Breath of Fresh Air
The Southern Highlands is famous for its charming historic villages, and it's also home to some of Australia's tastiest organic produce.
TrueBlue Magazine - April/May 2019
Words by: Michelle Hespe
Bushwalking is so good for the soul. Our guide, Roland Breckwoldt from Farm Club Australia, is leading the way across the thousands of acres that my partner and our kids are free to explore. The summer sky is a brilliant blazing blue, and it’s filled with layer upon layer of clouds that look as though they’re topped with cream. There’s a gentle breeze ruffling the golden and green grasslands, inciting thousands of frenzied grasshoppers to leap in and out of the paddocks. A pair of goats, a lone goofy alpaca, horses and glossy black wagyu cows with weeks-old calves amble about the paddocks, completing the picture of thriving life on an Australian farm.
We give the goats a scratch behind the ears, laugh at the alpaca’s antics and pluck some fresh Tiny Toms from the tomato patch. They’re as sweet as lollies.
Farm Club Australia not only have the perfect paddock vistas and cute animal encounters down pat, they’ve also worked hard to ensure that the Farm Shop & Café is a picture of authentic country hospitality, with farm-fresh produce always taking centre stage. For anyone accustomed to city life, or even living in a town, just being on the property is the first step towards winding down, ditching the gadgets and getting back to glorious basics.
We’re staying in Tarella Farmhouse – a large four-bedroom, 70s style homestead that has been lovingly renovated yet still retains its cool period charm. "It's just like nannas!" the kids cry. Sitting next to the café and abundant produce gardens, and being surrounded by acres of quintessentially Australian bushland bursting with birdlife, it is enough to have anyone planning an escape from the city.
As the sun sets, we drive down the road to indulge in woodfired pizzas at the Imperial Hotel in Bowral. The generous antipasto platters showcase local produce and there’s an extensive list of beer and wine offerings.
After one of the best night’s sleep that any of us can remember, due to the absolute silence and comfy country beds, we head to the historic village of Berrima and explore the charming stores and galleries along the main street, before heading up the hill to Harper’s Mansion.
Set upon two acres of breathtakingly pretty English-style gardens brimming with gorgeous heritage roses, the historic house was built by James and Mary Harper shortly after Berrima was gazetted in 1831. In 1853, the Catholic Church purchased the property and used it first as a presbytery and later as a home for nuns. When the National Trust acquired the house in 1978 it was in a dilapidated state, so between 1979 and 1983 the building was re-roofed } and all external brickwork, stone and joinery were restored. A hedge maze was also planted around 20 years ago, and it’s a great outdoor activity for the kids to get into while parents explore the mansion.
For lunch we head to one of the gems of the Southern Highlands – The Book Barn at Bendooley Estate, where the collection of new and antiquarian volumes is as exciting as the architecture, food and wine. Created by the Berkelouw family around a century ago, the headquarters for Berkelouw Books sits in the heart of an 81-hectare estate. It’s a popular place for weddings due to the many stunning backdrops, and not only are the meals incredibly hearty and loaded with local goodness, the estate's wines are superb. The Southern Highlands’ rich red volcanic soil, its high altitude, and the warm days and long cool evenings create perfect conditions for growing grapes; the vineyards complete the Tuscan-like vistas. We depart with full bellies and arms loaded with books.
Cricket fans, or indeed fans of Australian sporting history in general, shouldn’t miss the impressive Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame, an enormous structure housing six themed exhibitions next door to the Bradman Oval, where Sir Donald did some of his best work. The highly interactive exhibits guide you through the history of cricket and The Don’s many accomplishments, and you can use touchscreens to try out different batting stances and bowling techniques. I was aware that Bradman, who passed away at } the age of 92 in 2001, was the best cricketer of all time, but what I found mind-blowing was that with a test average of 99.94 and 29 centuries in 52 matches, he ranks as nearly twice as good as the next elite player, a feat unparalleled in men’s sport worldwide.
As certified wine lovers, we can’t visit a region built upon volcanic soil without doing some wine tasting, so we swing by Centennial Vineyards in Bowral to taste some of the town’s finest drops. The ridiculously pretty estate is famed for its sparkling wines. The sparkling rosé and the Brut Traditionelle are deliciously dry, and the Reserve Chardonnay – made from grapes grown in Orange and fermented in French oak – is bursting with citrussy nectarine flavours.
We enjoy another peaceful night at Tarella, this time staying in to enjoy a barbecue hamper provided by the estate, with greens picked straight from the garden and meat raised right there on the property.
Morning announces itself with a fiery pink, and tarnished gold sunrise that bursts from the fine blanket of mist winding its way down the mountains. We leave early and head to Bundanoon, which is another of the region’s beautiful historic villages, and after a tasty breakfast at Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe, we rent mountain bikes.
There are many trails to conquer in the surrounding national park, and we fly down roads and dirt paths, tendrils of sunshine snaking through the seemingly endless eucalypt forests. We stop at Echo Point Lookout, where the clifftops drop down into sandstone gorges and densely forested valleys.
Our weekend is wrapped up with a bushwalk to one of Australia’s most stunning waterfalls – Fitzroy Falls – and lunch at the Exeter General Store. The walls of this thriving café are lined with $4 second-hand books, a little post office is tucked into one corner beside the general store, and just like the many other lovely eateries we’ve explored in the highlands, the food offerings are all about delicious, organic produce that not only fuels the body but nourishes the soul.
Farm Club Australia
Imperial Hotel Bowral
Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame
Ye Olde Bicycle Shoppe
(02) 4883 6043
Exeter General Store
(02) 4883 4289
The Making of Miranda
We catch up with Miranda Tapsell – star and co-writer of hot new Aussie flick Top End Wedding
Great Western Plains Adventure
The Great Western Plains is famed for its abundance of nature and its clear night skies for stargazing, but it's the country hospitality that will have you coming back.
The cosy cafés, ritzy restaurants and heritage charm to be found in the twin cities of Albury Wodonga make for double the fun.