When The New York Times declared in 2014 that Canberra was hip, hot and happening, it dampened the spirits of those who have contended for years that our national capital is the country's dullest major city.
But here she was, lauded for her fabulous food, burgeoning bar scene, excellent coffee, stunning natural surrounds, great shopping and world class galleries and museums. They are all perfectly good reasons to head southwest from Sydney and discover all that Canberra has to offer. The national capital is your ultimate destination on this drive, but it detours to one of the country's great repositories of native plant species, into the lush and lovely Southern Highlands, and stops in a historical haven in the Yass Valley.
Travel back to the M5 and towards the Southern Highlands, your next port of call, starting in Bowral. The best month of the year to travel in this region is undoubtedly June. Why? Because Pie Time! This month-long meat pie festival is worthy of a road trip of itself. In Bowral, check out the award winning Tunnel Mushroom and Mince Pie at Gumnut Patisserie, plus a hugely tempting array of sugary goodies and sausage rolls.
Cricket lovers should head straight to the Bradman Museum - The International Cricket Hall of Fame to worship at the altar of the town's most famous son.
Those less sporting minded would be advised to head to the main drag, Bong Bong Street, which has a great assortment of boutiques, galleries, cafes, bookshops and the circa 1915 Empire Cinema. esting on at the Milk Factory Gallery in Station Street, and there are 75 vintage and antique dealers to discover at Dirty Jane's in Banyette Street (plus the very schmick Vintage Occasion Tea Salon). Corbett Gardens, on the corner of Merrigang and Bendooley streets, is the centrepiece of Bowral's famous Tulip Time Festival, held every September, but is equally pretty out of tulip season.
After all that retail and food therapy, drive south to Moss Vale then take the Nowra Road to visit one of the Highland's prettiest attractions, Fitzroy Falls in the Morton National Park. Start in the award winning visitors' centre where you can bone up on Aboriginal history and local flora and fauna.
A short boardwalk links the centre to the falls, but if you're interested in a little more movement, take either the East Rim Wildflower or West Rim walking tracks. The former encompasses eucalypt forest, woodlands, rainforest and plenty of wildflowers; the latter traces the edge of the escarpment, with lookouts providing plenty of dramatic vistas.
Return to Moss Vale then take the A48 towards your last stop in the Highlands, Bundanoon. This charming village is famous for two things: as the site of the annual Brigadoon Highland Gathering festival, a celebration of all things Scottish held every April; and being the first town in NSW to ban the sale of bottled water.
Wet your whistle at the 1922 Tudor style Bundanoon Hotel (take the level crossing at Bundanoon railway station to get there), which has 2ha of manicured gardens as well as a decent bistro. For the more active minded, take one of eight gently paced walks that make up the Bundanoon Rambles. There are more serious trails in Morton National Park, with the one hour return Fairy Bower Falls walking track offering spectacular views.
Time to bid the Southern Highlands farewell as you head out on Penrose Road/Highlands Way to join up with the Hume Highway for the village of Gundaroo (take the Shingle Hill Way off the highway), classified by the National Trust.
Amble along Cork Street and take in the 19th century cottages, slab huts and buildings, including the Royal Hotel, home to a great regional restaurant, Grazing (open for lunch, Friday to Sunday). This is also wine country. Gundog Estate has an award winning cellar door on the main street, while Joshua's Fault is on the Murrumbateman Road just outside town (visits by appointment).
Back on Old Cooma Road, take Southbar Road and Canberra Avenue, for an easy half hour drive to your final destination. After a full day on the road, you'll no doubt want to check into your accommodation, eat and rest before a new day of exploring. And as evening closes in, there are plenty of great eateries to consider, including the delicious four course menu at fine diner Aubergine in Griffith, while Morks on the foreshore at Kingston offers excellent contemporary Thai.
For those wanting a little bit of history and grandeur weaved into their stay, the beautifully restored Hotel Kurrajong offers old world charm with a contemporary twist, just a short stroll from Parliament. Alternatively, the Medina Serviced Apartments Canberra James Court is located in the heart of the city and has a gym and outdoor pool.
For affordable comfort ibis Styles Canberra Eaglehawk is the gateway to the ACT region and provides the ideal ‘value for money’ Canberra accommodation solution. Set among 30 acres of landscaped native gardens and bushland, complete with free roaming kangaroos who visit daily, the property provides a spacious and casual resort style atmosphere. While ibis Styles Tall Trees Canberra offers a four star experience in a fresh contemporary setting, elegant accommodation in Canberra. Accommodation includes oversized executive, deluxe and family hotel rooms and stylishly standard rooms in a convenient and quiet location.
Pressed for time? We've done the hard work for you and named the best places to eat in the Canberra CBD, as well as Canberra North.