The Southern Highlands is a peaceful haven where historic villages are dotted throughout verdant countryside. It is also home to some of NSW’s finest, tastiest organic produce.
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 in 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 in the Southern Highlands.
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.
Lead image: © Destination NSW
Authentic country hospitality
Farm Club Australia not only have the paddock vistas and friendly animal encounters down pat, they’ve also worked hard to ensure the Farm Shop & Café is a picture of authentic country hospitality, with farm-fresh produce taking centre stage. For anyone accustomed to city life, or even living in the middle of town, just being on the property is the first step towards winding down and getting back to basics.
We’re staying in Tarella Farmhouse, a four-bedroom ’70s style homestead that has been renovated yet retains its cool period charm. Sitting next to the café, store and abundant produce gardens, surrounded by acres of quintessentially Australian bushland bursting with birdlife, it’s a picture of serenity.
After checking in, we drive down the road to indulge in the thin-based woodfired pizzas of the Imperial Hotel, a bustling local Southern Highlands hangout. The menu showcases local produce and there’s an extensive list of beer and wine offerings.
After one of the most peaceful nights’ 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 quaint stores and galleries along the main street, before taking a stroll up the hill to Harper’s Mansion.
Set upon two acres of breathtakingly pretty English-style gardens a-bloom 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. The National Trust acquired the house in 1978, finding it in a dilapidated state, so between 1979 and 1983 the building was re-roofed and all the 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 generous, hearty and loaded with local goodness, the wines are superb. The Southern Highlands’ rich red volcanic soil, the high altitude, and the warm days and long cool evenings create the perfect conditions for wine-growing; 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.
All for wine, wine for all
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 wildly fermented in French oak – is bursting with citrussy nectarine flavours.
We enjoy another peaceful night at Tarella, this time staying in to enjoy a BBQ hamper provided by the estate, with greens picked straight from the garden and meat grown on the property.
Morning announces itself with a fiery pink, gold and rose-red sunrise that bursts from the fine blanket of mist winding its way down the mountains, seeping into the valleys. 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 through 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 dramatically 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 all about delicious, organic produce that not only fuels the body but nourishes the soul.