From the ashes: travelling to bushfire-affected regions
Planning your next getaway? We urge you to support people, producers and businesses in bushfire-affected towns. We tour around southern NSW, Kangaroo Island, the Blue Mountains and Victoria’s High Country and Alpine Region.
At the height of Australia’s tourism season, stretching from late November well into the new year, the bush blackened and the sky turned flame-red. Fire tore through towns and razed the bush, destroying millions of hectares of land and causing mass evacuations across the country.
News headlines were a procession of destruction and devastation; many were left without homes, and even more without the jobs and income usually generated by tourists. With cancellation rates as high as 70 per cent, millions of dollars lost and surplus stock from a deserted tourism season, many fire-affected towns are struggling to rebuild.
… it’s more important than ever to look to the plight of fire-affected communities.
Months later, as we edge out of lockdown and have the green light to travel within-state, it’s more important than ever to look to the plight of fire-affected communities.
If you’re planning a getaway, this year or next (or even the next), we urge you to support regional retailers and producers by hitting the road and spending money with small businesses. Day trip, weekend adventure or week-long retreat, the bush needs your support, now and in the future.
There are many people, producers and businesses in these affected areas who need your support. The examples we’ve listed below are just a selection to whet your travel tastebuds.
Road-trip around southern NSW
Why we love it
From the city of Wollongong stretching to Eden, a wild coastline is flanked by national parks that retreat west to a smattering of heritage hinterland towns in the beautiful Southern Highlands. The region is known for its pristine shoreline and rolling dairy hills, which attract city dwellers looking to unwind aided by small-town hospitality.
… a wild coastline is flanked by national parks that retreat west to a smattering of heritage hinterland towns in the beautiful highlands.
The last decade has seen acclaimed restaurants and wineries transform the area into a gastronomic paradise. Still, the vibe remains unchanged; so comprehensively relaxing, so defiant to urban polish that sandy sangers and salty hair feel mandatory.
Tourism is the lifeblood of this region, but with fires hitting over new year, the area lost the income meant to support local business-owners year-round. Since it’s almost impossible to pick a single town, support the region’s recovery through a long-weekend road trip. Pack up your car, hit the Grand Pacific Drive and delight in one of the country’s not-so-kept secrets.
The Hidden Door, Bowral
A town rich in stud farms, golf courses and wineries, Bowral is a rural retreat with all the bells and whistles. For easy Hamptons style (think whitewashed wooden panelling, a gas log fireplace and a patio), stay in either the two-bedroom villa or 100-year old china blue weatherboard cottage at The Hidden Door.
Contact details: No 17 Bundaroo Steet, Bowral NSW 2576, thehiddendoorbowral.com
Seahorse Inn Hotel, Boydtown
On the wild Sapphire Coast of Twofold Bay, just 6km south of the popular port of Eden, this waterfront inn boasts 10 suites, two bars, bistro, restaurant and gardens looking out to the ocean, with all the old-school charm the historic 19th-century estate affords.
Contact details: Boydtown Park Road, Boydtown NSW 2551, seahorseinnhotel.com.au
The Bryn at Tilba
City dwellers flock to the seaside village of Central Tilba in search of the idyllic River Cottage life (the TV series in which host Paul West builds a farm-to-table life for himself). The Bryn, a B & B just outside the village offers exactly that, with its surrounding rolling green hills, red gum-spotted gardens and neighbouring farms.
Contact details: 91 Punkalla-Tilba Road, Central Tilba NSW 2546, thebrynattilba.com.au
Eat and drink
With unbeatable views over the Wagonga Inlet, this retro tiki bar and grill is a popular hangout for in-the-know locals and travellers seeking a laid-back vibe. Tiki-themed cocktails or Hawaiian Kona Beer go well with the likes of locally caught oysters and smoked butterfish.
Contact details: Riverside Drive, Narooma NSW 2546, quarterdecknarooma.com.au
Milk Haus, Milton
A sustainable wholefood café with impressive kitchen gardens, Milk Haus is fresh, honest country cooking at its best. Chef Danielle McKeon works out of an old cheese factory, serving locally grown dishes such as kaffir lime and goat’s cheese polenta with tomato sugo and crumbed goat’s cheese balls.
