AT’s Alissa Jenkins spends a weekend in Macarthur and gains a new perceptive on the area…as well as a few kilos. I’m cruising down the M5 Freeway bound for the Macarthur region in Sydney’s south, and I’ll be honest; my expectations for the weekend ahead aren’t high. ‘Rough’ and ‘suburban’ are among my assumptions.

After about a one hour drive I arrive in Camden and am pleasantly surprised by the area’s country charm, especially given its close proximity to Sydney’s CBD.

I head to Camden Museum and find an impressive collection of indigenous artefacts, phased-out machinery, vintage wedding dresses and all sorts of miscellaneous objects from yesteryear.

A solid starting point to a weekend in the region, complete with a heritage walk throughout the town centre, Camden Museum gives an insight into the area’s past. For example, how it was originally known as ‘The Cowpastures’ after cattle missing from a Sydney colony were eventually found grazing there.

Following an afternoon of history, I check into my accommodation at Garden Cottage B&B in Elderslie. It ticks all the boxes as a clean and comfortable stay, courtesy of a welcoming host. However, a word of warning before booking: the toilet is located outside the building which although still close-by, isn’t ideal on a cold Camden night.

For dinner that evening I head to Camden’s Olives Restaurant, which offers modern Australian cuisine, a warm atmosphere and a reasonable price.
My friend and I sample the gnocchi and prosciutto-wrapped grissini sticks for entrée before devouring our mains – pork belly and eye fillet. Dessert is something special; macadamia and chocolate torte with banana liquor mascarpone, topped in a fairy floss and toffee bird’s nest.

Barely able to walk afterwards with our overloaded bellies, we roll back to the B&B and head to bed.
The next morning I wake up to a tasty breakfast prepared by the host, complete with a fresh fruit salad, croissants and pitted prunes wrapped in bacon, or as our hosts calls them, ‘devils on horseback’. Despite my undigested dinner, it’s a delicious start to the day.

I’m soon on the road again, headed for the newly renamed Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan, which has also recently had its entry fees removed. Driving throughout the 416 hectares of manicured native gardens and lawns, I pass countless walking and vehicle tracks, but only spot a handful of the 180 resident bird species.
Before leaving I quickly check out the onsite refurbished café, which I can attest makes a cracking coffee.

Next stop is Campbelltown Arts Centre. Among the several exhibitions, I’m particularly impressed by a permanent collection of artworks by local artists.
During my fleeting visit I also manage to sneak a peak at the numerous performance studios and workshop spaces there, before checking out the Japanese Garden and Sculpture Garden outside.

As lunchtime nears I make my way to Menangle House, a historic rural property with a house dating back to 1834, originally named the Horse and Jockey Inn.
Today the main house is being restored and contains a pictorial museum of local people from the 1800s, while behind it stands the new Horse and Jockey Tavern, Tabers A La Carte Restaurant and Slab Hut bar. There’s also many courtyards and surrounding gardens sprawled across the four-acre property.

I’m really struck by the country setting and relaxed family-friendly vibe of Menangle House, especially when the live acoustic entertainment begins.
When my braised lamb shanks arrive, the meat literally falls off the bone and judging by my travel buddy’s “mmmm”s, I’m guessing the baked chicken parcel is just as tasty. The ‘Quaddie desert platter’ follows, featuring strawberry cream gelato, lemon curd tart, chocolate brownie and a banoffee pie tartlet.

Then just when I thought I couldn’t possibly fit another bite in, it’s off to Rydges Hotel in Campbelltown where they now host high teas.

Sitting in the hotel’s Infusion Restaurant, I’m served with a selection of ribbon sandwiches, tarts, slices, pink champagne jelly and all sorts of deliciousness. However, I’m so painfully full by this stage that I can hardly sample the beautifully presented three-tiered arrangement.

With a doggie-bag in hand I head for home, pleased by my gluttonous experience of Macarthur. Moreover, that such a rural destination was barely an hour drive from Sydney’s centre.
My conclusion? A great weekend getaway for Sydney-siders to Canberrians that seldom gets the credit it deserves.

DETAILS:
Camden Museum // 40 John Street, Camden, Ph: (02) 4655 3400
Olives Restaurant // 40 Elizabeth Street, Camden, Ph: (02) 4655 6448
Garden Cottage B&B // 62 Harrington Street, Elderslie, Ph: (02) 4658 1312
Campbelltown Arts Centre // Art Gallery Road, Campbelltown, (02) 4645 4100
Menangle House // 170 Menangle Road, Menangle Park, (02) 4633 9111
Infusion Restaurant // Rydges Hotel, Campbelltown, (02) 4645 0500
For more information contact Visit Macarthur on (02) 4645 4921 or www.macarthur.com.au