The Hunter Valley - Wine Country
You have two days off, maybe three. It's too chilly for the coast and not enough time for the snow fields or any place too far away. After all, you don't wish to spend half your weekend cramped inside a plane or car.
Of course the appeal of a winter weekend escape depends on your personal whimsy. You may have your sights on adventure, sight-seeing, chilling out, pampering, solitude, romance or so on. Ahhh, the pursuit of paradise lies in the eye of the beholder and is such a fragile ideal - so slippery and elusive, so prone to disappointment. Yet, having said that, there are some core things that seem to appeal to most of us - like the warmth of the sun, hospitality, good food and the sparkle of the sea.
Most winter getaways seem to fit into two categories: either getting away from the cold or relishing in it by going someplace that's a bigger fridge than the one you live in. Basically, you're either chasing snow-flakes or the sun.
Some of the most popular winter weekend getaways within a 3 hour radius of Sydney are explored below. Which one is your favourite? Is there somewhere else you think should be on this list?
The Hunter Valley
The Whitsundays - my personal choice. What is yours?
The Hunter is a gourmet's paradise, specialising in pleasing the palate, and it does a damn good job, I might add. Apart from that, this place of vineyards is probably the closest thing Australia has to a slice of Tuscany.
It's about a 2.5 hour drive North of Sydney to reach Cessnock, the gateway to the Hunter Valley region. The B&B's and restaurants are centred around the key towns of Pokolbin and Wollombi, which feature rolling hills, vineyards and old buildings.
: Wine. Gourmet food including home-grown local produce. Top notch restaurants and bars with fireplaces. Scenery of vineyards and country aspect reminiscent of Tuscany.
Things to do there:
Wine tours, sampling gourmet food produce, restaurants, the Hunter Valley Gardens, hot air ballooning, tandem skydiving, parachuting.
Visit the Hunter Valley Garden while you're there. It's still superb in winter. Admission costs $25 or $20 concession.
: If you're on a health kick, you'll need to de-tox when you return. If you're not into wine drinking, abusing your liver or gutsing yourself, you may not have much to do. Then again, you can always bypass the alcohol for the tasty homegrown olives, olive oils and other foods on offer.
Nothing is cheap here - from the home-grown gourmet produce to the local wine, accommodation and restaurants, but especially the restaurants. Expect to pay over $200 for dinner for two. As one of the waiting staff put it, she never goes out in the Hunter cause it's too expensive. Straight out of the mouth of a local. On the plus side, this town is set up for the tourist and will deliver in terms of a top dining experience, pleasant scenes and time to idle somewhere nice. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.
The Blue Mountains
The Hunter Valley - a gourmet's paradise
The Mountains receives most of its visitors in winter. People come here for it's slightly mysterious alpine part European part Australian bush atmosphere, chilled mountain air and charming old-worlde indoor venues. Great choice for a couch potato weekend. The value of doing nothing isn't to be under-estimated and anyone who works hard, has children or battles Sydney traffic, crowds, noise and pollution on a daily basis, will get its' appeal.
The Blue Mountains is set-up for tourists which it handles in droves all year round (as NSW's most visited tourist destination) and is only two hours drive from Sydney.
The Blue Mountains - mystical, ancient landscape offers a retreat from the stresses of Sydney.
Offers winter with atmosphere and charming interiors. Peace and quiet. Magnificent natural scenery. See my article the Magic of Winter in the Blue Mountains
, for more on this.
Things to do there:
Yulefest (Christmas in July), get pampered in a day spa, bushwalks and lookouts, dining out, browsing the villages of the mountains, basking by the fire. For more ideas, see my article on Winter Activities in the Blue Mountains
This place is a fridge in winter, with average winter temperatures ranging from 0-10 degrees celsius - which is fine if you're inside in the company of central heating. Expect to spend the majority of your weekend indoors. Sunday traffic back down the mountain to Sydney isn't a pleasant way to end the weekend. To avoid it leave before 4pm or after 7pm.
Frosty park on a July morning in Katoomba - this bench doesn't have many takers. Stay inside the B&B and don't forget the gloves.
Ahhh, now we're talking. My personal fave and the choice for adventure lovers, sun and sea chasers. Hop on a 2.5 hour flight from Sydney and you can disembark into the warmer climes of Hamilton Island. This is the most direct route to the Whitsundays, but limits your choice of island to Hamilton - the only of the 70 or so islands of the Whitsunday group which has it's own airport. Either Jetstar or Virgin Blue can take you direct from Sydney Airport to the Great Barrier Reef Airport on Hamilton Island. Your other option is to fly to the Whitsunday Coast Airport on the mainland at Proserpine (1.15 hr flight from Sydney) and catch a ferry to the island of your choice. See more about Hamilton Island in my article Hamilton Island - Whitsundays Winter Escape
With all there is to do and see in the Whitsundays, this is more of an activity based weekend than a couch potato respite. However, those banana chairs in the sun, do look inviting.
Hamilton Island, the largest of the Whitsunday Group
The ocean (mmm). The Whitsundays boasts delicious average winter temps of 21 degrees celsius. Sailing, diving, snorkeling and a myriad of other water sports. The Barrier Reef (need we say more!) Cruises along the Coral Sea and Whitsundays passage. With the focus more on activities than eating, you are more likely to lose than gain weight - with the opportunity to stroll the beach, snorkel and partake in a long list of other adventures.
Things to do there:
Unless you're on a brain surgeon's salary, you will need to start saving for this well in advance. In addition to that, a weekend will leave you barely satiated and wanting more. Returning to Sydney after a weekend in this daydream place of sea, islands and tropical fish will suck. But, you'll get over it.
The Whitsundays - one of the most beautiful places in the world. But, be warned, paradise ain't cheap
This is just a tiny taste of potential weekend retreats. Other possible choices include Kangaroo Valley, the Southern Highlands, Barrington Tops and Melbourne.
What is your opinion on the best winter weekend getaway from Sydney? Do you prefer the sea, basking by the fire or the gourmet food trails?