8 top places to escape Australia's capital cities

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Every so often we all get that unmistakable itch to flee the city. Lonely Planet author Sarah Wintle picks the best weekend breaks and out-of-town getaways within cooee of Australia's capital cities.

Hobart to gourmet Swansea

Tasmania's East Coast seaside town of Swansea, circa 1820s, is an easy 90 min drive from Hobart or Launceston. Overlooking Freycinet National Park and the stillness of Great Oyster Bay, city-weary folks can stretch their legs exploring curious historic buildings in this pleasant hamlet. For those with energy to burn, there's Swansea Canoe, Kayak & Bike Hire. About 3km south of town, stop off at Kate's Berry Farm – otherwise known as berry-heaven. It's especially idyllic on a sunny afternoon overlooking the verdant vines. Tasmania's so compact that historic towns like Swansea and windswept seaside are never too far away from Hobart. For more, check out www.discovertasmania.com

Melbourne to the simple life in Maldon

Marvellous Maldon is getting a taste for country chic much to the delight of Melbournians looking for a weekend pit-stop in the state's Goldfields region. Amble down the main street and pick up local crafts; while away the hours by the fireside of a country pub; or take a candle-lit tour of 1880s-era Carmen's Tunnel Goldmine. Come early November, Maldon grooves to the annual folk festival. Camping is a goer at the Maldon Historic Reserve, or for those seeking cosy comfort, try one of the step-back-in-time B&Bs. Get more at www.visitvictoria.com

Sydney's surfing sidekick

NSW does damn good beaches and Avoca, 90 min or 100km from Sydney, is one of the stars of NSW's Central Coast. Bush surrounds meet enviable beach stretches with rock pools aplenty (keeping kids amused for hours). Avoca is the ideal place to get sand between your toes, surf or simple enjoy walks along the headlands without having to deal with Sydney's mayhem. Take a paddle boat at Avoca Lake and marvel at the easy-going beauty of the surrounds. Usually it's the afternoon pelican feeding at the waterfront that's a hit with passer's by, but come December, the excitement peaks in Avoca when the Pines Charity Surf Classic takes place on the beachfront. More at www.visitnsw.com

Canberra's alpine favourite

Hit the slopes at Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains, regarded as one of Australia's best ski playgrounds. This is one good-looking resort and you'll go ga-ga at Kosciuszko National Park draped in snow. With good skiing and après-ski diversions, many Canberra types are frequently spotted on some of the longest runs in the land. In summer, mountain bikers and hikers are spoilt with alpine flora, top-notch facilities and outstanding views of Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko. Canberra airport is 2.5 hours away and a number of coach companies run shuttle services. There are also bus services from Sydney. More at www.visitcanberra.com.au

Brisbane to Southport's iconic theme park

For some old fashioned fun, big kids and littlies will enjoy Seaworld on the Gold Coast. Sharks, dolphins and dugongs compete with rollercoasters and flume rides. And after all the action a theme park brings, the nearby Federation Walk, a 3.7km rainforest trail, might be just the tonic. Get more ideas at www.queenslandholiddays.com.au

Perth to Rotto' relaxation

In a state known for huge distances, it's nice to know Rottnest Island, fringed by secluded bays and beaches, is only about 19km from Freemantle via ferry. Car-free and home to the indigenous quokka, a super-cute marsupial, there is an air of abandon and tranquility on Perth's favourite island. Snorkel in the temperate waters, catch some waves at Salmon Bay or sea-kayak around the shoreline. Just don't time your visit with the annual school leavers who descend on ‘Rotto' en masse. Accommodation books out months ahead in summer; so it pays to book accommodation in advance if you're planning to stay over. Visit www.westernaustralia.com

Darwin's retreat

Spot a croc at Litchfield National Park, a favourite haunt of Darwinites being just 115km south from the Territory's metropolis. Nothing compares to standing under a waterfall in an ancient rainforest with butterflies darting around you. Expect a bit less serenity on weekends when visitor number peak. But with magnetic termite mounds to ogle, rock pools to submerge your bod, and three famous waterfalls, it's no wonder. For those who want to wear in the hiking boots, the 39km Tabletop Track circuit takes three to five days to complete, making it ideal for long weekend jaunts from Darwin. Get more at www.travelnt.com

Adelaide's vines meet the sea

South Australia is synonymous with good vino so why not sample the local drops at a hospitable wine region like McLaren Vale, 37km from Adelaide, and the gateway to the easy-on-the-eye Fleurieu Peninsula. Boasting 76 cellar-doors, wine tastings are within easy reach and cycling between them has become increasingly popular. Blessed Cheese provide  bike hire and cheese boxes to the winos taking the walking and cycling track from McLaren Vale to Willunga, 6km south. Pick up a free map from the McLaren Vale & Fleurieu visitor centre to plot your gourmet trail. There's something timeless about South Australia and this is one of the state's best regional areas for indulgence and natural wonder. Find more at www.southaustralia.com

Here's to great Aussie holidays just a stone's throw from the city! What are you waiting for?