When you live in the inner city of Sydney it’s easy to spend your days off just pottering around in your own neighbourhood or perhaps joining friends for a spot of brunch and a walk along one of our city’s beautiful beaches.
But of course there’s a lot more to Sydney and when I answered the call to Go West and explore the historic Macarthur region I discovered historic homes, beautiful gardens and some tasty places to eat.
For many, Macarthur’s charms are old news (very, very old news, considering its place in Australia’s history) but for those who don’t know, Macarthur is about 45 minutes south-west of Sydney’s CBD and covers Campbelltown, Camden Council and Wollondilly Shire.
The area gets its name from the pioneer sheep farmer John Macarthur who started his farm back in 1793. Today you can still visit John and Elizabeth Macarthur’s home farm, Belgenny Farm, but on our visit we headed to some of the other historic buildings in the area. These included:
A popular place for weddings and ghost tours (now there’s a combo), Gledswood Homestead at Camden Valley Way was built back in 1810 and has some tales to tell. You can still see where the convicts were kept on the property and even try some of their local wine in a convict built wine cellar.
They offer ghost tours on Friday night, but considering I found walking through the house in full daylight spooky enough, I’m not sure I’d make it through that one with my dignity. Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try.
Built around 1840 and now found just behind a shopping strip at 8 Lithgow Street, Campbelltown, Glenalvon Heriage House is a beautiful old sandstone home and garden, complete with an old Victorian Coach House and Stables.
The guided tours can give you a real feel for what life was like in Glenalvon back before the city sprung up around it.
I was fascinated to discover the “Strangers Room” concept and see one for myself. The room was connected to the main house, but didn’t have any direct access so if a stranger turned up and needed somewhere to stay you could put them in there, safe in the knowledge that they couldn’t sneak through a connecting door into your home. One for the very early couchsurfers.
A beautiful old home with a special claim to New South Wales history, Wivenhoe was built in 1837 by Charles Cowper who was state premier no less than five times between 1856 and 1870. After changing hands a few times in 1910 it was sold to the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and turned into the Mater Dei Orphanage.
When my friend Suzanne and I took a tour of Wivenhoe we were shown around by Sister Mary, who is one of those people who lights up a room. She had us smiling from the moment we saw her and had some great stories to tell.
As well as sharing the history, she explained that she has had people coming for the tours and not realizing until they arrived that they had spent their own childhoods there in the orphanage. I can only imagine how unnerving that would be.
Wivenhoe has tours on the first Sunday of every month, and they also make their own wine. Volunteers pick the grapes from the vineyards and they sell it for $10 a bottle, with the funds going to the Mater Dei School for children with intellectual disabilities.
Eating and Drinking in Macarthur
Speaking of wine, we also had the chance to visit the Fussy Grape Winery which is run by a young couple who handpick the grapes and can be found putting their own labels on the wine. They have a cellar door on the corner of Camden Valley Way and Oran Park Drive, and are great to have a chat to as you sample their wares.
If you prefer beer, The Rydges hotel in Campbelltown is more than just a good place to stay. It also has a microbrewery where they make their own beers, including Fisher’s Ghost Lager (named after the famous local ghost), Appin Ale, Macarthur Wheat, and Razorback Golden Ale.
Just beside the bar and brewery you’ll find the Rydges’ fine dining restaurant, Infusion, which is led by French chef Loic Lemaitre, and took out the award for the best hotel, motel or resort restaurant in southern NSW in the 2013 Savour Australia Restaurant and Catering Hostplus Awards.
Other great places to eat in the Macarthur area include Café on Cobbitty. A relatively new business started by a lovely mother and son, Anna and Joshua, this café is found in the sweet village of, you guessed it, Cobbitty, and serves great coffee and yummy food in rather large portions.
Joshua tells us he often gives people doggy bags because they can’t finish the food, but he just loves serving up big plates. I turned out to be one of them after failing to finish my corn fritters and refusing to see something that yummy end up in the bin.
Menangle House Horse and Jockey Inn on Menangle road is another good spot to have lunch or dinner, surrounded by fresh open air and green hills.
High Tea and Nature in Macarthur
And for those who love High Tea, it’s worth taking a drive out to Melaleuca House in the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens.
It was here that we were treated to tiers of sweet and savory treats from salmon ribbon sandwiches to scones and macarons and chocolate dipped strawberries. With tea of course, but you can also get it with bubbles, and there’s a sweet little plant to take home with you to remember the gardens.
The Melaleuca House High Tea is $38 each and we couldn’t even get through all the cakes and treats. But you do need to book a couple of days ahead for the High Tea as they not surprisingly get very busy.
After all of that food you can walk it off by exploring the Mount Annan Botanic Gardens. With more than 25,000 plant species spread over 410 hectares, this is the largest botanic garden in Australia and the most popular tourist spot in the Macarthur region.
The gardens offer a range of events throughout the year, and have a number of tours you can go on. It’s also home to something I hadn’t come across before: a human sundial, where you can use your own shadow to tell the time. All you need to remember is what month it is, stand on the mark in a rock on the ground for that month, and see where your shadow falls between the rocks marking the hours of the day.
Of course if it’s cloudy you may have to resort to another method to tell the time, but at least you’ll know no matter what time of day it is, you’ll have something to do on a Macarthur visit. So how will you spend your day?
Amanda Woods stayed as a guest of Destination Macarthur and Rydges Hotel, but as usual all opinions are her own.