Whether you're looking to reconnect with nature, wind down at a luxury city stay, or head on a coastal adventure, there are plenty of ways to soak in NSW and the ACT's picturesque landscapes.
1611 Mid Western Hwy, Evans Plains; 0427 688 542; wilgastation.com.au
THE LOCATION The beauty of Evans Plains, equidistant from both Sydney and Canberra, is that it feels like the middle of nowhere, yet it's only a few minutes' drive south-west of Bathurst, Australia's oldest inland settlement.
THE PLACE As the former CEO of Mayfield Garden, an acclaimed horticultural attraction near Oberon, third-generation sheep farmer Hamish Keith knows a thing or two about tourism. Cue the 2020 opening on the 105-hectare family property of the Farmer's Hut, a grass-roofed, off-grid cabin for two that overlooks a wildflower-studded meadow and a valley that disappears under morning mist. A three-sided picture window is a standout feature. It's both day lounge and dining table, where you can graze on the complimentary antipasto welcome platter and bottle of regional wine, or enjoy a hot breakfast made from provisions left for you to cook up a storm. A group option – the five-bedroom Shearers Hall – has just opened nearby.
THE EXPERIENCE After zig-zagging like sheep through fences, races and ramps to reach the front door, ditch the bags, grab your swimming costume and wander the Sheep Trail to reach a rockpool in the willow-framed creek. Pop into town for dinner (or barbecue your own), toast yourselves (and provided marshmallows) at the campfire, raid the treasure chest of books and games, and switch off from the world.
DON'T MISS It's a 45-minute drive to Keith's old day job, Mayfield Garden, a botanical estate so photogenic you can spend an entire day admiring its features.
FROM $450 a night; two-night minimum stay. - Katrina Lobley
The view from The Cabin’s deck-side bathtub. Photo: Dave Wilkinson
Address provided upon booking; 0477 025 366; saltycabins.com
THE LOCATION Drive 25 minutes north of Byron Bay to the farming town of Yelgun; there, on a forested hilltop road, you'll find The Cabin.
THE PLACE When Sydney builder Dave Wilkinson and his wife started dreaming of a city escape in 2017, they decided to migrate to Byron Bay and create their own. The following year, they leased a lush hilltop with 360-degree views over the forest to the sea and built The Camp on it, a canvas bell tent attached to a tiny home. Then, in July 2021, they added The Cabin on the same land. Wilkinson built The Cabin entirely by hand, making for some gorgeous detailing including curved decking, a timber roof and a bathtub cut into the deck. The building is run entirely on solar power.
Salty Cabins, a short drive from Byron Bay. Photo: Dave Wilkinson
THE EXPERIENCE It's all about reconnecting with nature, without compromising on convenience or style. Hours slip away soaking in the tub beneath the eucalypts, or sipping wine by the fire pit gazing out to the ocean, a 10-minute drive away. Inside it's clean lines and a nature-inspired palette, with sandy-white rendered walls and terracotta linen sheets on the queen-size bed, and an elevated camp vibe thanks to the pot-belly fireplace, the kitchenette's camp stove, the rain shower and (surprisingly elegant) composting toilet in the generous bathroom.
DON'T MISS Roco ramen and sake bar in Brunswick Heads, a pop-up, while award-winning Fleet takes a sabbatical until January 2022.
FROM $249 a night; two-night minimum stay weekends. - Nina Karnikowski
A million-dollar view from Barangaroo's 275-metre-high Crown Sydney. Photo: Supplied
1 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo; (02) 8871 7171; crownsydney.com.au
THE LOCATION You can't miss it, which is entirely the point. Towering over the city like a gigantic, gleaming raised digit, the 275-metre-high Crown Sydney dominates the northern extremes of the $2 billion Barangaroo harbourside commercial and entertainment district.
THE PLACE With 349 luxurious and giddily pricey rooms and villas (one for seemingly every scandal that's beset its owners since its opening late last year), the twisting, cylindrically shaped landmark designed by august British architect Chris Wilkinson bills itself as the harbour city's first authentic six-star hotel. Exaggerations aside, it's difficult to demur, since rarely in these parts are there hotels with such hang-the-budget attention to detail.
