Saturday, December 31, 2011

Backroads: Sydney to Canberra Pt 1 - Sydney to Southern Highlands.

This drive is designed to suit people who like to get off the beaten track and stay off the main highway and motorway routes. The Southern highlands can also be accessed by one of several beautiful routes from the south coast. This article does not cover those routes. Instead it concentrates on the western areas of the highlands closer to the Hume Highway. If you love to drive or would like two or three of days out of Sydney without going too far, then a circular drive down to the highlands and down to the Illawarra coast and back up along the Grand Pacific Drive is an excellent option.

First of all (and this depends very much on the precise timing due to peak traffic periods) you could consider driving out of Sydney along Henry Lawson Drive. You might choose to do this if you are one of those people who would like to have a quick squizz at the "real" Sydney rather than sitting on the motorway with sound barriers for the whole drive out of urban Sydney.  To take this route, I reckon the easiest access is to exit the motorway at King Georges Road and head south (left) down King George's Road. Turn right at Stoney Creek Road and continue on to Forest Road which becomes Henry Lawson Drive.
Henry Lawson Drive follows the Georges River and is leafy and pleasant. There are stretches of bushland and riverside parks you can stop at such as Georges River National Park.  You need to be careful swimming in the Georges River as sharks do enter the waters, though this is noted as unusual on the Georges River website .  Keep an eye out for the beware of sharks signs along the river as you pass by. 
In places along the river you will see some large houses.. the George's River used to flood regularly and the houses were fairly inexpensive by the river as a result. They've done some flood mitigation works and clearly the current owners feel their investment is safe enough. Consequently redevelopment has been enthusiastic. Perhaps some of them might be feeling nervous after the experience of the people of Brisbane recently when areas considered safe since the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam, were again inundated following a series of major rain events.

Rejoin the motorway when you come to the on ramp from Henry Lawson Drive. Continue and you can then exit the motorway at Camden Valley Way to make your way to Camden straight down Camden Valley Way. This section is also heavily dependent on timing.  Camden Valley way is a pleasant leafy drive through rural hinterland.  
As you approach Camden you pass a development called Harrington Park. You might be curious to take a brief detour to cruise around in Harrington Park and see this reasonably typical recent outer Sydney housing development or perhaps the website and the drive past is more than enough. The large houses that are commonly built to consume the majority of the housing block they sit on are derisively termed "McMansions". They are a subject that is not quite a barbeque stopper, but certainly one that is likely to bring out some strong emotions in many people. McMansion is a term derived from the fast food hamburger outlet known the world over.

Also at the intersection of Camden Valley Way and Narellan Road there's a shopping centre. Camden Council resisted such developments in the area as long as possible but in the end with the population growth they allowed this one, and the fast food joints nearby.  So far Camden itself has been carefully protected by the local council. However, it seems the writing is on the wall.  The NSW government is currently working on drowning the lovely rural land around Camden with housing developments. The resumption of productive farm land for housing is an increasingly controversial issue.
Also at the intersection of Camden Valley Road and Narrellan road you can turn towards Campbelltown and visit the Australian Botanic Garden Mt Annan...Entry is free and it's worth a stop. There is a pleasant circuit drive, lakeside picnic spots, remnant critically endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland; some walks with outstanding views across the district, an excellent children's playground and a good cafe. As you drive on the circuit you cross a bridge over a canal. This canal is entirely gravity fed and is apart of the infrastructure of Sydney's water supply. It was built in 1880 and moves water to Prospect Resevoir.
To the south of the Gardens as you travel on the circuit or pause to enjoy the views you can see a large historic house with an area of olive plantation. This is a beautiful private historic home called Glenlee. It is owned by a local Chemist and accordingly it can be purchased at David Wilson Chemist in Campbelltown.. and you might also be able to buy it at the gift shop in the Gardens....I will do a separate article on a walking tour of Campbelltown.

From the Gardens (or Campbelltown) head back out to Narellan along Narellan Road and turn left at Camden Valley Way to continue down to Camden.

Camden is a very pretty little village with a charming main street. This district was originally set aside as government land called "the Cowpastures" after escaped cattle from the earliest days of settlement were located thriving on the fertile grasslands. Having been firmly rebuffed by the Governor who had reserved the land to ensure the availability of food for the young colony, John Macarthur, as a result skillful manoeuvring, obtained a large land grant here through the intervention of the Colonial Secretary, Lord Camden. Hence the name. When John Macarthur arrived back in the colony the Governor of NSW was furious to say the least.  The whole area is very historically significant. You might recognise the name of John Macarthur if you've come across mention of the Rum Rebellion. He's one of our more interesting/notorious historical figures. His wife Elizabeth is also very important historically and you will see her name here and there if you're paying attention as you drive through.

You will find more information about sites around Macarthur on the visit Macarthur website. In particular the website provides a self guided walking tour of Camden... but take some of what they say on there with a grain of salt, (especially in their history section!) They talk some things up a bit much to say the least.. indeed as someone quite interested in history I'd say their claims are a tad outrageous. If you really want to see the "birthplace of Australian agriculture" you could consider visiting Experiment Farm which is in Sydney.   Another very interesting place to visit in Sydney is Elizabeth Farm which was built for John Macarthur in 1793. It is the oldest European building in Australia. You'll get a much more balanced representation about John Macarthur's contribution there... but I digress.

