You can live a long time somewhere and never know what’s on your doorstep. Had I known sooner of Beehive Point in Morton National Park, I may have hightailed it there sooner.
Instead, I have the indefatigable Amanda Fry to thank. A Berrima local, Amanda is founder of WILDFest Southern Highlands, a festival of outdoor experiences with a side order of gourmet local food and wines, that kicks off next month.
A former PR exec who helped launch the Kardashians clothing line for Top Shop, Amanda hit on the idea of her three-day adventure smorgasbord while taking part in a brainstorming creative on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island. Her vision? To wine and dine locals and visitors while showcasing hidden spots of historical relevance and natural beauty
‘WILDfest is all about finding innovative ways to connect people to nature, while showcasing our local produce,’ says Amanda. ‘A big part of the festival is challenging people to seek out what is literally all around them. The Southern Highlands has so many hidden places it’s about sharing the acknowledge because there are so many gorgeous places right on our doorstep that many people have no idea about.’
Ahem. Case in point. Which is why I set off to preview the Canoes, Champagne and Canapes experience, from Beehive Point in Kangaroo Valley. Many locals know and love the campsite at Bendeela Road but my instructions are to continue on for several more kilometres, and veer left into Morton National Park. A dirt fire track carries me downhill for 10 kilometres of rough terrain.
Waiting at the bottom is river guide Tom Bodey. He and boss, Travis Frenay of Paddle & Portage Canoes teamed up with Amanda to create this WILDfest water leg. Custom-built double canoes will transport festival goers downstream to the mouth of Yarrunga Creek. Today, in the middle of the canoe sits a table platform with ice buckets chilling local wines, and canapes by chef Brigid Kennedy, of The Loch. Another agri-tourism dynamo.
I get on-board. This is a beautiful spot indeed. The 200,000-hectare national park frames the Yarrunga River. Tom Bodey’s paddle pulling through the brackish water is the only sound. We pass idyllic looking swimming spots, Tarzan ropes hanging overhead.
‘There are some great places to camp along here in the summer,’ says Tom Bodey. ‘Of course you’ve got to know where to come, and to get a license but not many people venture here off the beaten track.’
We head downstream for five kilometres to the eerily beautiful Sunken Forest. This area was flooded in the 1970s for the Shoalhaven Hydro-Electric Scheme, and its woodland of dead eucalypts is a unique graveyard. Alongside the river sits a sandstone wall built by convicts. It is a poignant reminder of our colonial past. Time to sample the cool climate wines. A Tertini Riesling, a Howards Lane Chardonnay and an Artemis Pinot Noir. There are also other local wines, champagnes and beers on offer. The canapes include yabby rolls with wild land cress and native lime mayo, Loch lamb in a forage herb crust and a rainforest mushroom and mascarpone tart. What’s not to love?
WILDfest October 27-29 takes place out of Old Joadja Town, once home to 1400 Scottish miners. A three-day pass includes the Canoes, Champagne and Canapes trip, a tailor-made itinerary of hiking, abseiling, canoeing and mountain biking, and a table at Wild Native Feast. Curated by Damien Monley, Grand Bistro chef, it is a seven course degustation dinner under the stars. Diners will be given top hats and tiaras to wear. A wild fest indeed to savour.