Short and sweet

Anthony Dennis concludes his round-up of the best short breaks close to both Sydney and Melbourne.

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

The Goldfields, Victoria

Where Ballarat, the Goldfields' biggest centre, is about 80 minutes' drive north-west of Melbourne and just an hour from Melbourne Airport at Tullamarine if you're arriving from interstate.

The pitch "The Goldfields region has become one of Australia's premier tourism destinations, offering a vibrant arts and cultural scene, cool climate wine trail, gourmet food, some of Australia's best cycling and walking trails, vintage shopping and world renowned events and attractions. All set against Australia's best-preserved gold heritage architectural backdrop."

Top five experiences

1. Pan for gold, take a trip down a gold mine and dress up in costumes from the 1850s at Ballarat's Sovereign Hill, Australia's premier historical family attraction.

2. Do Lake Wendouree as the locals do by taking an early-morning run or stroll around the six-kilometre course, and keep a look out for cygnets and ducklings.

3. The Goldfields region boasts three respected wine regions: Bendigo, Ballarat and Heathcote. Bendigo and Heathcote are known for their robust shirazes, while Ballarat is noted for its elegant cool-climate drops.

4. Ballarat is home to the oldest regional art gallery in Australia, while those in Bendigo and Castlemaine house a variety of touring international exhibitions and permanent collections.


5. Eat and drink your way through the Goldfields at a selection of lauded restaurants including The Good Table and Public Inn, both in Castlemaine, and Bendigo's The Dispensary and Whirrakee.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. Ballarat has a strong vintage culture, with a love of all things 1950s evident in the vintage stores, quirky grass-roots designers, galleries and cafes, as well as the Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival.

2. The Goldfields' vibrant food and wine scene is complemented by a nascent though sturdy craft beer and cider movement.

3. The Goldfields Track is a 210-kilometre, shared-use trail between Ballarat and Bendigo that winds its way through the towns of Creswick, Daylesford and Castlemaine.

4. The movie-set-like village of Maldon is Australia's most intact heritage streetscape, including Penny School Cafe and Gallery, Maldon 50k Local store (where everything is sourced from within 50 kilometres of Maldon) and Chocolade.

5. Dating to 1854, Castlemaine's Theatre Royal is the splendidly preserved heritage venue for various events, such as live shows and film festivals.

What's new? Ballarat's MADE (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka), due to open in March 2013, is an interactive, contemporary museum that explores themes and issues of Australia's vibrant democracy that can be traced to the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat. One of the region's most popular attractions, Kryal Castle, a mediaeval theme park, is returning after a refurbishment, complete with real-life jousting tournaments. One of Bendigo's best known wine labels, Pondalowie recently opened its Cellar and Store in View Street.

Want to know more?

Southern highlands, NSW

Where Bowral, the main town of the southern highlands, is less than two hours from Sydney and about the same time from Sydney Airport if arriving from interstate.

The pitch "Make the southern highlands your next short-break destination, and you will find a treasure trove of attractions, such as award-winning restaurants and wineries, magnificent gardens, rare antiques, authentic heritage and amazing natural wonders. The southern highlands is a great place to relax, escape, unwind and rejuvenate, and is within a comfortable driving distance of Sydney, Canberra, the south coast and Illawarra."

Top five experiences

1. Overlooking the Illawarra Escarpment, up to 30 metres above the ground, the 500-metre-long Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk at Robertson is one of the leading attractions of its type in Australia.

2. Take the plunge at the village of Fitzroy Falls, best known for its sublime waterfall, which is one of the many in Morton National Park.

3. One of NSW's oldest and best-preserved colonial villages, historic Berrima dates to the 1830s and is home not only to beautiful Georgian architecture, but also The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide-listed restaurants of Eschalot and Josh's Cafe.

4. The towns of the southern highlands are dotted with quality bookshops and literary points of interest, which have been brought together to form the unique Booktrail.

5. Bowral's much-loved Bradman Museum has expanded into the International Cricket Hall of Fame, featuring interactive touchscreens, expanded displays and five huge video screens that place cricket in the context of major world events.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. The Glow Worm Glen track, Bundanoon, showcases the party lights of nature for what is a mini-adventure for the whole family.

2. On a clear day from the Sleeping Volcano at Mount Gibraltar, nestled between Bowral and Mittagong, you can see the skyline of Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

3. Whether you believe in ghosts or not a Ghost Tour of the historic Berrima village is a lot of scary fun.

4. Li Sun Mushrooms is one of Australia's most exciting food producers, growing some of the world's most exotic mushrooms in a disused railway tunnel near Mittagong. Tours are by appointment and take place sporadically each year.

5. The township of Thirlmere is home to Trainworks, Australia's newest and biggest train museum, where NSW's rich rail history is brought to life.

What's new? A leading southern highlands vineyard, Diamond Creek Estate is opening a new cellar door in Merrigang Street in the heart of Bowral; Belle Fleur Cottage Lavender celebrates lavender in the highlands with locally grown lavender, aromatherapy and skincare products for sale, as well as new tea rooms for refreshment pit stops; Berkelouw's legendary Berrima Book Barn Bookshop is set to reopen after renovations combined with a new function centre, cellar door and restaurant. The nearby two-bedroom Book Barn Cottage has also recently been refurbished.

Want to know more?

Daylesford and Macedon Ranges, Victoria

Where Daylesford is about 90 minutes from Melbourne and about an hour from Melbourne's Tullamarine airport if arriving from interstate.

The pitch "The Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region is home to Australia's largest concentration of naturally occurring mineral springs in the country, complemented by a renowned food and wine scene, premium accommodation and a vibrant arts scene."