THE EXPERIENCE Put aside, if you can, the unending, unflattering headlines surrounding it and savour what is the closest you'll encounter Down Under to a buzzing, grand contemporary south-east Asian bolthole. Right from the dazzling white marbled (and at times Kardashian look-alike-laden) lobby, above which hangs a Czech-crafted chandelier, to the high-tech, lavishly furnished and decorated suites themselves, the 75-floor Crown Sydney impresses and transports.
DON'T MISS Where to start? Aside from the dizzying array of flashy, though well-reviewed, restaurants, pack your chicest togs for Crown's true showstopper. We refer to the dramatic, Singapore-style infinity swimming pool, replete with resort-style private cabanas, day beds and poolside dining, overlooking Darling Harbour.
FROM $999 a night. - Anthony Dennis
Hillcrest Merimbula, six hours' drive from Sydney. Photo: Supplied
97 Merimbula Dr, Merimbula; 0412 966 204; hillcrestmerimbula.com
THE LOCATION The seaside town of Merimbula is a tiny jewel on the Sapphire Coast, surrounded by rugged coastlines and lush inland rainforests. It's a six-hour drive from Sydney, seven from Melbourne and three from Canberra.
THE PLACE Opened in 1974, this motel has all the wood cabinetry, exposed brickwork and flat roofing you'd expect from the era, but the new owner, Caspar Tresidder, with the help of Sydney's Atelier Chardon Architecture, has given it a contemporary update. The new Exhale suites feature art by Melbourne abstract painter Adela Kusur above poured-concrete banquettes with textured throws and native floral arrangements. Original rooms are also still available, with new beds and bathrooms featuring Kevin Murphy products. Private balconies give uninterrupted ocean views.
THE EXPERIENCE Enjoy sunrise from your balcony with complimentary coffee and freshly baked croissants from Wild Rye's Baking Co in nearby Pambula. Set amid two hectares of gardens with its own box-seat view, the original swimming pool area has had an upgrade with the addition of an adjacent fire pit to take you from lazy days to marshmallow-fuelled evenings. Be sure to pack your tennis whites, as the motel's original clay court has been restored to its former glory.
DON'T MISS Merimbula Gourmet Oysters, a family-owned oyster farm serving up great seafood tasting plates.
FROM $130 a night. - Georgina Safe
The 120-year-old Eltham Hotel was restored in 2019. Photo: Jessie Prince
441 Eltham Rd, Eltham; (02) 6629 1217; elthampub.com.au
THE LOCATION A one-pub town dozing in the hinterland halfway between Byron and Lismore, Eltham was a buzzing railway village in the early 1900s, and its watering hole is still a popular meeting place for Northern Rivers locals.
THE PLACE Young publicans Luke Sullivan, Matt Rabbidge and Julia Ashwood bought the keys to this 120-year-old boozer in 2019, ripped out the pokies and restored the hotel into a destination for travellers to unwind. Its lovingly decorated rooms are each inspired by a different woman who used to live in the region. Ashwood's keen eye for vintage treasures breathes life into "the girls", such as Rhonda, Patsy and Margaret.
THE EXPERIENCE Whadayahavin? Natural cabernet or cold beer? Schnitzel or steak? Chips or pickled fennel and radicchio salad? The kitchen mixes counter-meal classics with modern panache, while friendly staff make it easy to settle in with a post-pudding nightcap. Bric-a-brac that wouldn't be out of place in a Wes Anderson film frames the bar and – because this is still very much a pub – guests should expect the occasional sound bleed from touring country bands in the beer garden. Luxe touches including Pony Rider throw cushions and In Bed linen create elegant, spacious rooms in which to relax regardless.
DON'T MISS Dinner at Ciao, Mate!, the Eltham team's swish new pizza and negroni parlour 20 minutes' drive west in Bangalow.
FROM $200 a night. - Callan Boys
The Greenhouse Retreat Pearl Beach: a classic fibro turned chic beach-shack. Photo: Supplied
The Greenhouse Retreat Pearl Beach
11 Diamond Rd, Pearl Beach; 0432 066 647; thegreenhouseretreat.com
THE LOCATION Pearl Beach is so close to Sydney's northern beaches, you can see it. By road, however, it's 90 minutes' drive north on the M1, or a scenic ferry ride from Palm Beach will deliver you to the neighbouring village of Patonga in half an hour.
