Doorstep destinations

If long-haul seems like a chore, there's a wealth of wonderful attractions just a short ride from Sydney and Melbourne, writes Anthony Dennis.

Been there? Done that? Think again. As this special short-break guide and update to four popular regions in Victoria and NSW illustrates, there are plenty of persuasive old and new reasons for a visit, even if you've holidayed there before.

Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Where The Mornington Peninsula is about an hour's drive from Melbourne, via the M1 and Eastlink Tollway, and about 90 minutes from Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport, if arriving from interstate.

The pitch What the region says: "It's easily accessible from Melbourne. In under an hour you're starting your short break full of diverse options such as world class wineries, Good Food Guide-hatted restaurants, a bounty of gourmet food producers, peaceful bays and rugged coastline, some of the country's best golf courses, historic seaside towns, gardens and great water activities."

Top five experiences

1. Dine at one of The Age Good Food Guide-hatted winery restaurants overlooking vines and views, such as Ten Minutes By Tractor or Max's at Red Hill Estate.

2. Tee off at one of the Mornington Peninsula's world-class golf courses, such as the public-access Flinders Golf Club. But be warned: while putting, you may be distracted by the breathtaking water views across Western Port Bay.

3. Get up close and personal with Port Phillip's dolphins and seals with Moonraker Dolphin Swims or Polperro Dolphin Swims.

4. Spend an afternoon by the bay at the charming historic seaside town of Sorrento, fossicking in boutiques and bookstores, followed by fish and chips as the sun sets.


5. At Peninsula Hot Springs, bathe in naturally occurring hot springs or indulge in a spa treatment overlooking the coastal sand dunes and windswept ti-trees of Rye.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. Meander astride a gentle mare or a filly through the vineyards of Red Hill cellar door to cellar door, with Horseback Winery Tours.

2. For breathtaking views and cycling and walking paths to burn off all that Mornington Peninsula fine food and wine, head to Point Nepean National Park.

3. McClelland Sculpture Park at Langwarrin offers a stunning collection of modern sculpture in a beautiful garden setting.

4. Pick your own fresh strawberries, seasonally, at the family-owned Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm at Main Ridge.

5. Sample beautiful cheeses and see the goats being milked at Main Ridge Dairy.

What's new? The Flinders Hotel, Flinders, has had a major refurbishment and now boasts a public bar and dining room, plus a restaurant, Terminus, that has already scored a chef's hat in the 2013 The Age Good Food Guide. And new accommodation is also due to open. Well-known Mornington Peninsula food identities Max Paganoni (owner of Max's restaurant) and sister Danielle, have just launched the MP Experience, providing expert behind-the-scenes, over farm gates and kitchen and cellar-door tours of the region's best gourmet-food producers and winemakers. And Tussie Mussie Retreat is a new luxury property that brings a touch of Provence to the Peninsula.

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Orange, NSW

Where Orange is about four hours' driving time west of Sydney and about the same duration from Sydney Airport, if arriving from interstate.

The pitch What the region says: "The Orange region is one of the sunniest cool climate areas in Australia - an essential factor in producing wines with elegance. It has developed into a vibrant wine and food region, with a vibrant restaurant and cafe scene together with spectacular rural landscape, to be explored by driving, walking or cycling."

Top five experiences

1. Orange's reputation as the "colour city" shines in its gardens, such as the National Trust-listed Cook Park, planted over 120 years ago and considered one of the finest public gardens in NSW.

2. Founded in 1986, Orange Regional Art Gallery is renowned not just for its collection of Australian contemporary paintings and prints, but also for the building itself, recipient of the 1986 Sulman Prize for Architectural Merit.

3. The Orange region's food and wine industry is one of the most respected in NSW, boasting a number of Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide-hatted restaurants and as many as 40 cellar doors.

4. The highest peak, at 1395 metres, between the Blue Mountains and the Indian Ocean, is Mount Canobolas, the Orange region's playground for walkers, bird watchers, nature lovers, picnickers and sightseers.

5. Tee off at any one of three outstanding golf courses including the iconic, 18-hole Duntryleague Golf Club, with spectacular views from the clubhouse and restaurant.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. Long before dinosaurs, the rivers of NSW's Central West were home to strange ancient fish, some with jaws like crocodiles. The best fossil specimens from these fish are on display at the Age of Fishes Museum at Canowindra.

2. The Orange region's many farm gates provide the opportunity to pick your own fruit from the source and even meet the grower.

3. A sanctuary for native wildlife, Borenore Karst Conservation Reserve, near Orange, is also home to the ancient limestone caves, the most popular being Arch Cave.

4. Time your visit to coincide with the monthly Orange Region Farmers Market, featuring the area's superb, fresh local produce as well as plants and herbs for the garden (a gold coin donation gains you admittance).

5. Water, water, everywhere - the region is the location of Lake Canobolas, Lake Burrendong and Wyangala Dam, all great recreational spots, especially for fishing.

What's new The Orange region is experiencing a flurry of food and wine-related openings, including Byng Street Cafe, The Rocking Horse Lounge, Factory Espresso and Racine Bakery (brainchild of the owners of the hatted Racine restaurant at La Colline Vineyard) and Gordon Hills Estate's new cellar door. The one-hatted Orange chef, Simonn Hawke, has opened a stylish accommodation, Redini On Rowan, to complement her Lolli Redini restaurant. And, to your list of new places to stay, add The Shearing Shed @ St Albans, Brittlegum Cottage, Lakeview Luxury Cabins, de Russie Suites and Cottage 79.

