Saturday, October 13, 2007

Southern Highlands Scenic Circle

It's a week since we've been home from our trip up to Coonabarabran* and Daughter, who has been studying for upcoming HSC exams is getting itchy feet. A drive to the highlands is calling, so after only fairly minor arm twisting on her part we pile in our learner vehicle and off we go at about 11:30am. We stick with the highway until the Colo Vale exit and then turn onto the Old South Road. This takes us through beautiful rolling dales with some lovely views, bringing us to Bowral at Kangaloon Road. As it is getting about time we had some lunch we head into Bowral in search of the Gumnut Patisserie. Tulip time is recently over but there are still glorious spring flowers in the gardens all around. I particularly enjoy a dogwood in full flower.
We notice the local farmer's market is operating at Bowral Public School.# We have no trouble finding a parking space opposite the school and have a look around. It's about 12:30pm and we're a bit late for some of the food options that are in the midst of packing up. The alternatives available look really good though and we make a mental note to return at an earlier time one day. There's Gozleme; gourmet deli produce from a presumably local smokehouse (mental note to bring an esky next time); gourmet sausage sangers; and others. In the cold food department there's gourmet pies, a lady selling large antipasto tarts (we buy one $15) and blueberry cheesecakes; a local olive oil producer offering taste sampling (we try and buy $14 for the smaller size); gourmet dressings and marinades (we try and buy $9 a jar); we give the apple and nut stalls and a few sheepskin or picture stalls a miss. Somewhere there is also a "bacon and egg man" in the parlance of the olive oil stall - apparently he supplied the delicious bread we used for tasting the olive oil, but we aren't able to identify him in the quick glance around we take. There's good value seedlings and herbs too so we pick up a pot of basil - way cheaper than our local outlets.
With directions supplied by the lovely people at the olive oil stall (Sutton Forest Olives) we make our way to the Patisserie, passing upmarket cafes with street tables and many people enjoying the glorious spring weather over a relaxed lunch. In the plaza near Corbett Gardens we pass the Cheese shop which looks enticing. I suggest we wander in and check it out, but Daughter suggests we save it for something fresh to do when we come back with the esky. I can't wait to go back- who can resist cheese? I wonder if they have any local stuff... so many dairies in the area... The Gumnut patisserie is just across the road from the plaza. It is officially the best patisserie in NSW and has been for the last 4 years. This information is prominently displayed across the window. I'm getting a bit low on cash (maybe just as well). We order a sausage roll, a raspberry tart and a macadamia and pecan tart, as well as three small brioche. I'm happy to find a brioche outlet as I want to try making a brioche bread and butter pudding. We had this at Pure South in Melbourne and seems like it should be easy enough to make at home. Mum says the secret to B&B pudding is sprinkling it with Vanilla sugar.. a tip she got from the UK show Pie in the Sky... but I digress... We eat the sausage roll straight away while it's hot. A bit greasier than necessary, but very yummy just the same. We replenish cash supplies, stop at Woollies to buy a cold drink (coffee milk and a nudie - my favourite) and head to the car before we cook our earlier purchases. About an hour after we stopped and we're back on the road. We're heading towards Macquarie Pass which Daughter has an urge to drive down. We've done the main route out towards Robertson many times, so we decide this time we're taking the back roads. We drive down Kangaloon Road, turn back up Old South Road at the roundabout, and turn right at Range Road. A while later it's then left at Glenquarry Rd. This route is a beautiful drive passing through pastures stocked with dairy cattle or occupied by large homes or mansions. Careful driving is necessary as the eye is drawn to spectacular views across the rural highlands to the east and west. This is a much more scenic alternative to Kangaloon Road which is itself quite a nice drive. We come to a turn off at Kirkland Road, which we know will take us back down to Kangaloon Rd and to Robertson township, but we're not in the market for antiques, lollies or browsing the other shops so we continue along Glenquarry Rd. In this section much of the way is bordered by natural bushland that forms part of the water catchment. I'm curious about the signs, so we pull over and learn that entry to the area attracts an $11,000 fine. On stopping and being able to give it closer attention, we see that the bushland and the wide area of verge is full of tiny wildflowers. Even an occassional flash of red that might be a waratah in the no-access area. We press on. The locals are clearly pretty annoyed with Sydney water for some reason with frequent signs posted describing the dire consequences of whatever it is that has been proposed. Cattle, we note, are not camels and require water. As we proceed the bush becomes full of colour with bushes covered with rich yellow pea flowers and the odd everlasting daisy bush. As we near the edge of the plateau, we start to get views over the escarpment to the ocean. Finally we rejoin the Illawarra highway not far from Macquarie Pass to the left, but I have my own agenda and my driver is directed to the right.
We travel along the highway, trying to watch the road rather than the spectacular views, until we reach the Robertson Pie Shop (reliable) and the turn off to Jamberoo Mountain Rd. This road will take you down to Jamberoo and the recreation park, the Minamurra Rainforest Park and the beaches at Kiama %, but we're heading for Barren Grounds Nature Reserve for a bit of a walk. We stop along the way at Jamberoo Lookout, it's signposted but the sign is quite small and there's no warning, so we are obliged to find a safe spot to turn around and head back to the turn. This lookout gives sweeping views over the escarpment, across rainforest and lush green pastureland to the beaches and the rich blue expanse of the ocean. The southern reaches of Lake Illawarra are just visible at the northern end of the vista, with Kiama to the south. We have a brief chat with some friendly young men, listen to some enticing bird song, admire the trees in full blossom in the surrounding bush, and press on to the nature reserve which is only a short distance down the road. And again the turn comes upon you quite suddenly.
