Australia hinterland regions travel guide: 10 of the best

Australia loves a hinterland. So much so that we're one of the only countries that has this word in our everyday vocabulary. Plenty of coastal cities around the world have patches of lush, hilly countryside on their outskirts, but few refer to them with this German word meaning "the land behind".

In Australia though? We embrace the term, and we embrace the concept. After all, what could be better than escaping the heat and the hustle of the city in favour of the clear air and mountainous beauty of a hinterland area? From Cairns to Byron Bay to Adelaide to Perth, so many of our favourite coastal towns also boast access to these idyllic slices of altitude.

The only question to ask is: what do you do when you get there?

BYRON HINTERLAND, NSW

Aerial of the rolling hills in Byron Bay's hinterland. Byron Hinterland
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Credit Destination NSW

Photo: Destination NSW

WHERE Drive west from Byron Bay, cross the Pacific Highway and you're pretty much there: a lush, hilly area that includes the likes of Newrybar, Bangalow, Nimbin and The Channon.

WHY WE LOVE IT This might just be the quintessential Australian hinterland, a stunning collection of rolling green hills covered in eucalypt forests and dense jungle, a place known as much for its laidback hippie culture and quirky villages as its natural beauty.

SEE + DO + EAT For nature lovers, check out Wollumbin National Park, Tyagarah Nature Reserve, or visit Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park. For foodies, dine at Harvest in Newrybar, or The Italian Diner in Bangalow. Shoppers, meanwhile, can visit regular markets in the likes of Mullumbimby, Nimbin, Bangalow and The Channon.

DON'T MISS Don't just visit the Byron hinterland: stay there. Avoid the hustle of Byron Bay and take in some of Australia's finest scenery with a homestay deep in the hills. See airbnb.com.au

ESSENTIALS There are several high-quality guesthouses around Bangalow (try 99 Acres – 99acresbangalow.com), or check out private lodgings throughout the hinterland. This is a perfect year-round destination. See visitnsw.com

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SUNSHINE COAST HINTERLAND, QUEENSLAND

Driving through the lush landscape with Mount TIbrogargan in the background
Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
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Mount TIbrogargan. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

WHERE From most parts of the Sunshine Coast – Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Caloundra – the hinterland region is only a 30- to 40-minute drive west across the Bruce Highway.

WHY WE LOVE IT Three words: Glass House Mountains. You only need to know this to understand the attraction of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. However, once you add in stunning views and classic charm in the likes of Montville, Mapleton and Maleny, hiking trails through old-growth forest, and great food throughout, you have all the makings of an excellent holiday.

SEE + DO + EAT Though traditional owners ask that visitors refrain from climbing spectacular Mount Tibrogargan, there's a circuit track around the base that provides amazing views of the mountain and nearby Mount Cooee. Elsewhere, check out waterfalls and lookouts at Maleny, shop for fresh produce at markets in Mapleton, Witta and Montville, and eat excellent Thai food at Spirit House in Yandina.

DON'T MISS Seeing dawn in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland is a special experience. Wake early and climb to the top of Wild Horse Mountain or Mount Tinbeerwah as the sun rises for incredible views.

ESSENTIALS For unique luxury accommodation, try Spicers Tamarind or Clovelly Estate (spicersretreats.com); Altitude on Montville (altitudeonmontville.com.au) is also recommended. Visit year-round. See visitsunshinecoast.com

ATHERTON TABLELANDS, QUEENSLAND

Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
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Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

WHERE Cairns' hinterland area is accessible via either a half-hour drive to Kuranda, a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway (pictured), or by taking the Skyrail, a gondola that runs from Smithfield in Cairns, via Red Peak and Barron Falls, to Kuranda.

WHY WE LOVE IT When tropical Cairns is getting a little too steamy, the Atherton Tablelands makes the ideal retreat. Up here in the mountains you'll find geological wonders, gastronomic delights, hiking paths, biking trails, swimming holes, and one of only two coffee-growing regions in Australia.

SEE + DO + EAT Half the fun is getting there, considering the rail and gondola options from Cairns. Once you're in the tablelands, hike the Crater Lakes National Park, check out Queensland's highest peak, Bartle Frere, visit the plantation at Skybury Coffee, and pick up fresh produce at the Yungaburra Markets.

DON'T MISS Formed about 400 million years ago on a former coral reef, the Chillagoe Caves are a spectacular subterranean sight, and a must-visit in the tablelands area. Ranger-led tours take visitors through vast caverns and passages marked by stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones.

