Updated: Jul 6, 2022
It was a bitterly cold six degrees as we headed up the mountains towards Orange. The Western sun was setting, shining fiercely through the naked trees. The skies ablaze with all the hues of fire red and glistening gold were simply spectacular.
We arrived at our hotel at dusk, the dappled light illuminating the heritage homestead which concealed the contemporary accommodation further down the driveway. Byng St Hotel would be our home for the next few days whilst Orange and its surrounding towns and vineyards would be our playground.
Our modern room looking out over the winter garden was located in close proximity to the atrium style guest lounge with floor to ceiling windows, eclectic furnishings and art work, and a modern fireplace. We parked ourselves alongside its radiating warmth before settling in to our first gin and tonic, a locally made botanical gin handcrafted at the Parrot Distillery in Orange. Heading out for dinner to the nearby historic Union Bank, the charred octopus served on a white bean purée ticked all the boxes, however the real highlight was our table alongside the crackling open fire.
The next morning the Yallungah Dining Room in the old homestead was a perfect location to fuel up for the day on a breakfast of handmade granola with poached fruit and vanilla yoghurt, and zucchini fritters with smoked salmon, poached egg and creme fraiche, whilst conversing and admiring the contemporary and colourful wall tapestry created by the very talented Natalie Miller.
Natalie Miller woven wall art, Yallungah Dining Room, Byng St. Hotel, Orange
After breakfast we decided to don our gloves and puffer jackets and step out into the cold and take a walk to the Orange Botanic Gardens about three kilometres from our hotel. The gardens, formally known as Clover Hill Farm amble over around seventeen hectares of land containing conifers, deciduous trees, fruit orchards, billabongs, windmills and a varied collection of shrubs and plants. Being winter, many of the plants were not at there shiny best, however, there were sparkles of light as the rosacea lit up like bright red Christmas baubles amongst golden leaves, the dewdrops on the bare yellow and red stems of the dogwood glistened like white diamonds, and the tranquil ponds were swaddled in a veil of grey mist. On the top of a slight hill amongst the native grasses was a human sundial, an analemmatic clock that is able to use people’s own shadow to tell the time. Fascinating!
Rosacea, Orange Botanic Gardens, Orange, NSW
Analemmatic sundial, Orange Botanic Gardens, Orange, NSW
Arriving back in the heart of Orange it was time for a spot of retail therapy and to explore the many fashion and homewares shops. The Sonic is a vibrant concept store housed in an old Masonic hall. Interior addicts on Instagram who love homewares, original artworks and fashion would be very familiar with the account @jumbledonline and I would be fibbing if I didn’t confess that this was one of the reasons I so desperately wanted to visit Orange, that is, apart from the great food and cool climate wines. If the number of people inside the store was anything to go by I would suggest that many others may have had a similar confession. My significant other was very patient as I dragged him around a plethora of other lifestyle shops including The White Place and Hawkes General Store before heading to Byng Street Local Store to reward him with a coffee.
The Sonic, Orange aka @jumbledonline
We opted to spend the rest of the day visiting the historic towns of Carcoar and Millthorpe about a forty minute drive out of Orange.
I’d learned about Carcoar also from the Instagram account of a lovingly curated homewares and design store @tomolly_carcoar and more recently had become intrigued when Carcoar was named the Best Little Town in NSW. Whilst I believe that Belinda, the proprietor of Tomolly may have had a lot to do with putting this small village back on the map, the town itself has much to offer. It has been described as like driving onto a movie set, the perfectly preserved 19th century village has been classified by the National Trust.
You feel like you’ve stepped straight back into the gold rush era when you visit. Some of the highlights include St Paul’s Anglican Church, the second church to be established west of the Blue Mountains and first used for worship in 1848, The Royal Hotel, where the locals leave their work dogs to rest in the tray of the ute parked out the front whilst they drop in for a beer, or a ramble around the village and over the shoddy wooden bridge and up the hill to the heritage listed former railway station built in 1888.
A walk along the now disused Blayney Demondrille line will take you to the 1886 train tunnel built into the side of the hill like a hobbit house. On the same side of the river is the location of Hargans Cottage, a stylish AirBnb owned by the shopkeeper at Tomolly who is also known for her flair for country style interior decorating. Carcoar and Hargan’s is definitely the place I would retreat to to read or to write a book. I’ve been told that the cottage is booked out six months in advance and I can understand why.
