Exploring New South Wales – Shoalhaven Coast & Southern Highlands #ouraussiewineadventure

Cambewarra Mountain lookout

Australia…it’s the other side of the world and a day away. Far from our normal life. A place where they drive on the other side of the road and sit on the other side of the car to drive. Where the signs on the road tell you to watch for kangaroos and wombats. But…the language is the same, well, mostly. The slang can be a bit of a hang up to translate.

In October, we got on a plane for the short (that’s sarcasm) flight to Sydney. Our destination was the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley which is north of Sydney, but we flew in early to visit a bit more. Mind you Australia is a large country, almost as large as the US, so we focused on the region of New South Wales which surrounds Sydney and of course, primarily, we were looking at the wines of this region.

If you’ve followed our trips before, you will know that we are not afraid of a little bit of driving. That held true on this trip, as you can see by the map below. It allowed us to take in quite a bit of New South Wales, but not all of it. This region has quite a bit to explore.

Map of our travels in New South Wales
Our Aussie Wine Adventure

New South Wales

New South Wales is the region surrounding Sydney.  Good ole’ Captain James Cook discovered and named this region.  Okay…we will amend this.  He didn’t “discover” it.  It was there and inhabited by aboriginal peoples.  But none the less, he donned it with the name “New South Wales” and soon the Brits were sending Convict Ships this way. (The American Revolution meant they couldn’t send their convicts there any longer).

The first fleet of six ships included the Scarborough (that name will come up again later).  They landed in what is now Sydney. In this region you find the Gadigal people.  Future settlements moved up and down the coast and inland and provided the infrastructure for much of the region as it is known today.

Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government New South Wales
Map courtesy of Destination NSW and NSW Government

We visited 5 of the 14 wine regions in New South Wales: Shoalhaven Coast, Southern Highlands, Mudgee, Hunter Valley and Orange. These are the regions closest to Sydney. A little further north on the coast takes you to Hastings River, then even further north and inland you find New England. Inland to the West of Sydney (and mostly to the south) you find the regions of Cowra, Hilltops, Gundagai, Canberra District, Tumbarumba, the tiny Perricoota and the really large Riverina. We would have needed far more than 2 weeks to explore all these regions.

Sydney

(don’t worry we will come back)

Our visit started and ended in Sydney which sits on the coast of New South Wales. It sits only a little closer to the southern border with Victoria, than the Northern border of Queensland along the 2137 miles of coastline.

Royal National Gardens & the Sea Cliff Bridge

The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge New South Wales Australia
The road to Shoalhaven Coast and the Sea Cliff Bridge

We drove south from Sydney on what was (unbeknownst to us) a holiday weekend and into the Royal National Gardens. Sadly we had no time to hike and explore (the Figure 8 pools sound amazing, but that was a 2.5-4 hr hike!). Instead we took in the scenery (and met a stick bug, who dropped in our window landing on my shoulder and sadly lumbered away before I could get a photo) as we drove through. The coast is beautiful and we drove across the Sea Cliff Bridge as we made our way south, stopping for lunch and a view in Gerrigong.

Shoalhaven Coast

The Shoalhaven Coast is about 2 hrs south of Sydney. This is a popular weekend getaway for people living in Sydney and the area has embraced tourism. Gerrigong, where we enjoyed lunch was a cute town with small shops and restaurants, the perfect beach town with a view. Our lunch at The Hill, set us up with high expectations for the food we would encounter in New South Wales.

The vineyards here often have a view of the ocean, so the maritime influence is a major factor in the vineyard. The primary concern here is summer rainfall, which can create issues for ripening as well as problems with disease and molds. We also heard that birds can be a huge problem, sneaky birds that get under the netting during harvest and can gobble up and entire crop.

Coolangatta Estate

  • Coolangatta Estate Originally opened in 1822, renovated and reopened in 1972. Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Mt. Coolangatta in the morning mist. New South Wales
  • Lush greenery at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Our suite in the Servant's Quarters at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Historic Homestead Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales Australia
  • The view to the lower vineyard next to the stable building Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • The old brick main building at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Coolangatta Estate photo 1914 Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We arrived at Coolangatta Estate to meet with owner/vigneron Greg Bishop. The Estate is a renovated historic convict built estate where we stayed in the servants quarters.

This historic property of a convict built estate, and was the first European settlement on the South Coast.  The name derives from “Collungatta” which was the Aboriginal word for “fine view”  The Estate sits at the foot of Mt. Coolangatta from which this “fine view” can be enjoyed.  The Estate fell into disrepair in the first part of the 1900’s.

In 1947 Colin Bishop acquired land here for farming.  He and his wife (Greg’s parents) then began to restore the property and turn it into a historic resort. 

  • The lower vineyards at Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • Spring Vines at Coolangatta Estate in the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • Rolling vineyard in the shadow of Mt. Coolangatta, Coolangatta Estate Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia
  • White wines at Coolangatta Estate New South Wales Australia
  • The 2018 Winsome Riesling just won the Canberra International Riesling Challenge, Scoring 95 points Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

Greg planted the vineyard here in the 1980’s and they are producing a wide variety of wines including: Semillon, Chardonnay, Riesling, Verdelho, Savagnin, Chambourcin, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and surprisingly a Tannat.

