The Retirees, the Bison and the Knight

I had planned that we would venture to the 4 points of the compass while staying at Rothbury. So today it was south west (my compass points are not the traditional) to a lookout the name of which I have forgotten and which judging by the state of the road most other people had forgotten. We headed into Pokolbin passed Barringbah Wines and Ivanhoe vineyard up into the mountains. A steep narrow road but sealed all of the way until we came to a hairpin bend. We had a choice; follow the bend or turn right into a forestry road. We chose to follow the bend and ended up on a rise with the road ducking down once more going God only knows where. I was satisfied that this point must have been the lookout the tourist guide referred to but who knows – there was nothing there to indicate anything, however the road did widen to allow parking on one side. It did provide beautiful views of the Hunter.

Evidently the lookout had some notoriety locally. One of the fence posts served as the resting place of at least 3 memorials of former residents of the valley. I don’t know if the persons identified had been buried on that stony ridge or relatives had just placed a memorial and their ashes spread on the winds. If there be an afterlife then this is one spot I would choose to look at forever. We spent some time taking in the view. I don’t know if it was the thought of the winding road or whether to explore and verify this was the lookout but finally we broke the spell and returned down the mountain passing a bison – Yes bison on the way.


We stopped at Barringbah Wines for a devonshire tea where we were told that the bison herd (not just one a herd) was run on so and so’s farm up the mountain. Another surprise, Kerry saw grapes on the vine. Now we are normally visiting vineyards in May after vintage so apparently, she had not seen grapes hanging from the vine before! Baringbah is nestled in the foothills of the imposing Brokenback Range, surrounded by rolling vineyards and the cellar door and cafe is built in an early bush slab hut style in a picturesque part of Pokolbin and a complete contrast to its neighbour Ivanhoe Vineyard. After the devonshire tea we went to the cellar door where I bought a liqueur muscat called Liquid Christmas Cake – something to sample at the appropriate time.

Owned and operated by Stephen and Tracy Drayton since 1996, the Ivanhoe Estate is renowned for its gutsy reds and great whites. A fifth-generation member of the famous wine making Drayton family, Stephen brought the historic Ivanhoe vineyard to life with his own style and passion. Ivanhoe is picturesque and manicured to within an inch of its life. From the strident colour of the cellar door building to the stainless-steel entwined hands standing 3 m high at the front door this vineyard suggested expensive. We were delighted that our impression was wrong as we topped up the suitcases even further.

Our last day in the Hunter and we headed north east. I had noticed the Rothbury cemetery was marked on the tourist maps so I thought it must be interesting. However, finding it was another matter indeed. We even went into one of the vineyard cellar door to ask where to find it. Admittedly the cellar door was closed, and we spoke to two electricians doing some repairs but they had no idea. They did not have a clue. As we drove out of the cellar door driveway ready to give up, we noticed an old weathered directional sign pointing back in the direction from whence we had come but on a different track. There behind the cellar door building and the machinery shed was the cemetery. It holds the remains of many of the early settler families of the Hunter, many in family plots holding generations of the same family. Murry Tyrrell the famous wine maker of the Tyrrell family his dad and his wife all in the same plot.

I also saw a memorial to a coal miners strike marked on the tourist map at North Rothbury. Before wine the valley was mined for coal and in 1929 – 1930 there was a strike and a miner was killed leading to this memorial. On 16 December 1929, New South Wales Police drew their revolvers and shot into a crowd of locked-out miners, killing a 29-year-old miner, Norman Brown, and injuring approximately forty-five miners. The incident became known as the Rothbury affair or the Rothbury riot, and is described as the “bloodiest event in national industrial history. The memorial was not much to look at sitting on the side of the road probably ignored and forgotten about but clearly significant to the people who once mined coal in the Hunter a long time past.

We drove to the edge of the valley and found a pub serving cold beer and hot schnitzels in air-conditioned comfort. After lunch it was time to think of heading home to Brisbane. So we returned to our apartment for the last time as the next morning we were meeting Clive Jnr (Sonny) to hand over the car and fly to Brissie. Once again, the GPS guided us to the airport outside Newcastle. Now you might think that meeting someone at an airport that you had never met before might present a problem. We were told we would know Sonny when we saw him. That statement was so correct. If I told you the car was a Masda 2 and I did not think Sonny could fit in that might explain. With the car labouring off we went inside a very pleasant country terminal for a gentle ride back to Brissie and the end of a very busy 10 days on the road.

