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Saturday, October 24, 2020
Canberra Nara Festival
Canberra Nara Festival

Getaway: Go west to Wagga Wagga

While most state borders remain closed to ACT road trippers, there’s never been a better time for Canberrans to explore regional NSW.

CW editor Julie Samaras took an easy under-three-hour journey west to Wagga Wagga, in the heart of the Riverina, and discovered a cosmopolitan yet charming big country town with plenty to offer visitors and locals.

Spring is the perfect time to visit – the countryside looks lush and green, luminous yellow canola crops dot the landscape, temperatures are generally a few degrees warmer than Canberra, and the Murrumbidgee River is wide and flowing.

WHAT WE DID

Visitor Information Centre

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If you’re after tourist suggestions, trail maps, local wares or neat toilet, picnic and playground facilities, drop in here where the friendly team will help you.

183 Tarcutta Street, Wagga Wagga

The Visit Wagga team also provided us with a complimentary welcome pack and delicious hampers of regional produce from local business Table and Graze.

Order yours online at tableandgraze.com.au, email info@tableandgraze.com.au or call Michelle on 0419 470 305.

Ready to enjoy the Table and Graze hamper we picked up from the Wagga Wagga Visitor Information Centre in the great outdoors at Belisi Farmstay, where we spent two luxurious nights in the countryside.

Little Triffids Flower Farm

One of the very few micro flower farm and florists in Australia, Sophie Kurlowicz is “fluent in flowers”. A Wagga native, Sophie resettled here in 2012 with her partner after years living and working in inner Sydney. Over the past eight years, they’ve transformed their semi-rural block into a productive micro flower farm, growing flowers and plants Sophie likes (mainly English cottage garden inspired), that will survive the climate, which can reach 47oC in summer, and rarely available from big commercial growers. This is her main point of difference that makes Little Triffids arrangements unique for weddings, parties, anything …

Want to know more about arranging or growing cut flowers? Sophie also offers seasonal floral workshops (onsite or online), imparting tips and techniques, and providing access to a selection of the day’s flowers or cuttings from her garden. Classes can also be designed for small groups, like a hen’s party. We spent a delightful morning at Sophie’s workshop in her productive garden, picking and arranging flowers to create our own unique displays. Highly recommended.

54 East Street, North Wagga Wagga; littletriffids.com.au. Check out @littletriffidsflowers on Instagram.

Main street

If you hanker for a stroll along a traditional country town shopping strip, Wagga’s dual main streets of Fitzmaurice and Baylis will not disappoint. Here you’ll find a mix of eateries, boutiques and chain stores, salons and antique shops, with nary a vacant shop or ‘for lease’ sign in sight. You might even find a vintage French iron gate for your Canberra garden. Many of the buildings in Fitzmaurice Street date back to the 19th century and are heritage listed. A full-scale charm offensive.

Baylis Street and Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga

Kidsons Cycles

In the city’s heritage precinct of Fitzmaurice Street, Kidsons Cycles sell the latest bikes and have three adult bikes available for hire (helmets too). Ride just around the corner from the shop onto the recently upgraded shared cycle and pedestrian path beside the river.

Turn right and find famous Wagga Beach, voted the #9 beach in Australia – and it’s easy to see why. An extensive grassed area shaded by big river gums and equipped with picnic tables and amenities slopes down to the sandy beach on a wide stretch of the river. You might even meet friendly locals who invite you to join them on their ride! Turn left, and the concrete path follows the excellent levee bank through town past laneways decorated with colourful murals painted by street artists, then continue onto the riverside track that leads you on a leisurely ride through Wiradjuri Reserve to serene wetlands.

A pleasant, easygoing ride, even for an inexperienced cyclist like me.

105 Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga; kidsonscycles.com.au

Belisi Wellbeing Session

Feeling good after a one-hour wellbeing session with Erika (left) and Spirit (front) at Belisi.

