Only 90 mins from Sydney, Bowral is located at the start of the Southern Highlands and is an ideal quick city escape for good reason. It offers a mix of natural bushland, low key (and some high end) shopping, hiking, wineries, wildlife and plenty of culinary and accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets.
I am travelling with my pal, Ms H., who is a mad keen golfer – and fellow food and wine lover – so is the perfect companion for a stay at the Park Proxi Gibraltar with it’s famous golf course, stunning views, friendly staff and a carefully curated experience taking in the local delights.
Before arriving, we fill in their questionnaire and the Hotel helps tailor the stay with an itinerary suiting our preferences and even makes all the bookings for venues outside of the Hotel. All we have to do is turn up and follow the plan – having someone else do all the organising sounds like heaven to us. Our 36 hour itinerary is jam packed, so we take a deep breath and strap in for the adventure!
Park Proxi Gibraltar Bowral Hotel
We arrive mid-afternoon on Friday and check in to the Park Proxi Gibraltar Hotel. The Hotel forms part of the global StayWell group’s Park Proxi brand, which launched in 2022, focused on delivering quality hyper-local experiences and design features.
The hotel is deceptively large with 77 rooms across two floors, in addition to it’s many facilities including pool, gym and conference / wedding spaces. The Observatory Restaurant hosts stunning views of the golf course and highlands beyond and is adjacent to the surprisingly large yet cosy and glamorous Harvey’s Bar which is frequented by local residents as well as guests. There are even two pianos, for those who are more talented than me at tickling the ivories! The vibe is one of restrained sophistication.
Our Room – Centennial Twin Share
The staff are friendly and welcoming at the lovely 24/7 reception and it’s a quick check in process and trip up to our room on the second floor.
We are greeted with a welcome note and a cheese platter as we walk into our spacious and well-appointed room. Two Queen size beds are made up with crisp linen and plenty of large pillows to nestle into, we have a large bathroom with walk in shower and Appelles toiletries. We quickly find the all-important slippers and super plush robes which always immediately makes us feel like we are in a proper hotel. And we are definitely not mad about having a good-sized balcony immediately overlooking the lake and first tee of the golf course with the misty highlands in the horizon. Hello, holiday!
The WIFI is password-free, which makes life easier along with plenty of power points to keep your life charged up. There is no room service available, so you either eat in the restaurant or go offsite, but you are only a few minutes’ drive to plenty of options in Bowral.
One of the things we loved most was simply watching the multitude of ducks diving, splashing, playing and wandering about in the afternoon and in the evening we enjoy the sounds of the frogs and the waterfall in the lake as we have a quiet nightcap (or two) before a sound sleep – we have a very big day ahead of us!
Dinner at the Observatory Restaurant
We head down to the Observatory Restaurant for dinner. It’s a large and nicely appointed space, but the real star is the view of the golf course and beyond. We sit at the window and watch the sunset while enjoying our food with local wines.
We start with a trio of entrees: the large prawn karaage with piquant sauce is delicious. Zucchini fritters are light and delicate with mixed greens and cucumber to cut through the richness. The pork belly bites are delicious coupled with a noodle slaw fusion salad. We follow this by the local lamb shank which melts in the mouth, although the vegetables were too al dente for my taste, and a medium rare steak with mash and cherry tomatoes.
We also try the local Oldbury wines which are pleasant and very affordable ($10 per glass). We particularly rate the cab sauv (young, light and smooth) and the shiraz (fresh, floral and rich) to pair with the meaty main courses. We share the Dessert which is a taste awakening with fluffy passionfruit mousse and shortbread and strawberries – we are going to work it off with golf in the morning, so why not?!
We then pop next door to enjoy a nightcap in Harvey’s Bar of a rare Japanese whisky and their Pornstar Martini with sparkling wine accompaniment.
Breakfast at the Observatory Restaurant
Whilst neither of us are particularly breakfast people, we have a round of golf this morning before travelling around the local area, so we fuel up for the day. And it is a delightful surprise – a well executed buffet breakfast.
