Highlands Escape: Barren Grounds

Immerse yourself in natural Australia on this breathtaking walk, only 2 hours from Sydney.

I spend a lot of my weekends away exploring the South Coast of NSW.  I love the rolling green hills and the salty air.  But after a failed picnic in Kiama one grey Saturday, I had to improvise and make other plans.

Looking for an area I hadn’t explored before, my phone stumbled upon the Griffiths Walking Trail.  And I’m pretty glad it did.

The Griffiths Trail is an 8 km loop through the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve, a protected nature park tucked away in the Southern Highlands, south of Mittagong and west of Kiama.  I tried the first kilometre of the track and immediately pledged to come back on a better day to complete this stunning walk.

 

The Breakfast

Fulfilling my promise, I set out with Sam one Saturday morning to complete the full walk.  Obviously you need a hearty breakfast before embarking on an 8 km walk, so we stopped into The Shaggy Cow in Mittagong.  This cafe was rated one of the best in the region on Tripadvisor, and it did not disappoint.

I ordered the Shaggy Cow’s twist on eggs Benedict, which was served on a potato cake instead of bread. Either way, carbs, so I was happy. Sam ordered the wild mushrooms with haloumi and guacamole, the clear winner, and I’m already planning my next trip to the Highlands so I can order this myself.

 

The Drive

What squeezes Barren Grounds higher on my list of favourite weekend escapes is that the drive there is so lovely.  The road from Mittagong to Barren Grounds is about another hour, but it takes you through some of the most serene, charming countryside – think long, leafy driveways and the warm smell of wood fires.  As you climb higher into the mountains, every now and then the road suddenly breaks into stunning views all the way down to the ocean.

Travel up a steep, winding dirt road and you’ll find the Barren Grounds picnic area – a small shelter, some scattered picnic tables and a nearby drop toilet. Don’t doubt me yet – the incredible parts are yet to come.

 

The Trail

The Griffiths Trail is a loop, so you can depart from either end of the carpark.  I chose the southern side this time, as I knew it would come to a spectacular lookout towards the end of the walk.  If you weren’t feeling up for an 8 km hike, you could always take the other end of the track and walk the short distance to the Illawarra Lookout – it’s definitely worth it.

There’s a feeling of total serenity and isolation along the trail, with the Highlands stretching out around you, grassy plains dotted with gumtrees extending their branches to the sky.  I’ve always loved the beautiful mess of the Australian bush, the jumble of trees and shrubs and wildflowers thrown together at random.  This walk definitely fills you up with that feeling – you are in natural Australia.

 

The Bridge

From the southern end, the first landmark is the Stone Bridge – my favourite type of bridge, in that it’s not a bridge at all, but a bed of large rocks creating a natural causeway.  It’s the perfect spot to take a break and breathe in the tranquility, or to take an artsy instagram shot.

 

The Lookouts

Next up is the Trig Lookout, which is just a raised platform in the middle of a flat plain, but gives you an incredible view of the ocean to the South and the mountains to the West.  One of the weirder lookouts I’ve seen, but it works, so who am I to judge?

 

Just before the walk ends it rewards you with the Illawarra lookout – a singular picnic table overlooking a stunning view of the South coast.  Another perfect spot to stop and have a break or a picnic (or in our case, a well earned cookie from The Shaggy Cow!)

 

The rolling hills and fields of the South Coast lay below like a patchwork quilt, extending all the way down to Port Kembla in the North and Gerringong in the South.  I think it would be hard to find a more incredible view of the region.

 

On a whole, the trail takes you through all sorts of environments, from glassy plateaus to dense forests, through dry shrubbery and cool rainforests.  It’s a wide path, so it’s comfortable walking, although there are enough dips and climbs to make the walk challenging.

Mostly I loved this walk because it takes you far away from the world of crowded sidewalks and car horns. It’s worth the extra drive to find a place so utterly peaceful.

 

The Griffiths Walking Trail is just one of many amazing bushwalks within driving distance of Sydney – what are your favourite nature walks in the region? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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