Outback Retreats at Cooinda Lodge, next to Yellow Water Billabong, are the newest accommodation offerings on the outskirts of the park. Each double or family tent comes kitted out with works by local artists as well as bedding, air conditioning and glass doors to maximise the views.
Where to eat: Home Billabong is close to the tents and brims with barramundi if you fancy trying to catch and cook your own dinner on one of the resort’s shared barbecues. Otherwise, head to the lodge’s popular indoor/ outdoor Barra Bistro, where the mighty fish is a must-order.
Where to drink: Also at Cooinda Lodge, the Barra Bar is open until late and serves a selection of local and international wines and beers.
What to do: Extraordinary Indigenous rock art takes centrestage at sites such as Nourlangie and Ubirr but the area’s animal inhabitants – crocodiles, agile wallabies, dingoes and flying foxes – also pull crowds. The Corroboree Billabong, part of the Mary River Wetlands on the way to Kakadu from Darwin, can lay claim to abundant bird life (and crocs!) and is worth a stop to snap that fridge-worthy image of a brolga in flight.
Litchfield region, NT
Where to stay: The breezy rooms at Batchelor's Pandanus on Litchfield motel are basic but comfortable and there’s a pool for when the Territorian heat reaches its peak.
Where to eat: The rustic restaurant at Batchelor Butterfly Farm excels in simple meals with an Indonesian twist that captures the Territory’s strong links with our northern neighbour.
Where to drink: It mightn’t have the bells and whistles of a big-smoke venue but the Rum Jungle Tavern in Batchelor whips up fancy tropical cocktails alongside a selection of beers on tap and a pub-style food menu.
What to do: One of the most elegant and exotic ways to experience this wild swathe of Australia is with a Top End Safari Camp tour run by local guide, helicopter pilot and croc wrangler Matt Wright. It includes bell-tent camping, a chopper ride and a (supervised) meeting with a giant crocodile. If you’re self-guided, the popular Walker Creek Walk is a moderately easy two-hour hike that takes you beside a crystal-clear creek that’s perfect for swimming.
Gold Coast, Queensland
Where to stay: Retro-riotous The Pink Hotel in Coolangatta is all neon signage and Mid-century Modern cool, while the attached Eddie’s Grub House serves up towering burgers, whisky and live music.
Where to eat: Hyde Paradiso, which has branches in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Miami, has opened a cocktail emporium at the top of the Peppers Soul hotel in Surfers Paradise. Its signature sgroppinos – basically boozy slushies – are made to be sipped in the sun while snacking on haloumi chips and oysters.
Where to drink: Order a tropical cocktail – it’s almost a crime not to when you're near the beach. Sample some of the Goldie’s finest at Taboo Tiki in Surfers Paradise.
What to do: In Mermaid Beach, warehouse gallery 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace hosts rotating exhibitions of local and international works. But you’re not really on the Gold Coast until you get in – or on – the water. Tear around on a jet ski or choose the more tranquil option and take a spin on a standup paddleboard from SUP in Paradise in Surfers Paradise.
Tweed region, Queensland
Where to stay: Halcyon House at Cabarita Beach mixes a bright Mediterraneanvia-the-Hamptons look, courtesy of designer Anna Spiro, with high-end service and little extras, including à la carte breakfast and a complimentary mini bar. A table at the property’s Paper Daisy restaurant is one of the Tweed’s hottest reservations.
Where to eat: Chef Ben Devlin is a shining star of this region and now has his own place, Pipit, in the coastal hamlet of Pottsville. Local seafood leads on a menu that features dishes such as corned swordfish with chickpeas, pickles and flatbread and baby Queensland grouper with kohlrabi, capers and brown butter. Meanwhile, the light and airy Taverna in Kingscliff captures the easygoing spirit of the Greek Islands.
Where to drink: There are few better bars to sink a cold one than the relaxed, long-established Chinderah Tavern, overlooking the Tweed River.
What to do: M Arts Precinct in Murwillumbah combines artists’ studios, Gallery DownTown (an annexe of Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre) and Italian trattoria Bacaro. Or take your pick of any of the area’s beautiful beaches for a day by the water. The Cabarita Beach Whale Lookout at Norries Headland is as the name suggests: an ideal place to scan the sea for migrating cetaceans.