As part of our Belisi Farmstay (see ‘Where we stayed’ below), we were invited to try a wellbeing session of “equine assisted learning” with Erika and an affable pony named Spirit. It’s a feel-good, therapeutic experience that enables participants to get in touch with their feelings, safely test their boundaries and enhance their social skills. Suitable for people of all ages and abilities, sessions can be tailored for individuals, couples, groups and organisations. A rewarding hour well spent trying something out of the ordinary.

Bookings: email info@belisi.com.au or call 0421 277 717.

Ashculme Textiles

On acreage at Lake Albert, you’ll find Fiona Durham and her little herd of Suri alpacas (and adorable crias) that have silky, dreadlock-style coats shorn annually to provide precious yarn. If the name seems familiar, Ashculme Textiles frequented the Handmade Markets at EPIC (now virtual) and the Kingston Bus Depot Markets, before COVID.

Raising alpacas for the past five years, Fiona has a passion for handmade, sustainable and ethical fashion. Her “paddock to product process” involves humanely shearing the fleece, which is sent to a local mill to be washed, carded and spun, and returned ready for Fiona to dye (using natural pigments and rainwater) and weave into gorgeous, unique textiles on the large floor loom in her studio.

The talented artist also offers classes for adults and children to create their own bespoke designs using the five smaller Japanese Saori looms that share the space. Following some gentle tuition, we enjoyed expressing our creativity and imaginations through a little freestyle weaving of our own. A satisfying and meditative experience.

Workshop bookings: fiona@ashculmetextiles.com.au or call 0414 478 585. 6 Silverwood Road, Lake Albert; ashculmetextiles.com.au

WHERE WE ATE

Birdhouse Bar + Kitchen

This on-trend eatery and bar with its quirky and cool interior design, and simple, fresh menu was created several years ago to “offer something Wagga didn’t have before”. Known affectionately as ‘The Birdy’, it’s popular with local corporates for lunch, after-work drinks, the (pre-pandemic) theatre crowd and anyone seeking a relaxed Sunday afternoon in the light-filled beer garden out back.

The extensive bar list complements the one-page menu that includes classics (like lamb cutlets, chargrilled porterhouse, chicken parma), sharing plates, burgers, meat, fish and vegan options, plus daily $12 lunch specials. Our crispy tofu bao with pickled daikon and crumbed chicken bao with spiced kewpie slaw hit the mark for a light lunch, washed down with a Batlow cloudy cider and a local Thirsty Crow sporting ale (brewed just up the road).

Live music is also on the menu, with Ash Grunwald playing The Birdy on Saturday 17 October (8pm show sold out). Pull up a perch for good vibes, tasty food and friendly service.

246 Baylis Street, Wagga Wagga; birdhousebar.com.au

Fitz Café

We first spotted this popular cafe by the queues of locals waiting in the sunshine for their morning brew. Have a dietary requirement? ‘The Fitz’ caters for vegan, gluten- and diary-free diets, nut allergies and more. Co-owner Lincoln (a former plumber by trade) and his wife Amy, who has extensive experience in hospitality (and dietary requirements of her own), opened the café in 2015, after Amy spotted a vacant shop on the main street and thought it would be a good site for a good café. She was right!

The Fitz serves all-day breakfasts (till 1.30pm), plus fresh salads, focaccia, wraps, toasties, Axil coffee, real chai, organic teas, coconut milk smoothies and shakes. Tempted by the cacao waffles with coconut ice-cream and strawberries for breakfast, I wasn’t disappointed by the smashed roasted pumpkin on sourdough sprinkled with glistening pomegranate arils. My plus-one demolished the traditional eggs benedict with smoked salmon. Delish!

People watch from the window bench or the outside tables in the morning sun.

Open 6.30am-3pm weekdays, 7.30am-2pm Saturday.

84 Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga; fitzcafe.com.au

Meccanico

Since last October, the northern end of Fitzmaurice Street has been home to a contemporary slice of Italian life at Meccanico Espresso + Wine, in the emerging European-inspired Waddell Place precinct.

