River deep, mountain high: On a road trip through the NSW Riverina
NSW’S RIVERINA REGION IS BLESSED WITH NATURAL WONDERS, FAMILY RUN VINEYARDS AND PLENTY OF COMMUNITY CHARM.
A WHILE AGO, I saw a picture of the spring-fed thermal pool at Yarrangobilly Caves in NSW. It struck me, a sea-green pool among the gum trees, as bizarre. A folly. A wonderful incongruity. I was filled with an enormous desire to see it. Yarrangobilly is in Kosciuszko National Park, south-east of Tumut and south-west of Canberra, ACT. It’s about a four-hour detour off the Hume Highway, midway between Sydney and Melbourne. It’s not somewhere, or something, that you stumble across. You need a plan. Ours was to fly into the most convenient city with an airport, Wagga Wagga, and enjoy a three-day road trip that would take us to Gundagai wine country, along alpine roads that wound through wind-swept high country where brumbies roam and the dense forests around Tumbarumba, past apple orchards in Batlow and, finally, to the wide open farming country of Uranquinty. In Wagga, a city full of regional charm — large corner pubs, wide streets and manicured municipal gardens — we prepare for the trip with some pampering, a night at The Houston and morning coffee at Trail Street Coffee Shop. We quiz everyone we come across about Yarrangobilly. Sure, they’ve heard of it, but no-one — neither Marcia who feeds us breakfast at Mates Gully or Stephanie at art gallery Paper Pear — had ever visited the thermal pool. If we were looking for an enthusiastic endorsement of the plan, we needed a caver or a trout-fishing enthusiast. As we would come to discover, Yarrangobilly was crawling with them. We took our time getting to the destination, collecting experiences like you do shells on the beach. At Kimo Estate near Gundagai, we build a late-night fire in the kitchen of the shearers’ quarters and stare into the flames as we drink the single vineyard J Block shiraz, a gift from Tumblong Hills’ operations manager Glenda Harris, who had shown us around the vineyard earlier in the day. With 200 hectares under vine, Tumblong Hills is in for the long haul. Other Gundagai wine labels to look out for are Paterson’s and Borambola, which operates a cellar door. The next day, on an early morning river walk at Nimbo Fork Lodge, a trout-fishing lodge at Killimicat near Tumut, black cattle wearing a light dusting of snow emerge from the mist and take a moment to consider us taking them in. A lesson on fly-fishing and the colourful flies used to lure trout is delivered along with pre-dinner drinks. Then at dusk, on a windswept plain of low-lying grass in the high country, we can just make out a herd of wild brumbies in the gloom, their coats blending into the rust-toned landscape. Cattle was once brought onto the mountain to graze for months at a time, and the slab huts built by the stockmen still remain. Later, we’d meet Tim O’brien, a stockman who has spent most of his life mustering cattle in the wild. He and his wife Jo, also a fine rider, now run horsemanship clinics and a horse show on their farm at Boggy Creek, near Tumbarumba. “It was the best job I’ve ever had,” Tim says. “And very rewarding. It was just you, your horse and your dogs, and every day was a personal challenge.” >
On an early morning river walk at Nimbo Fork Lodge, black cattle wearing a light dusting of snow emerge from the mist and take a moment to consider us taking them in.
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT A trio of premium Courabyra wines; Tumbarumba winemaker Adrian Brayne; the charming rooms upstairs from the café at Mates Gully in Wagga Wagga; local trout served at Nest in Tumbarumba; dawn breaking at Nimbo Fork Lodge in Killimicat; Laura Fraumeni, owner of Nest, with a plate of fluffy pancakes, served with local berries; cows at Nimbo Fork Lodge; Trail Street Coffee Shop, a top spot for coffee in Wagga Wagga. FACING PAGE, FROM TOP Another resident of Nimbo Fork Lodge takes an early morning walk; find yourself dwarfed by the sugar pines at Laurel Hill.