THE PLACE This four-bedroom classic fibro sleeps six in a textbook contemporary beach-shack-chic redo. New owner Carla Luce has added her own style, making it the beachy dream, with a Besser block-backed magnesium swimming pool, wood burner, pretty native garden and green lawn, fire pit and white-on-white Instagram readiness. Hen's weekend planners, take note.
THE EXPERIENCE Linen lounges and breezy drapes, essential oils, organic teas and eco candles make a restful base for exploring the Central Coast's most fashionable enclave. Rinse off under the alfresco shower after a dip in the ocean, take the SUP boards out for a paddle, or kick back with a gin and tonic – with the girls or the gang – on the pool deck.
DON'T MISS Tackle the three-kilometre Pearl Beach-to-Patonga trek through Brisbane Water National Park, followed by lunch at the lauded Pearls on the Beach.
FROM From $850 a night; minimum two-night stay, five across Christmas and January. - Sheriden Rhodes
Floor-to-ceiling windows capture the big Kangaroo Valley views at Ooralba Estate. Photo: Robert Walsh
47 Cavan Rd, Kangaroo Valley; 0429 100 098; ooralba.com
THE LOCATION The estate is set on 81 lofty hectares overlooking the Kangaroo Valley and fringed by Morton National Park, 160 kilometres south of Sydney.
THE PLACE The price is steep but this is the ultimate in glam family or group getaway pad, sleeping 14. Valley views and big skies are captured by floor-to-ceiling windows and amplified by vaulted ceilings. There's an entertainers' lounge, chef's kitchen, dining room and library flanked by two wings comprising seven guestrooms all up. The larger wing includes a master suite with en suite endowed with a sauna, spa and twin bathtubs (when one isn't enough). You've got a private chef, concierge, housekeeping, full breakfast and dinner and select beverages. Why not chopper the clan in? There's an on-site helipad.
Ooralba Estate is made for a glam group getaway. Photo: Robert Walsh
THE EXPERIENCE Guests have exclusive run of the estate's bushwalking trails, dreamy topiary maze and gardens designed by Hugh Main of Spirit Level Designs. Then there's the tennis court, cabana and soon, a heated lap pool (due for completion by January 2022). There's even a pizza oven in the chef's garden. Take an outdoor yoga class; drink in the view from various decks, or warm yourself by the indoor fireplace during daily canapé-and-cocktails hour.
DON'T MISS Get your concierge to organise a trip to Morton National Park's sacred Indigenous sites.
FROM $12,500 a night for up to eight guests and $1000 a night for each additional guest; two-night minimum stay. - Catherine Marshall
Nimbo Fork in Killimicat. Photo: Guy Williment
330 Nimbo Road, Killimicat; (02) 6944 9099; nimbofork.com.au
THE LOCATION It's not exactly on the fabled "track winding back", in the dinky-di Road to Gundagai folk song. But you will find the deluxe Nimbo Fork at the end of an idyllic back road of the Snowy Mountains foothills between Gundagai and Tumut, about five hours from both Sydney and Melbourne.
THE PLACE Nimbo Fork, an erstwhile exclusive fishing lodge now open to all, is the real tuckerbox – no dog in sight – in this picturesque pocket of a Riverina region starved of decent dining. Three Blue Ducks, the slick restaurant collective renowned for its simple, but not simplistic, food credo, and with outposts stretching from Brisbane to Melbourne, is Nimbo's newest addition.
THE EXPERIENCE Stay in either the attractive main lodge building, home to Three Blue Ducks' dining room complete with fine rural views, leading off a suitably cosy lounge, or in one of a row of six cute, comfortable and identical cottages neatly arranged along the hill above the Tumut River and Nimbo Creek. Along with securing the essential Three Blue Ducks reservation, go for a horse or bike ride, or head off on a bushwalk. Or simply prop yourself up with a pinot on your cottage verandah overlooking the delightful watercourses.