Co-owner Richard Moffatt lived in Italy for four years with the Australian cycling team, where he fell in love with the food, culture and lifestyle and wanted to bring a taste of it home to Wagga. Which is what you’ll find at Meccanico, where a former mechanic’s garage has been converted into a versatile, continental eatery. It transforms seamlessly from a stylish café during the day – with a breakfast, brunch, lunch menu served 6.30am-2pm – to an espresso and wine bar from 2pm onwards with its antipasti and tapas-style menu.

The extensive drinks list features plenty of local and Australian drops as well as imported wines and spirits; likewise, the Italian and Spanish inspired menu includes a mix of local produce and imported specialties. The menu changes every four to six weeks and be sure to check out the daily specials.

We ate lunch al fresco in the delightful laneway lined with potted plants and doorways to charming shops. My meat-free bean cassoulet was flavourful and satisfying, while my dining companion chose something lighter – thyme roasted pear with local yogurt, honey and Harefield pistachio crumble. Bellissimo!

Open 7 days from 6.30am, until midnight Wednesday-Saturday, and to 5pm Sunday-Tuesday (later in summer).

167 Fitzmaurice Street, Wagga Wagga; meccanicowagga.com.au

The Roundabout Restaurant

Widely considered by everyone we chatted with as “the best in town”, over the past three decades the Roundabout Restaurant has earned a reputation as the place to go for fine dining in Wagga. Renowned for its modern Australian cuisine and degustation menu, the ambiance is elegant and understated and the service superb.

Owner Jamie Pascoe, whose parents opened the restaurant and adjoining Charles Sturt Suites & Apartments in 1993, said the Roundabout has a focus on provenance, with much of the produce sourced regionally, such as Wagga Berkshire pork, Woolshed Dorper lamb, Parafield organic olives, Bidgee berries and Junee licorice. The impressive wine list offers an extensive selection of local and Australian wines, as well as imported varieties.

Our spring tasting menu, which showcases seasonal produce and a sample of flavours, textures and techniques, featured: house-made sourdough with black garlic butter; delicate Asian-style prawn or mushroom dumplings; Yellowfin tuna tartare with tequila lime vinaigrette; pork neck with sunchoke; lamb shoulder with goats cheese; and a choice of macadamia sable or freeze-dried strawberry ice cream with licorice meringue. Sweet!

Online bookings only. Dinner service from 6pm. Stay tuned as Jamie has major plans in store for The Roundabout in coming weeks.

82 Tarcutta Street, Wagga Wagga. Bookings: theroundaboutrestaurant.com

Trail Street Coffee Shop

One block west of the main drag sits this charming café. It’s been on the site for 20 years but benefitted from a major makeover when new owner Lachlan Robinson and his parents bought it six years ago. With a passion for coffee and good food, Lachlan has created a bustling eatery with a cool cosmopolitan vibe set in this charming country town. ‘Trail St’ caters to everyone – we noticed a group of 10 senior men drinking coffees in the sun outside, while three young women were eating Instagrammable breakfasts at the next table.

Catering to a range of dietary requirements, the all-day menu changes seasonally and includes small bites, poke bowls, burgers (fancy a Korean fried mushroom or breakfast option?) and “the usual suspects” with a Trail St twist – like smashed avo with beetroot chutney, and eggs Benedict with chipotle pulled pork. The rhubarb rice porridge with berries and local pistachios was delicious and the chillli scrambled eggs were fluffy, fresh and flavoursome. Lachlan has just started his own roastery on site, under contract with his long-time supplier, Premium Coffee Roasters. The signature Trail St blend is full-bodied, smooth and well worth a taste. Daily specials and ready-made sandwiches also available.

Open 7 days: 7am-3.30pm weekdays; 7.30-1pm Saturday; 9am-1pm Sunday.

