Woodbyne could easily be renamed Wonderland. The formal gardens are manicured with such care and precision that I expect to see the Mad Hatter, Alice and the March Hare sitting down to tea – it’s that enchanting. And this is in the Australian winter. I can only imagine how beautiful it is during spring’s bloom or when set ablaze with autumn colours.
Rocking up here feels more like visiting your wealthy aunt and uncle at their rural retreat than checking in to a hotel. Reception, set in a spacious lounge in the main homestead, is warm and inviting, and when Mrs Smith and I arrive on a dark June afternoon there is an open fire blazing to welcome us in from the cold. Owner Jeff invites us to borrow from the selection of books and DVDs, an offer that we graciously accept on both nights of our stay.
A view of a lush green field dotted with young dairy cows greets us when we look out the window of our room, one of 11 arranged around the central homestead. What could make this country scene even better? How about the two resident Border collies, Harry and Lulu, indulging in their favourite pastime of rounding ‘em up in the adjacent paddock.
A deep state of relaxation sets in as soon as we pass through Woodbyne’s gates, even though we’re only a two-hour drive from Sydney. Our room is elegant and comfortable, stylishly accented in white and cream with an oh-so-comfy king-size bed that makes you glad it’s the weekend. A plush three-seat sofa is draped with a mohair rug, perfect for snuggling in with a glass of Southern Highlands red wine while gazing out through the French doors at the meadows and mountains.
Decompressing rapidly from the pace of our city lives, Mrs Smith and I grab the large umbrellas from our room and stroll through the gardens during the last light of the afternoon. The driveway’s turning circle surrounds a fountain and leads us up past box hedges to a reflection pool framed with deciduous trees. We wander beyond to the lawns, an ideal spot for a game of bocce. Maybe tomorrow.
For our first night in Jaspers Brush, we ask co-owner Annette to recommend a nearby restaurant that’s big on local produce. Popular Asian eatery the Hungry Duck in Berry is booked out but we manage to get an early sitting at Silos Estate winery, five-minutes’ drive south along the Princes Highway. The June Long Weekend is the Shoalhaven Coast Winter Wine Festival and the friendly waiter at Silos Restaurant sits us by the fire and serves an enticing three-course set menu accompanied by the estate’s excellent Squid Ink shiraz.
Back to the luxury of Woodbyne and to bed. After an indulgent lie-in, Mrs Smith and I make our way to the historic Garden Room for breakfast, and boy were we wise not to miss it. The buffet of fresh and poached fruit, muesli and Annette’s famous home-made croissant pudding is just for starters. A plunger of coffee arrives with the menu and the à la carte selections sound sumptuous. I opt for the light roasted truss tomato and field mushrooms. Mrs Smith goes for ricotta with avocado, boiled egg, tomato and a delicious spicy-sweet chilli jam. And the newspaper – kerching!
I’m looking forward to the prospect of the uncrowded South Coast surf breaks, while Mrs Smith can’t wait to get ‘tiqueing in the shops of Berry. For surf the best bet is Werri Beach, about 15 minutes away, or if you’re lucky the left hander at the north end of Seven Mile Beach might be working. Mrs Smith picks up some homewares to bring a taste of the country back to our Sydney abode. Haven & Space at 62 Albert Street in Berry is a favourite.
To make the most of the wine festival, we visit some of the local wineries. At Coolangatta Estate, we’re impressed by their multi award-winning Tannat and learn that the French Chambourcin grape is a local favourite due to its tolerance of high rainfall. As we approach Two Figs, our second and final winery for the day, sun is going down over the Shoalhaven River and a marching jazz band accompanies us through the merry revellers of the festival. It’s worth visiting just to catch the spectacular vista from high over the river.
The fancier of Berry’s two pubs – the Berry Hotel – gets our vote for dinner. The cosy Coach House room is booked out, so we take up a spot in the courtyard. While the food is decent pub fare, we’re outnumbered as a twosome at a large communal table. Next time, we’ll try the Posthouse across the road, another recommendation. We return to the comfort of Woodbyne for a tipple of aged port bought during our winery tour, and another DVD.
If you’re in a hurry it’s a mere two hours’ drive from Sydney to Woodbyne, but for maximum scenery and adventure Mrs Smith and I travelled via the Royal National Park and the famous Stanwell Bridge, stopping for lunch by the coast at the cliffside Scarborough Hotel. On the way home, we head west through Kangaroo Valley, pause for a quick look at the magnificent Fitzroy Falls and lunch in Bowral.
Woodbyne, wilderness and wine – what a wonderful weekender!