Australia short break holidays: Top 10 towns for a short break

Lee Atkinson gives her national round-up of 10 of the top spots for a quick respite from the grind. 

Short breaks are harder to get right than they sound. If you've only got a few days up your sleeve you need somewhere that's not too far from home – just a few hours' drive or one easy flight – but far enough away to make you feel like you've left your daily grind far behind. And if your idea of the perfect short break means escaping from the big smoke for a day or three, it can be a fine line between finding peace and quiet and being bored out of your brain because there's nothing to do and nowhere decent to eat. Here's our pick, in no particular order, of 10 of the best towns in Australia for a quick getaway.

1. Daylesford, Victoria 

There are a 100 good reasons why Daylesford, an easy 90-minute drive from Melbourne, is one of the most popular short-break destinations in Victoria. The range of boutique accommodation, really good eateries, art galleries and quirky shopping are just four.  But the main reason to head to Daylesford rather than anywhere else is there is no quicker way to relax than soaking in a hot mineral bath  and there are 72 of them here. See visitdaylesford.com.au

2. Ballarat, Victoria

 If you're a history fan – or planning a short break with kids in tow – head to M.A.D.E (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) or Sovereign Hill to relive the Eureka Stockade and the glory of the gold rush days. If art is more your style the Ballarat Art Gallery is Australia's largest and oldest regional gallery.  Or you could just spend a weekend roaming around the surrounding countryside, exploring historic gold rush villages, trying wines at cellar doors and lunching in cosy cafes. See visitballarat.com.au

3. Mudgee, NSW

 Food and wine … for lots of people that's all you really need for a perfect short break, as long as there's lots of it – and Mudgee, three and a half hours' drive west of Sydney, has both in abundance. There are more than 30 vineyards – most with cellar doors – in the region and a number of artisan food producers that welcome visitors. There's olive groves, cheese makers, a distillery and a honey farm. See visitmudgeeregion.com.au

4. Newcastle, NSW

For reasons I don't quite understand Newcastle seems to get overlooked when it comes to quick getaways.  Just two hours' drive from Sydney it makes for a relaxing city break with everything, including a string of beautiful beaches, within walking distance or a short ferry ride away from the city centre.  There's a great cafe culture going on, a vibrant arts scene and some fascinating historic attractions left over from the convict years. A bonus is that the Hunter Valley wineries are less than half an hour away. See visitnewcastle.com.au

5. Victor Harbor, SA

Adelaidians are spoilt for choice when it comes to good getaway spots less than two hours from the city centre, but if I had to pick just one it would be Victor Harbor on the eastern side of the Fleurieu Peninsula. On one side you have the wineries of Currency Creek and steam train rides to Port Elliot and historic Goolwa at the Murray Mouth; on the other, the ridiculously scenic coastal walking trails and perennially deserted beaches.  Throw in a penguin colony and Australia's only horse-drawn tram and you have something that's guaranteed to keep every member of the party happy, at least for three days or so. See tourismvictorharbor.com.au

6. Noosa, Qld

This Sunshine Coast holiday hot spot is a heavy hitter when it comes to enticing well-heeled escape artists to its sunny, cafe-lined shores. It's a relatively short drive from Brisbane and there are direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne. But such popularity comes at a price and a summer weekend within coo-ee of Hastings Street doesn't come cheap. Take a few days off midweek and head north in early autumn for great deals, less traffic snarls and sea water that's still delightfully warm. See visitnoosa.com.au

7. Cairns, Qld

Another long-time favourite that still hasn't lost its shine, Cairns is the perfect place to escape the winter chill.  Dive or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, head into the rainforest, hire a car and explore the waterfalls of the Atherton Tablelands and drive one of the country's most scenic roads,  the Captain Cook Highway,  as it snakes its way north along the coast to Port Douglas and beyond to mossy Mossman Gorge.  The tricky bit about spending a few days in Cairns is deciding what not to do. See visitcairns.com.au

8. Margaret River, WA

The town of Margaret River in WA's south-west, around three hours' drive from Perth, is justifiably famous for its food and wine, but it has a wilder side that not that many people know about.  Home to some of the finest – and tallest – karri forests in the country, an extensive limestone cave system, a string of spectacularly good surfing beaches and some fantastic coastal walking trails, you can spend three days here without going anywhere near a restaurant or winery.  But you'd be mad not to.  See margaretriver.com

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9. Katherine, NT

The Top End's a long way to go for a short break, or so it seems if you're living down south, but if you are looking to recharge the batteries with a bit of time in the wild, Katherine's a great option.  It's a three-hour drive from Darwin, but once you're there there's plenty to do, with Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk) at the top of the list. Go for a cruise, take a hike, hire a canoe or see it from the air in a helicopter.  There's also a great museum, Aboriginal art centre and some magical hot springs, all in town.  Seevisitkatherine.com.au  

10. Launceston, Tas

Hobart's been hogging the limelight lately, with its bold new restaurants, hip hotels and the rather mind-boggling MONA art gallery, but Launceston has plenty things to keep a short breaker entertained. Go for a walk through Cataract Gorge, follow the Tamar Valley wine route, enjoy a long lunch beside the river, take a brewery tour, visit historic houses, fly though the treetops at Hollybank and spend an afternoon in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.  See visitlauncestontamar.com.au