At Kimo Estate near Gundagai, we build a late-night fire in the kitchen of the shearers’ quarters.
A reminder that the stockmen’s huts had no electricity or running water makes the cosy warmth of café and cinema Nest in Tumbarumba even more welcoming. Owner Laura Fraumeni will continue to stoke the wood fires into spring for as long as they’re needed. “We’ve had snow in October before, so you never know,” she says. “Tumbarumba is all about nature, so dress to enjoy it, then come back to the café and warm up with a spiced hot chocolate.” At Laura’s urging, we find ourselves at Laurel Hill’s Sugarpine Walk, a section of old-growth forest where the treetops meet overhead and the pine needles form a thick groundcover that muffles all sound. To recover, we found ourselves back at Nest, by the fire, with spiced chocolate in hand. There are other benefits of this cool climate. Tumbarumba has a reputation for premium grapes, especially chardonnay and pinot noir used in sparkling wine. At Courabyra Wines you’ll receive a warm welcome from Prost, the German shorthaired pointer, and owner Cathy Gairn. She and her husband Brian planted grapes in the 1990s and have gone from experienced farmers to award-winning winemakers. Camellias love the cold, too, and flourishing bushes can be seen everywhere, from Tumut to Tooma. More than once we find ourselves screeching to a halt to admire a particularly fine example, in a garden, small park and even by the road. Blowering Dam — it just celebrated its 50th anniversary last month — north of Yarrangobilly and one of the biggest dams in NSW, comes as a surprise. The body of water, bright and intense on a crisp, cloudless day, is commanding. At last we arrive at Yarrangobilly, and the thermal pool does not disappoint. It’s a 700-metre walk from the carpark and, as you descend the steep bush track, the sea-green water is a tantalising sight through fluttering gums. The path is crowded with swimmers: carefree and excited on the way down, and huffing and puffing on the return leg. A timber pool was built at the site of this natural thermal spring in 1896 and this version was constructed in the 1960s. It’s in the open and fed by nature. No matter what the weather, summer’s fierce heat or winter’s falling snow, the water remains a constant 27 degrees. All around, the air is infused with the sound of birdsong and the whisper of eucalypt leaves brushing and swaying overhead. When the sun drops late in the afternoon, light streams through the bush and plays over the water, turning it emerald green. If only we’d realised accommodation was available in the national park itself; there are lodges that were built early last century by the hikers and cavers who visited, and they have been renovated in recent years. We could have booked in for a week. Or more. Good to know for a return visit then.