At Park Proxi, whilst there is the usual mix of cereals, yoghurt pots and pastries; however, what makes it stand out is that the hot food was spot on and was of a quality that seemed made to order rather than sitting at a buffet. Think soft poached eggs with sensational hollandaise sauce, creamy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages and plenty of vegetarian/vegan options with tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns and a really great spinach and mushroom mix. All kept perfectly hot, well presented and regularly topped up – no cold or rubbery eggs on this team’s watch!
The Park Proxi course is 18 holes, which you can also do in two halves of 9. Given I haven’t played before, we opt for the 9 hole course and decide to take the second half starting at the 10th tee, which includes the local’s favourite number 13. Plus, I don’t like the idea of trying to get over the duck filled lake that we have been seeing others attempt from our balcony for my first try given I don’t know if I can even hit the ball at this stage, much less get it over a large lake. As cute as the ducks are, I certainly don’t fancy joining them for a swim!
Ms H. has brought her own clubs, glove and the rest of the kit (I wasn’t joking when I said she was keen!). I hire a set of clubs and we set off. The views throughout the course are stunning in all directions and it packs a lot of play into winding courses which is quite hilly, with lakes, trees and tricky greens to contend with – and as I discovered the hard way, an awful lot of long grass and a few creeks…just to keep things interesting.
In just under 2.5 hours, we get through the 9 holes and I learn a lot about golf and myself (it’s a mental game as much as a physical one). As an expert golfer, Ms H. rates the course and is planning her return trip – albeit with people who can stay out of the long grass….
Lunch at Centennial Winery, Bowral
Apres golf, we head 5 mins up the road to the multi-award winning and Halliday rated Centennial Winery and Restaurant. We drive up the imposing driveway, past the amphitheatre and grounds for outdoor concerts (they have several ‘Day on the Green’ concerts coming up) and plenty of parking. We come upon the beautiful Spanish inspired building and well maintained and curated gardens. It is a Mediterranean themed venue and menu and the winery features grapes not widely grown in Australia such as Albarino and Corvina. .
We are ably looked after by Tom and we get the Chef’s lunch which is a 3 course meal with a glass of their truly excellent sparkling wine to start ($95pp).
The tasting plate changes regularly, so it is a surprise to discover what we will try when it arrives. It tastes as sensational as it looks with 5 hors d’oeuvres including a pumpkin, carrot and coconut soup shot, a large prawn nestled on a creamy slaw, chicken sausage roll, a filled vine leaf with a tangy hummus and our favourite, the slow cooked duck croquette with hoisin and BBQ sauce with cabbage and aioli – we could have eaten many more of these, please and thank you!
For mains we have a Moreton Bay Bug served atop an elegant creamy saffron vegetable risotto – paired with their crisp and creamy Chardonnay. Ms H. has the Humpty Doo Barramundi that was cooked so perfectly she is still talking about it. This is paired with a ginger garlic seafood spring roll uniquely served on a sweet corn puree with roasted red capsicum – seems like a strange mix, but it works. Whilst we don’t need it, we share a dessert of mango sorbet and lime cheesecake with coffee.
Sadly we don’t have time to stay for the wine tasting as our next experience awaits.
Wine Tasting at Artemis Winery
We head towards Berrima to reach Artemis Winery on this sunny Saturday afternoon. It is jam packed with lots of tourists and locals and their families enjoying the open setting that gives a relaxed rustic, boho shed and field vibe. The wine tasting is fast and furious and the plentiful staff are very knowledgeable and passionate about what they do. Interestingly, beyond their cool climate wines, they have also branched out and offer almost as many spirits as they do wines. It has been a great way for Artemis to counteract the effects of our increasingly unpredictable weather.
Dinner at Paste in Mittagong
To say we are excited about visiting Paste for dinner is an understatement. It is the brainchild of Bee Satongun who is the Head Chef and Creator of Paste in Bangkok, Lao and now Mittagong. This multiple Michelin starred restaurant has it’s origins in Bangkok and Lao where Bee has also been awarded one of the top Asian chefs. It is renowned and much loved locally – everywhere that we visit on Saturday raved about it.