The Retirees rock up to Rothbury

The following morning, we left Bowral and hit the road headed towards Hunter Valley, Rothbury and the vineyards. Again, the GPS made the trip uneventful until we got to the Vintage and our next hotel – The Sebel Vintage. The GPS took us right to the front of the Apartment complex but there was nothing like a reception to find out which apartment was to be ours. We made a decision to go further down the road as we thought we were in the wrong hotel. Essentially, we drove for 10 minutes to end up at the same spot. We had noticed a real estate agent at the corner of the road into the road leading to the apartments and this time we saw in small print on the face of the agency “Reception The Sebel Vintage”. Pissed off explains how we felt.

With our keys in hand we found our apartment and moved in. The apartment was very comfortable and roomy. Essentially it was a single level one bedroom apartment with kitchen dining room garage bathroom separate toilet and laundry in a cupboard. All of our needs met but there was more – we had a small garden off a patio but the weather was so hot and miserable the air-conditioning was more enjoyable than outdoors. The Vintage is a planned community with a golf club at its heart a gym and pool and surrounded by golf course and hotels/apartment hotels. There did appear to be private homes too. Kangaroos abounded. Without playing the golf course to understand its layout it looked to be very disjointed with players having to cross the main road to go from fairway to fairway.

My plan was to break up the valley into 4 segments and do a segment each day. However we started our day by visiting some cellar doors. De Bortolli was our first port of call. We had passed the cellar door twice trying to find our apartment but we were way too early. Not that we needed a vino fix but the sun was up and we wanted to make the most of our visit. The weather hot so we did not need to be waiting for the place to open. However Kerry had a great idea to use the cellar door as a background for photos of one of her suitcase covers for Cover my Case facebook page and website. After De Bortolli we moved onto a cellar in a shopping centre called Monkey Place Creek . Kerry had seen a restaurant advertised and was looking for that particular restaurant which she thought was nearby the shopping centre so that how we ended up here. Good thing too. In the back of the local IGA we found a honey shop and like Winnie the Pooh, Kerry had to have her honey. The range was glorious but standing out was the honey made from pollen from Lemon Myrtle Trees. We have just such a tree in our yard at home and the scent of Lemon Myrtle is just divine. Bees who make honey with lemon myrtle pollen produce divine honey.

Further down the road we encountered the Hunter Distillery. A few more snaps for Cover my Case and then into the distillery we went. Famous for their gin made with botanical ingredients, Hunter Distillery is the only certified organic distillery in the Hunter wine region. Locally owned and operated, it produces an exceptional range of top shelf spirits, including Vodkas, Liqueurs, Schnapps and of course GIN. We sampled and selected but they were out of stock. I however had my eye on the butter scotch schnapps and I got lucky that day. Following the same road we found our way to a brew house where a tour bus had already landed. Kerry wanted a photo with the suitcase cover in front of the purple tour bus much to the alarm of the tour guide who suddenly appeared beside me curious as to why we trying to get into the bus. Huh? We stood in the blazing sun explaining that all we wanted was some photos and she settled down. But that meant I now had a thirst and it needed quenching. Unlike a vineyard cellar door this business combined the concept of cellar door brewery and tasting room restaurant and gift shop (clearly a tourist trap). This was a Matilda brewery selling the bottled beer from Freemantle but they did brew a ginger beer. So I quenched that thirst with an alcoholic ginger beer. Not bad but I think the alcohol content was similar to Green’s ginger wine. Whew! We then tried the cellar door but it had a selection of local wines none of which it produced. So we did not find anything of interest.

Just to show you that it was not all cellar doors, distilleries and breweries we went to the Zoo. The day continued to be blistering hot with clear blue skies. We skipped from shade to shade to try and keep cool. In doing so I disturbed a large thick knee which surprised me as well as me surprising him. I had never seen one of these birds so large. there is a nesting couple in Mowbray Park at home but they would be 30 cm high this bird was 1 m tall.