Contact details: 170 Woodstock Road, Woodstock NSW 2538, milkhaus.com.au
Mrs Oldbucks Pantry, Berrima
In the historic 189-year-old village of Berrima, on what has come to be known as “Mrs Oldbucks corner,” this gourmet shop stocks a selection of homemade nut butters, truffle mustard, olive oils and tapenades, tea blends and the shop’s signature seasonal gift hampers.
Contact details: Shop 4, 15–17 Old Hume Highway, Berrima NSW 2777, mrsoldbuckspantry.com.au
The Gap, Tathra
This Tathra gem combines two of the region’s noteworthy pastimes: surf and coffee. Browse (or hire) new and second-hand boards, surf-inspired leisurewear and skate paraphernalia while you sip on Vittoria’s organic coffee or dig into one of the café’s nourish bowls.
Contact details: 59 Andy Poole Dr, Tathra NSW 2550, @thegaptathra
Bare Body Beauty Co., Bowral
A natural beauty brand with two stores in the south coast. Visit the Scrub Hub flagship in Berrima or The Mill in Bowral and browse the brand’s huge range of eco-friendly organic products that smell good enough to eat. The team also host workshops at their Bowral store, including bath bomb making and kombucha brewing.
Contact details: Berrima: Shop 5, The Gazebo, 117 Old Hume Highway, Berrima NSW 2577. Bowral: Corner Bong Bong and Bundaroo Streets, Bowral NSW 2576, barebodybeauty.com
Explore Kangaroo Island
Why we love it
There’s much to fall in love with at Kangaroo Island. It’s the land of (sheep’s) milk and honey, farmed since the early 19th century, and a place of rugged beauty home to a teeming indigenous wildlife population so diverse it’s often called “Australia’s Galapagos Islands”.
Day trip, weekend adventure or week-long retreat, the bush needs your support, now and in the future.
This year’s fires devastated Kangaroo Island, ripping through almost two thirds of the island. The stories are particularly gut-wrenching: sanctuary owners forced to shoot maimed wildlife; days without power; residents digging trenches to bury thousands of deceased cattle and sheep. Decades of careful conservation work have been undone, but the locals are resolute that they will build again.
Still, much remains to be enjoyed. The island is blessed with a natural beauty that ranges from wetlands to soaring cliffs from which you can enjoy some of the world’s most dramatic ocean views. Pristine beaches give way to forests that boast more plant variation than anywhere in Australia. It’s a nature lovers’ playground, with plenty to keep the doers entertained. And with world-class wines and a stunning variety of produce it’s easy to enjoy the good life here.
Antechamber Bay Retreats
To enjoy the real Kangaroo Island experience — stay in one of Antechamber’s two ocean view homesteads surrounded by sheep and wildlife and overlooking the Backstairs Passage. The to-do list? Barbecue dinners, campfires, local wine on the deck and ocean swims morning, noon and night.
Contact details: 2131A Cape Willoughby Road, Penneshaw SA 5222, antechamberbayretreats.com.au
One Kangaroo Island
For all-out luxury, including a free-standing tub on the deck and an in-house chef, book a stay at one of Coreena and Hugh’s two beachfront villas. Set on the dunes at Brown Beach, here your only neighbours are the indigenous wildlife population, and your only plans enjoying the utter peace.
Contact details: 205 Mad Mile Track, Brown Beach SA 5222, onekangarooisland.com.au
Eat and drink
Sunset Food & Wine
Set just metres back from the shoreline at American Beach, owner and head chef Jack Ingram blurs the line between fine and casual dining with his hatted restaurant serving locally sourced modern Aussie cuisine.
Contact details: 4564 Hog Bay Road, Kangaroo Head SA 5222, sunsetfoodandwine.com
There might not be a better view than the one from the deck at Dudley Wines cellar door, which extends over the rolling Backstairs Passage and across to Victor Harbour. It’s worth the visit just for the view, and then there’s the award-winning wines, the beef and cheese-heavy cellar door menu and the “Golf across the Gully” course.
