When we think about the Southern Highlands, it is usually tulips and the world famous Bradman cricket museum in Bowral; all things tartan in Bundanoon; or small cafes serving various takes on the ubiquitous Devonshire Tea. But there is more to the Highlands than the annual airing of kilts at the Highland games and the once infamous Bong Bong Picnic Races. Many heading down the Illawarra Highway to Wollongong will have noticed a signpost to the ‘historic village’ of Burrawang. Some turning off the highway in anticipation, will no doubt be disappointed there are no castles, stately homes or grand churches. What they do find is a mostly unspoilt village full of pretty weatherboard houses and well-tended gardens in a lush green setting. The region around Robertson is renowned for its high rainfall and peeking through handsome, mature hedges, you can see pretty English-style gardens. The village is surrounded by rich dairy country, and is not far from many of the attractions of the Southern Highlands, including seven golf courses and many excellent wineries.
Burrawang has a heart: Hoddle Street is the main street and it is wide and lined with cottages and well-tended gardens and the residents are passionate about preserving the character of their village. As well as the Burrawang General store, there are other notable buildings like the School of Arts which can be hired for a variety of functions, and the former ES&A Bank. The village also has a butcher who attracts discerning foodies from far and wide. This is all set in prime dairy country characterised by misty mornings and the pretty black and white cows standing under gum trees that Elioth Gruner would have loved to paint. Situated 760 metres above sea level, winters can be sharp and frosty with occasional snow and in summer, temperatures are mostly moderate.
The Burrawang Village Hotel is a favourite with locals as well as the crowds who flock to the village each weekend. In the bar you could be rubbing shoulders with a potato farmer from Robinson (affectionately known as Robbo), a local retired politician, or a financial whizz-kid from Sydney. Some will be in immaculately pressed chambray shirts and shiny R M Williams riding boots, and others more casually dressed. Lunch is offered seven days a week with dinner from Thursday to Saturday and the dining room has an open fire for cosy winter dining.
Room with a view – Burrawang Village Hotel spa suite overlooking a secluded valley and views to the Wingecarribee Reservoir
Burrawang offers holiday accommodation to suit a variety of budgets and needs. The Burrawang Village Hotel offers two types of accommodation. The three luxury king spa rooms are located at the bottom of the Hotel garden overlooking a lovely valley with views over to the Wingecarribee Reservoir and each have in-room Japanese spa baths.
The Hotel also has some quirky in-house rooms with shared bathroom facilities, but they are comfortable, well presented and perfect for group bookings.
The Burrawang General Store is busy most of the time, but weekends it is coffee central with a swift takeaway service. It is a cafe, restaurant and providore and can match any city cafe for style and presentation. As well as dishing up a wide range of snacks and meals, this is where the locals congregate most mornings. I have eaten here a number of times and love their breakfasts, terrific meat pies and cakes, and the regional gourmet goodies and wine. With its historic interior dating from 1861 and pretty garden at the back, it is always well-patronised. They also offer accommodation in their adjacent delightful Bower Cottage.
There are a number of self-catering options including Walnut Cottage, located a short walk along Hoddle Street from the Hotel and General Store. This is one of the oldest buildings in the village and offers two bedrooms and is warmed by a slow combustion wood fire for cosy winter holidays, and reverse-cycle air- conditioning for the odd hot summer day.
Despite the relative seclusion of Burrawang, airbnb is well represented and currently features a number of very comfortable homes.
The Old Chapel is a warm and cosy church conversion with an open fire and 3 bedrooms. The delightfully named Mumble Cottage has four bedrooms and two bathrooms with an indoor fireplace; and for a large family or a number of couples, you can’t go past Sirmione with four big bedrooms, 3 new bathrooms, a modern kitchen with all the extras and two large living areas with gas fireplaces, cushions, rugs and comfortable couches.
If you decide on self-catering, stock up well in Bowral or Moss Vale or for a more relaxed pace, nearby Robbo.
Bowral is particularly busy and only the bravest venture there on a Saturday. If you feel the need to leave this secluded and mostly tranquil corner of the world, Belmore and Fitzroy Falls and lovely bushwalks are nearby, and is close enough to Kiama on the coast for a quick ocean swim before lunch and excellent fish and chips. You can also try one of the many restaurants attached to the wineries. Highly recommended is Mt Ashby boutique vineyard and cellar door, which serves wines with home-made soup, crusty bread and a charcuterie plate in the restored original dairy. You can sit around a roaring fire in winter, or outside in the shade in summer and enjoy the view of the vineyard surrounded by grazing dairy cattle.
Mauger’s Bucher Shop, with a view up Hoddle Street, Burrawang
Burrawang has the distinct advantage of being a short drive from Robertson. It offers a wide range of services to both residents and visiting city slickers, and of course if famous for potatoes. Here you will find a suitably large brown cement “Big Potato”, unkindly described as being the most underwhelming of ‘big things’ in Australia. Of interest to everyone is the fairly recent opening of Le Petit Fleur Patisserie in Robbo and the wonderful range of local cheeses at the Robertson Cheese Factory, which also has a cafe and gelateria attached.
Burrawang has an interesting history. It is the Aboriginal word for a native palm that once grew abundantly in the area. In 1861 the Robertson Land Act encouraged settlers to make their way up the Jamberoo Mountain to convert the area known as Yarrawa Brush into good grazing land.The main street is named after the surveyor Robert Hoddle, who with a gang of convicts cut a bridle path down the escarpment in 1830 as part of a track joining Cowpastures (Camden) to Kiama and Gerringong. The Southern Highlands in general has bustled with tourists since the the 19th century, when the elite of Sydney built houses so they could escape the coastal summer heat.
So what is the main difference between Burrawang and this corner of the Southern Highlands, and the very English and very green Cotswolds? Well, with climate change, the Cotswolds now do have a few vineyards, but they still have a long way to go to beat some of the award winning wines coming out the Highlands. With over 60 wineries and even more vineyards, you could spend a whole week driving around and indulging.
So if you are feeling you cannot cope with Brexit fallout, but would like a good dose of green English look-a-like countryside and dappled country lanes, Burrawang awaits you and it is only a pleasant two hour drive from Canberra.
Burrawang in a Nutshell:
Directions from Canberra: Federal Highway and Hume Highway past Goulburn and take the Highland Way Tourist Drive just past Marulan through Penrose State Forest. The road brings you back to the Illawarra Highway the other side of Miss Vale. It is slower than going through Moss Vale, but it is a pretty drive and the traffice through Moss Vale can be quite busy.
GPS Position: 150°31’16″E, 34°35’30”
Top Photo: The view from the back garden of the Burrawang Village Hotel is justifiably popular with lunch available seven days a week