Planning an escape? Look no further than the Shoalhaven

By AG STAFF 4 June 2020
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Venture to the Shoalhaven for authentic Indigenous experiences and some of the state’s best food and wine. And if you can’t make it there just yet, visit virtually.

Walking alongside Deidre Martin is both a privilege and a pleasure. The Walbanga woman of the Yuin Nation has worked as a National Parks and Wildlife Service cultural guide in the Shoalhaven for years, and now has her own business – Bugiya Naway Buradja, which translates to Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow – running bushtucker tours and sharing her skills and knowledge of traditional basket weaving.

Her affection for country is palpable. “The best part is right here, the Shoalhaven,” she tells me as we wander through bush a stone’s throw from an arc of white sand and aquamarine water.

Bugiya Naway Buradja Aboriginal tour guide and basket weaver Deidre Martin.
Image credit: Andy Zakeli

“With me being a Yuin woman, coming from this country, I want to share the full experience of my culture and land,” Diedre says. “I want you to be hands on – experience the taste, smell, feel of the plants. That’s how you connect to country.”

As we walk she points out different species used for food and medicine, which includes Native sarsparilla (Smilax glyciphylla), and picks a couple of handfuls she’ll later add to our bush tea and damper. We also stop to learn about the spiny-headed mat rush (Lomandra longifolia), a plant traditionally used by Indigenous women to weave baskets.

Image credit: Andy Zakeli

An hour or so later, Deidre and I sit while that handful of leaves we collected earlier is brewing for our tea as we prepare the damper. Deidre’s hands haven’t stopped since we sat, and now she’s stripping leaves and deftly fashioning the strands into the beginnings of a basket, or dilly bag. She tells me, once finished, that traditionally it would have been used for all manner of things, including collecting plants, berries and seeds.

Image credit: Andy Zakeli

As our time draws to a close I reluctantly rise, yearning to learn much more from Deidre. “Every culture is a living experience,” she says, “and we can learn from each other.” Personally, I can’t wait to take another walk in the Shoalhaven and continue my education.

Take it slow

After my morning with Deidre I was excited to meet some more Shoalhaven locals drawing inspiration, and a living, from the land.

According to Rosie Cupitt, from Cupitt’s Winery, where on her 200 acres near Ulladullah she “grows a few grapes, makes some cheese and we have some cattle that roam around”, there are more than 70 businesses passionate about growing and selling local, sustainable produce in the region.

Rosie Cupitt.

“We’ve all had to adapt after the horrifying bushfires and COVID-19,” Rosie says. “Many are now selling online as well as at cellar doors, at local farmers’ and growers’ markets, and traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.

“Businesses have reinvented their offerings to keep their head above water. And Cupitt’s is no exception. These situations can force you to rethink what you are able to offer your customers and come up with new and exciting ideas.

“Over the past few months we’ve included produce boxes, meal kits, chef-prepared frozen meals, self-isolation beer and wine packs, high tea boxes and the delivery of our products to our greater local region. We have been overwhelmed by the support of our local and online communities.

“Now with the easing of the [COVID-19] regulations, it is once again, time for us – and many other local businesses – to ‘pivot’ (the most overused word of the pandemic) what we are able to offer.” 

Take Kangaroo Valley Olives, which was only just saved from the summer fires when the wind turned. The boutique olive producer, made up of Kangaroo Valley locals, processes its annual harvest in its dedicated processing plant, producing olive oil, balsamic olives and dukkah. And they employ staff with a disability to help with picking – in this way they’re helping keep locals employed. They’ve also moved to online sales.    

So too have Sophie and Rajarshi Ray of Silos Estate winery and cellar door in Berry. Carbon neutral since 2008, the business saves hundreds of tonnes of CO2 emissions and tens of thousands of litres of water. Coupled with its native tree planting program, this has dramatically reduced the ecological footprint of the estate. It even has an electric car charging facility on site. Since 2011, it has established a working alpaca farm, and now hosts the largest outlet on the South Coast for local alpaca producers – the Berry Alpaca Store.  

For some of the wineries in the region, which weren’t razed by the bushfires but had to dump their grapes due smoke and ash damage, they are now selling earlier vintages online or buying in grapes.

According to Brett Richardson from Shoalhaven Wine Coast local vineyards, which started rolling out virtual wine tastings during the pandemic, may well continue them because it is “a great experience to share with friends if you can’t make it to the Shoalhaven in person”.

But what does a virtual tasting involve?

“It’s pretty simple,” says Brett.

1. Order your tasting pack, direct from the winery. Your order will be delivered straight to your door.

2. Tune into Visit Shoalhaven on Facebook for a Watch Party of a special video tasting conducted by the winery. The virtual tastings are held every Friday at 4:40pm. You can catch up on previously held tastings here.

3. Sit back, relax and sip away while being guided by your very own wine expert. 

You can find out more about virtual tastings at The Shoalhaven Wine Coast.

For more information about incredible edible experiences in the Shoalhaven, head to The South Coast Foodie Trail.