It's a pleasant back roads drive across the Razorback, out to the village of Picton. The George IV pub (known as the George) brews it's own beer and has an excellent reputation for a quality drop. 
Also in Picton r.coffeeco is a good cafe for breakfast or lunch.

Another option from Camden is to head out to Burragorang lookout which overlooks Sydney's main water supply and the world heritage listed Greater Blue Mountains area. At Burragorang there are beautiful wildness views and beautiful and shady picnic tables, a nice childrens play area and electric barbeques. The bushland at Burragorang is beautiful and when we visited in January the Sydney red gums were shedding their bark to reveal beautiful beautiful red beneath.  There is a day use fee which has been imposed since they upgraded the facilities. To go out to Burragorang, drive straight ahead at the roundabout near the Camden Showgrounds into Cawdor Road; straight ahead at the roundabout at Sheathers lane and then turn right into Burragorang Road. Stay on it and it will take you to the lookout. Along the way you pass through the Oaks where volunteers operate the Wollondilly Heritage Centre which is open on weekends and public holidays. 

On the return from the Burragorang lookout turn right into Barkers Lodge Road and follow it all the way to Picton from there. We're talking serious backroading now :o) and this is a lovely drive leading you to a lovely little country town.

From Picton there are two notable options, you can head through Tahmoor and Bargo and catch up some time by rejoining the highway for a while at Yanderra. 
 Alternatively you can turn from Picton to Thirlmere where you will find the Train Works Railway Museum, which has recently had a big capital investment from the Government.

From Thirlmere you can head to Tahmoor and catch up as described above, or you can continue through the bushy route via Buxton, Hill Top and Colo Vale. If you are a gardener you might find it interesting to have a quick look at Wariapendi Native Nursery at Colo Vale to see the sorts of things we might plant here that you might not expect to find at home. You drive straight past their entry and they sell icecreams if you fancy stretching your legs. There is some interesting information on their website about some things they have been involved in that adds background for later in this stage and a  later stage of the Sydney to Canberra backroads trip.  Eg  restoring the Gib  and Wariapendi’s contribution to the re-vegetation of the site of the Capital Hill Wind Farm at Bungendore.  
Once again you have a choice to join the highway for a quick run in along the main road of Mittagong, where you will find the tourist information centre. I recommend this route for a first time visitor although it does spend a while getting through the industrial zone before you get into Mittagong itself.  Mittagong's main road is very nice and lined with deciduous trees that colour in autumn. If you enjoy needlecraft you may be interested in a stop at Victoria House where you can find Australian themed designs as kits or pattern sheets. If you have skipped some or even all, the stopping opportunities so far, you might feel like a break at Lake Alexandra, a man made lake with picnic and playgrounds and toilets and an opportunity to take a short walk. In the streets surrounding Lake Alexandra there are numerous old stone cottages. 
Alternatively you can cross the overpass above the highway and drive along the Old Hume Highway for a short way, turning right into Old South Road. At the intersection with Range road turn right and drive until you come to the Sturt Craft Centre. The left turn at the same intersection is a nice scenic drive out to Robertson and this is recommended for people who have done the highlands before and are looking to explore deeper.

Nearby lovely district views can be enjoyed at the lookouts on Mt Gibralter, which is known as The Gib. 
From the Gib, it's a short drive into the busiest (and most up market) centre in the highlands: Bowral. However, I recommend heading back to the main street in Mittagong and heading to Berrima first as the route to Berrima from Mittagong is more scenic.

As you head out of Mittagong, scrapbookers might like to visit Paper Roses scrapbooking shop at 113 Main Street Mittagong.

Taking the route from Mittagong, about a km after you cross the overpass across the highway, you will come to sign directing to Wombeyan Caves. This road is a very rough, difficult route. If you do want to visit Wombeyan Caves - don't go this way. Especially in a camper.  However if you turn here you can follow the signs to Tertini Wines cellar door. We recently enjoyed a stop at Tertini Wines and walked out with some lovely Noble Reisling, Pink Lady cider and (delicious) rhubarb and ginger jam. :-)  This is not the only winery in the area, but it is one I can recommend.

About 3 kms out of Berrima you will come to the Berkelouw book barn.. which comes with a warning.. those tempted to enter sometimes lose track of the time....  
Berrima is an historic village with many shops, galleries, an historic licensed hotel - The Surveyor General - and national trust listed buildings such as Harpers Mansion (only open on weekends and public holidays) and Berrima Courthouse (open every day).. Visitors who are looking for Australian themed patchwork fabric can find some at Berrima Patchwork.

Aside from these options there is a lot to explore around the Southern Highlands. You can enjoy a pleasant drive through or you can stay a night or two or three.... There are a number of cellar doors in the area, gardens, scenic drives and historic properties.  

More to follow :o)

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