DON'T MISS Consider popping into a pair of waders for fly-fishing with a professional local guide.
FROM $220 a night for a lodge suite; $425 for a stand-alone cottage. - Anthony Dennis
Berrima Vault House was originally hand-built by convicts in 1844. Photo: Abbie Melle
Berrima Vault House
11 Old Hume Hwy, Berrima; (02) 4877 1592; berrimavaulthouse.com
THE LOCATION A former stagecoach stop 130 kilometres south of Sydney, Berrima is renowned for its 19th-century architecture, museums, cafes and historic jail.
THE PLACE Hand-built by convicts in 1844, Taylor's Crown Inn was a rest stop with prison holding cells below. Now it's a private members' club catering for well-heeled Southern Highlands locals, and two of the cells are now atmospheric private dining rooms, popular for poker nights. A cafe, bar, restaurant and beer garden are open to the public. So, too, is the elegant Courthope Residence, a three-bedroom suite occupying the entire top floor, with access to all club facilities for guests.
THE EXPERIENCE Developer Simon Philby and designer wife Carlie, responsible for the bold colours and exquisite furnishings, have combined the Georgian-era bones of sandstone and wrought iron with the softer fabric of contemporary sensibilities. The walls are adorned with ever-changing exhibitions of local and global artwork chosen by curator Ali Hillman. Chef Tommy Prosser (formerly of Alain Roux's Michelin-starred Waterford Inn in the UK) uses locally sourced produce and ingredients to twist mainly English classics – fish and chips, afternoon tea, Eton mess – into new taste sensations. Warning: the creaking floorboards of the Residence add credence to the legend that a ghost stalks.
DON'T MISS In WWI, Berrima Gaol became an internment camp for Germans, who were allowed to roam during the day. Visit the local museum to see what they contributed to the town.
FROM $600 a night; two-night minimum stay weekends. - Steve Meacham
Tinonee Vineyard Estate in Broke. Photo: DC creative
Tinonee Vineyard Estate
1273 Milbrodale Road, Broke; 0488 127 321; tinoneevineyardestate.com.au
THE LOCATION Find this luxury stay at the end of a long gravel drive in Broke, a tranquil, less-visited hamlet in the Hunter Valley wine region, 25 kilometres west of the main tourist hub, Pokolbin.
THE PLACE Tinonee is a 20-hectare working vineyard and cellar door offering The Residence, a sprawling six-bedroom, three-bathroom, red-brick farmhouse with a wraparound verandah, and The Cottage, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom timber villa that's been converted from an old milking shed.
Inside The Residence, Tinonee Vineyard Estate. Photo: Urban Angles
THE EXPERIENCE With its spacious entertaining areas, vaulted ceilings and manicured lawns, The Residence is perfect for groups of friends or extended families. Kids can frolic in the outdoor pool or play a game of garden chess. The Cottage is a cosier, more intimate proposition, with a gas log fire and a freestanding period bathtub. Both properties are decorated in a relaxed, French-provincial style, with tiled floors, oversized sofas and decorative throws, and each features a well-equipped kitchen. Another aspect they share: sweeping vineyard views. Look out for kangaroos at dawn and dusk. Stays include a complimentary cheese platter and tasting of the property's estate-grown wines, which range from a smooth, easy-drinking fiano to the big, bold Governor shiraz.
DON'T MISS A private in-residence dinner by Boyd & Co, a new catering operation run by local husband-and-wife team Thomas and Eliza Boyd, who met while working at London's two-Michelin-starred restaurant, The Ledbury.
FROM $400 a night for The Cottage, $2500 a night for The Residence; two-night minimum stay. - Rob McFarland
Visitors will find Scandinavian cosiness in Hideout 1.0 in Moss Vale. Photo: Guy Williment
Hideout Cabins, Rosthwaite Farm
268 Yarrawa Rd, Moss Vale; 0410 794 946; hideoutcabins.com.au
THE LOCATION With its manicured estates, character-filled villages and gourmet trail, all within two hours of Sydney, the Southern Highlands region offers a bucolic escape reminiscent of the English countryside.
