There may be no such thing as a free lunch but there are certainly plenty of free things to do and see in the Southern Highlands. Following my own budget-friendly expeditions around the area, I want to share with you my TOP TEN suggestions for Southern Highlands freebies. Enjoy!
1. Nellies Glen and Carrington Falls
Nellies Glen is a stunning waterfall and swimming hole near Carrington Falls in the Budderoo National Park just outside of Robertson – and absolutely one of my FAVOURITE free things to do in the Highlands. There are so many pathways, rockpools and trails for exploring around here and plenty of gorgeous photo opportunities. It is a beautiful, clear and fresh place to swim – though it does get busy during the summer months. If you are looking for somewhere quieter, head further upstream to Blue Pool which is another lovely swimming and picnic area. Carrington Falls is close by, as well as numerous lookouts and hikes of varying difficulties. You could easily make this a whole day FREE outing. Picnic table and toilet facilities available.
Where: Follow Jamberoo Mountain Road onto Cloonty Road, then into Nellies Glen Picnic Area as signposted.
For more information: http://www.wildswimmingaustralia.com/locations/nellies-glen/
2. The Cherry Tree Walk, Bowral
The Cherry Tree Walk is a 5km stretch of pathway that winds through Bowral and is lined with 526 cherry trees representing fallen soldiers in the Vietnam War. It begins at the Vietnam War Memorial alongside the Bowral Swimming Pool and stretches right into East Bowral with numerous ‘exits’ along the way onto adjacent streets. There are a few great picnic and foraging spots along the path to look out for, as well as a public outdoor gym near the pool. Suitable for bikes.
Where: Begins beside the Mittagong Rivulet next to Bowral Swimming Pool extending into East Bowral
When: Any time
For more information: http://www.southern-highlands.com.au/visitors/see-and-do/member+id=72718
3. Berrima Marketplace Park, Berrima
This is a go-to recommendation for families with young kids thanks to the completely AWESOME fort-style playground, not to mention the bbq, undercover tables and toilet facilities nearby. A great place for a picnic, plus you can park the car and walk from Marketplace park to the rest of the town where there are several cafes, restaurants and quaint shops to visit. The park is also just across the road from the Berrima Museum, although this is not free entry.
Where: Berrima Marketplace, Old Hume Highway, Berrima
For more information: http://www.southern-highlands.com.au/visitors/see-and-do/berrima-marketplace-park/27023/member
4. Sturt Craft Centre, Mittagong
While you do have to pay for the cafe, the gallery and shop at Sturt Craft Centre in Mittagong are free to enter and they are really lovely places to wander through. The exhibitions, often featuring local work, change frequently throughout the year and are always a treat for the senses. The attached shop is equally interesting with an array of stunning handmade artisan pieces and many uniquely Australian gifts. The gardens onsite are a delight as well!
You can find a full post on Sturt Craft Centre here: http://someplacesouth.com.au/sturt-shop-and-gallery/
Where: Corner Range Road & Waverley Parade, Mittagong
When: 10am – 5pm daily
For more information: http://www.sturt.nsw.edu.au/.
5. Erith Coal Mine walk, Bundanoon
Erith Coal Mine is one of many beautiful walking tracks through Morton National Park in Bundanoon. It will take you around 20 minutes to get here from Bowral. The walk begins not far from the entrance to the national park on a signposted track through fairly thick Australian bush scrub, before following a series of steep stairways down towards the old Erith Coal Mine. Eventually you will find yourself looking down upon an extraordinary waterfall and rock pool which is generally deep enough to swim in (mind the eels!!). Depending on the water level, there are spots to picnic near the rock pool. Roughly an hour round trip.
Where: Morton National Park, Bundanoon, NSW
When: During daylight hours
For more information: http://bundanoon.com.au/morton-national-park/
6. Lake Alexandra Reserve, Mittagong
Lake Alexandra Reserve in Mittagong is a top spot for a free family outing. There is an amazing playground for the kids, public bbq, undercover seating areas, toilets, wheelchair access and a sealed pathway ideal for walking or cycling around the lake. Beginning from the lake are several impressive mountain bike and walking trails, including the Forty Foot Falls walk, along which are hidden a few geochaches as well! Look out for the fascinating variety of birds and ducks that live on their own private island in the middle of the lake…
Where: Queen Street, Mittagong, NSW 2575
When: Any time! Particularly beautiful first thing in the morning or at sunset
For more information: http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/southern-highlands/mittagong/attractions/lake-alexandra-reserve
7. Mount Gibraltar, Mittagong
Affectionately known to locals as ‘The Gib’, Mount Gibraltar is the large hill between Bowral and Mittagong – you won’t miss it. It is absolutely worth driving to the top (accessible from Mittagong or Bowral) and checking out the three lookouts which each offer a different viewpoint of the surrounding areas. It is a great way to get ‘a lay of the land’ and figure out what is where in the Highlands. You can even see the Blue Mountains at one point! There are also several short – medium walks between the lookouts along signposted bush tracks. Picnic areas available.
Where: From Mittagong – Off Oxley Drive. From Bowral – Also off Oxley Drive (near Bowral Swimming Pool).
When: Anytime. Sunrise and sunset are especially wonderful times to visit!
For more information: http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/country-nsw/southern-highlands/mittagong/attractions/mount-gibraltar
8. Bowral District Art Society Gallery, Bowral
There is a thriving artistic community and culture in the Southern Highlands making the Bowral District Art Society Gallery naturally a great place to visit for free while in the area. Details about exhibitions, which change regularly, can be found on their website as listed below. There is generally a mix of mediums – sculpture, paintings, drawings, textiles and fibres. There are also several exhibitions that specifically showcase local talent, including the ‘Young and Emerging Artists Prize’ and the ‘Kids on Show’ Exhibitions. Classes and workshops in various skill areas are available to the general public.
Where: 1 Short Street, Bowral NSW 2576
When: 10am – 4pm Daily
For more information: http://www.bdasgallery.com/
9. The Bong Bong Track / Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve
Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve near Moss Vale is another of the Southern Highlands’ many awesome free picnic and walking spots. From the Reserve can be seen the Bong Bong Weir, which is particularly spectacular after heavy rain, as well as beautiful Australian bushland and the Wingecarribee River. There are toilet and picnic facilities available. Just under the bridge into Moss Vale begins the Bong Bong Track, a shared cycling and walking track that goes all the way into Bowral and is a popular spot for the locals. The reserve is particularly nice on an early and crisp Highlands morning when you can still see the fog rolling off the river as the sun comes up.
Where: Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve, Burradoo – just off Moss Vale Road as you come into Moss Vale
For more information: http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/Walking-tracks/Wingecarribee-River-walking-track
For some reason the Southern Highlands is just blooming with ‘stray’ fruit trees on the side of the road, making it the perfect place to forage for free produce, as many eager Sydney chefs have discovered. Keep your eyes peeled during your travels for apples, figs, cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches, blackberries, watercress, fennel, rosemary, kumquats and – if you’re feeling brave – pine mushrooms in Belanglo State Forest (make sure you do your research before picking and eating these!!). Who knows, maybe one day I will reveal to you my favourite Highlands foraging spots…
Where: Along the streets and backroads throughout the Southern Highlands
When: Any time! Produce most abundant during summer.