OUR GUIDE TO RURAL NEW SOUTH WALES PLUS ALL OUR RECOMMENDED FARM STAYS IN 2023
For farm stays near Sydney, NSW, two areas stand out: Hunter Valley and Kangaroo Valley, both within three hours of Sydney and both offering wild natural landscapes, spectacular scenery, good food and wine as well as some of the best farm stays in NSW.
Two hours southwest of Sydney NSW and about two and a half hours northeast of Canberra ACT lies a treat for lovers of nature and food. The Kangaroo Valley, to many Australia’s most beautiful valley, lies in the heart of NSW’s Southern Highlands and is an area of lush rainforest, rolling green hills, small vineyards, and farms.
How to get there:
From Sydney: Take the M31 south, exiting at Aylmerton to take the B31 through Mittagong and Bowral until you reach the town of Kangaroo Valley. The journey from Sydney should take no more than two hours.
From Canberra: Take the A23 which leads on to the M23 just outside the city. Follow the M23 for about two hours or so before exiting at the A28 towards Moss Vale. At Moss Vale take Nowra Road and follow it on to the B73 until Kangaroo Valley. Total journey time two and a half hours.
Where to go:
Kangaroo Valley is a more compact area than Hunter Valley and is broadly centred around the town of Kangaroo Valley itself. The town is a charming little place; small, relaxed, and friendly, and dates all the way back to 1870.
You’ll find a few nice little arts and crafts shops here as well as restaurants and cafes. You can try some homemade desserts at the Kangaroo Valley Fudge House & Ice Creamery or some famous fresh pies at the Old Store in the nearby hamlet of Barrengarry. The town of Kangaroo Valley isn’t much of a nightlife hot spot but does have one good pub at the Friendly Inn Hotel.
Pretty much everyone who comes to Kangaroo Valley will take a stroll across Hampden Bridge, Australia’s last remaining wooden suspension bridge, and a historical icon. History lovers will also be interested in the Kangaroo Valley Pioneer Village Museum just next to the bridge which recreates the old settlements of the region with an early settlers hut, farming equipment, old photographs, and artifacts. The gardens are lovely too and it’s a nice place for a picnic.
There are plenty of outdoor activities to be enjoyed in Kangaroo Valley, and all can be arranged from the town or from any of its farm stays; sailing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, etc. etc.
There are also a number of wineries and vineyards around the valley, not nearly as many as in Hunter Valley, as the industry here is less established but plenty enough all the same, and just like in Hunter Valley you’ll find most do vineyard tours, and tasting sessions and have a friendly, informal atmosphere. They will all have high standards but to name one, the award-winning Yarrawa Estate at 43B Scotts Rd., Upper Kangaroo, is a solidly good choice.
Griffins Walking Track:
One of NSW’s loveliest hikes, the Griffin takes you 11km through Morton National Park, Meryla Pass, and the Yarrunga Creek Valley and has some stunning scenery. You’ll have towering sandstone cliffs to admire and sweeping views across to Mt. Carrialoo and Mount Moollattoo, plus lots of wildlife, especially birdlife up close.
It can be a tough walk with plenty of steep sections, and at 11km each way it might not be easy to do it all without overnight camping but it’s certainly worth it.
A much easier venture for those wanting a hike and some great views is the short walk through the bush from the car park at Manning’s to the lookout itself which also has some incredible views over the valley.
Also in the Morton National Park, the spectacular Fitzroy Falls is one of the most popular attractions around Kangaroo Valley. It’s easily accessible with a 150m boardwalk leading up to the falls plus a visitors centre with a cafe, it consists of three waterfalls in fact, and has amazing views over the rainforests of Yurrunga Creek.
Farther afield and a lot less accessible is the equally spectacular Gerringong Falls, so inaccessible is it in fact that many people don’t even know it’s there. It is a hidden gem though, with a wilderness feel that is a little lost at Fitzroy.
It’s near the little town of Robertson and to get there you take the Budderoo Mountain Road until it meets the Gerringong Falls Walking Track. There is a car park there, and the rest of the way you will be mountain biking or hiking for nearly 10km until you reach the falls. A magnificent sight that you may just have all to yourself.
WHERE TO STAY – SOME OF OUR RECOMMENDED FARM STAYS IN KANGAROO VALLEY, NSW:
Just north of Sydney NSW, between the Blue Mountains and the Barrington Tops, the Hunter Valley is Australia‘s oldest wine-producing region and has been producing quality wines for around two hundred years.
Semillon is by far the most famous of its wines but it also produces some Chardonnay, Cabernet, Verdelho and Shiraz Sauvignon too.
It is home to over 150 wineries, cellar doors, and vineyards, most of them being boutique affairs that are well-used to visitors and you’ll find a welcoming atmosphere throughout.
It is hard to pick some favourites but the organic, biodynamic Krinklewood Vineyard at 712 Wollombi Road, Broke, or Eagles Rest Wines at 534 Oakey Creek Road Pokolbin are two good choices that do tours of their vineyards as well as cellar door tasting sessions. Eagles Rest has extensive olive plantations too which you can also tour and get a chance to taste their extra virgin olive oil.