ESSENTIALS For accommodation, Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat in Malanda is ideal for nature lovers. See rosegums.com.au. Atherton Tablelands has a temperate climate that is good for year-round travel. See athertontablelands.com.au

GOLD COAST HINTERLAND, QUEENSLAND

Natural Bridge,  Springbrook National Park, Gold Coast, Queensland. Photograph by Tourism Queensland. SHD TRAVEL JUNE 10 GOLD COAST.

Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park.

WHERE Tamborine Mountain, in the heart of the hinterland, is an easy 45-minute drive from the Gold Coast, and a one-hour journey from Gold Coast Airport.

WHY WE LOVE IT This isn't the GC you think you know. Gone is the glitz and glamour, replaced by rainforests and rivers. This vast wilderness area, which is comprised of the Tweed Range, the Nimmel Range, Tamborine Mountain and the McPherson Range, and which overlaps with the Scenic Rim, is all about the beauty of nature, from waterfalls to swimming holes to spectacular coastal views.

SEE + DO + EAT Lace up your boots and get walking on some of Australia's best trails, with flora and fauna to spot, as well as rock formations, waterfalls and lookouts to enjoy. The GC hinterland also has a fledgling wine industry, plus a gin distillery in Tamborine, and fresh-produce markets in Mudgeeraba.

DON'T MISS The peak of the hinterland's natural beauty can probably be found in Springbrook National Park, home to ancient Gondwana rainforests, the spectacular Natural Bridge rock arch, and thundering Purling Brook Falls.

ESSENTIALS The classic accommodation option here is O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, a gorgeous spot in the foothills of Lamington National Park, see oreillys.com.au. The hinterland is great year-round, though most popular in summer. See queensland.com

ADELAIDE HILLS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

Piccadilly, Adelaide Hills
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Credit SATC

Photo: SATC

WHERE It's a very easy 20-minute drive from downtown Adelaide to the heart of the hills, towns such as Stirling, Hahndorf, Summertown and Mount Barker.

WHY WE LOVE IT The Adelaide Hills are alive with gastronomic culture, a veritable – and literal – smorgasbord of excellent food and wine. You could come here for the rolling scenery, of course, which is lovely, and the towns' considerable historic charm. But mostly this is a place to eat, drink and be merry.

SEE + DO + EAT Time to go winery hopping: call in at Shaw + Smith, Petaluma, Unico Zelo, Penfolds Magill Estate and Hahndorf Hill. Eat a German-style pub lunch in Hahndorf, feast on pizza at Lost in a Forest, try Mod-Oz food with natural wine at the Summertown Aristologist. There might even be time for a beer at brewpub Prancing Pony.

DON'T MISS The most memorable cellar door experience in the hills is probably at The Lane. Guests here are led up to a small shed on the vineyard, where a surprise awaits. We don't want to spoil it, but trust us, you want to do this. See thelane.com.au

ESSENTIALS It's hard to go past the beauty and the class of Mount Lofty House, built in 1852, and overlooking Piccadilly Valley. See mtloftyhouse.com.au. The Adelaide Hills is a year-round destination, though most popular in summer. See southaustralia.com

FIVE MORE AMAZING HINTERLAND REGIONS

BLUE MOUNTAINS, NSW

This is every Sydneysider's classic cool-climate retreat, the perfect place to escape the heat and the hustle of the coast and enjoy some mountain beauty. In the likes of Katoomba, Leura and Blackheath, visitors can wander through forests, gaze at clifftops, explore caves, relax at spas, dine on excellent food, and spend evenings in unique accommodation. Highlights include the Scenic Skyway, a gondola suspended 270 metres above the Earth; the underground wonders of Jenolan Caves; and spending the night at the Hydro Majestic hotel. See visitbluemountains.com.au

CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, TASMANIA

The Walls of Jerusalem are located in a remote area of the Tasmanian highlands and are part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. The area is a spectacular labyrinth of alpine lakes and tarns, dolerite peaks, ancient but fragile forests of Pencil Pines and unique alpine vegetation. traxxcoverhinterland Luke Tscharke