Historic railway tunnel, 1886, Carcoar, NSW
You can find the soul of rural Italy in the heart of Carcoar at the traditional Italian locanda, Antica Australis where the owners serve up home style Southern Italian fare. Unfortunately they were back visiting family in their hometown of Ciociarian, and a Peruvian pop up store, the Buena Vista Ceviche Club, was cooking up a storm there during our visit.
Millthorpe is another picturesque historic village with old buildings and cobbled bluestone bordered streets, art galleries and antique shops. Visiting the sweet shop Dolce was the highlight of our visit for a little sugar hit before heading back into the town of Orange.
In the evening we popped in through the side gate off the Byng St Hotel driveway for a tipple at Ferment, The Orange Wine and Gin Centre. We enjoyed a glass of 2019 Hand Picked Cooks Lot Pinot Noir and a locally distilled Marmalade Gin paired with the most delicious chicken liver parfait made for Ferment by the hatted chef Michael Manners, formerly of Selkirks. It was served alongside a wedge of herbaceous flavoured Quesa Mezcla Curado, a ripened blend of cows, goats and sheep milk cheese from La Mancha in Spain.
Sunday morning arrived far too quickly and after another sumptuous breakfast in the Yallungah Dining Room, we headed out for a walk to nearby Cook Park. Established in 1875 and arranged in the style of a traditional Victorian garden with wide footpaths, established trees and gardens, water fountains and ponds, an aviary containing budgies, cockatiels, and large birds such as cockatoos, rosellas and parrots living noisily together, and the flower filled Blowes Conservatory, a welcome place to retreat to and warm up after crossing the icicle covered railed wooden bridges connecting the duck ponds.
Departing from Byng St we stopped in at the Agrestic Grocer on the outskirts of town to purchase locally grown Buerre Bosc pears and tart crisp red apples and a bottle of Parrot Gin before heading off to the vineyards.
Sitting in the shadow of Mount Canobolas, Printhie Wines, a new cellar door on the outskirts of Orange at Nashdale, is known for its cool climate wines and in particular its Swift Blanc de Blancs, an aged sparkling wine perfect for celebrating special occasions. It seemed only fitting that we left with a bottle to crack open when we finally moved into our new home. The Topography 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, another fine drop we enjoyed that had the aromas of passionfruit and lychee leaping out of the glass. At Printhie I was just as invested in the modern design and decor as I was in the wine itself. On the next visit we will definitely be heading back to experience the much talked about degustation dining menu.
Petal lighting at Printhie Wines Cellar Door, Nashdale, NSW
Before departing Orange we made a quick stop at Swinging Bridge Wines, a family owned estate at the forefront of premium cool-climate wine making, to purchase some 2021 M.A.W Pinot Noir, named after winemaker Tom Ward’s father, Mark Andrew Ward and held in high esteem. We had enjoyed this easy drinking wine the previous evening in the conservatory at Byng St Hotel.
Heading off to the Perry Street Hotel, our next destination in the town of Mudgee, we detoured through the old gold mining town of Gulgong, most famous for its depiction on the original ten dollar note when decimal currency was introduced in Australia in 1966. It was its connection with one of Australia’s best known authors Henry Lawson, who lived with his family in the Gulgong district from 1873 to 1883 which led to its inclusion on the note, and Gulgong subsequently being known as the ten dollar town. The narrow streets are lined with distinctive 19th century buildings whose wide, shady verandas and ornate wrought iron lacework are heritage listed. The district is also world famous for its clays, becoming a haven for potters and artists, its clay festivals held every two years attracting ceramicists from all over the world.
Historic Gulgong, NSW
Arriving in Mudgee later than expected, we were absolutely freezing as well as feeling famished. The food store with organic and biodynamic produce from the family food garden and much lauded Zin House restaurant at Lowe Family Wines located at Tinja Farm seemed like the most likely destination to warm up and be fed on a cold winter’s day. As luck would have it a steaming hot urn of ham hock and bean soup made in the restaurant and freshly baked baguettes from Althea by Zin were featured on the menu and awaiting us when we arrived. We enjoyed this with a glass of the prized 2018 Zinfandel, made from a black skinned wine grape originating from Croatia. With a higher alcohol content it led to a relaxed afternoon next to the heater inside the sunny cellar door and looking out over Tinja Lake. Our tummies and hearts both full, we left the cellar door with a hand curated Lowe Hamper Picnic pack to graze on for dinner in our room at Perry Street. The hamper contained a variety of pickles, olives, dips, salad and local High Valley cheeses along with sliced charcuterie hand made by the Zin House butcher.