We were just in time for the Meerkat show – basically a keeper feeding the little critters and talking about being a meerkat.  After the meerkats we wandered past a giant land tortoise with some little pals, a resting Lace Monitor (heavens knows how much more there was to this beast), a frilled neck lizard, another native Australian (lizard), and either a paddy melon or small wallaby in their rocky dens. The next show was right up the other end the zoo. The walk to the next show took us passed all sorts like alligators, crocodiles, ostriches, geese and other sorts ultimately standing in front of the South American Wolf Fox. This strange fox like creature is actually a wolf and it looks like it is on stilts. The highlight had to be the monkeys and their antics with new born clinging on for dear life. The heat was getting to us but we were determined to see the remainder of the animals – a pair of sleeping cockatoos, a riot of lorikeets, a cloud of small finches and a mob of kangaroos. We had an enjoyable time but as the roos show relaxing in the shade was the way to go.

On the way back to our apartment Kerry wanted to stop for a photo opportunity for the Cover my Case label. Spotting some vines, we drove in and found ourselves at Hungerford Hill Cellar Door. After taking some snaps we decided the sun was too hot to not stop for a cool beverage. The host was quite taken with the suitcase covers and allowed more photography and wine sampling. Refreshed we ventured to the car which I had parked under the shadiest bush around and ambled home to fill our suitcase again with more bounty from the cellar door.

The Retirees chasing the Red Cow

The Red Cow is a unique cool climate garden set on 2.5 hectares in the picturesque rural village of Sutton Forest. The simplicity of its presentation disguises a garden of sophisticated structure and ambitious schemes. Developed by its creative owners Ali Mentesh and Wayne Morrissey around their historic 1820’s cottage, the garden is abundant and secretive.  We were greeted by Ali as he opened for business. He directed us to the wondrous walled sanctuary where solitude invites quiet reflection. Red Cow Farm features an exuberant cottage garden, monastery garden, abbess’s garden, a stunning collection of rare and unusual perennials, woodland, old fashioned roses and clematis, beech walk, lake, bog garden, orchard and kitchen garden. The gardens also attract local wildlife particularly birds. The chook pen was popular with galahs and red parrots. With all these gardens and the festival of birds inhabiting the gardens it is a stark contrast to observe the ploughed fields on the adjoining farm.

From Red Cow we travelled to Bundanoon and the Buddhist Monastery in the forest outside the village. Sunnataram Forest Thai Monastery was commenced in 1989 and has been built by the monks living there over time. The centre of the Monastery is the Gratitude Pagoda finished in 2013. The monks teach Buddhism in schools and Universities in the district and the monastery operates as a retreat for Buddhist adherents. It is open to visitors and you can sit in on a presentation by one of the monks. We took the opportunity but found it was rambling and at some times unclear, but we sat through it though enlightenment evades us still. This was a first for me and something I did not expect in Australia. The Pagoda has niches on all four sides and different statues of Buddha from different cultures and countries stand in these niches. There is an entrance into the Pagoda through a glass door. I felt uncomfortable to just stroll in flashing my camera about but no one seemed to mind.

We returned through Bundanoon which is divided by the rail line to Sydney. Feeling like some lunch we checked out the cafes (all 3 of them) and a rejects shop where we were given the tip to cross over the railway to get a decent pub meal. So we crossed the line, passed an early home still in use today and we found a fabulous old hotel behind the railway station. This hotel must have been built for all of the travellers from Sydney holidaying in the Southern Highlands. The timber panelled dining room the upstairs accommodation and the lounge bar resplendent  with lounge chairs leather sofas and timber panelling with a large fire place all seem in contrast to the tacky tiled public bar tacked on the end of the hotel closest to the station. We chose the dining room and tucked into a succulent lamb roast and a glass of local vino which filled an empty spot before we returned to the Sebel in Bowral.

And that is all folks! The next day we spent sitting in the air-conditioned room doing much of nothing and relaxing after an enjoyable visit to the Southern Highlands.



The Retirees exploring the Southern Highlands of NSW

After our first big day out in Bowral and resting with a cold G&T on the sofa we mapped out our route for the following day. First stop would be Bendooley Vineyard and Berkelouw Bookstore.

