The beautiful Southern Highlands region lies to the southwest of Sydney on top of the escarpment overlooking the South Coast. The region enjoys four distinct seasons and stunning scenery ranging from native wilderness to cool misty pastures reminiscent of England, to hidden valleys with remarkable waterfalls. All this and only 2 hours away from Sydney!
There are many reasons why you should visit the Southern Highlands aside from its rolling green farmscapes and rugged natural beauty. There are historic villages, superb gardens (and special events like the Tulip Festival held in late September when many gardens are open for display). There’s a wide range of accommodation - everything from farmstays to motels, and antique and book shops that entice you in - with enough accessibility for it to be enjoyed by all.
The area is certainly close enough for a day trip, but why not stay at one of the many guesthouses or motels and make the most of a break in this beautiful region.
Travelling down the F5 Freeway from Sydney, turn off for Mittagong and you will soon pass the legendary All Aboard Railway Museum (02 4871 2966) which is a must-see for model rail enthusiasts. A fully-accessible outdoor picnic area, toilets and café make this a good morning tea stop.
Just a little further down the old Hume Highway is the Tourist Information Centre where you can get more information on attractions, events and accommodation. It has disabled parking and an accessible toilet, but the toilet is located at least 50m from the parking space - so you may prefer to drive on through the car park around to the back of the building, where there are parking spaces much closer.
You’ll find (as did the Access Committee when it put local councillors in wheelchairs) that the main streets of the big towns are not very accessible. If you want to use an ATM, the National Bank is fully accessible as is the Angus & Robertson’s bookshop and the Empire Cinema (which has a lift for disabled patrons) – great for a wet day!
Most of the smaller towns and villages are even less accessible, but it’s worth going for a drive around the area just for the stunning scenery; and there are some very good Tourist Drives clearly signposted. The Lake Alexander Park at Mittagong is a great place to feed ducks, has an accessible toilet (and will be even more accessible once council completes its re-development of the area in 2008).
Outside Bowral on the road to Moss Vale, the Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve has accessible walks, toilets and picnic area. From here there’s also a great walking (and wheelchair) concreted path that runs around the back of Bowral, through Burradoo.
Scattered around the Highlands are several good cold climate wineries. Southern Highlands Wines, outside Moss Vale, on the road to Sutton Forest road (02 4868 2300) is fully accessible and has a nice café – a great spot for lunch! The same can be said for Bou Saada Wines, which has won the area’s Accessible Business Award (02 4878 5399) and McVitty Grove Wines (02 4878 5044) – being off the beaten track only adds to their charm! Centennial Vineyards (02 4861 8700) near Bowral is partially accessible for disabled visitors.
Another inexpensive lunch option would be the Mittagong RSL club (turn off the road to Bowral at McDonald’s), which is fully accessible.
Step back in time and visit Berrima, a lovely Highlands village, which is also quite friendly to those of us not so fast of foot! It has a great display at the accessible historic courthouse (02 4877 1505) and the museum is also accessible (with a ramp available for the single entry step). Most shops and the Surveyor General Hotel (still arguing with a pub on the Tamar River in Tasmania about who has the longest continuous license!) have wheelchair access and the park has accessible toilets - and makes a very pleasant stop.
On the way to Berrima on the old Hume Highway, is Berkelouw’s Book Barn and rare book collection (02 48771 370), complete with café and toilets, all accessible. Back in Bowral, there’s the Bradman Oval and Museum (02 4862 1247) – a must for cricket lovers! - which is also accessible, complete with disabled toilets.
Then there’s the National Parks . . .
Echo Point at Morton National Park next to Bundanoon has a new walk great for those with reduced mobility to the lookout over Shoalhaven Gorge and also has accessible toilets. Closer to Sydney, the popular tourist destination of Fitzroy Falls is definitely worth the visit and it has a great boardwalk to the impressive lookout, accessible toilets and a large café at the informative and fully accessible Visitor’s Centre (02 4887 7270). A perfect spot for afternoon tea!
If you’d like to head a bit further east to Robertson, you can visit the dark Rainforest Reserve, which gives you an idea of just how dense the original “Yarrawa Brush” was. Early surveyor Robert Hoddle wrote that it was so thick it “blocked the sun” and took a day to cut a one-mile track. Robertson is also known as “Babe Country” and you can see where a lot of the filming was done by turning off the Illawarra Highway down Fountaindale Road next to Ranelagh House. There’s also the worst of Australia’s “big” tourist attractions to see in Robertson … the “Big Potato”, known by locals as “the Big Wombat Turd”!
