Welcome to Don’t Delay Your Stay, news.com.au’s campaign to support communities hard hit by this summer’s devastating bushfires. Many of these regions rely on tourism so one of the best ways to help is to visit and spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of our great country.
When it comes to a weekend away, I’m not all that hard to please.
A good beach, coffee within walking distance and a maybe a pub to waste away a long afternoon.
So when I was invited to visit the south coast region of NSW as part of news.com.au’s Don’t Delay Your Stay Campaign, it was an opportunity I jumped at given they’d just endured one of their toughest summers on record.
First of all, I’d heard all about their white sands, expanding portfolio of cafes, bars and restaurants – and let’s not forget the trail of wineries that snake from Berry along the coast to Broulee.
The journey was set to be the ultimate foodie’s dream.
But after not visiting the region in 15 years, I was a little anxious about what I’d be driving in to given the summer that was.
The photos and videos on social media geared me up for the worst. I don’t think anyone will forget the photos of apocalyptic beaches, charred trees and trapped tourists anytime soon.
But after the recent rains that extinguished the fires which plagued parts of the country, the message was clear. It was time to return to the towns who need us most – and see why this region of NSW is still as beautiful, and holiday-friendly, as ever before.
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As I rolled in to cruise control on the Princes Highway, my first stop on this sunny Friday morning was a cheese and wine tasting at Silos Estate on the edge of the historic town of Berry.
The estate, owned by businessman Rajarshi and his wife Sophie, is a working vineyard that houses award-winning accommodation, a cellar door, art gallery and a restaurant (albeit currently closed for the time being).
There’s no denying visitor numbers have been down following the fire season that surrounded the vineyard, but Silos Estate remained unscathed and has instead been busy working as a refuge for families and pets seeking respite in the Shoalhaven region – while still taking in passer-bys keen for a tasting.
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The cellar door itself is surrounded by rolling green hills (thanks to the 300mm of rain that fell on the region in February), the Great Dividing Range escarpment and the property’s 12 acres of vineyards.
As we walked through the doors and in to the tasting room, I was met by the Raj and a healthy looking glass of his sparkling shiraz.
However, if you take one thing away from a trip to Silos – make it his Cats Meow 2017 rosé. Raj says it’s the best he’s produced in 11 years, and in the top 10 he’s had anywhere else in the country.
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Paired with a few local cheeses and olives from the Kangaroo Valley, the experience really sets you up for the food safari ahead.
But before you set off, make sure you take a quick walk to meet some of the property’s resident alpacas. Alongside the wine, Silos is also a working alpaca farm – supplying the region with a range of produce from wool all the way through to scarfs, pillows and doonas.
Stocking up on a few supplies, our next stop was Mollymook where I’d be basing myself for the next two nights.
Now, the last time I was in Mollymook remains an distant memory of awkward teenage years camping with my mum, dad and younger brother.
I was hoping the 48-hour stint at Bannisters Pavilion would give me a new appreciation for the region – without the overcrowded tent from 2005.
You’d be hard pressed to run out of things to do in Mollymook itself.
With one of the most pristine beaches just a short walk from most hotels in town, as well as the lively hub of Ulladulla just a short drive away, food and views are right on your doorstep.
Having arrived midafternoon, we made a quick visit to the rooftop pool of the hotel before heading off for dinner to perhaps the most famous restaurant in town, Rick Stein at Bannisters by the Sea.
The menu serves more seafood than you’ll know what to do with. Freshly shucked oysters, prawns on ice, fish tacos – this pescatarian was set for an evening of heaven.
Paired with local wines (including a few bottles from Silos Estate) the restaurant will set you back a decent amount, with the average main costing around $40, but it’s worth the splurge – especially if you opt for the restaurant’s signature fish pie.
The next morning, the mission had been set to find enough caffeine for the day ahead. Having heard about their take on the ever-so popular eggs Benni, we stopped in to Ulladulla’s popular hangout, The Treehouse Cafe.
Run by Kylee (who will tempt you with her delicious display of cakes and cookies she’s handmade and stored on the front counter), the cafe is situated in the heart of Ulladulla’s harbourside precinct.
Serving coffee roasted in nearby Kiama, Kylee and her all-female team seek out products and produce from the region, which they then turn in to their own spin on classic cafe favourites.
Avo on toast? Nope, but you’ll be converted by their mushroom, beetroot and fetta ‘Breakfast Bruschetta’ instead.
Maybe you feel like a stack of pancakes? Well, you’ll need to gear up for their ‘spicy’ alternative – packed with quinoa and almonds and of course lashings of maple syrup.
As for their specialty, Kylee says visitors won’t want to go past their take on eggs Benedict.
“It’s one of the most popular meals on the menu,” she said as she parked the plate of colour on our table.
Instead of a slice of sourdough, the Treehouse Benni is a slab of caramelised sweet potato, covered in wilted spinach, kale, herbed mushrooms, capers and of course a poached egg. It’ll keep you fuelled for the whole weekend, but you will need to save room for the dish that awaits.
Stepping away from the coastline, we ventured inland to the quaint country town of Milton. Small, sure, but this strip of cafes, corner stores and one amazing chocolate shop reminds me a little of Berry before it really boomed.
Stepping in and out of boutiques and homewares shops, it’s easy to burn a few steps by the time lunch comes around.
If you’re after something light, you can’t go past one of the many pies and pastries listed at the iconic Heritage Bakery, a popular stop for anyone either staying local or simply driving through.
But for something a little more substantial – and to grab a cold one to wash it down with – it’s worth dropping in to the newly opened Milton Hotel.
Recently reopened by local Heidi and her brother-in-law Damien Martin (who also runs the kitchen and is a former chef at Bannisters), The Milton Hotel is a newly renovated watering hole with an incredible view, family-friendly beer garden and fantastic food.
They have their own craft beer label on tap, Dangerous Ales – which Mr Martin also leads as head brewer, along with a wine lounge, dining room and classic public bar.
The interior is open and clean, but it’s the menu that will have you coming back several times throughout your stay.
Tempted by their house potato bake and fire-roasted fish, there was one dish that appeared on the menu that was perhaps the best $12 I’d spent all weekend.
Combining a triple threat – being garlic, bread and a lot of butter – it’s the perfect starter to their range of woodfire pizzas, prepared in-house by a former chef from Sydney’s Quay restaurant (so you know you’re in for a good feed).
Sure there’s enough to share, but you’ll want to pick your partner for this plate wisely – because this $12 feed is so good, you’ll be able to inhale one all to yourself.
But if you’re after something a little more intimate, drop in to Small Town Food & Wine for a glass of its Sparrow & Vine rosé (which is on tap) and a serving of lobster rolls.
What really stood out as we ventured around the streets that snaked along the coast was how quickly the blackened earth had bloomed in to a dense cover of green. In the two months since the region was impacted by the fires, the stripped leaves are growing back and life is sprouting once again.
Our final stop before the three-hour jaunt back to Sydney was to the family-owned vineyard called Cupitt’s, which has boomed in to what reminds me a little of The Grounds in Sydney’s Alexandria.
In one corner, there’s the farmland, in another there’s a restaurant, cellar door and outdoor dining area.
Wine and cheese is made there, plus there is also an on-site brewery.
Even if you don’t fancy a drop before the long drive home, a visit to Cupitt’s Estate is well worth your while for the views and food alone (if you can fit in any more).
Open every day for lunch and Friday and Saturdays for dinner, grab a glass from its cellar door and go for a wander around the palatial grounds and winemaking facilities.
If you’re going to have to head back to reality, this is probably the best way to finish the trip.
This writer visited the south coast as a guest of Bannisters Pavilion.
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