Barren Grounds used to be an observatory and ecological research facility operated by Birds Australia. It borders Budderoo National Park. Birds Australia gave up it's tenure to direct conservation resources to areas less assured of protection. Barren Grounds is now managed by National Parks. It is still very popular with birders and home to the Eastern Bristlebird and Eastern Ground Parrot as well as many many other fauna. It's somewhere you really need to creep along the track at about 10 km as you are bound to find birders along the narrow road whose attention is decidedly elsewhere. We dodge a couple who obligingly move with their tripods and spotting scopes off into the verge, and make our way to the picnic area. There are tables and shelters and facilities provided and wildflowers adorning the base of the stonework here and there. Ah, this is when we get to see if all the fuss about the Gumnut Patisserie is warranted. Suffice to say IT IS!! Sorry Currawong, no crumbs for you!!
Having shamelessly indulged in hip and thigh enhancement therapy, we take off for a walk to the Illawarra Lookout. I've got my binoculars with me - a very effective form of bird deterrent. The healthland is alive with wildflowers of all colours. Dominated by the dainty white tubes of the heath, with splashes of colour provided by deep pink boronia and fan flowers, yellow from thriving isopogon, and also the occassional rich blue from little fellows to whom I've never been introduced. The native flowers are often not flashy at a glance, but when you look at them closely they are exquisite in the fine detail of their decoration. Looking into the tiny mouths of each heath flower you see perfectly placed minute spots. I could spend a long time here with my wildflower guide...
Illawarra lookout is even more spectacular than Jamberoo lookout. It angles more to the north and you get a greater view of the area towards Lake Illawarra. There are a lot of birds around, you can hear them soflty piping in the dense undergrowth. We take our fill of the view and begin to head back. As we leave I hear the birds letting eachother know we've gone and the calls become louder and closer. I quietly turn back and see a little party flit across the small area of open ground at the lookout into the vegetation on the other side. Not quick enough to get a bead on them for identification though. In a short time all goes deathly quiet and I turn for home. Serious birdwatching's not something you can really do too well in a hurry.
I rejoin Daughter who's waiting patiently on the main track and we head into the sun to the west. The views along the path as we return are expansive. We're back at the car in only half an hour. Clearly the estimated time for the track assumes you might be taking a more serious interest in things along the way as it's stated at 1 hr. I cast a longing glance along the other track where I have fond memories of walking with Mum early one morning and where we saw a stack of awesome birds including the ground parrot and bristlebird, finches and some small mammals. Why has it been so long since we came down to spend the whole day? We listen as we hear a black cockatoo calling and are pleased that it comes our way, flying with that slow loping action. The black cockatoos aren't uncommon in the highlands but seeing them is always a thrill. They are a most obliging bird, announcing their presence with their distinctive call. Reluctantly we pile into the car and make our way slowly out of the reserve.
Isn't it amazing the way the return trip along any road seems so much shorter than the journey outward. We're back at the Illawarra Highway in what feels like a trice, though on the map it looks much longer and we turn for Daughter's no 1 destination. Macquarie Pass. She's had the briefing about speed and brake management on long steep inclines before and with the occassional hint she drives very capably down the mountain. It is a challenging drive with a number of hairpin turns, but it travels through glorious dense rainforest and is most enjoyable. We emerge into the sunlight at Albion Park and take a tiny detour into a small new housing development that strikes us as very American in it's overall look and style of house. We are both very fond of classic American domestic architecture and streetscapes, with the porches and street trees. In this estate the garages face a back lane which is a great way to go about things. Like my brothers new (old) place in Stanmore Sydney. It's the best way to make a beautiful streetscape. The imposing vista of the escarpment all around adds a beautiful feel the area. Daughter thinks this development is not as well done as some of the places we visited in the US, but I think she's not allowing enough for the fact that this is brand new and the neighbourhood is not yet really established. We agree the street itself could be a bit wider.
Back on our way we are travelling back the conventional route up the Princes Hwy and Mt Ousely before heading inland to Appin and our home in Macarthur. There is a scenic detour we could take through Picton, but as evening approaches we save it for another day. We don't really need a scenic detour in any case. The road heading in to Campbelltown from Appin is beautifully scenic. Trees line the road providing a verdant archway above you, with beautiful pastureland and distant mountain views across to the west. We arrive home at about 5:30 feeling again how priveliged we are to live in this area where we can so easily just take off out of the city and go to so many excellent coastal and inland country destinations.

*(report posted on tripadvisor )
# These farmers markets are at Bowral Public School, right in the heart of town where you can't miss them, on the 2nd saturday of the month. They are also at Moss Vale - I think it said near the post office - on the 4th Saturday of the month. For more information on the attractions in Bowral see
& For those new to my travel reports, sausage roll sampling is a bit of a theme with Daughter and I. We like to sample them at any bakeries we come across, usually just sharing one between us when we're on our own. It is very important when trying a new bakery to just buy one and try it to see if it is fit to eat before buying more. It's never a problem returning after doing the taste test as you can compliment the staff on the quality which is generally appreciated. If the sausage roll is aweful, you don't go back, and just look for a bin instead.

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