We have been to many a cellar door and vineyard over the years but we were surprised at the enormous carpark behind the cellar door at Bendooley Vineyard. An unusual congregation of buildings – a stone cottage and timber bookstore hid this carpark which must have been big enough for over 100 cars. It turns out the vineyard not only produces pleasant wines, but it has cottages for holiday makers, a tasting room in that stone cottage along with a fine restaurant and a bookstore. We tried the wines at the cellar door whilst awaiting a table in the restaurant and once we were comfortably seated we shared a delicious pizza with a glass of their Rose (our preferred choice from the wine tasting). After lunch we explored the bookshop which appeared to be in an old but renovated stable. The shop was littered with tables and chairs not just for the readers’ but it too offered an dining experience. Further the books were not your usual newspaper stand at the airport selection but rather a library of historical, autobiographical, geographical, mineralogical – all kinds of books. A rare bookstore in the bush outside Berrima.

The story of Berkelouw Books begins in Kipstraat, Rotterdam, Holland, in 1812 with Solomon Berkelouw. Solomon’s young son Carel carried on his father’s trade by opening a bookstore at the Niewe Market in Rotterdam where, Berkelouw Books prospered and later moved to a larger premise at Beurs Station, also in Rotterdam. Carel’s son Hartog Berkelouw continued to expand the family business. He opened a new shop at Schoolstraat, Rotterdam. It was Hartog who first began issuing the catalogues that gained Berkelouw an international reputation. However, the Second World War intervened, and during the siege of Rotterdam, Berkelouw Books’ premises were bombed, and its entire stock destroyed. Its owners became casualties of the war and the once thriving business was brought to a standstill – the work of four generations of Rotterdam booksellers virtually wiped out in just a few years.

Immediately after the war, Isidoor Berkelouw began to re-establish the firm but, Isidoor was keen to move the business out of Europe. In 1948 Isidoor made the long journey to Australia. Arriving in Sydney, Isidoor issued a catalogue, generating immediate interest amongst book collectors around the country. He set up shop at 38 King St, then headquarters was relocated to 114 King St and Isidoor began to share the management of the business with his two sons, Henry and Leo. By 1972 the Berkelouw collection move to Rushcutters Bay, then in 1977 took a quantum leap relocating entirely to ‘Bendooley’, an historic property just outside Berrima in the Southern Highlands of NSW.

In 1994, the sixth generation, Paul, Robert and David Berkelouw, opened again in Sydney, at Paddington. Since then, Berkelouw Books has opened further stores in Sydney and Eumundi on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland. Today Berkelouw Books claims it is Australia’s largest rare and antiquarian, second-hand, and new bookseller.

Whilst in Berrima we visited the Berrima Courthouse. Surprisingly grand sandstone building for a bush court house it stands beside Berrima Goal also constructed in local sandstone. It is now a museum. Berrima Courthouse was built between 1836 and 1838. The first quarter-sessions were held at the court house in 1841, and the first trial by jury in the colony of New South Wales was held there. The assize courts were continued for only seven years. In 1850 the district court moved to Goulburn, south of Berrima. Minor courts continued at Berrima until 1873. Notable trials were of John Lynch, who was hanged for the murder of at least nine people, and of Lucretia Dunkley and her lover Martin Beech who were both hanged in 1843 for the murder of Dunkley’s husband. Their trial is simulated in the present-day museum courtroom with realistic manikins and an audio commentary. Dunkley was the only woman to be hanged at Berrima gaol.

Berrima Gaol was built over five years with much work done by convicts in irons. Conditions at the gaol were harsh, prisoners spent most of their days in cells and the only light was through a small grate set in the door. During World War I the army used Berrima Gaol as a German-prisoner internment camp. Most of the 329 internees were enemy aliens from shipping companies. There were German officers from Rabaul, German New Guinea (what is now Papua New Guinea) and also officers from the light cruiser SMS Emden. Captain Müller had taken Emden to raid the Cocos Islands, where he landed a contingent of sailors to destroy British facilities. There, Emden was attacked by the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney on 9 November 1914. Most of the survivors were taken prisoner.

After Berrima we returned home to put our feet up and plan the following day at Red Cow Farm.