Top five experiences

1. Dine at one of the many award-winning restaurants such as the Lake House, on the banks of Lake Daylesford, or Annie Smithers Bistrot in Kyneton.

2. Luxuriate in the soothing waters at the iconic Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, or enjoy one of more than 90 different spa treatments, many of which use the restorative local mineral waters.

3. Visit Hanging Rock, officially known as Mount Diogenes, in the Macedon Ranges. It's the setting of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the eerie Australian novel and subject of Peter Weir's film, as well as the home of the Hanging Rock Cup and Races.

4. Enjoy the beautiful views and strolls in and around Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm and perhaps a lavender champagne or scone at its cosy La Trattoria cafe. This former dairy farm, a perfect venue for a picnic, dates to the 1860s and is only 10 minutes north of Daylesford.

5. A landmark perched atop Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens, the Convent, in Daylesford, is home to three floors of fine art set in a historic mansion. Don't miss the superb views of the town and surrounding countryside from the building as well as the Convent's restored chapel and nun's museum.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. The region has a strong Swiss-Italian history, as evidenced by the Lavandula Swiss Italian Farm, with migrant settlers drawn by the mineral springs. This history is reflected in the architecture of the region.

2. The local produce and wines emerge from soil enriched by the mineral waters flowing through the region. This bounty is celebrated and promoted by the Daylesford Macedon Produce Group and can be discovered on a self-guided tour.

3. Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges has a strong artistic community with many studios, craft shops and galleries.

4. The Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges region has a proliferation of markets featuring everything from to farmers' markets, where local producers sell their harvest direct to the public, to flea markets with items for sale including vintage clothing, original arts and crafts and homewares.

5. There are many waterfalls and walks to discover in the region such as Trentham Falls to walks along the Campaspe River.

What's new? Hotel Frangos is a new 12-room boutique hotel in Daylesford from the team behind the well-known Frangos & Frangos restaurant. Each of the rooms is individually styled with the hotel's decor combining European antiques and contemporary design. In addition to the new hotel, Frangos & Frangos has also added Jimmy's Bar which specialises in cider on tap as well as a range of beers, wines and cocktails. Kazuki's at the Raglan is a new Japanese restaurant in Daylesford with a wine list focusing on local regional labels and imported sakes, beers and teas from Japan.

Want to know more?

Eurobodalla, south coast, NSW

Where Eurobodalla's major town of Batemans Bay in the north of the region is less than four hours south of Sydney, slightly less from Sydney Airport if travelling from interstate.

The pitch "Eurobodalla boasts 83 beaches, four major river systems, numerous islands and estuaries, abundant wildlife and vast tracks of national parks and forests. Eurobodalla, meaning "land of many waters", is also rich with natural assets: succulent oysters, pristine waterways teeming with fish and famous Montague Island, a nature reserve off the coast of Narooma and home to more than a thousand fur seals, the largest northern colony of little penguin and a variety of migratory birds."

Top five experiences

1. Charming Central Tilba, between Narooma and Bermagui, is a picturesque National Trust village that has been named one of Australia's top 20 heritage sites. Its main street is lined with quaint shops selling local art, crafts and produce.

2. Visit Montague Island, nine kilometres offshore from Narooma, to swim with the seals, view penguins on their evening return from a day out fishing, or trek up to the isle's granite summit to climb the historic lighthouse.

3. Feed the extraordinary white lions, Madagascar lemurs, cheeky meerkats, and more as a zookeeper for a day at Mogo Zoo, just south of Batemans Bay.

4. Step back in time to the 1850s, immersing yourself in Australian history with a tour of the Original Gold Rush Colony in Mogo.

5. Narooma is a fisherman's paradise, with everything from offshore big-game fishing to estuary fishing for flathead. It's also home to one of the most spectacularly located golf courses in Australia.

Top five lesser-known experiences

1. Take a two-hour walk around Broulee Island, a nature reserve connected to the mainland by a shifting sandbar that features a wondrous display of coastal banksia and wattles, rock pools and views of one of the best surfing beaches on the south coast. During whale-watching season, this is a superb vantage point for spotting the giants of the sea.

2. Eurobodalla has many amazing cycling trails, but one lesser-known route is a wine, history and mystery tour that encompasses some of the region's best coastal scenery between Narooma and Mystery Bay.

3. Take a sea-kayaking tour of the waters surrounding Snapper Island, a nature reserve in the centre of Batemans Bay complete with little-known caves.

4. Eurobodalla is an inspirational canvas for artists of all persuasions, with galleries scattered throughout the region.

5. Blackfellows Point beach, in the Eurobodalla National Park at Potato Point, is home to an abundance of wallabies, kangaroos and emu. Emus can often be seen walking their young across the beach during the breeding season.

What's new? Bodalla, between Moruya and Narooma, has long been associated with quality cheesemaking, but for many years the milk has been shipped south for processing. Now the Bodalla Dairy Shed has reinvigorated the historic village with a retro-styled cafe and quality on-site accommodation. Boutique cheese and yoghurt is now being produced, with high-volume production due to begin in December. Kids can learn where the milk comes from with the new farm animal experience. Cheese production has recently returned, with South Coast Cheese moving from temporary premises in Bodalla to the old ABC factory in Central Tilba. Arbortree is a new tree-house-style property in Moruya Heads and a short stroll from Dolphin beach, Moruya Heads. Nelligen, a former seafaring village used for loading timber from the surrounding mills in the 1800s, is home to the new Carrie's Cottage, a pet-friendly cottage for couples set on the historic Orange Grove Farm.

Want to know more?

Read part one of our round-up of the best short-break destinations.