Contact details: 1153 Cape Willoughby Road, Penneshaw SA 5222, dudleywines.com.au
Inside Cactus’s stone cottage exterior, owners Yen and Louis pump out an easy breezy brekkie menu of local island produce, including menu favourite golden sweet corn fritters. The café also holds “feast nights” where guest chefs serve themed set menus on weekend evenings.
Contact details: 59 Dauncey Street, Kingscote SA 5223
Kingscote Farmers & Artisan Market
The island’s market leader is the Kingscote Farmers & Artisan Market at Bay of Shoals Wines on Sundays from 10am. Browse local produce, handmade goods and art, or visit the resident hairdresser for a chop with ocean views. When you’re ready to drop, head to the winery’s cellar door and sip some pinot accompanied by a tasting board.
Contact details: 49 Cordes Road, Kingscote SA 5223
Kangaroo Island Spirits
Jon and Sarah Lark opened their quirky cellar door 12 years ago, producing small-quantity, award-winning gin made using native Australian botanicals and locally grown or sourced ingredients. The distillery offers comprehensive tastings, guided tours and blending master classes, as well as delicious eats and cocktails in the gardens.
Contact details: 856 Playford Highway, Cygnet River SA 5223, kispirits.com.au
Visit the Blue Mountains
Why we love it
Leaving the tangle of Sydney’s suburbia on the Great Western Highway, a road 200 years old this year, is to step into an altogether more abundant world. The city’s greys give way to looming, golden escarpments and vast, blue-hazed valleys. Artisan chocolatiers, boutique shopping and connoisseur coffee are waiting to indulge you. The air is crisper, the land lusher, the coffee altogether better.
For a quick dose of fresh, alpine air, the Blue Mountains are easy enough to explore in a day trip from central Sydney. Train, coach or drive. Stop off to admire the Three Sisters. Onto a cable car ride or walking trail, then coffee, perhaps a pie at Mountain High Pies, some boutique shopping before hopping back on the train, (or coach or car). But stay a few days if you can afford to do so — there is so much to see, do, savour and feast on.
The Love Cabins
Live out your tree house fantasies at Love Cabins, a collection of wild, romantic cabins set off the beaten track on 240 hectares of private bushland. There are seven cabins with names such as “Enchanted Cave” and “Love Studio” that are everything they promise to be (magical).
Contact details: Berambing NSW 2758, lovecabins.com.au
Eagle View Escape
It would be easy to spend an entire weekend inside one of Eagle View Escape’s five self-contained suites. Combine a cosy gas log fire, spa bath and a made-to-order hamper or dinner package and there’s virtually no reason to leave. The outdoors can be enjoyed via the immense views of the surrounding valley and lake. Bliss.
Contact details: 271 Sandalls Drive, Rydal via Lake Lyell NSW 2790, eagleview.com.au
Eat and drink
Pins on Lurline
Set in a heritage-listed homestead, stepping inside Pins on Lurline is to be transported to an altogether more charming, bygone era. Executive chef Adam Shaw’s love of local produce is showcased through his modern Australian menu that references the Blue Mountains surrounds.
Contact details: 132 Lurline Street, Katoomba NSW 2780, pinsonlurline.com.au
The Laneway Sandwich and Espresso
It’s the laid-back vibe and attentive service from the Murphy family owners as much as the Cassiopeia coffee and seasonal toasted sandwiches that distinguish this café. Caffeine is served with the likes of smoked salmon bagels or rainbow ice-cream Butterbings. It’s kid-friendly, eco-friendly and just down right friendly.
Contact details: 3/146–148 Leura Mall, Leura NSW 2780
Rust and Timber Chocolate Bar, Lawson
Sweet-tooth owners would be mad to miss this café-chocolate bar up the mountains that has made a dark art form out of chocolate making. Belgian waffles are served with in-house roasted coffee, but if you can’t sit in, rainbow chocolate frogs, raspberry ripple fudge and chocolate-soaked dried mango can be taken home.