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Central coast, NSW

Where The central coast is about one hour's drive north of Sydney and about an hour from Sydney Airport, if arriving from interstate.

The pitch What the region says: "The central coast is an easily accessible destination from Sydney. Few regional destinations offer the waterfront lifestyle and natural diversity that can be found here. The essence of the central coast is a world of beautiful coastlines, golden beaches, alluring lakes and pristine national parks with quality accommodation and attractions integrated into the region."

Top five experiences

1. The breathtaking beauty of the coastline along the Bouddi Coastal Walk at Bouddi National Park is irresistible for bushwalkers.

2. Watch the natural comical frenzy of the daily pelican feeding every day at 3:30pm (rain, hail or shine) at Memorial Park, The Entrance.

3. Enjoy the short walk to the top of the iconic Skillion headland at Terrigal and take in the superb 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean. Kids, of all ages, love the exhilaration of rolling down the grassy slope afterwards.

4. The acclaimed Australian Reptile Park at Somersby features NSW's largest crocodile, venomous spiders and snakes, milking programs, a Tasmanian devil conservation program, a giant Galapagos tortoise and lots more.

5. The historic Avoca Beach Picture Theatre, winner of a best regional independent cinema 2012 award, is a family-run, beachside "boutique theatre" presenting quality art-house, independent and foreign films.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. The 5 Lands Art Trail provides the opportunity for visitors to engage with local artists at their studios and discover their inspiration, with studios open on the third weekend of each month.

2. The Gosford Regional Gallery comprises three exhibition spaces, a gallery shop and cafe, and incorporates the Gosford-Edogawa Commemorative Garden, a traditional Japanese-style garden where you can feed the resident carp.

3. Enjoy high-quality, international award-winning spirits and liqueurs distilled locally on the central coast at Distillery Botanica. Many of the flavours come direct from the gardens surrounding the distillery.

4. Rise early for the self-guided Sunrise Platypus Paddle at Wyong. Board your kayak or rowing boat armed with all the necessary equipment, maps and tips to spot platypus in the wild.

5. The three-hour or so last riverboat postman departs daily every weekday (except public holidays) from the Brooklyn Public Wharf at 10am, right next to the Hawkesbury River Railway Station.

What's new? Stay in the new and authentic canvas tepees at the Forest of Tranquillity with Central Coast Eco-Tours. A new seasonal timetable will see Palm Beach Ferries operating a ferry service from Palm Beach to Gosford to coincide with the Gosford Racing meeting as well as service on New Year's Eve. Six String Brewing Company is now under construction at Erina and will soon be producing a range of handcrafted beers as well as being the venue for a tasting room and pizza kitchen.

Want to know more?

High country, Victoria

Where The high country region is about three hours' north-east of Melbourne; less from Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport if arriving from interstate. You can also fly in to Albury, about an hour or so away.

The pitch What the region says: "Bound by the Victorian Alps and the Murray River, Victoria's high country offers beautiful, ever-changing panoramic landscapes, whether your view is to or from the mountains. Whether you're cycling the region's extensive Rail Trail network, learning to make pasta with an Italian winemaking family or exploring the high plains on horseback, a short break to North East Victoria is filled with opportunities to interact with local characters and will leave visitors feeling invigorated and rewarded."

Top five experiences

1. Pedal to Produce is the perfect foodie holiday by bicycle, encompassing seven food and wine regions across the high country.

2. Hike the wildflower-dotted high plains and savour breathtaking vistas of the high country, the location of Victoria's highest peaks, Bogong and Feathertop.

3. Victoria's high country offers horse riding experiences for beginners, from gourmet and luxury overnight rides to multi-day packhorse adventures, and even cattle drives.

4. The high country landscape is dotted with historic alpine huts, such as Wallace's Hut near Falls Creek and the replica Craig's Hut at Mount Stirling, all of which can be accessed by foot and, in some cases, on horseback or by four-wheel-drive.

5. The lovingly and faithfully-preserved gold rush-era towns of Beechworth and Rutherglen both now share in common great eating, drinking and cycling opportunities, and all of this against a backdrop of historic streetscapes and utterly serene countryside.

Top five least-known experiences

1. Venture down the Prosecco Road to experience the warm hospitality of the King Valley's Italian winemaking families and taste Italian varietals pioneered in this picturesque Victorian valley.

2. Mountain bike enthusiasts may be familiar with Mount Buller's downhill and cross-country trails, but beginners can also try a new experience with the guided Downhill Rush Tour, which begins from the summit of Mount Buller.

3. Artisanal beer enthusiasts can now enjoy four fantastic craft breweries on the High Country Brewery Trail, a 150-kilometre-long touring route.

4. Mansfield Zoo is an intimate, family-run zoo that's home to a large collection of exotic and native animals. It's situated on picturesque parkland with stunning views across the Delatite Valley to Mount Buller.

5. Falls Creek is an ideal mountain destination in summer due, among myriad other reasons, to its proximity to Rocky Valley and Pretty Valley Lakes, which are, at around 1600 metres, the highest bodies of water in Australia.

What's new? Victoria's champion of regional produce, Patrizia Simone, is opening a cooking school across the road from her famed Simone's Restaurant at Bright, with many of the classes including a forage for wild mushrooms or herbs, or a visit to one of Patrizia's producers, prior to a hands-on cooking class. Walking with the Outlaws takes you through the upper King Valley where bushrangers once roamed, finishing at Dal Zotto winery for a gourmet feast. Tawonga-based Bogong Horseback Adventures, near Mount Beauty, is currently putting the finishing touches to its new purpose-built, eco-friendly accommodation for horse riders on its Spring Spur property.

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