The Southern Highlands, just 90 minutes by road from Sydney, have always provided a delightful contrast to Australia’s harsh interior. With its generous rainfall, rich soils and dramatic landscape, the region was named by early British settlers nostalgic for the misty uplands of Scotland. So when producer George Miller was scouting locations for his 1995 movie Babe, starring James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski, the lush fields, quaint laneways and autumnal colours of the Southern Highlands proved irresistible.
The story of a pig who wants to be a sheepdog became a worldwide hit. In the 1990s, fans of the loveable pig trooped to the sleepy village of Robertson, location of the fictional Hoggett farm. You’d see signs on the Sydney-Canberra motorway advertising ‘Babe Country’.
They are gone now, as is the farmhouse set built for the production. These days visitors are drawn here by the fine colonial architecture, cool climate wines and bracing country air. And when you’re not scouting around for a small and very intelligent piglet, there are lots of other attractions to explore.
The late Sir Don Bradman was Australia’s first global superstar, and is still regarded as the world’s greatest batsman. The Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral is very different from the previous facility, which principally housed the great man’s bats, caps, photographs and other memorabilia. The new centre tells the story of cricket using a series of state-of-the-art interactive displays. Next to the centre is the Bradman Oval, where The Don once flashed the willow – and where his ashes were scattered in 2001.
Illawarra Fly Treetop Adventures
The Southern Highlands is a magnet for outdoors types who enjoy several good walking and off-road cycling paths, plus beauty spots such as Fitzroy Falls. But if you are looking for an adrenaline rush, sign up for the new Illawarra Fly zipline. Suspended 35 metres above the forest floor by a series of elevated cables, this high-speed ride provides sweeping views of the Southern Highlands and out to the Pacific. The adventure centre, located just outside Robertson, also offers a gentler treetop walk across the forest canopy.
The Tractorless Vineyard
A minnow compared to the better-known Hunter Valley wine region, the Southern Highlands is nevertheless carving out an enviable reputation for cool climate wines such as pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and riesling. Joadja Estate is the oldest winery in the region, with the first plantings dating back to 1983, and is open most days for tastings – as is nearby Tertini Winery, which is celebrated for its Italian varietals including arneis and nebbiolo. For something a little different, drop into Tractorless Vineyard, which produces a range of biodynamic wines on its carbon neutral property in Sutton Forest.
Burrawang Village Hotel
An influx of upmarket eateries such as Biota Dining, Eschalot and the Grand Bistro has transformed the dining scene over the past decade. Excellent local produce is also readily available from Yelverton Truffles, Moonacres and Cuttaway Creek Raspberry Farm. Also of note is Joadja Distillery, established in 2014 to produce a small range of dry gins, single malt whiskies and liqueurs using local grains and botanicals. Tastings and tours are available. But if you’re hankering for an English-style country pub then park yourself at the front bar of the Burrawang Village Hotel – a charming 1920s pub with a selection of local ales, whiskies and wines. It’s also got open fires, a beer garden and eight rooms upstairs if you can’t face the drive back to Sydney.