Green, gourmet and historic are three words that come to mind when describing Kangaroo Valley.
Is there anything more wonderful than a green valley? With much of Australia gripped in drought, Kangaroo Valley’s lush emerald pastures feel positively life-affirming.
Located 2.5 hours south of Sydney and inland from Nowra, Kangaroo Valley is one of NSW’s hidden gems and, despite its relative proximity to Sydney, feels like a hidden valley.
Ringed by towering sandstone cliffs and waterfalls, including magnificent Fitzroy Falls and Carrington Falls, the valley is surrounded by lush rainforest and rolling dairy country.
From the Southern Highlands it’s a gorgeous drive down Moss Vale Road, and from Nowra it’s an equally scenic drive over Cambewarra Mountain.
Originally home to the Wodi Wodi people, European settlers were attracted by fertile farmland, abundant timber and fresh water. Irish settlers used Kangaroo River’s crystal-clear waters to make moonshine whiskey, a tradition that continued at least until the 1920s.
WALK, PADDLE, FISH
Today it’s all about the outdoor lifestyle. Options abound for paddling down the Kangaroo River. Intrepid outdoor types can take a three-day guided safari down the Shoalhaven Gorge with Kangaroo Valley Safaris, but for day-trippers who want to relax and enjoy the scenery, the company will take you to various locations to explore the valley for yourself and pick you up again.
You can try one of the many walking trails that cater for all levels of fitness. Most centre on Bendeela campground and picnic area. Alternatively it’s a short drive to Red Rocks Nature Reserve, another picnic area with stunning views of the valley.
Hampden Bridge, the valley’s most famous landmark, is the only surviving suspension bridge from NSW’s colonial period. Opened in 1898, it was an outstanding engineering achievement for its time. Its castellated towers at either end give it a medieval look that makes for a grand entrance coming from the Southern Highlands side.
Despite being National Trust-classified, Kangaroo Valley’s main street, Moss Vale Road, has a lived-in feel, thanks to several working historic buildings like Kangaroo Valley Public School, the magnificent court house (now the local police station), the Church of the Good Shepherd and the post office.
Otherwise it’s a delightful wander past 1970s heritage shopfronts transformed into cafes, galleries and gift shops.
If you are interested in early Australian history, the Pioneer Farm Museum next to Hampden Bridge is worth a look. The dairy, forge and farmhouse built in 1865 contain period furnishings and are maintained by the local historical society.
Surrounded by fertile pastureland and close to the coast, Kangaroo Valley is firmly on the gourmet trail. The main street is brimming with eateries featuring local produce. Try Blind Toucan Café and gawk at the old newspapers lining the walls. Don’t miss The Fudge House (also the information centre) which is a Kangaroo Valley icon.
The Friendly Inn Hotel is a popular spot for lunch, with pub staples as well as modern additions such as Thai stir fries and salt and pepper squid. The beer garden out the back has impressive views of the surrounding hills and you might be visited by some of the region’s abundant bird life, like crimson rosellas and the occasional lyrebird, their tails fanned like peacocks.
It’s a short drive south-west of town to Old Woodfires Restaurant & Bar, open for lunch and dinner and dishing up modern Australian cuisine. While you’re there, take a squiz next door at the award-winning Galeria Aniela with its quirky outdoor sculpture park.
The surrounding area has plenty of magnificent scenic drives. For some of the best views, drive up to Cambewarra Mountain en route to Nowra and stop at the lookout which offers 360° views of the coast and Southern Highlands.
From the village, it’s only 15km north-west to waterfall territory. Fitzroy Falls is one of NSW’s great waterfalls, spectacular even in these drought-stricken times.
Or head east towards Robertson, the potato capital of Australia, for a peek at The Big Potato, or check out the brand new Illawarra Fly, an aerial tree walk with sweeping views of the Shoalhaven.