It’s Friday afternoon, and you’ve signed the contract and sealed the deal. What you need now is a couple of days of well-earned R&R, where the food and wine is great, the scenery divine, the water welcoming and the drive not too taxing.
Here are five suggestions for weekend breaks within easy distance of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland and Wellington.
Daylesford & Macedon Ranges (Melbourne)
“Taking the waters” at Daylesford and Hepburn Springs has been popular with Melburnians since the 1800s. These days Victoria’s spa region is a 90-minute drive from Melbourne, and offers more to take in than just mineral springs. That being said, no weekend here is complete without a spa experience – and they don’t get much better than the mineral bath at Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa. There are plenty of pretty towns to explore in the region, including Kyneton and its heritage bluestone buildings as well as a wealth of natural attractions to take in –Trentham Falls, Wombat State Forest, Hepburn Pool, Lerderderg State Park, the Tipperary Track and the legendary Hanging Rock.
Gourmands may find the options a little dizzying, as this is serious foodie country. You’ll find hatted restaurants, great country pubs (the Royal George at Kyneton is a stand-out) and cafes on every corner. If al fresco dining is your thing, the region’s botanic gardens make perfect picnic spots: grab a sourdough loaf from Redbeard bakery, a slab of local Goldfields Farmhouse cheese and settle in for the afternoon.
Hunter Valley (Sydney)
Yes, there is wine. Lots and lots of wine. But world-beating semillon and shiraz aren’t the only reasons to visit the Hunter, an hour and a half north of Sydney. In recent years, the valley’s food offerings have increased exponentially, from hatted restaurants to outstanding gourmet producers. Many of the top eateries are located within wineries – Muse at Hungerford Hill, Botanica at Spicers, Esca at Bimbadgen – adding value to your visit. Foodies will want to pop in to the Hunter Valley Cheese Company (the grape vine ash brie is sublime), Lovedale Smokehouse, Binnorie Dairy and the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company. Golfers will relish the three international-standard 18-hole courses; hedonists the fabulous spas, including the one at Chateau Élan Hunter Valley. The 24-hectare Hunter Valley Gardens is a lovely spot to wander, or to enjoy a picnic with your gourmet goodies. As for the wineries: explore them by car, bike, guided tour or even hot-air balloon. If you time it right, you might get to experience one of the Hunter’s stand-out events, which include Opera in the Vineyards and the annual Food & Wine Festival.
Taste: So many wineries, so little time: but consider Tempus Two, Krinklewood, Oakvale, De Iuliis, Audrey Wilkinson, Brokenwood and Terrell’s.
Noosa Heads (Brisbane)
Ninety minutes’ drive from Brisbane, Noosa has been luring southerners north for decades, and remains one of the country’s most amenable holiday hotspots. It’s not just because successive local councils have limited development along the finite strip that is Hastings Street, creating a modest but mode-ish village where the only high-rise (the Sheraton) is set well-back from the shoreline. It’s also because Noosa offers a lovely blend of nature (the Noosa National Park, and its succession of private coves, spreads for 40km2 off the southern point), ocean, restaurants, cafes and shopping. Do as everyone does, and start the morning with a stroll along the beachfront boardwalk and a dip in the calm waters. People-watch from one of Hastings Street’s myriad cafes, indulge in some retail therapy, then try to decide where you’ll buy your daily gelato. As the fairy lights start to twinkle in the trees, you won’t be stuck for dining choices, either.
Eat: Locale (localenoosa.com.au), Noosa Beach House (noosabeachhousepk.com.au), Season (seasonrestaurant.com.au), Wood Fire Grill (woodfiregrill.com.au). There are also plenty of fantastic eateries at nearby Noosa Sound and Noosaville.
Waiheke Island (Auckland)
This gem of an island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, made Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel 2016” list and it’s easy to see why. Waiheke is a microcosm of all the best New Zealand has to offer: great wine, excellent food, stunning beaches and beautiful scenery. For a two- or three-day break, it’s best to hire a car, although you’ll want to do at least one walk – maybe the track around Matiatia Headland? Choosing a winery from the 30 or so possibilities is tough, but Mudbrick, Obsidian and Man O’ War are among the top picks. When you feel like dipping your toe in the water, Palm Beach (and its “au naturel” cousin, Little Palm Beach), just east of the main township of Oneroa, is lovely, but Cactus Bay, with its pohutukawa trees and crystalline waters, is something special – but you need to take a sea kayak tour to get there (or charter a yacht). Ostend Market, held every Saturday at the war memorial hall, is a showcase of island-grown products (try Jenny’s Kitchen’s tamarind chutney), and the freshly shucked oysters from the unprepossessing Te Matuku Bay Oysters shop are an unmissable treat.
It might be one of NZs less-travelled regions, but the Wairarapa, tucked into the south-east corner of the North Island about an hour’s drive from Wellington, possesses an off-the-beaten-track charm that’s hard to resist. The landscape veers wildly from flat farming plains to heavily forested mountains to rugged coast, each with its own attractions. Base yourself in boutique accommodation around Greytown or Martinborough, heritage villages with plenty of appeal (the former with some excellent shopping), and choose to do relatively little, or a whole lot. Cape Palliser, about an hour from Martinborough, is home to fabulous views, a classic red-and-white lighthouse and the North island’s largest fur seal colony. Nearby are the Putangirua Pinnacles, ancient rock formations which offer some great walking, or “tramping” as the Kiwis say. Serious cyclists might want to tackle part of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail; recreational pedallers can tour Martinborough’s pinot-noir-producing vineyards, none too far from the village square. Waiohine Gorge, Castlepoint Scenic Reserve and Tararua Forest Park are all spectacular, too.