The LocationAbout two hours north of Sydney and less than half an hour from Cessnock, Billabong Moon sits nestled in the rolling, sunburnt landscapes of the Hunter Valley. Keep your eyes peeled for the resident roo, Matilda, as you’re making your way up the driveway.
The PlaceBillabong Moon consists of five private, self-contained cottages – Billabong, Casuarina, Studio, Sunset Ridge and Treetops – that are scattered well apart through 25 acres of casuarina forest. Casuarina Cottage provides cosy, rustic accommodation for four, with two bedrooms (with en suites), wood fire, hot tub, wraparound veranda and gazebo, a perfect spot to dine or simply sit with a blanket, good book and glass of local red. Jenny and Andy are accommodating hosts, dispensing maps of tasting trails upon arrival and loading your fridge with provisions.
The ExperienceHermitage Road is dotted with cellar doors, where you can recreate scenes from Sideways and attempt words like “peppery” and “tannins” in conversation. Once you’re feeling suitably squiffy, allocate a good solid hour (or two) to a night-time soak in your private jacuzzi among the trees. The vibe is a compelling toss-up between romantic and spooky.
Don’t MissDon’t know your chardonnay from your Silvereye Semillon? Get trying and buying at Mistletoe Wines, which boasts its own gallery and sculpture garden. Then slam down some samples at Binnorie Dairy. Their labna and marinated feta will live on in formaggio food dreams months after your first taste. Kathleen Lee-Joe
Need to know
Cost: $510 for four guests (minimum two nights) at Casuarina Cottage. Distance: 2 hours’ drive (160km) north of Sydney. Children: Yes.
The Boathouse Nagambie
The LocationThe holiday township of Nagambie lies 90 minutes north of Melbourne on the shores of the sprawling lake, a basin of the Goulburn River that carries the town’s name. A renowned rowing and water-skiing hub, Nagambie is also a serious wine centre. It is also the birthplace of racing phenomenon Black Caviar.
The PlaceThe Boathouse Nagambie is set just out of town on Lake Nagambie, metres from the 123-year-old Kirwan’s Bridge. The building was once a boathouse, but has been lovingly restored and converted into a cosy, self-contained open-plan cottage for two by owner Ian Barford. It’s an ideal escape for couples where a weekend away feels like a week. Musicians will also enjoy the views from the music room cum recording studio, which is sure to relieve any songwriter’s block
The ExperienceNagambie’s lakeside caravan parks are crowded during peak holiday periods, but the town is more peaceful at other times. Food and wine buffs will love the historic wineries of Mitchelton and Tahbilk, where many hours can be whiled away over lunch within cooee of the Goulburn River. Nearby Avenel was the childhood home of bushranger Ned Kelly, but is now famed for its Bank Street Wood-fired Pizza and Gardens.
Don’t MissDrag yourself out of the wineries and take the 50-minute drive to Ruffy. You’ll be rewarded by spectacular views of the Strathbogie Ranges and the popular Ruffy Produce Store and cafe. Just mind the wayward roos if making the journey home after dusk. Michael Sharkey
Need to know
Cost: Weekend rates from $420 for two nights. Distance: 1.5 hours’ drive (138km) north of Melbourne. Children: Yes (under supervision).
The LocationJust two hours from Sydney and Canberra and perfectly placed between the townships of Berry and Bowral, Kangaroo Valley rightly bills itself as Australia’s most beautiful valley. The long descent into the dale, and the drop in temperature, makes you feel like you’re really heading somewhere new and different.
The PlaceWillabrook Retreat, located in the upper part of Kangaroo Valley, consists of two one-bedroom cottages named Mojo and Rest. Both offer large decks, with Mojo providing visitors with expansive views of the magnificent escarpment. Rest is tucked away into the side of the mountain for additional privacy. Each cottage features a combustion fireplace and enormous picture windows that allow you to appreciate the scenery, in all its glory, from every room.
The ExperienceBring that book you’ve been waiting to start (and finish). With neither phone reception nor internet access, this is a place where you must truly embrace the “unplugged” experience. Serious cooks would benefit from a better equipped kitchen, but why bother when you will likely spend most of your time soaking in the well-proportioned bath? The included spa products are a nice touch for what will be one of the highlights of your stay. For less sedentary types, a dip in the private swimming hole is possible without leaving the property.
Don’t MissA drive across Hampden Bridge, a suspension bridge with medieval-style turrets, is a must. And if you’re feeling active, rent a canoe at the nearby Kangaroo Valley Canoes for self-guided tours to explore some of the 80 kilometres of river in the area. Johnny Luu
Need to know
Cost: From $645 (for a two-night minimum stay).