34 Trail Street, Wagga Wagga; trailstreet.com

Borambola Wines

Every wine tells a story at this picturesque winery on a hill beside the highway 30km east of Wagga Wagga. Case in point – the award-winning Hiraji’s Spell Shiraz, made from 100% estate grown Shiraz grapes, and named for the 1947 Melbourne Cup winner that was raised and trained on the estate, spelled back to Borambola and later buried on site. Or the Double Joy Dry Rosé, so named for Prince Charles’ right royal response while sipping Borambola sparkling brut over dinner at a neighbouring homestead in 2018. “Oh, double joy.”

During a relaxed wine tasting overlooking the vineyards, charismatic director and grower, Tim McMullen, shared the history of the estate: the impressive homestead dates back to 1880, his parents bought the property in 1992 and he happily planted the first vines (Chardonnay) in 1995. Tim led us through tastings of his Tuckerbox craft apple cider (fermented using only freshly crushed whole apples from Orange NSW) and Tuckerbox hoppy lager beer (brewed from 100% Australian grown barley), and Borambola’s six wines, while recounting the intriguing story behind each label. The wine tasting is astonishing value at just $10; and we recommend taking the added option to pair with a cheese platter.

The cellar door is open 7 days for tastings or group bookings by appointment. Call Tim on 0404 084 657 to make a reservation.

1734 Sturt Highway, Wagga Wagga; borambola.com

WHERE WE STAYED

Belisi Farmstay

High on a hill 15 minutes outside Wagga sits a striking glass-fronted black cottage constructed from two recycled shipping containers. The contemporary interior is luxurious yet relaxed. As well as a comfy queen bed piled with cushions, the generous master suite boasts a luxe, freestanding bath that delivers stunning panoramic views across the farm’s horse paddocks to the undulating countryside beyond. The second bedroom hosts a double bed and twin bunks, while the well-appointed kitchen caters for almost every culinary need. There’s plenty of seating options outside with views for days from the veranda, or enjoy sitting around the firepit at night, stargazing and toasting the complimentary marshmallows.

To make your stay carefree, guests can choose to pre-order (up to five days before arriving) a range of pantry items, from gourmet pre-cooked meals to celebration cakes, cheese platters and local beverages. For the first evening of our two-night stay, CW was kindly provided with a delicious DIY dinner hamper and fresh fruit from renowned Wagga deli, Knights Riverina. Bon appetit!

Belisi Farmstay, 1103 Oura Road, Eunonyhareenyha. Bookings: belisi.com.au

Kestrel Nest Eco Hut

On our return trip from Wagga Wagga, we were invited to stay at this beautiful, remote eco hut at Highfield Farm, near Mt Adrah in the Snowy Valleys. Spared from the Black Summer bushfires by dedicated rural firefighters, the hut’s site is home to 137 different bird species, but for the first two weeks after the fires, only one lone kestrel was seen, hence its name.

Off-grid and off-line, this beautifully appointed eco hut offers every convenience for a “total green getaway” – in style. Solar-powered (with battery storage), it has been constructed using timber from fallen trees on the property and recycled materials wherever possible, without compromising comfort or convenience.

Their passion for food and the environment underpins everything the owners, Louise and David, have done since buying Highfield Farm in 2012 after lifetimes spent in Sydney. Combining small scale ethical farming with the conservation of critically endangered habitat, the thoughtful farmers raise low-impact Dorper sheep and Dexter cattle, free-range chickens and abundant vegetables. Surrounded on two sides by Ellerslie Nature Reserve, around 220 ha of the property’s 333 ha is under a conservation covenant protected for all time.

Ideal for a luxury escape from the everyday, enjoy exploring the rolling countryside, birdwatching and stargazing.  Fall asleep and wake to the sound of birds and water burbling in Yaven Creek that runs through the valley below. How’s the serenity?

Oberne Ellerslie Trail, Mount Adrah NSW. Bookings: highfieldfarmwoodland.com or call 0429 985 222.

Canberra Nara Festival
Canberra Nara Festival