A dog-friendly road trip around regional New South Wales takes in some of the state’s most spectacular countryside – not to mention pet-friendly accommodation, restaurants and pubs where pooches are pampered as much as their owners. Words and photography by Natasha Dragun.
It’s 9pm on a sun-soaked summer evening, and it’s well past Ziggi and Zoe’s bedtime. But they’re still running around the immaculate lawns of Corynnia Station, ignoring my calls to come inside, tumbling over resident fur-babies that are making the most of the fading day. A horticultural oasis in the middle of vast, parched farmland, this beautiful homestead has been a labour of love for Julie and Bruce Armstrong for more than four decades. In 1982 they began transforming the 8000-hectare estate in Carrathool, a small village on the Riverina plain around 500 kilometres west of Sydney, into a working merino sheep and cotton farm. At the heart of it all is their sprawling home, decorated with eclectic objets d’art and curious that the couple have collected on their travels around the world. Some rooms and the old jackaroo cottages have been remodelled and set aside for paying guests like our family of four – two humans, two fur babies – with the added bonus being that everything here is pet friendly.
It’s our second night away from home on a road trip around regional New South Wales, and my first-ever driving getaway with both bulldogs – Ziggi, our seven-year-old mini Aussie bulldog, and Zoe, our cheeky seven-month-old English bulldog – on the backseat. According to recent research, dogs are considered a barrier to most pet-owners when it comes to having a weekend away, but thanks to a growing range of upscale, pooch-friendly accommodation, cafes and bars, it’s becoming increasingly easy to holiday around the state with our fur-babies in tow.
Heading out of Sydney, our first stop is at Trader & Co. in Yass, where the aroma of freshly baked bread proves to be an irresistible incentive to behave on the lead. We sit streetside, the dogs getting a side of bacon while we order bowls loaded with quinoa, roasted beetroot, free-range eggs and organic vegetables. A collective of socially conscious enterprises, including Six8 Coffee and The Kitchen, the establishment also has a retail section curated by Studio Wild, stocked with chocolate, homewares and jewellery by local creatives.
It’s a scenic drive on through the Snowy Mountains to Tumut Plains, where we check into self-contained, pet-friendly Elm Cottage. Laced with native flora overlooking the Goobarragandra River, the property is a paradise for the pooches; they explore the pastures while we pour chilled glasses of riesling from the Clonakilla winery in Murrumbateman, north of Canberra – a brief detour on our way here. The dogs are happy to see there’s more bacon on the breakfast platter left in our fridge, as well as a couple of packets of treats, which we use to bribe them back into the car.
Not far away is Tumut River Brewing Co., which ambitiously makes more than 50 types of beer, with 20 on tap at any given time. There’s a delicious spiced pumpkin ale, an amber lager known as Voodoo Child, and the zingy Ginger Ninja: a ginger beer made using locally grown apples. Owner Tim Martin delivers water bowls for the dogs and tasting paddles of his award-winning creations for us, along with a couple of wood-fired pizzas: one topped with Snowy Mountains smoked trout, the other with rosemary and potato.
On our way to Corynnia Station we motor through Barellan, the former home of tennis great Evonne Goolagong, and stop in the tiny town of Temora to snap Ziggi and Zoe at the region’s newest attraction: a statue of Boofhead. A fox terrier that rode the railway lines in the 1960s and was given lifelong membership at the local RSL, Boofhead is like the Riverina’s version of Red Dog. He is immortalised in a bronze statue on the station’s only platform, along with a collection of railway memorabilia dating back to the 1890s, when the station opened.
Another pooch, a nameless kelpie, is similarly celebrated in nearby Ardlethan, a small service town known as the birthplace of the iconically Australian dog breed. It may be sleepy today, but this part of the world was booming when gold was discovered here in the 19th century; at one time, it was also home to the Southern Hem
isphere’s largest tin mine. And then there’s the country’s most famous canine statue: the Dog on the Tuckerbox in nearby Gundagai (money collected from the visitors’ centre and wishing well here is donated to the local hospital). Unfortunately, we don’t have time to linger, as lunch in Griffith beckons, an hour’s drive away.
On the city’s main drag, Miei Amici is busy when we arrive, but we manage to nab one of the alfresco tables, which comes with plenty of space for treats and water for the dogs. Zoe nudges Ziggi out of the way when the snacks are delivered, then manages to devour most of the bacon while we enjoy loaded salads and cheese toasties. Inside, the cafe’s walls are lined with artisanal oils, vinegar and pasta from local purveyors, so we stock up on pantry essentials.
At Corynnia Station Ziggi and Zoe curl up on the colourful Persian rug in our VIP Homestead Suite – a private section of the original 1930s building – while we sip coffee from floral china on the patio. But truth be told, it’s the garden we’re all most infatuated with. Perfectly manicured grass surrounds the house, broken only by beds of fragrant roses, tall stands of lavender, pots of curious-looking succulents and statues by artist Kim Gibbs. Enormous jacarandas create shady nooks for wrought-iron chairs, while grape vines drape over the pool, enveloped by neatly trimmed hedges. There are butterflies, birds and cicadas, humming melodically at sunset when Julie and Bruce invite our clan for drinks on the verandah; in winter, guests gather around an outdoor fire instead.
The next day in Wagga Wagga, lunch is at another brewery: the Thirsty Crow. We sip on Thirsty MO, a red ale made with malt from the Riverina, while owner Craig Wealands brings the dogs frozen-pea-and-bone-broth balls to combat the heat. The slick establishment offers tasting paddles of its beers, which include the six produced annually as well as a couple of seasonal brews and drops by other Wagga micro-makers. The menu is fresh and flavourful, featuring sliders, ribs and dips, and an incredibly generous brewery board loaded with cheeses, smoked meats and house-made pistachio loaf.
From here it’s a 50-minute drive to Kimo Estate in Gundagai, our final overnight stop. The working sheep farm’s 300 hectares of rolling hills are also home to four individually styled cottages – one a luxe pitched-roof eco-lodge, another the former shearers’ accommodation turned into a luxe bolthole, and ours, Daleys Cottage, set under a blooming acacia.
Character-filled bedrooms revolve around the cosy living room with its open fire, while the fully stocked kitchen comes with a breakfast hamper and local wines, the latter for purchase. We’re in a remote part of the state, but there’s internet access – and a sign advising that if the wi-fi is down, we should crack a beer and sit on the patio instead. We do just that, soaking up an incredible sunset before motoring down the Hume Highway to make our dinner reservation at the Sir George Hotel in Jugiong.
The historic pub’s selling feature is its spacious lawn area and beer garden, where Ziggi and Zoe run amok while we order from the incredibly sophisticated menu including our choice of ricotta-stuffed zucchini fritters, silky white anchovies and warmed Italian olives – with a side of bacon for the dogs, of course.