Tucked into a fold of the Snowy Mountains, roughly halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, is a food destination unknown to many city-dwellers. The Snowy Valleys, with its community of wineries, fruit growers, beef farmers, aquaculture, and a mix of quirky cafes and historic pubs, is based around the historic towns of Tumut and Tumbarumba, in NSW. .
This is a stunningly beautiful region, with views up the Tumut River Valley to the Snowy Mountains. The creeks and rivers are lined with gnarled box gums and whispering she-oaks, with ancient kurrajong trees dotting the tight valleys.
The region copped a double whammy, first from fires in the surrounding forests, then from smoke drifting in from the Canberra blazes. Now, with the deciduous trees in the area about to turn brilliant autumnal shades, local businesses are welcoming visitors back with open arms. So hit the Hume and turn off at Gundagai to explore the Snowy Valleys.
Dinner and a bed
On a rocky ridge overlooking the clear waters of the Tumut River is Nimbo Fork. This imposing chalet-like fishing lodge, with Hamptons-style clapboard architecture, offers comfortable accommodation and modern dining. For a start, you can almost fly fish from your private bungalow. Then there's the 14-seat dining room with views over the river and dramatic ridges of the Killimicat Ranges beyond. It's a cozy place to enjoy a plate of Snowy Mountains smoked trout pate served with capers or a classic dish of pink-fleshed duck breast with a rich, herb-infused jus. The wine list, put together by wine industry identity Chris Molineaux, is a beautiful little collection of local and international wines.
The Royal Hotel is an old country pub in the heart of Tumut with broad balconies and inexpensive accommodation. Chef Amber Jones uses local suppliers to plate up hearty, crowd-pleasing dishes such as crisp-skinned pork belly with loads of silky, creamy mashed potato.
Raise a glass
At Courabyra Wines, in a valley outside Tumbarumba, owners Brian and Cathy Gairn and Cathy's brother Stephen Morrison make cool-climate wines such as pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. You'll find all three varieties in their 805, a single-vineyard sparkling wine, with a balance of rich creaminess, citrus and stone fruit aromas, and a crisp finish. Come here to try the wines then order a buttermilk fried chicken burger with the chardonnay in the restaurant.
Made from the waters of the Tumut River, flowing just metres away, the beers of the Tumut River Brewing Co. are full-flavoured and simply delicious. Sit down in this transformed tyre garage and enjoy a pizza and an American-style IPA. It's family-friendly and a great place to rub shoulders with the locals.
Look for the 1960s open-air shopping mall in the heart of Tumut, and you'll find The Coffee Pedaler. It's a fun cafe with decent coffee and the locally famous Grandma Lucas' cheese and ham toastie made with ham, garlic, onion, and two types of cheese. Also at Gundagai.
Follow the signs to the racecourse, down the avenue of towering elms, past horses grazing on the river flats, and head to the back of the historic Tumut Turf Club grandstand. Here you'll find Harvest by the River, a cafe on the banks of the Tumut River, shaded by 140-year-old trees, where you can find good coffee and breakfast and lunch cooked to order using local free-range eggs, home-grown tomatoes and apples from nearby Batlow.
The cool clear waters of the Tumut River flow down from Blowering Reservoir, making the perfect environment for trout. Fly fishing for trout is a mix of primeval hunting and zen meditation, second guessing how a fish thinks while meditatively flicking the fly back and forth onto the water using the rod and your wrist. Give it a go with a half-day session with Tane Keremelevski from $275, with gear. If you catch one you can cook it in the kitchen of his accommodation, Boutique Motel Sefton. Try the trout with butter and lemon as a counter meal at the Oriental Hotel at 48 Fitzroy Street, Tumut, or for a Snowy Valley smoked trout go see butcher Kevin Duncombe at Franklin Butchery. Kevin's family have been butchering here for 60 years, still have the old wooden chopping block, stocks local grass-fed beef and does a really good rolled pickled pork.
Tumut's Pie in the Sky cafe is run by two sisters who made more than 700 rounds of sandwiches a day for the firefighters over summer. They bake great pies with fillings such as steak and bacon, and the very old-school steak and kidney.
At Tumut Broom Factory, the last of its kind in Australia, little has changed since 1946, when they started making kitchen brooms by hand using millet stalks and turned Tasmanian oak handles. You can watch workers form and hand-stitch brooms through the open door, then buy a traditional seven-tie millet broom, specifically made for sweeping kitchens.
Opposite the Tumut Broom Factory is the Tumut Visitor Centre run by NSW National Parks. Apart from the wealth of information offered by the dedicated staff and their terrarium of critically endangered corroboree frogs, they stock a good range of local produce, including honey, apple cider and nuts. There is a small collection of Indigenous stone axes and grinding stones and, Indigenous cultural tours of the region can be booked through here.
They grow great apples in Batlow, despite the travails of this past summer. They also make good cider and come May 16-17 locals and visitors crowd this historic town for the annual Batlow Cider Fest. The main drag is roped off and lined with Australian ciders, craft beer, wines, street food, market stalls and entertainment on two stages.
Richard Cornish was a guest of Destination NSW Now's The Time to Love NSW recovery campaign. Details: visitnsw.com
Nimbo Fork, nimbofork.com.au
The Royal Hotel, royalhoteltumut.com.au
Courabyra Wines, courabyrawines.com
Tumut River Brewing Co., trbc.com.au
The Coffee Pedaler, pedaler.coffee
Harvest by the River, Elm Drive, Tumut
Franklin Butchery, 152 Capper Street, Tumut
Tumut's Pie in the Sky, 127 Wynyard Street, Tumut
Tumut Broom Factory, tumutbroomfactory.com
Tumut Visitor Centre, nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Batlow Cider Fest, batlowciderfest.com.au