In NSW’s Kangaroo Valley, a tranquil escape awaits, promising luxe country living, incredible food and miles of bush to explore.
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence…
If a poem – indeed a word – can define a decade, then the seventies was Desiderata, a long-lost piece of prose that, thanks to a spoken word recording, became the poetic equivalent of incense and kaftans. Who (ok, who of a certain age) hasn’t seen Desiderata on the back of a bathroom door?
In a new millennium, it still holds up as a byword for serenity, so when we arrived at the gates of Desiderata, a lush, four-hectare property in Kangaroo Valley in the New South Wales Southern Highlands, we weren’t expecting non-stop action. And, thankfully, we didn’t get it.
Kangaroo Valley sits halfway between Moss Vale and Nowra, about 140 kilometres – a two-hour drive – south-west of Sydney. The gorgeous landscape was given “Scenic Preserve” status by the National Trust more than 40 years ago and many buildings in town are listed by the Trust for their cultural significance.
Desiderata would be both our base for three days of Southern Highlands exploration – and a perfect word to sum up the experience. This is a world of pretty cottage gardens, brilliantly plumed birds, vast tracks of farmland laid out like plush green carpet and air that makes you want to close your eyes and breathe in forever.
Which is not to say there’s nothing to do. Beyond those imposing gates, there are horses to ride, canoes to paddle, golf balls to slam, bikes to cycle and antiques to collect. And delicious food to eat. Whatever you do, go placidly.
Surrounded by lush pasture and guarded by a sturdy escarpment, the homestead at Desiderata is a sprawling, luxurious, cathedral-ceilinged monument to country comfort. Just as the valley puts on a different face for the seasons, the home is designed to embrace all of them – bi-fold doors, an insect-screen-enclosed al fresco dining area and hanging egg chairs on the deck to celebrate balmy evenings – and comfy sofas, throw rugs and a six-metre-high fireplace of volcanic stone to make winter the most welcome season of all.
The fully air-conditioned home has three double bedrooms, two-bathrooms, a generously equipped gourmet kitchen with marble benchtops, a mezzanine library, and a sound-proof media room with a huge TV and games, books, toys and more than 300 DVDs to keep the kids entertained. (The pick of the bedrooms has a walk-in wardrobe and wrap-around views of the surrounding countryside.)
You’ll be sharing the acreage with a herd of friendly goats and guests are free to help themselves to whatever’s growing in the veggie patch or in the orchard.
The homestead is about five minutes from Kangaroo Valley village, so you’ll need wheels.
Though the village is replete with olde-worlde shopfronts and bric-a-brac, it’s a mistake to assume the eateries speak of another century. Far from it.
This is a light, bright and breezy café serving innovative brekkies, lunches and pizza and “non-pizza” dinners featuring local produce and no end of passion. If a Robertson jacket potato, cultured cream, sprouts and flaxseeds doesn’t float your Kangaroo Valley canoe, think about trying Chinese Bolognese (you read that correctly) – free-range pork, raw zucchini noodles, sesame seeds, coriander and chilli. If a picnic is on the cards, stock up on your homemade goodies here. There are tables on the front veranda and a cool terrace out the back. The General is open on Monday mornings (with a special pop-up menu) and Friday and Saturdays for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 151 Moss Vale Road, Kangaroo Valley; 02 4465 1660
Find a possie on the grapevine-shrouded balcony (or by the fireplace in winter), undo your belt a notch and tuck into the double-roasted pork belly, sweet potato purée, braised red cabbage, grilled stone fruit and caraway jus. Or play to a country town’s strengths and opt for crumbed lamb cutlets. Whatever you choose, expect fresh, seasonal – and, yes, local – produce. The restaurant is closed Wednesdays and Thursdays (and doesn’t serve lunch on Friday).
Jing Jo is smack bang in the middle of the village, if set back a bit to confuse newcomers. Like most places in the valley, it’s all about local produce here and they don’t muck around. The restaurant has its own veggie and herb garden and composts kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and garden waste to add to its organised fertiliser. The curious thing about Jing Jo is its ability to switch from a burger and pie lunch place to a full-on Thai dinner venue. Somehow it works. Really well.
The natural world beckons here and there are several ways to get amongst it.
Could there be a better way to interact with this idyllic landscape than explore it on horseback? Man from Kangaroo Valley Trail Rides will take you through rainforest to the top of Mt Moollootoo where you can look down on verdant farmland, marvel at rivers and lakes and reflect on the relentless pace of city life. Nervous nellies are not only welcome, they form the majority of riders here. If time is not an issue, check into one of the self-contained bush lodges and chill. Giddyup.
Hire a canoe for the family or a single or double kayak and wend your way along the pristine Kangaroo River – as calmly or with as much exhilaration as you want. The pace is up to you. Three companies hire canoes and kayaks: from Kangaroo Valley Safaris, Kangaroo Valley Adventure Company and Kangaroo Valley Kayaks.
Champion golfer Jack Newton designed this picturesque 18-hole course with all levels of competency in mind. The Kangaroo Valley Golf & Country Resort has self-contained cabins and villas, and for those who think golf is a good walk ruined, there’s a swimming pool, giant outdoor chess game, a volleyball court and tennis courts. Mid-week and weekend packages are available.
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