After enjoying summer months in the picturesque European countryside, I must confess that, once the jet lag passed, I felt a little jaded about coming home to the depths of winter in Canberra. "I want to play tourist again," I told Peter. "Some place not too far from home and, preferably, a destination we haven't previously explored." My wish came to fruition with the arrival of an invitation to visit the New South Wales Southern Highlands following the launch of the Fitzroy Falls food and wine cluster.
The hamlet of Fitzroy Falls, named for its spectacular 81-metre waterfall, and historic Burrawang
Village with its turn-of-the-century charm, are the latest additions to the NSW Southern Highlands
Food and Wine Clusters. This is a fresh approach initiative to agri-tourism, which has revitalised visitation to the Highlands by guiding travellers into rewarding experiences of food source with growers and artisan producers unique to each locality.
Just a couple of hours from Sydney and Canberra, Fitzroy Falls sits in the heart of the Morton National Park, with its rugged sandstone cliffs, densely-forested gullies and easily-accessible walks. The last time I had visited, other than passing through on the way to the coast, was when I took my now grown up children to see the Falls when they were little. As such, I had no idea that the area was deliciously dotted with a range of food, wine and heritage offerings:
Australia’s exciting new wilderness experience brand, WILDfest™ Southern Highlands, opens the region’s national parks to the world through unique wilderness encounters and unforgettable food adventures. A signature experience is 'Canoes Champagne and Canapés', through which guests can explore the misty waters of a sunken forest in custom-built double canoe rigs with built in tabletop and ice bucket (pictured above). Founder, Amanda Fry, reckons there are some places in the wilderness where nature over delivers. "Gliding downstream on the Kangaroo River from Beehive Point to the mouth of Yarrunga Creek with the backdrop of the Morton National Park in Kangaroo Valley is one such place," Amanda says. While enjoying majestic natural surroundings in the hands of an expert guide, you'll also be able to indulge in wild native canapés and a local award-winning cold-climate wine. Quite simply, wow.
The Burrawang General Store & Café offers hearty fare in a heritage setting. The philosophy here is simple. "We serve good food, all day every day," owner Erica Leeming explains with a smile. She and her husband have "a thing for old buildings" and, after living in Boston for a time, they wanted to "come home and do something good." They have owned the 150-year old property for two years and have lovingly injected new life into the building, which was purpose built as a general store in 1867. "It's the hub for the village folk and visitors from the surrounds," Erica said. "We provide school lunches for the Burrawang Primary School; and also offer morning and afternoon teas." A favourite with our visitors is 'Afternoon Tea at Grandma's', when chef, Tamika Ferguson, and her team prepare old fashioned ribbon sandwiches, freshly baked tarts, sponge cakes and scones.
"The menu has a seasonal focus," chef Tamika tells me. "It's ever-changing to keep it all fresh and interesting. And I use local ingredients where possible." The Burrawang General Store and Café is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch; and on Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner. Make sure you try Tamika's chilli, lime and crab spaghettini with soft shell crab. It's divine!
Imagine buying an old dairy farm in the Southern Highlands and discovering the remains of an apple orchard originally planted in 1877. That's how the award-winning Pomologist Cider was born. Delighted with their find, the owners expanded their farm with cider apple trees sourced from a living heritage museum in Tassie. The apples are grown on espaliers, using biodynamic methods, then the fruit is hand-picked and selected for ripeness, before being processed in small batches to produce the traditional dry cider with no preservatives or sulphites. Pomologist Cider is available for purchase through liquor stores in the district, as well as online. Or you can enjoy it at a handful of eateries in the Southern Highlands.
Pristine rainforest spring water is bottled at the source from a natural, free-flowing spring in Burrawang. This Heart Spring water tastes clean and fresh, and is lighter and sweeter than bore-drawn waters. Business owner, Chris Cloran, explains that the pH neutral water is energised by technology that "spins it in a vortex, thus replicating water’s movement in nature". Heart Spring water is available from cafes and stores throughout the Southern Highlands.
Cherish your local traditional butcher shop, like Maugers Meats, I say, particularly when the butcher and his family grow the animals that provide the meat they sell. Applying meticulous farming methods to produce pasture-raised beef and lamb for their popular shopfronts, several generations of the Mauger family have farmed the grassy hillsides in the Highlands. "We bring the animals up in a peaceful environment and treat them humanely," Matthew (pictured above) and his father, John, explained when I spoke with them together. "The meat is aged properly, usually hung from four to six weeks, which means that it tenderises as it hangs. The meat is also drier when hung, thus enhancing the flavour." You'll find Mauger's grass-fed beef on local menus, or buy it and a range of other goodies (including divine smoked goods, sausages and pies) direct from their Burrawang butcher shop.