Barossa Valley, SA
Where to stay: There’s no shortage of country manors and cosy Airbnbs in the region but for something as light and lovely as a good bottle of riesling, book Villa Maria Barossa Luxury Guesthouse in Tanunda. Expect neutral interiors, Riedel glasses and breakfast hampers of local bacon and eggs and Apex Bakery bread.
Where to eat: Former St Hugo chef Daniel Murphy gets creative at Appellation inside elegant hotel The Louise in Marananga. His menu draws on fruit and vegetables from the hotel's kitchen garden as well as produce local growers bring to the kitchen daily. For enticing Vietnamese cooking, order the tasting menu at FermentAsian in Tanunda.
Where to drink: Musque Food & Wine in Tanunda has a 300-bottle wall of gin, with some of its rarer brands found nowhere else in Australia. You can try five of the best as part of an Expressions of Juniper tasting experience.
What to do: Wine tours and tastings are offered by big names such as Yalumba in Angaston and Seppeltsfeld, as well as smaller producers like Kellermeister in Lyndoch. Want a break from the booze? Try a perfumeor lip-balm-making workskop with natural skincare company Vasse Virgin in the heart of the valley.
Adelaide Hills, SA
Where to stay: The Crafers Hotel is the dream combination of heritage charm and mod cons, its guestrooms made cosy with wool carpets and crisp linen. Sitting just below Mount Lofty, it’s the perfect base for a brisk hike to earn that dessert at dinner.
Where to eat: Enjoy a languid weekend lunch at The Summertown Aristologist, where you can expect dishes such as Coorong mullet with spring onion and tomato vinegar. In Mount Barker, Sazón Espresso is a vibrant café filled with Mexican flair and dishes that sparkle with south-of-the-border ingredients such as chorizo, pinto beans and chipotle. The coffee is on point, too.
Where to drink: Head to Lot.100, north of Nairne, to get a sense of the region’s bounty. It hosts cellar doors for five beverage brands, including Hills Cider and Adelaide Hills Distillery.
What to do: Let someone else take care of the itinerary with the Adelaide Bar Boys. After meeting in the city they’ll whisk you off to a lion encounter at open-range Monarto Zoo then to a wine tasting and lunch at The Lane Vineyard. For treasures edible and otherwise there’s Adelaide Hills Farmers Market every Saturday morning in Mount Barker.
Margaret River, WA
Where to stay: Empire Retreat and Spa in Yallingup has 11 luxury suites built around a stone farmhouse on a working winery. Set aside an afternoon for a specialised spa experience using all-natural Sodashi products.
Where to eat: If you’re looking for a break from the inevitable cheese platters at cellar doors, Chow’s Table in Yallingup serves modern Asian eats such as fried chicken ribs with five-spice salt and chilli and Malay beef and potato curry. Or sample native flavours that follow the seasons of the Noongar calendar at Dunsborough's Yarri Restaurant and Bar.
Where to drink: You’re here for the wine, of course, but true oenophiles hunt for small-scale, boutique producers. Put Windows Estate at Yallingup and Wilyabrup’s Arimia into the GPS.
What to do: It’s a toss-up as to what Margaret River folk like more – wine or surfing. If you need a crash course in the latter, Yallingup Surf School runs daily group classes that’ll get you standing on water before you know it. Or wear hiking shoes and your cossie under your clothes for a coastal walk, such as the Wardinup Trail in Yallingup or the Bunker Bay Loop near Dunsborough.
Swan Valley, WA
Where to stay: Base yourself at The Colony at Mandoon Estate, part of a complex comprising a cellar door, restaurant and brewery in Caversham. Grab a beer and a charcuterie platter for a lazy afternoon on the private lawn by the river.
Where to eat: For macarons, crêpes and croque monsieurs, visit French-style patisserie Maison Saint Honoré in Caversham. There's also an evening menu that features classics-with-a-twist like duck breast with white truffle potato or deconstructed mille-feuille. Need a coffee hit? Head to Middle Swan and Oakover Grounds, where the café uses beans from onsite roaster Fiori Coffee.
Where to drink: Olive Farm Wines in Millendon has added a vino vending machine to its cellar door experience so you can easily and efficiently sample every varietal on offer.
What to do: To work off a winery lunch, drive to Brigadoon for Bells Rapids River Walk, a 2.5-kilometre loop track along the banks of the Swan River, where you’ll see swamp paperbarks and grevilleas as well as kangaroos. Or try your hand at making haloumi or ricotta with a class at The Cheese Maker in Herne Hill.
