Corazon Miller takes a look at things to do and places to explore, eat and stay in New South Wales' Southern Highlands.
It's the home of tasty pies, baked on a trail winding through historic towns, seaside villages, lush green forests and some of Australia's newest vineyards.
The Southern Highlands, 110km southwest of Sydney and about 500m to 900m above sea level, has a cool climate but the frequent sunshine takes the bite off winter's chill.
A TASTE OF VINTAGE
The Highlands is one of Australia's smaller wine-growing regions and not the first that comes to mind when contemplating a wine tour.
Good things do, however, come in small packages. The past decade has seen more than 60 vineyards and more than a dozen cellar doors cropping up in the region.
Tertini wines: The solo winemaker at this boutique winery near the historic town of Berrima has made it one of the area's most awarded. The winery is relatively young, its first plantings in 2000 and its first wine, a riesling, in 2005. Stop at the cellar door for a tasting and to enjoy a cheese platter.
Bendooley Estate: A few minutes' drive out of Berrima, this estate is one for book-lovers. I happily spent almost an hour perusing the Book Barn, shelves full of new and secondhand books, including old art books, biographies and fiction. After my literary fix I was treated to a lunch of confit duck and a glass of the estate's wine, sitting by a large log fire.
Coolangatta Estate: At this estate near the sea, minutes from the beachside township of Kiama, guests can wine and dine — as well as stay in its cottages. One of the area's first European settlements, the cluster of cottages was built by convicts. Today they offer a range of accommodation options. A fun way to explore the sprawling estate is on a Segway tour.
If you have not emptied your wallet and filled your suitcase with wine, the towns of Berrima, Mittagong, and Robertson offer vintage shopping across a range of small stores and larger markets full of antiques.
Dirty Janes, Bowral: I easily got lost in this indoor market where more than 75 dealers have spread their wares across three large warehouses. The antiques and vintage items include jewellery, clothes, paintings and all the furniture for a new house. I just managed to resist completely blowing the budget.
For those wanting to do more than wine, dine and shop, the region's natural surroundings provide the perfect escape.
Illawarra Fly treetop walk: Officially the highest zipline tour in Australia, the Illawarra Fly gives people the chance to soar on a series of cables and suspension bridges high above the forest floor. It sounds terrifying, but trust me — as someone who has very recently discovered a mild fear of heights — it is not. Sitting in a harness as I watched the trees fly by was rather fun. The view of the harbour, through the leaves of the forest with the sounds of nature, was more Zen than frightening. I was left wanting more.
Just Cruisin' motorcycle tours: Riding down the Grand Pacific Drive on the back of a Boom Trike as Steve Melchior took the big machine through its paces, only the helmet on my head and the leather jacket I'd been given to throw over my light clothing protected me from the elements. As we blasted down the highway at more than 100km/h, I felt grateful for the visor sheltering my face and eyes from the wind's blast. Without it I would have felt forced to keep my eyes shut and missed out on the beauty that is the Grand Pacific Drive.
For fans of the buttery melt-in-your-mouth pastry case filled with deliciousness, this trail winds around dozens of renowned bakeries and stores. The region has almost 30 pie shops and this year welcomed the first Pie Time festival, where bakers and pie eaters enjoyed all things pastry — a tummy-warming feat amid the winter cold.
My Highland pie came when I stopped for lunch at the Robertson Inn — a tasty salmon and leek hot-pot that went perfectly with a glass of bubbles.
Bistro Officina: This tasty little restaurant can be found inside Berida Manor in Bowral. The fare is fine dining in a setting that does away with the pretentiousness this kind of food can sometimes have. In the warm saloon-style restaurant, the staff made me feel more like a guest than the lone diner and the bistro was one of my foodie highlights.
Qantas flies from Auckland to Sydney, with return Economy Class fares from $562.
The Southern Highlands is about two hours' drive from central Sydney.
The Old Bank Hotel has luxury accommodation.