In the late 19th Century, the undulating hills north of Parramatta provided fertile land for orchards and vegetable gardens. British settlers experimented with crops, testing their potential in the Australian climate. However, as farming gave way to development in the mid-20th century, the bustling communities of Northmead and Winston Hills grew. Today, urban explorers can visit funky cafes, friendly pubs and colourful playgrounds – in between exploring native bushland and winding waterways.
Eating and Drinking
Adventurers in Winston Hills should begin at Cafe El’s, a light-filled space overlooking parkland at the entrance of Winston Hills Mall. Head chef Matt Elbayeh, who runs the eatery with his mother, Ezmerelda, trained as a chef at El Phoenician, his father’s Lebanese restaurant in Parramatta. Here, he serves generous, flavour-packed dishes, such as the triple stack of buttermilk pancakes with Nutella, strawberries, hazelnuts and ice cream. Within the mall, Matt’s culinary escapades continue at El Burger, co-owned with brother Josh. Locals queue for tasty creations – from El Cheesy, think house-made beef patty, American cheese, pickles, tomato sauce and American mustard to the El Porkie with mouth-watering fennel-infused pulled pork with crackling, apple cabbage minted slaw and El sauce.
Next door is local pub The Winston, named, like the suburb, after Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister who led Britain through the Second World War. A recent renovation has transformed the 1970s interiors into a beautiful collection of bars and courtyards. Inside, lights designed by Frank Lloyd Wright illuminate a stunning fireplace; outside, louvred roofs cover Japanese-inspired pavilions. The drinks list includes craft beers, creative cocktails and boutique wines, while the menu offers gourmet pub classics, pizzas, burgers and more.
In Northmead, the place to start is XS Espresso. Tucked away among mega-stores, just off Windsor Road, this pendant-lit, greenery-splashed hideaway dishes up mountainous, Instagram-famous brekkies and lunches. The Big XS Breakfast includes eggs, bacon, chorizo, potato gem, haloumi chips, avocado, spinach, tomato relish, garlic aioli and sourdough toast, while the Volcano Shake comes loaded with Nutella, Oreo, coconut, ice cream and warm chocolate soufflé.
At lunchtime, locals crowd into the NBC Sports Club. Surrounded by trees, this community-minded spot feels a long way away from the city. For children, there’s play equipment – including a jumping castle – while adults can try barefoot bowling or relax in the expansive beer garden. The NBC’s Maze Grills Cafe offers a range of specials, including $12 lunches.
Not obvious at first glance are the area’s many swathes of bushland, where walking trails meander through endangered forests and alongside creeks. The 5.4-kilometre Pemulwuy Loop – named after a fierce Aboriginal resistance leader – starts at Moxham Road, Northmead, following Toongabbie Creek for much of the way and passing red gums and blue gums, where possums, microbats and native bees make their homes. East of Moxham Road extends Water Dragon Way, a 2.3-kilometre return walk that hugs Quarry Branch Creek, taking in several quarries that provided sandstone for Parramatta’s first buildings.
For rainforest and river flats, keen walkers should conquer the Murri-Yanna Track. Beginning at Whitbred Place, North Rocks, this eight-kilometre journey sticks (mostly) to Darling Mills Creek, sharing territory with Eastern water dragons, powerful owls, grey-headed flying foxes and Eastern Bentwing bats, before finishing at Heidi Place, West Pennant Hills.
Playground and Parks
Winston Hills and Northmead are home to no fewer than 26 parks and reserves. Across the road from Cafe El's lies Caroline Chisholm Park, with a playground catering to children aged one-seven and four tennis courts. A bigger collection of play equipment is at Caber Park, packed with sandpits, swings, slides, basketball courts and cricket nets, while Bruce Cole Reserve’s playground backs onto Cumberland Plain Woodland.
On rainy days, families flock to the Ultimate Family Fun Centre in Northmead, to run wild in Australia’s biggest indoor play centre. There’s an enormous foam pit, a slip and slide, a network of trampolines, dodgem cars, a climbing wall and a bunch of games, including giant ten-pin bowling, air hockey and ping pong tables.