THE PLACE The Hideout Cabins are two cute-as-a-button, architect-designed tiny houses with minimalist interiors maximising rural views of farmland through picture windows. Hideout 1.0 features a deck that juts over the dam and has a Scandinavian-style cosiness, with fluffy cushions and a pink-tiled bathroom with brushed-gold tapware and wooden walls. Hideout 2.0 features a more masculine look with whitewashed birch plywood panelling and black fixtures.
THE EXPERIENCE This is not your typical "Old MacDonald" farm stay; rather than waking to the cluck of chickens, it's the clip-clop of horses' hooves that echoes across the 48-hectare property as some of Australia's most promising showjumpers prepare for action. Rosthwaite Farm is home to James Arkins and his steed, Eurostar, a dynamic duo with their sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. Guests can watch Arkins training in the arena, or coaching up-and-coming equestrians at the on-site riding school. End the day toasting marshmallows over a fire pit before retiring to a cloud-like bed (dressed with In the Sac flax linen), strategically positioned to capture a misty sunrise.
DON'T MISS See the farm from the saddle on a leisurely trail ride, or stretch your own legs to explore paddocks filled with some of Australia's most valuable livestock.
FROM $285 a night. - Julie Miller
Little National Hotel, directly on top of Sydney's Wynyard Station. Photo: Romello Pereira
Little National Hotel
26 Clarence St, Sydney; (02) 9135 0222; littlenationalhotel.com.au
THE LOCATION This cool, spatially efficient central Sydney work-and-play pad is directly on top of Wynyard Station, and just a four-minute walk to Barangaroo.
THE PLACE The dark, narrow, street-level entrance to Little National seems to be almost hiding, but what lies beyond – or rather, sits above – the ground-floor concierge is a sleek 10-floor, 230-room, high-amenity hotel. A standard room floor plan is compact but airy, with clean white-tile lines and blond timber fittings, and the super-king bed – nudged directly up against a floor-to-ceiling window – makes you feel like you're sleeping among the skyscrapers.
THE EXPERIENCE The Little National is tech-forward yet user-friendly, from self check-in at reception (with helper nearby, as needed) to the in-room iPad controlling everything from lights and blinds to temperature and entertainment. Feeling sluggish? Visit the 150-square-metre state-of-the-art gym. Behind on work? Find a bentwood chair at a communal desk in the peaceful penthouse library where unlimited WiFi, reading lamps and a wireless colour printer make satellite productivity easy.
DON'T MISS The library shares the 11th floor with the open terrace rooftop bar. Fetch a cocktail and park yourself on a couch by the glam open fireplace, and you'll feel like you've arrived.
FROM $229 a night. - Konrad Marshall
This revamped 1980s motel now channels a mid-century Californian beach vibe. Photo: James Tolic
100 Bangalow Rd, Byron Bay; (02) 6685 8900; thesunseeker.com.au
THE LOCATION Stay here and you're just far enough from the centre of town to avoid the crowds, yet close enough to rent one of the hotel's bikes and take it for a spin to cafes and Tallow Beach.
THE PLACE Sunseeker's exposed-brick exterior makes it look like the kind of motor inn with your choice of Kellogg's at breakfast. There's not a cornflake box to be found across 12 rooms and six kid-friendly bungalows, however – at least, not since Jess and Dave Frid relaunched the rundown 1980s motel in January. The couple's redesign channels mid-century Californian beach vibes by way of flagstone floors, Spanish renders and no shortage of burnt orange. Also note what might be Australia's first poolside "brutalist tiki bar", exclusively for guests.
The Pool Bar at The Sunseeker. Photo: James Tolic
THE EXPERIENCE Each of the breezy rooms features a private patio or balcony with views to the original pebblecrete pool, engineered for margaritas and burying your nose in a paperback. A library is stacked with books on skating, art and design, and if you're in a Sunseeker Room, there's a lot to be said for borrowing one to read on the ochre corduroy daybed and cracking open a natural wine from the minibar. Meanwhile, the bungalows are equipped with a hammock, Smeg fridge and Weber for nightly barbecues – the nearby Bay Grocer cafe will deliver a custom steak-and-snag pack. Brilliant.