It’s not just wine tourism in the Valley these days though, the region is a delight for all kinds of nature and food lovers, with a huge amount of indoor and outdoor activities and some very beautiful rural scenery.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Getting there is easy, it’s about two hours up the the M1 from Sydney until you see the exit sign for Cessnock, the town at the heart of the valley. If you’re carless then you can also jump on one of the trains that link Sydney to Singleton and Maitland.
If you have got a car though, and some time on your hands, you can exit the M1 at Calga and head along Tourist Drive 33 and the World Heritage-listed Great North Road. This route offers some beautifully wild scenery and a chance to stop off at the historic little town of Wollombi as well as the very informative and enjoyable Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park.
From Newcastle, it’s less than an hour by car though again, if slow travel is your thing, a nicer way to go might be to take one of the river boats that sail up the Hunter River from the centre of Newcastle, where you can jump off at the towns of Singleton or Maitland and maybe hire a car or bike from there.
WHERE TO GO – TOWNS:
Cessnock is the starting point for most visits to the Hunter Valley. It is the area’s largest town and gets very lively at weekends. You’ll find some high-quality restaurants here including the 221 Restaurant and Bar at the Royal Oak Hotel, an award-winning establishment that lives up to the hype, and the even more famous Muse Restaurant about ten minutes north of Cessnock at Pokolbin.
Art enthusiasts will be impressed with the Cessnock Performing Arts Centre, the Cessnock Regional Art Gallery, and the Marthaville Arts and Cultural Centre. There are plenty of cafes, bars, wine and craft shops around town too and all in all, it makes for a very pleasant place to stroll around on summer evenings.
The town also has the children’s favourite Hunter Valley Zoo, which has a lot of mainly native wildlife and offers a more hands-on approach than a usual zoo in that many animals can be patted and fed. Cessnock also offers easy access to Watagans and the Werakata National Parks, gorgeous areas of wild bush and rainforest that are full of interesting flora and fauna (you can read more about them further down the page).
It is also a base for many tour companies offering everything from hot air ballooning, sky-diving, and bush walking to the classic Hunter Valley wine and food tours.
Singleton is a laid-back little town to the north of Cessnock and on the banks of the Hunter River. Though smaller than Cessnock it also offers plenty in the way of food and wine tourism and also has easy access to some stunning national parks; the Wollemi, the Yengo, and the especially stunning Barrington Tops National Park, (more about those further down the page).
About twenty miles outside of Singleton you’ll find one of Australia’s best golf courses, designed by Australia’s best-ever golfer; the Greg Norman-designed Vintage Golf Course.
And, just like Cessnock you’ll find plenty of companies offering tours of the surrounding area which also has many famous wineries to be explored.
Just along the river from Singleton, Maitland is another laid-back town with an equally nice atmosphere. Like most of the Hunter Valley, farm and food culture are important here and a particular quaint feature around Maitland are the roadside stalls where local farmers pitch up with their own, usually organic, fresh farm produce to sell to passers-by.
You can spend a day at the lovely park in the centre of town, pay a visit to the colonial-era jail museum, take a river boat to the cute, national trust village of Morpeth with its lovely old sandstone buildings, or drive along the lovely Paterson Scenic Route just outside town.
WHERE TO GO – NATIONAL PARKS:
Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s best areas for national parks, with an incredible amount of wild scenery to be discovered. It would take months to explore them all and to choose one over the other is very difficult. Here they are in no particular order.
The Barrington Tops National Park lies far to the north of Hunter Valley, is a World Heritage Area, and if you’re coming from Sydney for the first time, will be a spectacular introduction to rural NSW. It has the ancient Gondwana Rainforest, acres of sub-alpine woodland, and some fantastic hiking trails, especially around Aeroplane Hill, Gloucester Falls and Sharpe’s Creek. The mountains are high and some of the hikes are strenuous enough but the views can be incredible, especially at Thunderbolt Lookout for example.
The Watagans National Park near Cessnock offers wilderness and rainforest hikes and is especially important for its Aboriginal heritage. The ancient home of the Awabakal and Darkinjung People, it has over forty sites of aboriginal art and engravings around the park.
It’s mainly forest land and rich in plant life; lots of brush cherry, mountain blue and yellow wattle trees, and colourful flowers; purple happy wanderers, orange banksias, and many more. The views too can be spectacular, especially the Narrow Place Lookout over the Hunter Valley and the Monkey Face Lookout, which has sweeping views back over the Martinsville Valley.
Wollemi is a World Heritage-listed park full of spectacular sandstone rock formations, gorges, and canyons. The amazing Colo Gorge for example has one of the largest canyon systems in Australia. It also has a strong connection with the Aboriginal people, having over 120 ceremonial sites and rock engravings.
Yengo is another area with a rich aboriginal heritage and is also a sacred place for the Darkinjung, as well as the Wonnarua people. It lies south of Singleton and east of Cessnock and has many trails that can be best explored by 4WD or mountain bike; the Big Yango Loop Trail for example or the Howes Trail.
Walking trails include the Finchley Cultural Trail, which showcases many examples of Aboriginal art and leads on up to Finchley Lookout which has stunning views, and lower down in the forest there is the Yango Track which runs through thick forest and has an amazing amount of animal and plant life to be admired.
WHERE TO STAY – SOME OF OUR RECOMMENDED FARM STAYS & VINEYARD HOTELS IN HUNTER VALLEY, NSW:
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