The Burrawang Village Hotel offers a family-friendly atmosphere and lush gardens with vistas to the highlands. Thanks to the talents of chef, Wayne Fraser, Peter and I enjoyed superb meals, including bangers with creamy mash and peas (his); and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with baby carrots and mash (hers). The lamb was sourced from Maugers Meats, the village butcher across the road from the pub. Beautifully cooked, fresh, flavoursome, and superbly plated, I wouldn't hesitate to rank this as THE BEST pub food I have ever eaten anywhere in Australia. When you visit, make sure you taste the local ale produced by publican, Marcelo Sa. It's delicious.
Mark Coburn and his family produce single malt whiskey at Coburns Distillery. Three acres of the 15-acre distillery site is peat bog, making it the only Australian distillery with its own onsite peat for smoking the barley. How interesting! Check the website for seasonal events, such as the upcoming Spring Picnic on the Grass in November.
The Fitzroy Falls General Store is popular for its hand-made pies, wrapped in flaky pastry and packed with fresh ingredients. Try Sue and Jason's award-winning 'medley of mushroom' pie made to their own recipe. Shop for local wines, jams, honey and sauces; or relax and enjoy tea or coffee and cake.
Poke your head into Grandpa's Shed next door (pictured below), but allow yourself plenty of time to browse through this gob-smacking treasure trove of antiques, collectables and old wares.
End your Fitzroy Falls food and wine adventure with Good Gut Food coach, Virginia Edwards. Passionate about sharing her knowledge of eating well, to live well, Virginia will walk you through the gardens of her stunning Highlands hideaway, foraging for herbs and fresh ingredients for fermenting. You'll learn how to make bone broth, kombucha, kefir and more under Virginia's expert guidance. News on Virginia's Good Gut Food classes coming soon.
For a good night's sleep and a taste of Fitzroy Falls farm-life, book a stay in the rustic Twin Oaks Cottage; one of the lovingly-restored train carriages on Redleaf Farm, or Foxgrove Guest House; all nestled in magical Southern Highlands surroundings.
The early 1900s cottage on Twin Oaks Farm is quite the surprise package. It features two spacious bedrooms; and an open-plan lounge, dining and kitchen (which is well equipped). There's also a good-sized bathroom and laundry room; plus a timber deck overlooking the estate's paddocks. The comfortable cottage is ideally suited to families and lovers of nature.
Fresh free-range eggs and locally-produced pork and fennel sausages (pictured above) enjoyed for breakfast at Twin Oaks Cottage. The eggs were laid fresh on the farm; while the sausages were handmade by Matthew Mauger and his team at Maugers Meats in Burrawang. I have voted these as among THE very best pork bangers that I've eaten in Australia. Read more about them in my blog post on the topic.
You won't believe your eyes when you step inside Redleaf Carriage 343, a guard's carriage from the late 1800s that has been lovingly transformed into luxury accommodation. The carriage is fully self-contained and comfortably sleeps four. It's one of two glamorously-renovated carriages set on the grounds of Katrina and Sam Sparke's Redleaf Farm at Fitzroy Falls. Redleaf Carriage 343's quirky-but-wonderful features include an original wood burning cooker and a spacious indoor shower room PLUS an outdoor bathtub (both with spectacular vistas). We particularly loved the warm fur throws and deer hide upholstery. More on our stay at Redleaf Farm, Katrina and the farm itself, and Carriage 343 in an upcoming article. (Note: Katrina Sparke is pictured at the very top of this article).
The Fitzroy Falls Cluster list:
Members of the Fitzroy Falls Food and Wine Cluster and their telephone numbers (where applicable) are as follows. Note, use +61 2 instead of 02 (or leave off the zero on mobile number) if dialling from overseas:
Stay tuned for my upcoming features on Redleaf Farm; making kombucha for good gut health; and the traditional butchers at Maugers Meats. For more information about the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Clusters, visit the website and download the above tour map. The beauty of the cluster touring maps is that you are assured an authentic taste of the local food and farming culture.
Self-drive at your own pace and get to know the local growers; then pull-up for a picnic at one of the many sites along Yarrunga Creek, with plenty of paths to explore, winding down to the lower Grotto Falls, or up toward Valley View Lookout and the top of the Twin Falls.
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. The Good Things team enjoyed a two-night adventure (meals included) in the Fitzroy Falls district thanks to the generosity of the good folks in the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Clusters. We made our own way to and from the area by private car. All photographs are my own, unless captioned as being supplied.
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.