Zin House produce at Lowe Family Wines Cellar Door, Mudgee
A visit to the town of Mudgee is not complete without a stop off at the Mudgee Honey Haven where I was more enamoured with the Beecare skin products than the honey itself. Containing premium Manuka honey, which is well known for its skin healing properties, and eucalyptus, the exfoliator and moisturiser when applied to the back of my hands made them look ten years younger.
Feeling a little wined out, we decided to seek out something different and found ourselves at the cellar door of a boutique small batch gin and liqueur distillery Baker Williams. A tasting hosted by the bubbly Maria found us not leaving with a bottle of Shiraz Gin which I definitely didn’t enjoy straight up, but with some of their prized Butterscotch Schnapps, which is so popular the gin had to take a back seat so they could keep up with its demand. We also tucked a bottle or two of their unique Lemon Myrtlecello into our bags to enjoy with soda and a slice of lime come summer.
Tasting at Baker Williams Distillery, Mudgee, NSW
Back in the town of Mudgee we took a relaxing stroll through the park adjacent to the river before exploring some of the local churches.
We capped off our day outside Mudgee at Apple Tree Flat with a sunset glass of Shiraz overlooking the vineyards from the elevated glass cellar door room at the family owned and operated Logan Wines. We savoured yet another delicious cheese platter containing handmade High Valley Cheeses including their prized Stefan Blue, Triple Cream Brie and Pesto Marinated Feta accompanied by Mudgee Honeycomb, and the most divine Mitta, Mitta Hazelnuts, farmed locally by late comers to farming, Jean and Basil Baldwin. You would be forgiven for starting to believe that we have been living on cheese and wine since we left Sydney, as this is not too far from the truth!
In food heaven at Logan Wines, Apple Tree Flat, near Mudgee, NSW
At sunrise the following morning we sat shivering at a table outside on the footpath at Althea by Zin, the best little artisan bakery and patisserie in Mudgee. Owned and operated by the Zin House and Lowe Family Wine Co., the pastries were as good as Paris in springtime, the French canele, a pastry made with rum and vanilla, caramelised on the outside and soft on the inside paired beautifully with steaming hot coffee, the buttery Danish with pear, pistachio and pomegranate and flaky French snail all devoured within minutes with a warming honey chai before returning to the car. What a delicious and mouth watering end to our food and wine sojourn in Mudgee.
Since the first mural was painted on a silo in Western Australia in 2015, silo art has become a sure fire way to draw visitors to small communities across the country and the reason that we decided that our next destination would be to the small town of Dunedoo, one hundred kilometres north west of Mudgee. Depicted on one side of the silo is the retired thoroughbred racehorse Winx, and her famous jockey Hugh Bowman who was born in Dunedoo. Painted by an artist Peter Mortimore who grew up in Dunedoo, it also depicts scenery of local wildlife including two black swans in flight. The name Dunedoo is derived from a local Aboriginal word meaning swan, which are commonly found in the nearby lagoons. Dunny is also a colloquial Australian word for toilet, and on some corrugated iron near the silos a cheeky painting of a young boy sitting on a dunny has also been painted. At the foot of the silo outside a bright green door sits an old cast iron bed base with a collection of locally grown gourds and pumpkins, each marked with a price written in red texta on the skin….fruit and veggie shopping Dunedoo style!
Silo art, Duneedoo, NSW
Driving north to our next destination we admired the silvery white cotton fields along Coonabarabran road near the town of Caroona before heading into Tamworth through Werris Creek. Tamworth is the home of my significant other's aging parents and we would spend the next couple of days relocating my father-in-law into respite care at the Anglican nursing home. The task was both physically and emotionally exhausting. At the end of a couple of long days we were grateful for the kind hospitality of my sister-in-law Wendy and her husband Steph.
It was a chilly zero degrees when we left Tamworth to head further north. The rooftop of the car was hidden under a layer of ice and as we ascended the Moonbi Ranges towards Armidale the temperature dropped further to minus four degrees. A thick blanket of frost covered the fields and glistened in the morning sun. We had to be careful not to skid on the treacherous black ice that hid on the road's surface. We reached the small town of Uralla, stopping at The Pie Mechanic for a delicious toastie, Portuguese tart and chai tea before continuing our journey further north. The road between Ebor and Grafton through the Dorrigo National Park was scenic and peaceful, however there were many sharp corners to navigate.
