|Ideal getaway - South Coast, NSW|
They say the ideal weekend getaway destination is no more than three hours from your home. That way you can arrive in time to freshen up before dinner, and not need too long for the return trip.
This makes the Shoalhaven coast (at the Wollongong end of the NSW South Coast) only two hours away from Sydney, such an ideal place to steal away to. But it's not only the distance that makes it right!
When your weekend escape includes a couple of nights in a luxury bed-and-breakfast such as Spring Creek Resort in the hinterland of Kiama, just 120 kilometres south of Sydney, you are off to an excellent start. We certainly thought so when we recently made a short but very sweet visit south. With every convenience, Spring Creek Resort has several double rooms, and guests have full use of the kitchen, lounges and magnificent gardens.
With delightful little spaces like this in the grounds, it's no wonder this place also frequently doubles as a wedding venue.
Tasting the food scene of the Kiama region with Jacqueline Weiley of Foodscape Tours
Kiama itself (pop. 12,000) is the quintessential coastal country town. The heritage former quarry-worker cottages, are now home to cafes, boutiques, galleries and gift shops. It's popular, but not uncomfortably crowded.
The shops sell quality goods, sometimes a little quirky and different.
And then there's the blowhole, for many years the town's main claim to fame and drawcard for visitors. At almost any time there are dozens of people photographing the thrilling sight of an ocean wave being forced up under great pressure through the relatively small hole in the rock, usually when there are winds from the south-east.
Contrary to popular belief the tides do not have any bearing on the performance of the blowhole. As the retreating water leaves, it is forced upward by the compressed air, as the mouth is still blocked by the receding wave. The escaping air causes the loud oomph, which accompanies the water spout. Unsurprisingly, the name "Kiama" is derived from the Aboriginal word kiarama, which means "place where the sea makes a noise".
The main Kiama Blowhole was discovered by George Bass on his voyage of coastal exploration on December 6, 1797, after anchoring his whaleboat in the sheltered bay which became Kiama Harbour.
The first evening of our weekend we dined in Kiama at one of its best restaurants, Seabreeze, right on the waterfront with front-row views of the cove. Although the restaurant has only been open for around five years, award-winning restaurateurs Jimmy and Sonja Spasevski have been in the hospitality business for almost twenty years. After we dined on local Greenwell Point oysters and sensational lamb (above) and local fish....
..........we were tempted into trying yet one more dish: Seabreeze's creation, a Ferrero Rocher-style deep-fried icecream dish - impossible to describe (and also resist!).
The next day we are taken on a day-long tour by Jaqueline Weiley, who founded Foodscape Tours a couple of years ago. These tours on the Shoalhaven's magical coastline and hinterland offer gourmet tours of secret foodie destinations including farms, orchards, commercial kitchens, specialty stores and vineyards - some only open exclusively to Foodscape Tours. Sydney Weekender featured the tours in May, 2013 - see the clip posted on YouTube to see more.
For us, one highlight was tasting perhaps the world's best gelato from The Pines Dairy overlooking Kiama. The Grey family have owned this land since 1854, when the 70 hectare dairy farm was first established. Unable to continue competing in the commercial dairy industry, the current generation has expanded into new ventures, including the renovation of the original farm house for holiday lettings and new produce such as freshly made gelato.
The Pines recently switched to using only organic fertilizer and materials on the pasture and the cows eat a balanced diet of grass, hay and grain to produce high quality and tasty milk.
Another producer keen to maximise flavour and nutrition is this farm where manager, Tass Schmidt, is experimenting in growing unusual heirloom vegetables, mushrooms and other beautiful produce, as well as breeding special animals like these miniature pigs (below) and cooking long and slow dishes.
It is also about educating, caring for the land and providing hospitality for people, and there are tours and opportunities for people to come and assist with the project.
Of course, halfway through the tour, there is always also a delicious lunch featuring local produce. Our one was held at Blue Swimmer Cafe, at Gerroa, run by local duo Cortney Cantwell and Caroline Read. It is unassuming from the outside, but just look at the menu, below, and these dishes we enjoyed: battered oyster burger with fennel remoulade and chorizo (above) ...
....local snapper and chips....
...and Persian fairy floss topping a creamy custard, dried baby figs and watermelon!
During the tour we also visited Buena Vista Farm where Fiona and Adam Walmsley have returned to the family farm in Gerringong to produce free-range pork, pastured poultry and eggs, vegetables and an ever-growing range of preserves, baked goods and gourmet items.
Little wonder the eggs are so fine with conditions like this!
But where would we all be without a good coffee sometime in the day, and John and Pat at Gerringong's Daily Grind, blend and roast on-site, supplying local and Sydney cafes with their very fine blends.
Do you know what this is? It is a solar-powered Wagyu-pampering appliance, devised by innovative owner Gerhard Baden at Schottlander's Wagyu Beef Farm, also in Gerringong. When the cattle feel like a little TLC, they simply sidle up to this and it gives them and gentle back and rump massage.
Gerhard believes a happy cow is a healthy cow and feeds them grass, silage, hay and tofu whey to help create his farm's top-quality wagyu beef which is sold with the top 9+ marbling grade.
Of course a gourmet food tour needs wine as well, and one stop is at Roselea Vineyard, Gerringong, established in 1998 overlooking Rose Valley and Werri Beach. Seabreezes in the frost-free location allow the grapes a longer ripening period, increasing their flavour.
The boutique vineyard produces award-winning wines grown without the use of fungicides, pesticides or growth hormones.
Owner Jeff Lester (above) says that the dark red volcanic soil also helps the vines to grow well.
Nearby, Crooked River Wines, Gerringong, must have one of the most beautiful cellar door settings, overlooking a lush valley. It is a delightful setting for a wedding and reception, and of course the grapes are also grown in rich volcanic soil and picked and bottled on site.
Then, the next day.....
...... as we were already on the way, we could not resist an hour's drive further south to this place. Can you guess where it is?
No, it's not a b&b, despite the cushions. But it does provide top-class accommodation.
A short video of Bannisters
Those who know their celebrity chefs may recognise this author and make the connection.....
...it is, of course, the wonderful Bannisters resort at Mollymook, perched overlooking the ocean, and home to Rick Stein's only Australian restaurant, Rick Stein at Bannisters. Why here? When he saw it first, Stein, like many others, was smitten by the location, but also, as a lover of the freshest and best seafood, he could not resist having access to the local catch for his menus.
The smart-casual ambience of the restaurant matches an absolute view over the water and coastal rocks, while the staff and standard of service is faultless.
A hint from two satisfied diners: The fisherman's pie is sublime, rich and generous; and oysters charentaise served with sausages and wine is unique, and a definite must-try.
Of course, not only is the restaurant of world-class standard, but the rooms offer every luxury. Just look at this bathroom!
But all little escapades have to come to a close, and finally we travelled north again, pausing only at the cute-as-a-button small town of Berry for lunch.
We discovered these delicious goodies in an arcade.....
....and also tried for the first .....
A newcomer to the Berry food scene is Little Fork, also serving fine coffee, and fortunately located right next to an amazing goodie-maker, South Coast Providores, meaning they can easily make use some of their neighbour's products in the cafe's dishes.
Berry may not be the centre of the world, but it points in all directions - that is, if you can believe this sign post in the main street. And for Sydney-siders, or those visiting Sydney, the good news is (according to this sign) it is 'near'.
Which, as we said at the beginning, makes this region the ideal weekend (or longer) getaway destination. Especially if you like the finest food and wines.
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