Unwrapping Shoalhaven – Berry and her surroundings

Today we met Mopey, who lives on a serene farm on Mt Hay Retreat. Now, Mopey is a cow, who lives with 47 other adorable fellow cows. But since Mopey has the longest eyelashes and was the friendliest of them all, Rosemarie has declared her undying love for her. “Mopey is the most beautiful cow in the whole world!” she declared. And thus, our journey began in the exquisite town of Berry.

We arrived in the morning from Canberra after driving through expansive landscapes and circuitous mountain roads, across Moss Vale and through Kangaroo Valley. As we drove down the green hills, we entered Berry, one of the most picturesque towns we have ever seen so far in our travels. Some of its heritage buildings date back to 1857 and it is sprinkled with award-winning restaurants. Our first stop for the day was for breakfast at Berry Sourdough Café, reputed to serve delectable sourdough wholly made in a wood fire oven.

The café is housed in an 1895 heritage-listed building. The building has a great history—it formerly housed a produce store, followed by a bakery, a small goods warehouse, a surfboard factory and to now an award-winning cafe. The current owners meticulously restored it by retaining most of its history intact. They ensured that the ambience is alleviating and the menu c’est delicieux.

As we walked into the café, the aroma of freshly baked bread mingled with the cheerful chatter of patrons greeted us. It’s a busy little place, with patrons coming all the way from Sydney and Canberra to dine at the café for breakfast or lunch. A tantalizing array of sourdough, sweet and savoury pastries and biscuits are on offer. The service is gracious and affable and the air is laden with smiles and happiness. We sat in a cosy little corner next to an exposed brick wall and ordered from a simple but exciting menu.

We had eggs Benedict—poached eggs with local smoked ham and hollandaise sauce along with a king brown mushroom omelette with ricotta salata, avocado and hazelnuts. Unlike the usual slice of ham, you often have for breakfast, the ham at Berry Sourdough Café is sliced thick, creating a very different texture to each bite. It was not too salty and that made it even more delicious in our book. The hazelnuts with the mushroom omelette created that crunchy addition that combined well with the smoothness of the avocado. We savoured our breakfast with rich aromatic cups of coffee—what a great way to start our trip!

Our sanctuary for the night was a luxurious suite at Mt Hay Retreat, and we made a beeline towards it as soon as we left the café. Perched high atop the rolling green pastures of Mt Hay, we drove past three cattle grids, up a hill and around the hairpin bend to a vast expanse so uplifting. Our hearts felt lighter already and we hadn’t alighted from our vehicle yet.

Mt Hay Retreat is a working farm replete with mooing cows, bleating goats, clucking chickens, quacking ducks and two oinking piglets. They have a pond of koi and native wildlife can be encountered on the 360 acre property. The dwellings however are modernistic and twenty-first century. The amenities are ultra-modern—fast internet, a delightful 33m heated indoor swimming pool, convenient plug/USB points located in all the right places, a kitchenette and a stunning bathroom that overlooks a private garden.

Hosts, Louise and Anthony, are genial and affectionate and have put a lot of love in designing this exclusive five-suite retreat. As they were heading out to the paddocks that afternoon, we tagged along to meet some of their farm animals. That’s how Rosemarie met Mopey (you’ll know which is Mopey as she is featured the most, both here and on our Instagram). Mopey loves oranges and doesn’t mind a lemon or two…

Past the dam that is home to a school of koi on the left and a large swing at the edge of a slope on the right; we discovered the unrivalled position of Mt Hay Retreat. The views of the village below and the ocean in the distance are distractingly gorgeous. It is not a place you want to stay just for a night or two—a few days here would be more like it, soaking in the majestic natural setting and sipping on wine or coffee from the outdoor bath on your private deck. We rose gazing at a glorious sunrise and retired ogling at a gorgeous sunset at this place. Our Mt Hay Retreat experience made us feel truly relaxed and we didn’t want to leave.

That evening, we drove down to town for dinner at Hungry Duck—a pageant of modern Asian flavours. Its Chef, David Campbell’s inspired and artistic interpretations of Asian cuisine intrigues the discerning palate. The menu is reputedly created using fresh, local and organic produce from NSW South Coast. For starters, we had Claire De Lune oysters with ginger, seaweed and finger lime followed by spiced edamame and plantain chips served with caramelised nahm jim.  What a burst of flavours—from sour to spicy to umami.

The restaurants’ signature dish is red curry of duck. The sweet curry with a burst of galangal and lemongrass went well with steamed jasmine rice. We also had the miso marinated Spanish mackerel with cucumber and seaweed salad; red braised Wagyu shin with dried mandarin peel and broccoli and stir fried Brussel sprouts with pork belly, shiitake mushrooms and ginger. The Brussel sprouts provided a tinge of bitterness that completed the flavour journey. Hungry Duck was packed and there were no empty seats in sight—we could tell that it was a much-loved local haunt and it’s no surprise why. With full and contended belly’s, we made our way back up to Mt Hay Retreat.

The cold winds were blowing hard outside our suite and we climbed into our warm and inviting luxurious king-sized bed. Tired after a whole day of driving and unwrapping Shoalhaven, we had a few moments of irrelevant and inconsequential conversation and drifted off to slumber land. In the wee hours of the morning, I was prodded awake by Rosemarie. “Darling, can I take Mopey home?” she said in a dozy voice.

Where to stayMt Hay Retreat located at 260 Mount Hay Rd, Berry NSW 2535.

Where to eat Berry Sourdough Cafe located at 23 Prince Alfred St, Berry NSW 2535 and Hungry Duck located at 85 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535.

Where to find more information about Shoalhaven – Shoalhaven Holidays.

Travel and Beyond were guests of Shoalhaven Tourism. All opinions are our own.

Rosemarie John and Joseph Ellis