It doesn’t matter from which direction you arrive in Tumbarumba, the drive will take your breath away. From the north, through the charming riverside town of Tumut, the apple orchids of Batlow and the lush rolling countryside that connects them. From the east, via Kosciuszko National Park, with its pristine forests of snow gum, its wild brumbies (the stuff of literary legend), and that incredible feat of engineering, the Snowy Hydro Scheme and the alpine lakes and dams that go with it. From the south, you travel via idyllic hamlets dotted along the mighty Murray River, and upon sweeping open roads, where productive cattle country sprawls under the watchful eye of the Snowy Mountains, still fulfilling their namesake during our visit in October.
If you’re thinking this route between Sydney and Melbourne sounds a whole lot more interesting than the tired old Hume Highway, you’d be absolutely right. But more than just a convenient halfway point between Australia’s biggest cities, Tumbarumba is a wonderful destination in its own right, particularly for the caravan and motorhome crowd. From low-cost campsites which are amongst the best I’ve encountered, to interesting history, wonderful local produce, award winning wine, and coffee as good as your local back home, this little high country town has it all. And don’t even get us started on the plethora of surrounding natural wonders that await your exploration.
Lured out of our cabin at the Tumbarumba Creek Caravan Park by the fragrant spring air, we headed straight for Nest Cafe, undeniably the best coffee in town. We were welcomed by the smiling face of Nest’s owner, Laura, and her seven-month-old babe in arms, Victor, whose gummy grin and spikey hairdo had us love-struck. A Sydney girl who made her tree change to ‘Tumba’ eight years ago, Laura found love here and is now kept wildly busy with three kids under five and a cafe-cum-cinema to manage. It’s a charming space in a reclaimed Masonic lodge, and what was doubtlessly once a rather austere environment is now a vibrant hub serving delicious food, and offering a boutique armchair cinema experience – complete with dinner and wine.
Alternatively, the Tumba Bakery draws a crowd most mornings, and this sunny Tuesday was no exception. We befriended a group of bikers, who were more than happy to sing their praises of the region, its windy roads with breathtaking vistas tickling them rather pink. It’s little wonder this region attracts the two wheel brigade, both of the motored and human-powered variety.
After a mandatory visit to the antique shop on the main street, we headed out of town to find the famous Sugarpine Walk near the town of Laurel Hill, 22km north of Tumbarumba.
A popular spot for wedding photography, the Sugarpine Walk is simply an isle of cleared pine trees amongst a forestry plantation, but it’s rather beautiful. Tall, perfectly straight trees frame the cleared isle like a crowd of giant onlookers, their discarded needles forming a spongy carpet underfoot. The canopy whirs in the breeze high above, giving the illusion that perhaps, just over the next hill, you’ll find the ocean. The trunks and branches creak and crack at random, causing one to whip one’s head around in expectation of a companion in these otherwise lonely woods. It’s all very whimsical, and you’ll want to pack your camera.
PIONEER WOMEN'S HUT
We then headed over to the Pioneer Women’s Hut, where we were told that we would gain a vivid picture of the lives of Australian women from bygone times.
We pulled into the museum grounds and parked the car, doing a double take at the silhouette of a bloke and two kelpies atop the property’s gentle hill. Inanimate, as it happens, and as we made our introductions to museum volunteer Ann Thoroughgood, we quickly learnt the sculpture is of her late father, who ran sheep and cattle on this property and founded the Glenroy Heritage Reserve on which the museum now stands.
The main museum building – built from recycled prison cells from the nearby Mannus Correctional Centre – houses a quirky collection of domestic items that tell the tale not only of their owner or maker, but of pioneer Australian women more broadly. From hats made of tussock grass to hand-sewn dresses, the ingenuity of country women is evident everywhere you look. Most pieces were donated by relatives of their former owners, and the display tells the story of many of them.
But the jewel in the museum’s crown is its quilt collection, where a wonderful assortment of handmade patchwork quilts are laid out upon antique beds, the stories of their maker presented at the foot of each bed. Ann tells me they wanted to collect something that would be both beautiful and sentimental, something that would tell deeply personal stories: a blanket made for a little boy to stay warm on the train back from boarding school; a quilt that grew layers like a tree throughout the years as the family of its maker moved to ever colder parts of Europe before migrating to Australia. These deeply personal tales are sewn together just like a patchwork quilt to tell the broader story of our nation. It’s really quite touching.
After soaking in all that wonderful colonial history we were able to deduce one thing: we deserved a glass of wine. So it was off to Courabyra Wines, 6km north-west of Tumbarumba via a very pretty drive through the countryside.
Cathy Gairn greeted us at the cellar door with a mottled German shorthaired pointer by her side, and welcomed us into a room filled with flowers with incredible views across the vineyard to the mountains beyond. With a kids’ playground and a menu that had me wishing it was lunchtime (home-made gnocchi gets me every time), I couldn’t help but imagine whiling away an afternoon here amongst the stunning gardens, grazing casually on produce grown on site by Cathy, a former horticulturist.
But alas, I was working, so it was time to get down to business and sample the wines. I know what you’re thinking: it’s a filthy job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Cathy chatted excitedly about how she was heading to Sydney the following day to rub shoulders with industry big wigs; her sparkling wine had again won the best sparkling in NSW and she was off to collect her prize. Stocked in some of the best restaurants in Sydney, this wine is evidence of Tumbarumba’s growing reputation as one of the best cool climate wine growing regions in Australia. Needless to say, I swiftly purchased a couple of bottles to enjoy in the sun that weekend. And yes, it was delicious.
BOGGY CREEK SHOW
We finally tore ourselves away from Courabyra and made a beeline for a property to the west of Tumbarumba for what we’d heard was going to be quite the treat.
Created and performed by fourth generation mountain cattleman Tim O’Brien, the two-hour show is a thoroughly entertaining and often funny demonstration of life on the land, both past and present. Tim is a talented animal trainer, as evidenced by the impressive performance of his working kelpies, horses, ponies, goats and even pigs. Choreographed to music and performed in the custom built arena set against the backdrop of the Snowy Mountains, the show is a fun exploration of Australiana filled with herding, horse work, whip cracking, pony races, shearing and more. Tim is entertaining and charismatic, and the show is well worth checking out. For us, it was the perfect way to end a wonderful day exploring Tumbarumba.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #571. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!