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A two-hour drive south of Sydney, Kangaroo Valley is more than just a country retreat. As Brian Johnston discovers, its starting to enjoy a reputation as a gourmet destination.


he road to Kangaroo Valley corkscrews down an escarpment in brake-stomping bends. Occasional yellow signs warn of wombats and eucalyptus twigs crunch under your tyres. When you emerge in one of the worlds few fully enclosed valleys, you drive into rolling, sun-stroked countryside where fat cows doze and cockatoos shriek. For Sydneysiders, Kangaroo Valleys hidden beauty has long been considered special for a refreshing country weekend. The last few years, however, have seen the emergence of boutique producers, farm gates and gourmet experiences that add a new layer of interest to this delightful destination. Were wedged between the coast and the Southern Highlands, with a rich volcanic soil and particular microclimate, explains local olive grower Brenda Sambrook. Its one of the oldest agricultural regions in Australia, yet with lots of new food ideas. The gourmet story started in 1846 when the first dairy farm was established. By the 1870s there was a sandstone village, and in 1898 the Kangaroo River was spanned by Hampden Bridge, the countrys oldest surviving suspension bridge. Visitors to adjacent Pioneer Museum Park can learn about the regions settler history; the 1865 farmhouse has a still-operational forge and dairy. While Kangaroo Valleys dairy farms have faded, an eclectic range of food producers is now capitalising on the valleys wholesome reputation. A lot of people think were just about rural retreats, says Brenda. They dont even realise how many terrific eateries and boutique farms there are. They provide country quality with a bit of urban sophistication, which I reckon is a happy mix. When it comes to dining, the top spot is the new Bistro One46 in the village, where informal bistro food suits the country setting, but worldwide flavours add cosmopolitan flair. The most popular item on the menu is slow-roasted duck with cinnamon apple and braised red cabbage, but other mains include Atlantic salmon with Asian greens, and crumbed Victorian lamb cutlets. Chef Gerald Poelzl spotted working in the open kitchen is adept at making apparently simple dishes taste delicious. Save room for the flawless crme brle: front-of-house manager Nicole jokes its the reason she married the chef. Beyond the sit-down food experience, Kangaroo Valleys food can also be enjoyed by visiting farm gates and chatting to local producers. For a lively overview, the recently launched Tastes of Kangaroo Valley day tour is a relaxed yet informative introduction to the valleys produce led by local resident Intan Kallus. Some ports of call arent open to the public, such as Brogers End, whose owner Sarah Crowe has beehives and a permaculture garden that explodes with flavour-filled heritage tomatoes and other vegetables.


An eclectic range of food producers is now capitalising on the valleys wholesome reputation.

Other Kangaroo Valley residents also do interesting things on a small scale. When artist Larraine Hahlos downsized from five acres into her village gallery, she set about making the tiny garden productive. On just a few raised beds, she now produces enough blueberries for the jam she sells at The Gallery, as well as limes for pickles, and figs and lemons for preserves. When visiting the gallery to admire her artworks, inspect the garden, too its just as much a creative enterprise. Head out along Upper Kangaroo River Road until you see the neatly pegged vines of Yarrawa Estate. The estate specialises in chambourcin grapes, a rain-tolerant variety originally from the Loire in northern France, but also grows pecans, walnuts, citrus fruit, guavas, kiwis and avocados. The walnut and lemon liqueurs are delicious,

Top and above: Lush Kangaroo Valley scenery; pretty Hampden Bridge spans the Kangaroo River.


as are the guava jelly and homemade marmalades. Owner Mark Foster has farmed here for 20 years, but his enthusiasm remains strong; you might find yourself hijacked from a cellar-door wine tasting for a tractor tour of his fruit plantations. Make a final stop at a cellar door with a difference. Kangaroo Valley Olives is a cooperative of five olive farmers, though its grower Brenda youll likely encounter among the olive trees. Her chic fashion sense and manicured nails are quite a contrast to her down-to-earth style and passion for olives. She tends to harvest her own olives early, when they produce less oil but have a distinct peppery, grassy flavour compared with more buttery later fruit. The olives are hand-harvested and cured in brine for at least six months, she explains, unlike cheap supermarket olives, which are produced by adding caustic soda to the brine, which turns them black and has them on sale in four weeks. At the surprisingly modern cellar door, you can taste olives flavoured with chilli, garlic, salsa verde or toasted cumin seeds, as well as superb tapenades, fig and olive pastes and caramelised vinegars. But its not about coming here and buying a bag of olives you can do that at Coles. Its about sharing an experience. If people want to wander into the olive trees or picnic on the grass, I couldnt be happier, adds Brenda. And there are fewer better Kangaroo Valley sentiments than that.

Right and below: Sarah Crowe with some of her permaculture garden produce at Brogers End; homemade produce at The Gallery.

Rex Airlines 13 17 13, The Heavens Mountain Escape 94 Paddington Lane, Kangaroo Valley 02 4465 1400, The Gallery Studio 149 Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley 02 4465 1621, Bistro One46 146 Moss Vale Road, Kangaroo Valley 02 4465 2820, Tastes of Kangaroo Valley 02 4465 1605, Kangaroo Valley Olives 110 Cedar Springs Road, Kangaroo Valley 0447 491 245, Yarrawa Estate 43B Scotts Road, Kangaroo Valley 02 4465 1165,