Mittagong is about 10 mins away from Bowral, so we decide not to drive ourselves. However, it turns out there is only 1 Uber driver in all of Bowral (business idea for anyone who wants to move to a lovely part of NSW btw…!) but luckily there are local taxi services where we pre-order a car.
We walk into the sparsely but elegantly decorated restaurant with an expansive bar and a ‘wall of wine’. We are superbly looked after by Prao (Honey) who is incredibly passionate about customers enjoying the experience and food at Paste. We start with a house speciality vodka-based cocktail each (Ginger Martini and the Bangkok Mule) which are super refreshing and immediately has us (mentally) lying next to a pool and whets the appetite for what is to come.
As we sip our delicious cocktails, we peruse the menu, which is strongly focused on seafood as well as duck, pork and vegetables. It offers a mix of familiar dish names such as Yellow curry so it feels approachable but takes you on a different adventure than you are used to. Suffice to say, this ain’t your local Friday night takeaway of Pad Thai and Green Curry Chicken, people! This is fine, high end Thai cuisine that allows the quality ingredients to shine through.
We start with appetisers including the Duck on dried rice cracker with peanut chilli oil imaginatively served on top of a whole plate of coriander seeds. Next is the unusual sounding combination of Caviar trout roe with fried shallot and galangal on perfectly shaped watermelon balls giving sweet, sour and tangy umami all at once and is quite rightly noted as a House specialty. Rounding out the trio is Hokkaido Scallops with sea urchin and lychee. The scallops are gently seared to hold their shape, but perfectly pillowy on the inside, just as they should be. We pair these with local cool climate white wines from the region. Paste has a carefully curated list of wines that are ideal accompaniments to the food – and there is the wine wall (gallery?) to check out en route to the bathroom also.
What we notice is that literally every single table is getting the Moreton Bay Bugs with noodles and pork broth, so we do too! This impressive looking dish arrives with 2 halved Moreton Bay Bugs nestled on a light amber-hued broth of pork neck and fine noodles that enhance but don’t overpower the delicate flavour of the Bugs. We also get the Green Curry Prawns and we ooh and aah over the mild curry which has the complexity of the layered flavours which remain distinct but still light enough for the prawns to shine. These are served with fluffy white rice to mop up all that lovely sauce. Heavenly!
All the dishes are beautifully presented, with different settings and tableware for each of them, reflecting the mix of modern presentation and flavours combined with old school techniques – and an incredibly high level of attention to detail and care. Paste is arguably the most innovative, creative and elegant Thai experience available in Australia and well deserves it’s Michelin status.
As we relax and digest our delicious meal, we discover a surprise that we have never experienced before. The chairs, which appear to be your typical tall, straight-backed dining chairs, actually have a sliding mechanism allowing them to recline slightly. Just what we need as we finish our wines! At this stage, we are ready to roll out the door, get the local taxi and head back to our comfy beds and plush bath robes.
After a sleep in, breakfast and stroll (sans clubs) around the parts of the golf course we didn’t explore yesterday, it is time to check out from our relaxing cocoon and sadly leave the team at Park Proxi.
We have enough time to quickly visit a few nearby local sights like Mt Gibraltar, Moss Vale and Berrima before heading home. Like I am sure most people who visit the Southern Highlands, we wish we could afford a holiday home to escape the city on a regular basis. But in the absence of winning the lottery, then at the very least, we will certainly return to visit this relaxing, delightful part of the world – after all, it’s only 90 mins away!
What we were addicted to at Park Proxi: The ambience of the hotel, the grounds and view along with the plush linen, yummy breakfast and friendly staff. And the ducks.
What we need to be more addicted to Park Proxi: Given the lack of local transport (and presumably external food delivery services), it would be great to have some room service options to enjoy after a full day’s golfing.