Back To Nature – Sydney’s Farm Gate Trail

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If you want to escape city life and are seeking a nature experience, the Hawkesbury Harvest Trail, an hour from Sydney’s CBD, can provide a much-needed breath of fresh air.

It’s also an alternative route to the Blue Mountains which offers some interesting diversions along the way, as opposed to speeding through the suburbs along the main Great Western Highway.

We like to take this ‘back road’ to the Blue Mountains, known as the Bells Line of Road, which is lined with orchards and farms – apples, mandarins, oranges, nectarines and nuts…where you can either pick-your-own produce or simply buy direct from the farm gate. You can meet the farmers who actually grow these fruit and vegetables. And who can resist picking up a baked apple pie fresh from the oven for dessert or a cleansing cider to wash it all down?

The Hawkesbury River region has long been Sydney’s fertile food bowl – for the Dharug Aboriginal people, who called it Deerubbin – and for early settlers who moved there not long after the First Fleet arrived in 1788, in the quest to make the new colony self-sufficient.

These days, many city-dwellers give little thought as to where their food comes from – other than the supermarket shelf. But that is starting to change and there’s growing interest in seeking out fresh, locally-grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.  For me, pottering around this farm gate trail helps me to reconnect with nature.



 CAR – If you drive your own or hire a car, you can meander your way through the farms and orchards yourself. The Hawkesbury Harvest website has a map and an app to help you find the way.

BUS TOURS – There are also various bus tours available which either provide a recommended itinerary or help you to design a personalized tour, based around seasonal availability of fruits. You can find details at Hawkesbury Harvest Tours

WHAT’S TO EAT – Take your pick from apples, oranges, nectarines, plums, passionfruit, tomatoes, nuts…It’s refreshing to buy produce straight from farming families, rather than from the supermarket.

Some farms and orchards allow you to pick your own produce. They will then weigh it and you’ll pay at a set rate per kilogram.  Other farms simply sell their produce from the farm gate.

Most farms and orchards highly recommend that you contact them before visiting to check on the seasonal availability of certain fruit and vegetables.

Following is an outline of some of the orchards and farms below, for a full list, visit Hawkesbury Harvest

Bilpin Fruit Bowl landmark


Bilipin Fruit Bowl

We often like to stop at the Bilpin Fruit Bowl, a well-known landmark, with its enormous bowl of fruit out the front. It is owned and run by Simon & Margaret Tadrosse and their four children. You can either Pick Your Own or buy from the shop. The Tadrosses have been running the Bilpin Fruit Bowl for 30 years and the whole family is involved. Their three daughters run the shop full time, making all the apple pies, cakes, slices, scones, while their son works on the farm.

Their orchard is massive, consisting of around 10,000 fruit trees, that’s 5000 Stone Fruit and 5000 Apple trees.

We always pick up a freshly baked apple pie on our way through which is usually in Autumn or Winter – but I hear that in Summer they also sell peach pies. And when they’re in season, cherry and raspberry pies are also available.

Other orchards offering Pick Your Own (although you should call to check availability first) include:

Shields Orchard which sells a wide range of apples Pink Ladies, Sundowners, Jonathons & Granny Smith apples are among the varieties available here from February to mid May.

Schoefields Orchard which offers Pick Your Own Navel OrangesThis is another a beautiful farm which is 70 years old and has been managed by the one family all this time.


If it’s nuts you’re after, the Farm Gate Trail continues up the mountains to Nutwood Farm at Mount Irvine. It is 20 hectares of farmland, just on the edge of Wollangambee National Park. It sells fresh chestnuts and walnuts. You can Pick Your Own here too. Make sure you wear heavy-soled shoes and bring some gloves if you can. Other nutty place are Kookootonga Nut Farm and Campanella Cottages. Nuts are usually only available around March and April.

For all these farms and orchards, check the website and call or email before you visit to check on seasonal availability. For more details, see Hawkesbury Harvest Pick-Your-Own

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If you’re less active – or you’ve already been fruit picking your way around Australia, perhaps a straight up sale at the farm gate is what you’re after.

