Le­viathan on the loose

The joys of a fam­ily mo­torhome ad­ven­ture in NSW’s cen­tral west

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JAMES JEF­FREY

IT’S not the big­gest hol­i­day apart­ment I’ve stayed in, but it’s a nice one. Daisy and Leo have al­ready colonised their bed with the ex­plo­sive ef­fi­ciency young chil­dren spe­cialise in. Clothes are hung in wardrobes, a towel hung jaun­tily over the shower rail.

As my wife Bel switches off the stove, I pull down the blinds by our dou­ble bed. Out­side, stars are sparkling in the cen­tral NSW sky. Then, with noisy mer­ri­ment, the kids are herded to a ta­ble adorned with lamb pie, pasta, olives, an­tipasto and, this be­ing Orange, a bot­tle of lo­cal shiraz for the grown-ups. As we toast the start of our hol­i­day, I peer into the dark al­cove up the end to re­mind my­self this ‘‘apart­ment’’ also has a steer­ing wheel.

My first ex­pe­ri­ence of a camper­van was a Kombi my par­ents bought in a fit of wish­ful think­ing. This beast, how­ever, is not so much camper­van as mo­tor-man­sion. Cour­tesy of Apollo Mo­torhome Hol­i­days, it’s a Star RV Pe­ga­sus — a Fiat crossed with a bungalow — and it’s so far and away the big­gest thing I’ve ever driven, I name it Le­viathan. My ini­tial nerves at driv­ing it are dis­si­pated by the kids’ ex­cite­ment.

In the morn­ing, hav­ing spring­boarded off a pair of flat whites at a Slice of Orange (a shop where the pro­duce, in­clud­ing last night’s din­ner, is from within 160km), we head to the Agrestic Gro­cer. This is a cafe and gro­cery with a fo­cus on the lo­cal — from heir­loom car­rots and lemon­in­fused pop­corn to ba­con and beer. The build­ing is also home to the Bad­lands Brew­ery and the Sec­ond Mouse Cheese Com­pany.

As we make a start on the mud­dled beetroot and mint lemon­ade, the paean-wor­thy Bad­lands porter and the Sec­ond Mouse haloumi that squeaks like fresh snow, we find ev­ery­thing here has a story. The beef in my beltie burger, for in­stance, which co-owner Lu­cas Martin ex­plains in ex­cited de­tail comes from belted gal­loways — a slow- grow­ing, cool-cli­mate breed — is farmed holis­ti­cally down the road.

Martin speaks with such a sense of mis­sion (‘‘I’m not quite sure what that mis­sion is, but we’re work­ing on it’’) it’s ex­cit­ing to think what the Agrestic Gro­cer will de­velop into. They’ve only been open three weeks when we visit, but they’ve hit the ground run­ning. And it’s been fre­netic; when Martin speaks of a full night’s sleep, it is in a wist­fully hy­po­thet­i­cal tone.

Sleep is more straight­for­ward for us —(a) not hav­ing a new busi­ness to run and (b) trav­el­ling with a bed­room. On a whim, we nap at nearby Lake Canobo­las, doz­ing off to a mixed choir of frogs and ducks. Thus re­freshed, we re­pair

PIC­TURES: JAMES JEF­FREY that evening to Orange’s Union Bank Wine Bar which, like the Agrestic Gro­cer, is en­er­get­i­cally new. The flavours tonight in­clude gewurtz­traminer, tem­pranillo and rack of lamb, de­voured next to a wall dec­o­rated with wine bot­tles in­di­vid­u­ally lit in snug al­coves. Daisy and Leo as­sess the day be­fore conk­ing out in their chairs.

As we head south, the coun­try­side un­furls be­fore us, a Smurf-blue sky arc­ing over vine­yards, fields, and trees blush­ing with galahs. But I keep boomerang­ing back to the thought: I’m driv­ing a van with a bath­room. And a din­ing room that ex­tends at the press of but­ton. ‘‘I’m start­ing to get used to this,’’ I lie.

We’re brought back to (pre­his­toric) earth at the Age of Fishes, a mu­seum in Canowin­dra that takes as its start­ing point a slab of lo­cal rock fes­tooned with the 370 mil­lionyear-old fos­sils of ar­moured fish. That David At­ten­bor­ough re­cently ar­ranged a pri­vate four-hour visit — and drove a long way for it — tells you ev­ery­thing you need to know.

We re-en­ter the present day at Taste Canowin­dra, sam­pling lo­cal wines as own­ers Mar­garet and Bob Craven tell us how their restau­rant was kept aloft dur­ing the re­cent global eco­nomic cock-up by the sur­prise in­flux of a pla­toon of Mon­go­lian geo­physi­cists brought out to hunt gold. Leo watches Bel and me as we fuss over our ta­pas tast­ing plate and eye fil­let (agree­ably ac­com­pa­nied by a Gard­ners Ground mel­low shiraz). ‘‘We’re be­ing very pa­tient,’’ he says. Then the milk­shakes ar­rive and he pur­sues this line no fur­ther.

In Cowra, we visit the Ja­panese Gar­den, close to the site of the World War II pris­oner-of-war camp, and wan­der among singing streams and boul­der-shaped shrubs. Fish pel­lets scat­tered on the pond trig­ger a feed­ing frenzy, dachshund-sized koi at­tack­ing from be­low and duck­lings from above.

Night finds us down the road at Darby Falls Ob­ser­va­tory, where owner Mark Monk shows us dis­tant gal­ax­ies and nearby star clus­ters, but my favourite mo­ment is when Daisy, who re­cently got glasses, sees Saturn (and faith­ful Ti­tan) for the first time and gasps at those vast, tal­low yel­low rings.

Wepark Le­viathan at a friend’s farm above the Lach­lan River and dream of stars, then wake to a morn­ing cho­rus of baas.

At Lowe Wines in Mudgee, the cho­rus is pro­vided by bees busy in the wis­te­ria. Equipped with a whim­si­cal map, we pass a sign re­mind­ing us ‘‘unat­tended chil­dren will be fer­mented’’ and wan­der the vine­yard among trel­lis-free grapes (lower yields, higher qual­ity), don­keys and a bunch of fancy chooks in a straw-bale palace.

While Daisy and Leo in­ves­ti­gate far­ther, Bel and I taste low-preser­va­tive wines from the three Lowe prop­er­ties, each at a dif­fer­ent al­ti­tude. Among th­ese is a chardon­nay that pleases even me— an ar­dent red in wine’s civil war — and a shiraz so lovely that Bel and I are cel­lar­ing it for longer than our tra­di­tional few hours.

Red wine leads nat­u­rally to pizza and choco­late. The pizza el­e­ment is taken care of in sub­lime style at nearby Di Lusso Es­tate, while High Val­ley Wine & Cheese is the venue for a choco­late-themed morn­ing tea with cho­co­latier Luke Spencer. Spencer spent years in Van­u­atu run­ning a co­coa plan­ta­tion; now he uses its crop to make his sin­gle ori­gin Spencer Co­coa choco­late in Mudgee. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing and de­li­cious pre­sen­ta­tion.

By the time we’re done, only Le­viathan feels big enough to take us home. vis­itnsw.com starrv.com/hol­i­day

Clock­wise from above: look­ing down the Lach­lan River val­ley just out­side Cowra; our trav­ellers pose in front of Le­viathan; the Ja­panese Gar­den at Cowra; Lowe Wines at Mudgee

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.