Contact details: 2/297 Great Western Highway, Lawson NSW 2783
Adventure in Victoria’s High Country and Alpine Region
World-class food and wine, breathtaking panoramas and a rich history collide in this largely unsung region of Australia.
The High Country enjoys four distinct seasons, coming into a rust-hued bloom around this time of year, but showy autumn leaves are merely the backdrop for the region’s culinary attractions; expect award-winning produce, prosecco trails and some of the best restaurants in the country.
Your only worry will be pacing the meals. So much to eat, inevitably too little time. Thankfully, there are many walking and hiking tracks to burn off the excess calories, or horseride your way through the fresh mountain air. Outdoor enthusiasts will be at home with fly-fishing, hang-gliding and rock climbing, and of course skiing in the Alpine Region.
You get a real sense of old Australia in Beechworth. Perfectly preserved 1850s heritage buildings line the streets, each made from the same honey-coloured local granite. The place positively oozes old-school charm. Do it right with a stay in one of the four Japanese-accented rooms at Provenance, part of the highly acclaimed Beechworth restaurant.
Contact details: 86 Ford Street, Beechworth Vic 3747, theprovenance.com.au
Villa Gusto, Bright
Bright’s little slice of Italy comes in the form of a boutique hotel and restaurant, complete with a grand palazzo entry, oversized swimming pool and hand-woven tapestries. Suites full of old-fashioned flavour more than accommodate a languorous weekend away.
Contact details: 630 Buckland Valley Road, Bright Vic 3740, villagusto.com.au
The Buckland Studio Retreat, Buckland Valley
The Buckland self-contained studios are a delight — rustic-style rooms with wooden floors, king-sized beds, a free-standing bath and floor-to-ceiling views over perhaps the most picturesque valley in the Northeast.
Contact details: McCormack’s Lane, Buckland Valley Vic 3741, thebuckland.com.au
Eat and drink
Elm Dining and The Yard Bar and Grill, Bright
Owners David and Natalie Featherston own two restaurants side by side in Bright, Elm and the newly opened The Yard. Elm operates from an 1857 Victorian cottage where head chef Jack Hoye has created a contemporary Aussie menu with a focus on regional ingredients. Elm is an altogether more laid-back affair, with a sharing-style Mexican menu, happy hour cocktails and live music.
Contact details: 98 Gavan Street, Bright, Vic 3741, elmdining.com.au
Milch Café Bar, Falls Creek
A café by day, restaurant and bar by night, Milch’s is as much a local hang-out spot as it is foodie haven. Expect home-baked cakes, decent coffee, slow-cooked meats and a bar lined with artisan spirits and boutique wine.
Contact details: 4 Schuss Street, Falls Creek Vic 3699, milchcafebar.com
Dal Zotto, King Valley
Italian tobacco farmers turned this lush valley into a prosecco haven in the 1990s, following the lead of Otto Dal Zotto, the man who pioneered the prosecco grape in Australia. Experience the Dal Zotto family’s range of Italian wines in the trattoria, with a menu of Italian family favourites made from Nona Elena’s kitchen gardens.
Contact details: Dal Zotto, 4861 Main Road, Whitfield Vic 3733, dalzotto.com.au
Beechworth Honey, Beechworth
Fourth-generation beekeeper Jodie Goldsworthy has fuelled a childhood spent migrating around the country’s hives into a concept honey store. Home to over 30 varieties of Aussie honey, here the staff will help you find your “sweet spot” with a honey tasting station that sits alongside honey drinks, candles and natural honey products.
Contact details: 31 Ford Street, Beechworth Vic 3747, beechworthhoney.com.au
Mount Buffalo Olives
On the road up to Mount Buffalo, nestled in the verdant foothills, this working olive grove offers tastings and sales of award-winning olives and extra-virgin olive oil, as well as cottage accommodation that sits atop the 20-hectare farm and overlooks the Ovens Valley.
Contact details: 307 Mount Buffalo Road, Porepunkah Vic 3740, mtbuffaloolives.com.au