Distance: 2 hours’ drive (160km) south of Sydney.
The LocationGoolwa marks the point where the lower Murray River spills into the Southern Ocean. Once an economic powerhouse, the old river port was left to its own devices until recently. A new marina and waterfront sub-divisions suggest that era is coming to an abrupt end. Birks Harbour, a private mooring for river craft, lies about a kilometre upstream from the Goolwa Wharf and commands panoramic water views. The Murray may be the world’s 16th largest river, but is surprisingly placid.
The PlaceModest, comfortable and oozing maritime charm, the Boathouse proves that when it comes to travel, less is often more. The single open-plan room contains a bedroom, dining area, kitchen sideboard and a sunny lounge room overlooking the water – it’s a perfect retreat for couples. In winter, there’s a robust wood-burning heater and, in summer, a private wooden deck equipped with a man-size barbecue. With its quirky artefacts, the Boathouse is posh and yet unpretentious.
The ExperienceRomantic, rugged and a little scruffy, Goolwa hasn’t embraced tourism with much enthusiasm. The growing affluence of nearby McLaren Vale has yet to wash through this colonial outpost – despite its architectural charms and stunning waterfront location. Dining out is a challenge. Many restaurants close at 5.30pm.
Don’t MissGoolwa Wharf is a magnet for steam buffs of all ages. Board the Cockle heritage train to Victor Harbor or take a river cruise on the paddle steamer, Oscar W. The wharf also hosts an outdoor market on the first and third Sunday of each month: look out for the stall selling venison pie. Later, amble across the railway tracks to the Steam Exchange Brewery, which serves up well-made English ales and uncompromising river views. Mark Chipperfield
Need to know
Cost: From $590 for a minimum, two-night stay. Distance: About 1.5 hours’ drive (90km) south of Adelaide. Children: No.
The LocationThe Stonewell Cottages are 10 minutes outside Tanunda in the heart of the Barossa Valley, and about one hour from Adelaide airport. That’s if you know where you’re going. The address – Stonewell via Tanunda – doesn’t give too many hints about the location, but the search is well worth the effort.
The PlaceStonewell Cottages lie among the vineyards of the Barossa. Each of the cabins is private, romantic and well equipped. There’s plenty of timber in these self-contained, rustic cottages. Each has a fireplace, rusty gates and country charm. But they also come with the benefits of modern living – air-conditioning, microwave, dishwasher, CD player – and the ingredients for a great breakfast in the fridge.
The ExperienceThe Barossa is gorgeous, but the real beauty is its pace, probably most aptly described as a saunter. You need to goof around, go to restaurants and wineries and generally take your time. This isn’t a child-friendly destination, unless they’re old enough to drive you around. A couple of the local wineries are outstanding – Rockford Wines and Charles Melton to name just two. And among the big guys it’s hard not to be impressed by Yalumba. Pop into Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop in Nuriootpa or try the Barossa Farmers Market in Angaston early on a Saturday morning for the best bacon and egg rolls in the business.
Don’t MissIt might be wrong to nominate a restaurant in the Barossa in this category but you can’t go past fermentAsian in the main street of Tanunda. Let your hosts choose your food and wine: they will be exceptional. Sean Aylmer
Need to know
Cost: From $455 a night. Distance: An hour’s drive (75km) north of Adelaide. Children: No.
The LocationOn the other side of the Blue Mountains, about 15 minutes outside of Lithgow, Kookawood sits on top of a hill keeping a watchful eye on the valley below. For people wanting to get away from it all, this is an idyllic and peaceful retreat.
The PlaceThe house is set up to accommodate four people, ideally two couples: there’s one bedroom downstairs with a king-sized bed and another upstairs with a queen. The rustic kitchen is well equipped, including bread, bacon, eggs, tomatoes and juice for breakfast. Happily, our twee alert wasn’t activated: Kookawood is all hunting-lodge chic with its cosy, blanket-covered couches, one facing a nice big TV and the other a roaring fireplace.
The ExperienceA weekend at Kookawood is all about peace, quiet and pure relaxation. Make sure you arrive with enough food and wine to keep you going for your stay because once you get there, the place is so beautiful, you won’t want to leave. Read, relax, follow the path of the sun around the comfortably furnished balcony – the view never gets boring – go for a walk, prepare a meal, watch a DVD and collapse into one of the heavenly beds.
Don’t MissAn early-morning walk with the local kangaroos as the sun rises over the valley is well worth rolling out of bed for. It’s also a great time of day to catch some fresh yabbies from the dam to cook for lunch later on. Tegan Sadlier
Need to know
Cost: From $680 for a weekend. Distance: Just over 2 hours’ drive (150km) from Sydney. Children: 10 and above only.