Known for unconventional prisoners, killer pies and a book barn that’s bringing back geek chic, Berrima has all the charm and romance that comes with being frozen in time. By Liz Schaffer. Only 125km southwest of Sydney, Australia’s oldest Georgian village owes its existence to unpredictable colonial transportation. When first settled in 1831 Berrima planned on becoming the regional center of NSW – and built a jail and courthouse to celebrate. However, in 1867 a new railway line bypassed the tiny community, leaving it untouched for close to a century. While this probably annoyed early residents it allows modern explorers to encounter a few striking examples of Australiana.

A personal favorite is the Surveyor General Inn, which continues to serve up some wicked pub grub and is said to be the oldest continually operating hotel in Australia. And then there’s the jail. Overlooking the Surveyor General and a stones throw away from the Wingecarribbee River, the impressive building housed German internees during World War One, munitions during World War Two, bushrangers and crooked State politicians. Rex Jackson was famous for making cuckoo clocks during his stay.

The Main Drag

The delectable collection of curio shops, bakeries and cafes lining Berrima’s main street are built from locally quarried sandstone, hand made bricks and a splattering of wooden awnings. Crab apple and plum trees complete the postcard worthy picture and somehow turned my thoughts to food.

With its selection of creative cakes, slices and pastries the elegant Gumnut Patisserie had me covered for morning tea. At Easter Gumnut’s spice-packed hot cross buns run out the door, but the pies are perfect all year round. Pumpkin damper from the Old Bakery Tea Room just across the road is also a crunchy and colourful picnic staple.

For something a bit sweeter the Little Hand Stirred Jam Shop, with its whitewashed walls and exposed wonky beams, stocks over 200 varieties of country-made produce. Their vibrant jams definitely put the famous Southern Highlands berries to good use. The Magpie Café and Black Swan also offer fantastic coffee and food in relaxed, rustic interiors.

Harpers Mansion

From its imposing position overlooking Berrima Harpers Mansion has enjoyed stints as a home, presbytery, convent and almost abandoned ruin. Despite temporarily falling into disrepair, locals have reclaimed the redbrick property in recent years and returned it to its former grandeur. As well as reproducing original paint samples and recreating verandahs, residents planted a backyard maze that’s deceptively tricky to navigate.

Self-guided Walks

Thanks to the tireless work of nature-loving locals the Wingecarribbee River continues to offer up a stunning assortment of bushwalks, fishing spots and secluded picnic haunts. To explore the area grab a map from the Berrima Court House Museum, which also has the keys to various historic buildings. The well maintained paths are easy to tackle and great for adventurous visitors.

The Book Barn

I can safely say that the best place to pour over 200,000 second hand books is a huge converted barn, complete with a hayloft, cattle and all manner of rural paraphernalia. Located on the ‘Bendooley’ property, it can take an entire day to explore the Book Barn, which is packed with books on every imaginable topic. Naturally, there’s also a cafe to help those who feel a bit browsed out.

After repeatedly losing myself in books, pies and mazes I really have to thank a quirk of history for leaving Berrima behind. If only all transport mess-ups could produce such idyllic results.

The Details

Berrima Courthouse and Historical Museum
Argyle Street //
(02) 4877 1505

Surveyor General Inn
Hume Hwy //
(02) 4877 1226

The Gumnut Patisserie //
Post Office Corner //
(02) 4877 2177

Old Bakery Tea Room //
Wingecarribee Street //
(02) 4877 1343

The Little Hand Stirred Jam Shop //
Hume Hwy //
(02) 4877 1404

The Magpie Café //
Hume Highway //
(02) 4877 2008

Black Swan //
11 Old Hume Hwy
(02) 4877 2222

Harpers Mansion //
9 Wilkinson St //
(02) 4877 1508

Berrima Book Barn //
Bendooley, Old Hume Hwy //
(02) 4877 1370