We reached the next stop on our self-described nursing home tour of Northern NSW, another Anglicare nursing home in Goonellabah, at around two in the afternoon. We were here to visit my mother who has been suffering from dementia, and in my opinion is one of the cruelest diseases that can be inflicted upon someone. Her days are sad, lonely and mundane. She has difficulty finding the words to communicate and becomes frustrated when she can’t get a sentence out. The nursing home is short staffed and whilst they do their best to care for the residents, sincerity is lacking and the activities provided for entertainment are belittling and childlike. A visit from us always cheers her and distracts her from the mundanity of her everyday existence. It makes us so happy to see her smile and laugh again.
Departing the nursing home late in the afternoon we head home to Ballina to the Ramada Hotel, which has become our home away from home for the past few years when visiting Goonellabah. It’s the place we come to put our feet up, to relax with a drink in hand by the river, to watch the prawn trawlers heading out for the night and enjoy spectacular sunsets. We can graze on tapas or a meal at the in house dining room and bar or eat out at one of the many casual dining spaces nearby. The staff are always friendly and welcoming and we immediately breathe a sigh of relief and relax when we arrive home! We were treated to the most spectacular sunset when sat on the balcony outside our room looking over the river. The healing power of nature is never lost on me and I am always so grateful to experience such beauty.
River sunset, Ramada Hotel, Ballina NSW
The next morning we headed off to the Bake my Life bakery to pick up a lush Vanilla Slice to take into Goonellabah to share with mum for morning tea. It’s a welcome break for her taste buds from the bland nursing home food. We spent the day together giving her many opportunities to talk about her childhood, growing up and meeting dad as well as her experiences with her own children. It required much prompting from us, however it brought her so much joy. It’s amazing how much she can remember. Her eyes and whole face light up when she gets the story right. We leave knowing that it has been a positive day on every level, for both her and us. We don’t know how much longer we will have to share these precious moments together. We will return tomorrow to take mum on an outing, a rarity for her these days.
Relaxing back in Ballina in a spa bath in my room at the Ramada, I look forward to our night out together at our favourite restaurant, Lola Dining. Over the past year we have come to know the owners Rosa and Olivia well, and we not only look forward to experiencing their amazing food and wine, we also look forward to catching up with them and enjoying their kind hospitality. Tonight we enjoy the most sumptuous feast including a sourdough crumpet with taramasalata and egg yolk, twice baked gruyere soufflé topped with shaved truffles from WA, my first time trying truffles and I’m hooked, charred sugarloaf cabbage with oozy stracciatella and local macadamia dukkah, handmade potato gnocchi, smoked beetroot, goats cheese and horseradish and a side of broccolini with anchovy butter and Romano cheese. Rosa and Olivia really do serve up the most delicious and creative dishes made from local and seasonal produce and I doubt anyone would ever leave this diner disappointed. We depart at the end of the evening having finished the meal with a complimentary glass of Noble One dessert wine, a fresh punnet of local wild raspberries that Rosa has retrieved for us from the kitchen, and a new recommendation for a restaurant to put on our wish list for when we return to Sydney. Lola Dining is always the highlight of our trip to Ballina and we eagerly look forward to our next visit.
Sourdough crumpet with taramasalata and egg yolk at Lola Dining, Ballina
The next morning it’s back to Ballina’s artisanal bakery Bake my Life again, this time for a chocolate snail which comes highly recommended by Rosa from Lola and a silky custard Portuguese tart to enjoy with a pot of tea for breakfast. We leave feeling like we have just experienced pastry heaven.
Visiting the graveside of my little brother is always the hardest part of any trip to Goonellabah, as prior to his sudden passing a short fifteen months ago, his company was one of the things I most looked forward to. Nothing or nobody will ever stop me from remembering him and paying my respects to a man with the biggest heart.
Afterwards, it’s onwards to the nursing home to meet mum before the wheelchair taxi arrives to take us on an outing to the garden at the Eltham Hotel for a pub lunch. Mum really enjoys the outing through the countryside, noting the brown fields from the recent flood waters along the way and enjoying the opportunity to see new faces in a different environment to the nursing home. She particularly enjoys watching all the little children arriving with their families and their innocent disposition. We return to the nursing home before saying goodbye, knowing that our short visit has lifted her spirits immensely.
And then it’s off to Yamba for a quick stopover, a walk along the beach and a pretty pink sunset, a night's rest, and a scrummy breakfast at our favourite Yum Yum Angourie Cafe and General Store before heading back to Sydney.
Sourdough toasted with avocado, feta, sliced persimmon, pomegranate jewels and poached egg at Yum Yum Angourie Cafe and General Store, Yamba
What a fun filled, yet exhausting adventure through Central Western and North Eastern NSW. It was good to be home.
Until next time, may your days be both serendipitous and enjoyable.