After our conversation with Greg, it was time for a bit of a nap before enjoying dinner at their restaurant Alexander’s paired with Coolangatta wines.

Two Figs

  • Two Figs Winery on the Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales AustraliaNSW Australia
  • View of the Shoalhaven River from Two Figs Winery Shoalhaven Coast New South Wales Australia

We did stop by Two Figs to take in the views, and tried to do a tasting, while we were in the area. But remember I mentioned it was a holiday weekend? Two Figs does tastings by reservation and we had not pre-booked. The place was packed and hoppin’. The views had to suffice.

Southern Highlands

The next morning we awoke early to head inland to Southern Highlands. Our drive took us through Nowra, where we picked up a quick (and delicious) breakfast at a gas station. (Really the food here…it’s like getting every meal from Whole Foods!). We then drove into the mountains in the Budderoo National Park, through Kangaroo Valley, past Fitzroy Falls and finally into Mittagong.

The region, on a plateau, was a place for the colonial squires to escape Sydney’s summer heat (think Hamptons). The villages are picturesque, the streets wide and tree lined and the region sees all four seasons. It was most definitely spring when we arrived with flowers blooming everywhere.

As to growing vines here? It’s altitude and cool climate make it perfect for crafting beautiful white and sparkling wines. You will also find Merlot, Shiraz and some Pinot Noir grown here also. The region has 12 wineries around 6 towns: Berrima, Bowral, Exeter, Mittagong, Moss Vale and Sutton Forest.

Tertini

  • The Tertini entrance sign, unpretentiously nestled in the trees Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Tertini Cellar Door near Mittagong in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The elegant Tertini Tasting Room Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • The Patio at Tertini Wines in Australia's Southern Highlands, New South Wales
  • Panorama of the Tertini Winery in Australia's Southern Highlands in New South Wales.

Our destination in Southern Highlands was Tertini Wines near Mittagong, to visit with winemaker Jonathan Holgate. Jonathan spoke with us about the region and his wine making style before taking us out to see the winery and then to visit their Yaraandoo Vineyard. We returned to the cellar door for a tasting, and I look forward to telling you later about his spectacular wines, which include a decidedly unique Arneis.

  • Spring Vines in Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia
  • Tertini's Yaraandoo Vineyard in the Spring  Southern Highlands New South Wales Australia

Jonathan’s Private Cellar Collection Arneis is made from fruit from their Yaraandoo Vineyard which is partially fermented in French Oak. This is unlike any other Arneis you will taste.

We left as the tasting room filled up with booked seated tastings, some of them scheduled specifically with Jonathan.

Artemis

We made one more quick stop for a tasting at Artemis Wines. This winery is set up to host. Views of the vineyard right around the tasting room, with a patio that was set up for wood fired pizza. This is a gathering place, and it was crowded when we arrived. We did a pretty hasty tasting of their wines with a very knowledgeable (and busy) staff member. They also do tastings of ciders and beers.

Camberwarra Mountain Lookout

On the way back to Coolangatta we took in the views from Camberwarra Mountain Lookout. You can see Mt. Coolangatta out toward the coast as well as the Shoalhaven river that runs out to the coast. The lookout has a tea room, so it’s a lovely spot to take in the views and a cup.

Australia Shoalhaven Coast, New South Wales-
Australia Shoalhaven Coast, NSW- The view from Cambewarra

Newcastle

After enjoying another evening soaking up the great atmosphere at Coolangatta Estate, we drove North, swinging wide around Sydney and up the coast to Newcastle.

This port city north of Sydney is Australia’s second-oldest city and 7th largest.  It is known for shipping coal.  Mind you the Aussie’s are environmentally minded and don’t use much coal.  They do however mine it and ship it out for other countries to use. 

As an important side note here, every vineyard owner and winemaker I spoke with in Australia acknowledged the affects that climate change was directly having on their vineyards.  In addition (or as a result), the bush fires have increased in the northern part of New South Wales and in Queensland.  They are in a drought, the second in a dozen years.  The sad cycle of lack of water due to climate change, causes agricultural businesses to struggle, and I can’t help but feel that this leads back to exporting coal to support the economy, that same coal that leads to further pollution and climate change.

This city is on the coast of the Hunter region.  We soaked in a bit of beach, had dinner wharf and enjoyed an artsy stroll through the downtown district back to our hotel.  The arts college is here and walls are covered in murals, music on this October long weekend (a holiday weekend that we didn’t realize we were in the midst of) poured out of doorways with pubs and cocktail bars.  The town was busy and full of people enjoying the holiday weekend.

Places to stay…

Here I will do a shout out to our hotel.  In the states, most Holiday Inn Expresses are mid to low range hotels.  We find them in the smaller sections of wine country and they are always reliable.  Here we were staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Newcastle, a relatively new hotel.  It was pretty spectacular, much more like the Hotel Indigo’s at home, but larger.  The design was beautiful, the staff friendly and helpful and the included breakfast…?  I’m ruined for breakfast ever again.  It was fresh and beautifully laid out.  I felt so elegant eating so healthy.  It was the perfect meal to send us off for our drive into Mudgee, where we will continue Our Aussie Wine Adventure.

For more information on these regions:

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