DON'T MISS Lunch at Beach Byron Bay, 30 minutes' walk away, open daily for ocean views, market fish, chips and chardonnay.
FROM $280 a night. - Callan Boys
The Workshop Kitchen restaurant at Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth By Rydges. Photo: Supplied
Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth By Rydges
248 Armidale Rd, East Tamworth; (02) 6766 7000; rydges.com
THE LOCATION Power to the people has played a big part in Tamworth's history. In 1888, the then township of 3000 became, believe it or not, the first place in Australia to receive electric street lighting. Now, the latest power play, of sorts, is the reborn Powerhouse Hotel in this burgeoning, increasingly switched-on regional city, five hours' drive north of Sydney, today home to 65,000 people.
THE PLACE Five minutes by car from Peel Street, Tamworth's main drag and a focal point of its annual, nearly 50-year-old country music festival, the Powerhouse (named, you guessed it, after an electricity station that once occupied its site) earlier this year completed a $12 million refurbishment, elevating it to near enough five-star standard. Sydney's prolific hotel and hospitality creator, Paul Kelly Design, was engaged to revamp every facet of a property that was more motel than hotel, including its now snazzy 81 rooms and apartments.
THE EXPERIENCE The Powerhouse's spacious rooms are decked out in shades of blue, green and grey, and feature big-city hotel accoutrements like plush pillow-top king beds with leather bedheads, smart TVs, 24-hour room service and, in some suites, private outdoor terraces.
DON'T MISS For an easy excursion from town, reserve a table for lunch at the Glasshouse restaurant, an award-winning architectural landmark overlooking the boundless Liverpool Plains agricultural lands.
FROM $209 a night. - Anthony Dennis
Australian Capital Territory
A by Adina is part of the new $300 million Constitution Place precinct. Photo: Rohan Thomson
A by Adina Canberra
1 Constitution Ave, Canberra; (02) 5134 6444; abyadina.com
THE LOCATION On the edge of Civic, Canberra's livelier-than-you'd-think CBD, three hours' drive from Sydney and seven hours from Melbourne, A by Adina is part of the new $300 million Constitution Place, the national capital's latest eating and boozing hotspot.
THE PLACE A product of leading Australian architects Bates Smart, the 130-room hotel opened earlier this year. It's a design-driven spin-off of the more conservative Adina brand with a choice of plush, though compact, studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
THE EXPERIENCE A self-styled new-generation apartment hotel, A by Adina occupies one of two 12-storey, Darth Vader-like towers separated by a narrow, restaurant-filled, Melbourne-style laneway. The well-equipped apartments, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, are drenched in welcome natural light, and the kitchenette has a coffee machine and pods.
DON'T MISS Arc, a standout cafe that's part of an edgy Canberra chain, is handily right next door to the small but stylish ground-level lobby, fronting the city's ubiquitous parklands.
FROM $209 a night. - Anthony Dennis
Hotel Realm in Barton. Photo: Romello Pereira
18 National Cct, Barton; (02) 8355 8469; hotelrealm.com.au
THE LOCATION Barton's Realm precinct has added cosmopolitan cachet to Canberra. The crown jewel, the eponymous hotel, is only a 10-minute walk from Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin.
THE PLACE Hotel Realm, set on one of Canberra's soothingly tree-lined streets, is very much a choose-your-own-adventure option in the heart of the national capital, offering everything from lavish penthouses to two-bedroom apartments with kitchen. But the standard (and spacious) Realm Room provides more than enough comfort and style, with a king-sized bed and roomy, earth-toned marble bathroom.
THE EXPERIENCE Realm is a preferred landing spot for high-profile travellers – on the weeknight Good Weekend visits, former cabinet minister Christopher Pyne and cricket superstar Steve Smith are checking in – and it's easy to see why. The sprawling complex provides serviced office space, fine (and casual) dining, lounge bars, a wholefoods cafe, hair salon, health club and day spa. A small but classy touch? The in-room tea and coffee options above the mini fridge are T2 and Nespresso.
DON'T MISS The National Gallery of Australia, a pleasant 20-minute stroll or five-minute drive away, houses perhaps the most impressive collection of Australian art in the country.
FROM $269 a night. - Konrad Marshall