Excitement starts to build about 30 minutes before you pull up at Barranca. Winding along the one road in, you gradually realise just how beautiful the place you’re about to arrive at must be. Then, right when you think the Shoalhaven surroundings couldn’t impress you more, you get to your temporary home in the dreamy depths of the valley and walk into your bedroom. The view from the enormous north-facing glass wall is pretty impressive.
Two hours from Sydney via Bowral – on acres of farmland surrounded by towering sandstone walls, covered with a thick blanket of trees – sit four luxury villas. Built from native Australian timbres and up-cycled heritage sandstone (designed by Sydney’s Grove Architects), they blend seamlessly into the highland backdrop and are spaced far enough apart you won’t notice your neighbours.
Sweetly named Ferndale, Willow, Jacaranda and Banksia, each have an outdoor firepit, indoor fireplace, spacious living and dining areas, and a fully equipped kitchen with coffee machine and Smeg appliances. The bench space is apt for monster cook-ups, plus there is a barbeque on the deck.
Four-bedroom Ferndale is ours for two nights. We find a fridge stocked with eggs and cold meats from nearby Terrewah Farm, locally produced Hampden Deli cheese, and enough Pepe Saya butter for two morning’s worth of pancakes. We save a freshly made loaf of grainy bread to make sandwiches.
Furniture is from MCM House, and in the spacious bathrooms (yep, two bathrooms, plus an outdoor shower) you’ll find Leif products. There’s wi-fi and enough firewood to last the weekend. We ignore the smart TV in favour of the piles of board games and coffee-table books. (Heads up: phone reception is limited, but that’s not a bad thing.)
At golden hour – around 4pm – we open a bottle of wine, wrap ourselves in woolly blankets, and plonk ourselves on the big comfy couch outside to watch the day disappear. Our nostrils fill with the glorious smell of someone’s campfire (we’ll light ours in a bit) as the sounds of frogs, birds and a running creek occupy our silences. As a gentle rain pitter-patters the corrugated-iron roof, the navy sky becomes luminous. The city couldn’t feel further away.
In the morning, everything’s changed. The sun is up, but the birds aren’t. It’s impossibly quiet and still. Then, things start to stir. Warmth and honey-hued light saturate my bed when the sun pops out from behind the valley wall. Kookaburras laugh, a flock of ducks comes to the window to say g’day, and Lick Lick, the pony, hankers for his brekkie.
At 8am we join one of the property’s caretakers, Andrew, while he feeds the farm animals. There are three saddleback pigs, a couple of buffalo, two donkeys named Edward and Sundance, Lick Lick (my fave), and three horses: Joy, Arthur and Stormy George. We also meet former mounted police officer Scott Brodie, who runs Barranca’s equine program. He works with returned service personnel suffering from PTSD, using horses as part of their rehabilitation.
While it’s perfectly okay to go to Barranca and not do much (in fact, I recommend it), it’s just as suitable for those who want to do it all. You can swim in the creek, follow the marked bushwalk trails, or head into Kangaroo Valley’s charming centre, known for its tea rooms and pies (my pick is the creamy chicken from Kangaroo Valley Pie Shop – with sauce, of course). You can canoe and kayak, play a round of golf, or explore the greater Southern Highlands region and its abundance of wineries. It’s also worth checking out the magnificent Fitzroy Falls in nearby Morton National Park. Next door you’ll find Grandpa’s Shed, a warehouse filled with so many antiques you could spend a day there. Then, after all those activities, you can reward yourself with a massage or spa treatment in the comfort of your villa.
Barranca is a top spot for families of four or parties of eight, and, once its 150-person shared events space Archie’s is complete, it’ll be a destination for weddings too. There are plans to run paddock-to-plate cooking tutorials, wellness retreats, art schools and conferences also.