On one of our recent trips, we came across Enniskillen Orchard. It is basically a shed and a roadside stall, nestled on a hillside overlooking the breathtaking Grose Valley. I relaxed over a coffee in its aromatic herb garden before buying some fruit and vegetables.

You can read more about the sheer range of farm gate produce available from the farm gate along this fertile region at Hawkesbury Harvest Farm Gate Trails


In addition to a myriad of fresh produce for sale at the farm gate, these days there’s also a new and delicious development in the area that I only noticed on my most recent trip. Several producers are selling locally-made apple cider – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. As a fan of the growing range of overseas alcoholic ciders on offer in Australia, I was quite excited to try the unique Bilpin Blush, made from crisp, pink lady apples, fresh from Bilpin itself. Hillbilly Cider is another range of brews worth trying.


Make sure you consult the map and plan your trip well before heading off. There are so many farm gate locations to choose from on the Hawkesbury Harvest Trail that you won’t possibly be able to visit them all in one day.

That’s the beauty of it – many, many day trips and weekends away lie ahead of you, as you explore this fertile and fascinating region, rich in history and agricultural and gourmet delights.

Themed herb garden

Childhood Holidays in the Country

sugar cane

I always knew we were getting close to my grandparents’ house in Maclean in northern New South Wales by the changing vegetation outside our car window.

Long stretches of the Pacific Highway would whizz past before we finally caught sight of rows of banana plantations, sweeping up the hillsides of Coffs Harbour.

Several hours up the road, bananas gave way to the purple of jacarandas which embraced the streets of Grafton and were, in turn, replaced by swaying fields of sugar cane. Cane fields were the most exotic because it meant we had travelled the furthest north we ever went from Sydney. It also meant we were nearly there.

Trundling alongside the Clarence River, we finally reached Maclean, known as the ‘Scottish Town in Australia’. That’s due to the large number of Scottish immigrants who settled there in the late 19th century, building the Free Presbyterian Church in 1867.

These days there is a large cairn of rocks gathered from around Scotland and Australia in the local park, street signs with Gaelic translations, power poles in the tartan of local clans and Scottish cuisine, such as haggis, available at the local pub.

As a child in the 1970s, I didn’t question all the Scottish-ness in this sleepy Australian riverside town. One of our visits coincided with the Easter Highland Gathering, held for over a century. When we heard the bagpipes start up in the main street, we ran down the hill from my grandparents’ house to watch the parade go by. The band led the way, the pipers in their bearskin and Glengarry hats, followed by the drum corps, then tartan-clad dancers executing highland flings on top of floats. All the townsfolk of Maclean turned out to watch, most of whom my grandparents knew by name.

After the parade, we gathered for the Highland Games which featured intriguingly-named contests such as Putting the Stone, Caber Toss, Hammers and Log Wrestle.

Maclean is also the southern gateway of Australia’s sugar industry and one time our grandfather took us on a tour of Harwood Island Sugar Mill, the oldest continuous working mill in Australia, crushing cane since 1874. I remember being fascinated by the towering hills of white, brown and raw sugar and by the bamboo-like sticks of cane the workers gave us which we gnawed at like pandas.

Some nights, spot fires of burning cane would light up the countryside’s quiet darkness. The stench would make us fear an approaching bushfire…but these were benevolent fires, delivering a bounty to local cane farmers. These days, pre-harvest burning in the area has been almost completely phased out and replaced by green harvesting.

My grandmother’s house was busy with craft and baking. Tea cosies, dolls clothes, crocheted handkerchiefs and Lady Flo’s pumpkin scones – made for us or the local fete. At the Rotary Fair, I would watch my grandfather run the chocolate wheel, dishing out whole chooks to the winners.

By day, we would climb over the back fence to play with the older children who lived there, running out some of our energy on their tennis court or we would pop in to explore the church next door which was always left unlocked. Often our parents would drive us to the beaches of Yamba and Brooms Head or take our car over on the punt across the Clarence River to visit the little township of Lawrence.

Leisurely childhood country holidays, spent fishing from a boat with my grandfather who taught me the beauty of sitting quietly or amid the swirl of kaftans, frocks and cocktails of large country parties, with my grandparents entertaining guests all day and into the night.