Further on down the Jamberoo Road are Minnamurra and Carrington Falls, which are both accessible. They are a bit far for a day trip, but a great reason to stay another night in the area to enjoy all it has to offer.
There’s a range of accessible accommodation:
||Ashrowan Bed and Breakfast, Berrima
Ashrowan enjoys magnificent views over the river valley.The property is quiet,opening on to crown land but a short stroll to restaurants,shops and Pub.3 private suites,2 are separate from the main house.Kitchenette.Wood fire.Central heating.Air/con. [more...]
3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, up to 6 persons
Links House Hotel Bowral, Bowral
Links House is a unique, small hotel which offers the warm, friendly, intimate atmosphere of a grand Australian home. Appealing to discerning guests, Links House marks the return to traditional, generous country hospitality and quality service. [more...]
17 bedrooms, up to 43 persons
Hotel, Boutique hotel, Motel, Bed & Breakfast, Guest house
||Summerlees Cottage, Bowral
Summerlees Cottage is set within the grand Summerlees Estate of Sutton Forest. The 3 bedroom beautifully restored Victorian Cottage is light and airy, private and very peaceful. PERFECT GARDEN WEDDING VENUE. [more...]
2 night minimum stay, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, up to 6 persons
More accessible accommodation in the Southern Highlands, or you could try some of Bruce's favourites:
• The Mittagong RSL’s “Spring Resort” motel (024 871 3133) won last year’s Accessible Business Awards and has 3 disabled rooms.
• The Briars Inn near Moss Vale (02 4868 3566) and the Grand Country Lodge in Mittagong (1800 815923) both have accessible units, as does Boronia Lodge in Bowral (02 48611860). Ring to check for your requirements on these three, as accessibility details vary.
• Heronswood House at Moss Vale (02 4869 1477) has a fully accessible disabled unit, although it is not large.
The easiest way to get around the Southern Highlands is by car, but there are some accessible public transport options. Cityrail (131 500) runs train services to Mittagong, Bowral, Moss Vale and Bundanoon. Wheelchair passengers can be transported, but let staff know when getting tickets, so the guard can get you into the accessible carriage. The rail stations are moderately accessible, with Bowral station due for a big upgrade, including lifts, soon. On arrival at the station you’ll probably want to call Highland Taxis (02 4872 4800) who have 4 wheelchair accessible cabs. Berrima Buses (02 4871 3211) have 10 accessible services, but you’ll need to ring to confirm timetable details of these.
Other things to see and do
Not all activities in the region are accessible, but there is such a range of diverse attractions that everyone is catered for. Here’s just a few of the “don’t miss” spots …
Wombeyan Caves (about 1.5 hours from Mittagong, 02 4843 5976) is an extensive series of beautiful limestone caves, situated in a 417 hectare reserve. Accommodation ranges from un-powered camping sites to self-contained cottages. Guided or self-guide tours run for 1 to 1.5 hours duration.
Throsby Park Historic Site (Illawarra Highway, Moss Vale) comprises a homestead and historic farm buildings on 74 ha of beautiful southern highlands grazing land, and gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the early colonial landholders. The site is open by arrangement and on periodic open days. Call 02 4887 7270 for details.
Old Robertson Cheese Factory (Illawarra Highway, Robertson 02 4885 1133) is a haven for lovers of cheese – and more. Buy cheese, pickles, dressings and sauces, along with a range of gifts, homewards and hand-knitted items. Treat yourself at the Pig & Whistle Café, which offers gourmet sandwiches, home-made cakes and scones.
Booktown Australia (Bowral 02 4861 7666) A booktown is a small rural town or village with a high concentration of booksellers, mainly second-hand or antiquarian. These shops are often complemented by artisan enterprises such as paper production, calligraphy, printing, book design and illustration and traditional book-binding. A delightful way to lose yourself in the past for a couple of hours! www.booktown.com.au
Thanks for help in preparing this article go to Louise Mumford, Wingecarribee Shire Council, IDEAS and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW.
About the Author
Bruce Mumford lives at Burrawang in the NSW Southern Highlands with his wife Louise and sons, Ashley and Rohan. He was formerly an English, History and Drama teacher at high schools in Forbes, Nowra and Moss Vale. In 1990 Bruce was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and he is currently a Disabled Travel Consultant. Since Bruce's retirement from full-time teaching, the family has travelled widely in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and overseas.