Byron Bay, NSW
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What makes Byron Bay such a drawcard? Is it the beaches (stunning), the food scene (creative) or the natural attractions (breathtaking)? Mark off all three and then add top-notch accommodation, good coffee, a bustling shopping strip and friendly locals. And don’t forget the sun. A weekend getaway in the northern NSW town is very manageable – take a quick flight into Ballina Byron Airport, pick up a hire car (there’s a Hertz just inside the airport) and hit the road. You’ll be enjoying the charms of Byron within 40 minutes – or you could live like a local by taking your time and stopping off at the small coastal towns along the way. Rush? Up this way there’s no such thing…
Barossa Valley, SA
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Named after the Barrosa Ridge in Spain by an Englishman, settled by Germans and blessed by a mild Mediterranean climate, the Barossa Valley, just an hour’s drive from Adelaide, has traditions that run deep. Its food and wine culture is derived from deeply rooted conventions of the homegrown, homemade and homespun.
The Blue Mountains, NSW
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The Blue Mountains are just “the mountains” to Sydneysiders; so close are the foothills to the metropolitan area that there’s no need to make a distinction. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive to towns at the base but it’s not just the proximity that makes this place a drawcard; it’s the vistas, the historic towns with quirky cafés and vintage stores, restaurants that use local produce to great effect in seasonal menus and the plethora of accommodation options, from B&Bs to luxe resorts.
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In the past, the word “cool” has only been applied to Canberra in reference to a nippy July morning. However, with the advent of the NewActon precinct, complete with its idiosyncratic spelling and community vegetable patch, it’s time to take another look. Young entrepreneurs, experimental architects and more students than ever are helping to turn the city into a mecca of cool.
Central Highlands, Victoria
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The Swiss-Italian migrants who settled in Victoria’s Central Highlands during the 1860s gold rush are largely to blame for the popularity of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs today. Besides being home to Australia’s first pasta factory and the country’s highest concentration of natural springs, the twin towns are as pretty as a picture and have a European appetite for the good life (la dolce vita).
Lake St Clair, Tasmania
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First impressions? An eerie quiet. Arriving at Lake St Clair from the big smoke – in this case, Hobart, 180 kilometres away – it seems like nature has hit the mute button. Tucked into the Central Highlands of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, this pristine lake – Australia’s deepest – is a moody vision of untrammelled beauty.
The Lockyer Valley, Queensland
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Heading westward on the Ipswich Motorway the Brisbane cityscape quickly recedes, revealing the rugged, natural beauty of the Lockyer Valley at the foot of the Great Dividing Range. As the sun begins to set, the vast blue skies fade and golden light bathes the rich red earth, fertile farmlands and mountainous terrain, home to abundant native wildlife. It’s a perfect picture of bucolic serenity.
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Lorne is relaxed and friendly; the food and coffee lifted straight from the Melbourne hipster handbook. Under an unblemished sky on this unseasonably warm autumn day, all you need to know about this Victorian seaside town is right here, like an artist’s exaggerated impression of a cool surf-beach town.
Margaret River, WA
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Postcard-perfect shorelines. White-sand beaches. Towering karri forests: as far as god-given beauty goes, Margaret River in Australia’s south-west hits the jackpot. The good people of Perth are equally fortunate, what with Margaret River (“Margies” in the local vernacular) being just three hours south of the city by car. While many hit the road in search of peace and quiet, more and more travellers are making the journey to sample the region’s burgeoning food-and-drink scene. Initially, it was world-class wine that put Margaret River on the map: now the south-west has equally formidable restaurants to go with all that grape juice. Sweeten the pot with art galleries and luxury lodgings and you’re looking at the makings of a very fine weekend away.
McLaren Vale, SA
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What could be more exciting than swooping over South Australia’s lush McLaren Vale, 40 kilometres south of Adelaide, in a helicopter – looking down on green and gold fields of plump grapes and the steep cliffs and sparkling rock pools of Onkaparinga Gorge while taking in sweeping views of the Fleurieu Peninsula? When the invitation lands, it seems a perfect and decidedly thrilling way to see everything you want to in the time you have available – one precious weekend.
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Exuding a laidback, unpretentious bonhomie, the Shoalhaven town of Mollymook is both a tight-knit community and holiday destination, almost equidistant from Sydney and Canberra. Visiting city slickers are welcomed with open arms and quickly settle into the bucolic way of life – it’s no surprise, then, that many who come for a weekend end up staying a lifetime. Such people include none other than the internationally acclaimed chef Rick Stein, who opened his restaurant at Bannisters By the Sea hotel in Mollymook in 2009 – his first such venture outside the UK.
Port Douglas, Queensland
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Founded in the late 1870s, Port, as the locals call it, was first a gold rush town, then an export hub for sugar cane – both booms were followed by busts and for much of the middle of last century, it wasn’t more than a fishing village. That all changed in the 1980s when tourism arrived – and one particularly notable investor, Christopher Skase, opened an iconic hotel. The Sheraton Mirage was celebrated locally and internationally, but Skase’s demise brought more tough times, as did the recent GFC. Now, in 2017, the tide of fortune has changed again: tourism operators are noting record bookings, locals are buoyant, there’s an influx of new investment and, overall, a palpable sense of excitement.
Port Elliot, SA
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Perched on the Fleurieu Peninsula’s southern coast, just 90 kilometres from Adelaide, Port Elliot is a slice of laidback coastal heaven – but that wasn’t always the case. The town was founded in the early 1850s, intended to be the main ocean port for transporting goods up the Murray River. But the stretch of coastline where Port Elliot was located, Horseshoe Bay (a small cove in the larger Encounter Bay), proved more treacherous than expected. No fewer than seven shipwrecks occurred in the space of 11 years and as a result, Port Elliot lost its trade to Victor Harbor.
Red Hill, Victoria
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A genteel collision of nature and artifice, Red Hill – just a touch over an hour’s drive from Melbourne – is the understated jewel in the peninsula’s glittering crown. Down at sea level, Portsea and Sorrento are the playgrounds of Melbourne’s wealthy. Snug in the hinterland, meanwhile, Red Hill is only a short drive from the bay and surf beaches, yet remains largely immune to the worst of the summer excesses. With grand, statement-making wineries specialising in cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay, a thriving farm-gate-and-food scene and an easy-going vibe, this Victorian hamlet is our new getaway crush.
Tamar Valley, Tasmania
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Lush hills, picturesque vineyards and winding roads and rivers make northern Tasmania’s Tamar Valley one of Australia’s most breathtaking wine regions. It is also a surprisingly convenient weekend destination to reach, just a short flight from mainland Australia’s east coast to the sleepy town of Launceston and a much shorter drive (approximately 20 minutes) from there to the heart of the valley. If a relaxing and rejuvenating break is what you’re after, you’ll find it here complete with good food, great wine and some very scenic excursions. Here are our top recommendations.
Yarra Valley, Victoria
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“The Yarra Valley,” declares Teearn Bishop, a wedding and events manager at one of the valley’s many vineyards, “works wonders for your soul.” We are, at that moment, gazing over a glorious panorama – this part of Victoria, an hour’s drive east of Melbourne, is known for them – from the deck of Killara Estate winery. Prosecco is being sipped, an Italian banquet awaits inside, and that view stretches across emerald green lawns and rows of grape vines to the mountain range beyond. Good for the soul, indeed.