The Walls of Jerusalem in the Tasmanian highlands. Photo: Luke Tscharke

It takes just under an hour from Hobart to reach the Central Highlands, Tasmania's "lake district". Here you'll find Australia's deepest freshwater lake, Lake St Clair, and one of its largest freshwater expanses, the Great Lake. This area is all about peaceful, isolated interludes with nature, whether you prefer to do that by walking through national parks such as the Walls of Jerusalem, taking a dip in one of those many lakes, or grabbing fly-fishing gear and trying to bag a few trout. Spend your nights at Pumphouse Point, unique accommodation in the middle of Lake St Clair. See discovertasmania.com.au

YARRA RANGES, VICTORIA

So close to Melbourne they're almost an extension of the city itself, the Yarra Ranges takes in the likes of Healesville, Coldstream,Mount Dandenong and Warburton. It's also home to the Yarra Ranges National Park, traditional country of the Warundjeri people, where visitors can find the world's tallest flowering tree, the Mountain Ash. The Yarra's most famous drawcard, however, is probably its wine industry, with some of Australia's finest drops being produced by the likes of Oakridge, Giant Steps, Yering Station, Helen's Hill, and Helen and Joey Estate. Spend a memorable night or two at Chateau Yering. See visitvictoria.com

PERTH HILLS, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Though the area has recently been affected by bushfires, the Perth Hills – which includes the likes of Mundaring, Kalamunda and Armadale – will bounce back, and tourism will be a key driver of that recovery. And anyway, you don't need much of an excuse to head up here and check out the cider-makers and vineyards, to have a picnic or a swim at Lake Leschenaultia, to visit a wildlife park, walk the Bibbulmun Track, go mountain-biking, or visit the Perth Observatory. Spend your nights at Eversprings Glamping near Mt Helena. See experienceperth.com

SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS, NSW

Though it's probably a little far from Sydney to consider a classic "hinterland" area, the Southern Highlands is still an extremely popular getaway for city dwellers, and with good reason. The likes of Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Berrima ooze charm, with plenty of attractions both natural and cultural. This is an area in which to enjoy nature on foot or by bike, and then stop in at a winery or a restaurant to sample the best of Southern Highlands produce. Don't miss Fitzroy Falls for hiking, Artemis for wine, and Paste in Mittagong for high-quality Thai cuisine.

See visitsouthernhighlands.com.au

FIVE HINTERLAND REGIONS TO EXPLORE OVERSEAS (WHEN WE CAN)

BARCELONA, SPAIN

View on Barcelona from Tibidabo mountain traxxcoverhinterland

Barcelona is surrounded by hills, the closest of which is probably Tibidabo. The views of the city from up here are stunning, and there's a church and an old-school amusement park to make the journey up even more worthwhile. A little further afield, about a 45-minute drive west you'll find Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, the home of cava wine, a charming town with plenty of opportunities for tastings. See catalunya.com

TOKYO, JAPAN

Though it takes a while to escape Tokyo's urban sprawl, once you do you will be rewarded with some beautiful scenery, in particular in Nikko. This area is known for its national park, hugely popular during autumn when the leaves change colour; it's also home to the Toshugo shrine, as well as many hot springs (with onsen facilities), lakes and mountaintops. It takes about two hours to reach Nikko from downtown Tokyo. See www.japan.travel

VANCOUVER, CANADA

You can't fail to be impressed by the mountains that loom above Vancouver on Canada's west coast: these are the foothills of the Rockies, thank you very much, and it only takes 20 minutes or so to travel from downtown Vancouver to the likes of Grouse Mountain ski resort. Vancouver is also close to stunning examples of natural beauty such as Garibaldi Lake, Joffre Lakes, and EC Manning Provincial Park. See canada.travel

HONG KONG

Hong Kong is surrounded by impressive mountain peaks, most of which are ripe for exploration for those hoping to escape the city for a day or two. The contrast couldn't be starker: gone are the high-rises and the heaving streets, replaced by peace and quiet as you hike the Kowloon Hills. Try the easy stroll up Beacon Hill, the short hike up to Tai Lo Shan, or check out the huge cliffs on Kowloon Peak. The Dragon's Back hike, at Shek O, is also a classic among locals. See discoverhongkong.com

LISBON, PORTUGAL

Lisbon is a city of hills, so it's no surprise to find that its hinterland region is similarly vertiginous. The classic destination here is Sintra, the former royal retreat that to this day remains dotted with villas and grand mansions, not to mention tourist attractions such as the riotously colourful Pena Palace, the classic Sintra Palace, and the heritage-listed Quinta da Regaleira mansion. See visitlisboa.com

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