Huon Valley, Tasmania
Where to stay: The Cygnet Old Bank bed and breakfast sits inside a 1909 heritage building and contains three tastefully updated suites. Downstairs, the Conservatory Café brims with greenery and serves homemade pastries, hearty breakfasts and delicious tasting plates.
Where to eat: In Cygnet, former MasterChef finalist Sarah Clare's Ilha Restaurant (2/23 Mary Street; 0404 365 815) is a South American-accented eatery that makes the most of local produce. Nearby, Fat Pig Farm is home to intensive cooking classes and regular events, including Fat Pig Farm Afloat lunch cruises along the Huon River aboard a Scandinavian tall ship. Or book a seat at the weekly long-table lunch, where partners and hosts Matthew Evans and Sadie Chrestman will guide you through a leisurely feast straight from their farm.
Where to drink: When the house red and white are from neighbour and boutique producer Sailor Seeks Horse, it’s clear the people at Port Cygnet's Cannery Kitchen and Bar know their stuff. Drop in for a drink and one of the woodfired pizzas if you’re peckish.
What to do: The crew at The Wooden Boat Centre on the banks of the Huon River in Franklin are passionate about preserving the traditional art of boatbuilding. Call in for a tour or to book a river cruise. Staying for a week or more? Tackle a short course – they’ll help you build a kayak in just six days. For something more sedate, wander the main street of Huonville to seek out hidden gems in the bric-a-brac and antiques stores.
Where to stay: The motto of the 18-room Change Overnight hotel on York Street is “a better night’s sleep” and it’s easy to see why: funds from every booking go to one of eight causes, including Tasmanian wilderness preservation.
Where to eat: The always elegant Stillwater on Bridge Road has recently added guestrooms so you can dine at night, pause to sleep then wake to rye hot cakes with Huon smoked salmon and mustard crème fraîche for breakfast. Also on the waterfront, Rupert & Hound specialises in seafood, including local oysters and kingfish crusted in Tassie hemp.
Where to drink: With a wine list that namechecks coveted producers from around the globe, Geronimo Aperitivo Bar and Restaurant, on the edge of the CBD, is a cosy spot for a lazy afternoon – particularly if you can secure a seat by the open fire.
What to do: Art-lovers, make your way to Design Tasmania, in the centre of town, which displays and sells the works of prominent and upcoming local artists. Pack a picnic and go to Cataract Gorge and keep an eye out for wandering peacocks and wallabies.
Snowy Mountains, NSW
Where to stay: Tinkersfield, in Crackenback, between Jindabyne and Thredbo, is a self-catered destination that blends indoor comfort and outdoor adventure. There are luxury huts for couples or larger spaces for families and groups, all with rain showers and European appliances. From here, explore the rugged high country on horseback or by foot.
Where to eat: Birchwood café in Jindabyne builds flavour-packed dishes using local fruit and veg with add-ons such as smoked mountain trout and free-range eggs. On the shores of Lake Crackenback, with views to the ranges, Cuisine Restaurant & Bar is renowned for its grill menu.
Where to drink: Nothing says “mountain resort” like a warming shot of schnapps. The Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery in Thredbo also makes its own gin and vodka.
What to do: The region hosts a number of festivals, including food and wine extravaganza Tumbarumba Tastebuds in October and the Kosciuszko Craft Beer Festival at the end of summer. Or sign up for an alpine photography workshop in Kosciuszko National Park’s secret corners with local photographer Mike Edmondson.
The Riverina, NSW
Where to stay: Kimo Estate, 10 minutes outside Gundagai, is a 2800-hectare working farm that offers a range of luxury accommodation options, including three off-grid eco huts that are positioned high on grassy hills looking over the surrounding countryside.
Where to eat: All your culinary pursuits lie a 50-minute drive away in Wagga Wagga. Thirsty Crow Brewing Co. specialises in beer and pub grub but surprises with a thoughtful wine list that includes bottles from the vineyards at nearby Charles Sturt University. Or sit down for an organic feast at wholefoods café Planted Cootamundra.
Where to drink: The hip Birdhouse Bar & Kitchen in Wagga Wagga does a signature New York Sour cocktail that’s a standout.
What to do: Wagga Beach is an inviting stretch of lawn, sand and eucalypts on the banks of the mighty Murrumbidgee River. It’s a great place to go for a paddle, taking care of the strong currents. The Riverina punches well above its weight in fresh produce so do a gourmet cooking class at Food I Am in Springvale.