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So near, yet so far

Step out of Sydney and right into the wilderness at Barrington Tops, writes Shivangi Ambani.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2009 16:26 IST
Shivangi Ambani

My idea of a holiday is where half the fun lies in getting to your destination. Although Barrington Tops — a designated World Heritage Area with a wide variety of flora and fauna — is only a three hour drive from Sydney, the journey is filled with discovery.

Soak in wine and history
Driving up north from Sydney, you can first make a stop to view some cuddly mammals and rare reptiles at the Australian Reptile Park; feed pelicans at The Entrance, a pretty town on the Central Coast known for its huge pelican population; go wine tasting through the Lower Hunter Valley, Australia’s oldest wine producing region; soak in some history in the many small towns along the way and view the lovely sundial at Singleton.

And then the destination itself. With its majestic beech forests, pristine, shimmering rivers, challenging walking trails and breathtaking views of the horizon and beyond, Barrington Tops is a fitting climax to the journey.
The Craigmhor Mountain Retreat we rented for the long weekend is the perfect way to enjoy the grandeur of Barrington Tops. The house sits on a timbered mountainside overlooking the waters of the Rouchel Brook.

In fact, of the 25 km drive up to the retreat, ten kilometres of unpaved road follows the brook, crisscrossing its path several times. The first time we drove past the stream, we made a big splash. The second time, we stopped to dip our feet. The third time, we soaked ourselves in the cool waters, splashing around like frolicking kids. The brook is irresistible each time.

Along the way are also the most picture perfect stud farms dotting the green hillside. The tall, gentle and friendly thoroughbreds will trot up to you the moment you beckon. The chirping of various birds in hues of red, green purple and pink will keep you company along the way. You may also encounter the prickly echidnas — hedgehog-like mammals native to Australia — which are surprisingly quick to scurry into their burrows if you venture too close.

Loo with a view
If you drive down this road at dusk, the playful wallaby will cast a shadow upon the setting sun. We paused for at least half a dozen of these cousins of the kangaroo, who hopped across our path, looking at us with as much curiosity as we looked at them.

Wallabies abound in Craigmhor Retreat’s 1000-hectare “backyard”. Take one of the marked forest walks around the house, and you are sure to spot a few. If you find the comfort of the house too arresting, the all-glass external walls ensure that you spot some wildlife from your room. In fact, Craigmhor manager and owner, Gaye Hoskins, likes to advertise that even the loos in her house have views!

The three-bedroom guest wing of this house sits atop the valley, with views of the ever-changing landscape, up to the adjacent Mount Royal National Park. The rooms are beautifully furnished, the kitchen is fully equipped, there is a decent library and the interiors are intuitively designed. My favourite part of the house is the verandah, sitting atop stilts, which gives the sense of being suspended in the eternal beauty of the bushland.

Picnics and slow burn
If you can pull yourself away from the many wonders of Craigmhor, pack a picnic lunch and drive up to Moonan Flat, a picturesque village by the banks of the Pages River. We ate at the delightful Linga Longa Inn in Gundy, in the midst of the countryside. The food was delicious and the beer chilled. There are several designated picnic areas if you bring your own food and lookout points which offer spectacular views of the bush.

Though we did not find the time to go there, the Burning Mountain Nature Reserve should be on your itinerary. Burning Mountain is one of only three underground naturally burning coal beds in the world. Along the sign-posted walk, you can witness the ever-burning coal seams, the exhaust vents on the mountainside, and the effect the seams have on the landscape.

For those who love the wilderness, camping facilities are also available in the Barrington Tops area. The Upper Hunter Country tourism book provides maps and ideas for several self-drive tours. If your holiday coincides with the festivals in the towns, you can also interact with the lively local community. There are many ways of exploring the wondrous Barrington Tops and Upper Hunter Valley — choose your own path and connect with the Australian bush.

Shivangi is a freelance writer who likes to travel.