Two years ago a group of savvy businesses in the Canberra region banded together to create the Poacher's Way, touting the tagline "live life well". The trail brings together guesthouses, restaurants, wineries and galleries as well as a couple of "experiences" (a spa and a horseriding trail).
The Poacher's Way relies on a booklet available from regional tourism centres or any of the involved venues that acts as guide and map connecting the towns involved: Murrumbateman, Yass, Bowning, Gundaroo, Collector, Bungendore, Hall and Canberra.
As we start out on our adventure I realise that I've forgotten my phone charger and my mobile starts to emit sad little beeps. Looking around the green hills and over the abundance of springtime baby animals I turn it off and embrace the idea of being incommunicado.
This seems to underpin a theme we find as we meet people along the way; successful men and women who have retreated from the bluster of city life to encourage their passions for good produce, good wine and art in a restorative and rich landscape.
All the stops are within a forty-minute drive of Canberra
and the trip cannot be done without a car; the trail relies on being able to cover large swathes of countryside to sample one attraction to the next. The Poacher's Way
is 2.5 hours from Sydney
along the Federal Highway. Use the sponsored booklet as a guide but be warned the map included is oversimplified. Get your hands on a proper road map; it'll make the trip all the easier.
When you get there
on a Friday afternoon and head to one of The Poacher's Way's
bed and breakfasts. Stay at Redbrow Gardens
, both holding options for dinner; phone (02) 62268166).
The next morning wake up early and draw the curtains onto a view of the private lake and then, if you can bring yourself to climb out of the big, comfortable bed take a morning constitutional around the gardens, lovingly grown over the last 10 years.
Skip the underwhelming breakfast at Redbrow Gardens and save yourself for The Poacher's Pantry (phone (02) 6230 2487), just down the road. The Pantry has been open for more than 20 years, providing high-quality ingredients to top chefs around the region. It's evolved to include the Wily Trout Vineyard and The Smokehouse Café.
Start with coffee and a huge slice of homemade banana bread stuffed with chocolate chips before graduating to the blueberry and ricotta hotcakes with maple syrup, berry compote and yoghurt or scrambled eggs with Tetsuya's smoked ocean trout with a butter croissant.
All the dishes rely on flavoursome, fresh ingredients sourced locally, rather than fussy big-city pretence. Don't leave without a squiz at the walk-in fridge and the smoked meats that built The Poacher's Pantry reputation.
After the feast distract yourself from food for a while and drive to Old St Luke's Pottery Studio (phone (02) 6236 8197) . The studio is an old country church that Ian Jones and Moraig McKenna have converted into a studio and gallery for their unique wood and gas fired pottery. The couple are friendly and happy to chat about their work and let you have a wander around the old overgrown cemetery adjoined to the property.
Next, head into Gundaroo, wander through the town and pop by the small but interesting Brolga Books & Art on the main drag to have a chat with talkative 88-year-old Bob, a shop owner and local historian. Take in the charming high street and historical buildings, then treat yourself to a drink at The Commercial Hotel.
The laidback, tiny town hides two very well regarded dinner options: try Cork St Gallery and Café (phone (02) 6236 8217), housed in the old police station, which has a gourmet pizza menu better than most capital-city Italian joints, and a nice laidback open courtyard. Alternatively, head to Grazing restaurant (phone (02) 6236 8777) at the Royal Hotel. After a long day's escapades you'll be ready to crash, which you can do at Mallee Gum Cottage (phone (02) 6236 8366).
Indulge in the region's cool climate wines and even more good food at a number of vineyards today, including Jeir Creek Wines
(phone (02) 6227 5999), Clonakilla Winery
(phone (02) 6227 5877) and Shaw Vineyard Estate
(phone (02) 6227 5827). Or, if you've had your fill of plonk but are keen for more "countryana", set off in the direction of Bungendore
whose Word Works Gallery
(phone (02) 6238 1682) put it on the Poacher's map. The attached cafe dishes up giant servings of salt and pepper squid and chicken and artichoke salad for lunch.
The main drawcard of the town is the antiqueing available at the second-hand shops. You may drive in for lunch, but be prepared to depart with a bootload of early bounty circa 1900.
What to bring home
The Poacher's Way
is so rich with handcrafts; produce and wine you will easily fill the backseat with treasures, but be sure to include one of the stunning bowls made by Moraig McKenna from Old St Luke's
Got any other suggestions? Share your insight below.