These quick breaks will refresh locals and international visitors alike.

By Dan F. Stapleton
January 14, 2016
Sydney, Australia
Credit: Jason Busch Photography

Sydney enchants during the winter months, because it's summer Down Under. The city is marked by endless sunshine, sea breezes, and balmy evenings—but it's also the season when hotel rates spike, extreme heatwaves occur, and many small-business owners take weeks off. Here are seven quick trip ideas that can be booked spontaneously and at short notice, so when you need a break from the city, you'll have all the inspiration you need.

1. Pretty Beach House

The ingredients for a restorative weekend are all here: expansive suites with record players, cashmere throws, and alfresco plunge pools; and an open-plan living area where guests can play the baby grand piano or admire paintings by Australian masters. Pretty Beach House is located in bushland about an hour's drive north of Sydney, but the proprietors will happily arrange a seaplane from the city if you'd like to forego wheels. The best part? Maximum occupancy is eight, so the place never feels crowded.

2. Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley

The rooms are sumptuously appointed and the dining is world-class, but it's the location of Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley (pictured)—in a remote corner of the Blue Mountains, three hours west of Sydney—that makes it a winning short-break destination. Up here, the weather is mild, the humidity is low, and the stars are intensely bright. Sandstone escarpments loom in the distance, and kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats abound. Tour the property on horseback or grab one of the resort's mountain bikes to explore the surrounding bushland.

3. Hunter Valley

This region northwest of Sydney has long been known for its wine, and there's no shortage of tours, tastings, and special events to please grape enthusiasts. Lately, though, the Hunter Valley has come into its own as a well-rounded leisure destination, with day spas, fine-dining establishments, and upscale lodgings scattered across the valley and nearby hillsides. When you arrive, consider a hot-air balloon ride to get your bearings. Later, stay at Spicers Vineyards Estate, a grand manor house with twelve guest suites, a hushed spa, and a vegetable garden.

4. Mollymook

Sydneysiders have been visiting this sleepy seaside town—located about three hours' drive away—for decades, but it wasn't until six years ago, when high-profile chef Rick Stein opened a restaurant in its sole hotel, Bannisters by the Sea, that the place began to attract visitors from further afield. This year, a sister property, Bannisters Pavilion, has launched, boasting a cool rooftop bar and suites decorated by Australian fashion luminary Collette Dinnigan. In the neighboring town of Milton, quaint boutiques and a lively craft scene provide distractions when the ocean is too rough for swimming.

5. Southern Highlands

The vistas here are less dramatic than the ones you'll find in the Blue Mountains, and the gastronomic experiences are less decadent than those in the Hunter Valley. Instead, this misty, elevated region south of Sydney offers quiet surprises—like rolling hillsides, unexpected patches of dense forest, and old-fashioned villages full of rural charm—as well as a cool climate. Bowral is a small town with grand old estates, fragrant private gardens, and characterful B&Bs like Links House. Nearby, the town of Mittagong is home to dusty antiques shops and friendly cafes.

6. Melbourne

The one-hour Sydney-to-Melbourne air route is the third busiest in the world (yes, really)—and competition between the airlines that fly it has never been stiffer. That means unprecedented choice and flexibility for travelers, and reasonable fares, even when booking at late notice. Artsy, coffee-obsessed Melbourne is not short on cultural attractions, and the boutique hotels are Australia's best. Try the Art Series Hotel Group: four properties in different parts of the city that were each inspired by a well-regarded local artist. Rooms at the brightly hued Larwill Studio include yoga mats and sketching materials; the buzzy Blackman has popular dining establishments on-site; and The Olsen offers sophisticated decor inspired by the artist's landscape work.

7. New Caledonia

Most Australians are unaware that this special collectivity of France is less than three hours from Sydney by plane, but there it is: a dot in the Pacific where Melanesian culture and French cuisine coexist and English is barely spoken. Noumea, the capital city, has a rough-hewn charm, with a town square, excellent eateries, and an enlightening museum. Those in search of subtropical serenity should head to the Isle of Pines for deserted beaches, snorkeling, and atmospheric lodgings.

Note: This article has been updated.