Fernleigh Upper Hunter regional NSW Monets bridge weekend away short break

finding fernleigh | upper hunter valley | unique australia | nsw short breaks |

Cool, understated elegance that belies inner sparkle and sizzle.

Seeking solitude and a true blue Australian break? A working farm in the Upper Hunter Valley has it in spades. Along with a unique honeymoon eyrie.

Remote is travel’s new black. Out of mobile range, out of sight, out of this world … add to that exclusivity and a quintessential Australian experience, and a long weekend or mid-week sojourn at Fernleigh in the Upper Hunter Valley is a First World rescue remedy.

It’s a painterly landscape, vast and virile and velvety when nature is in accord. Fernleigh is part of a 10,000-acre (4047 hectare) property, a station that runs 5000 sheep (fine wool merinos), a herd of Angus cattle, breeding bulls, and a genetics program. Its neighbours are Ellerston Station and not far away, at Scone, the legendary Belltrees. Bucolic on steroids.

Fernleigh Upper Hunter regional NSW morning mist rural retreat

Fernleigh’s painterly landscape: an escape for the mind and soul. Photo Susan Skelly

Wake to the sound of neighing horses, thudding hooves, bleating sheep, the baritone bark of a New Zealand huntaway in charge of a sheep muster, a symphony of birdsong and the surround-sound of buzzing nectar-seeking bees.

It’s the country, so spread butter like pate, eat sponge cake whose fresh egg yolks make it as yellow as the sun, and dine on chef Kim Taylor’s nourishing, hearty, neo cuisine, with its nod to a shearer’s appetite, Ottolenghi health-giving, and french bistro flavours.

Fernleigh Upper Hunter rural NSW weekend away afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea on high: country comfort

 Call of the wild

Sarah Key, author, back specialist and physiotherapist (whose patients have included the royal family, and who in 2003 received the Member of the Victorian Order, which recognises distinguished personal service to the monarch or her family members), bought the neighbouring property Uloola with her husband, in 1992, both mesmerised by the majesty of the landscape.

They added Fernleigh eight years later. As a retreat, it already has form, as the venue for Key’s Back-In-A-Week workshops. The couple recently decided to better maximise its use by making it available to leisure and corporate groups (ideally six or seven singles or couples) at other times.

They like “the juxtaposition of what we have created inside the fence – luxury and comfort, sanctuary, good food and wine – with what’s outside the fence: the experience of a working property, of seeing the sheep being mustered; being aware of the constant danger of the country – wild boar, deer and dogs; the unexpected. It’s really wild. We forget that.”

Fernleigh Upper Hunter Valley sheep muster fine merino working property

Fernleigh rides on the sheep’s back, producing fine merino wool.

The accommodation comprises the main homestead with its conservatory-style verandas; numerous nooks and crannies to sit and contemplate life from; décor and comfort to do Country Living proud, a chef’s kitchen, thriving plants and, outside, cottage gardens with lavender bushes, quince trees, and cumquats.

A separate cottage has five double rooms named after the region’s locales: Nundle, Scone, Timor, Aberdeen, and Barrington. They’re elegant and cosy, heated, screened, and have walls crammed with well-lit artworks.

For those not keen to ride horses, hunt the neighbourhood’s feral freeloaders, explore the labyrinthine Timor Caves, or roadtest the property’s new fleet of ATVs, Fernleigh’s hosts will take a four-wheel drive over the property’s rugged “ramparts”, stopping at “Sarah’s Gate” with, at 3500 feet, spectacular views of the region’s prime pastoral land and a “bush sofa”, modelled on one Prince Charles has at his country estate, Highgrove.

At 4050 feet is The Hut, a cosy retreat built for Key, who makes a beeline for it every January to escape the heat and write books, columns and lectures in solitude.

Fernleigh Upper Hunter The Hut rural retreat weekend away top of the world

Sarah Key’s retreat into creativity at The Hut, an eyrie at 4000ft.

Honeymoon on top of the world

Nearby is the Bath House; recently completed, and earmarked for a future as one of the country’s most desirable honeymoon or anniversary escapes: a suite – with big stone bath tub – on the top of the world; looking due east to the Barrington Tops over spectacular countryside. You can be driven up or choppered in and left to your own devices with supplies discretely topped up by a 24-hour butler.

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A visit to Fernleigh might coincide with Ellerston polo, the Scone races, or wine-tasting the Hunter Valley. Drive or take the train from Sydney’s Central Station to Murrurundi (4 to 5 hours) and be collected, or go by helicopter (takes about an hour).

Fernleigh Upper Hunter The Bathhouse honeymoon retreat weekend away luxury living

The Bath House escape, with views across the top of the world to Barrington Tops.

The Upper Hunter is known for its horse studs (the annual Scone and Upper Hunter Horse Festival is in May each year); the world heritage listed Barrington Tops, the picturesque landscape of the Goulburn River National Park; the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre; Scone Museum (dolls, toys, war memorabilia and domestic displays), and Fernleigh’s pretty colonial town of Murrurundi, home to Michael Reid’s Gallery.

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A three-night stay at Fernleigh, with good food and fine wines included, is $5600 per person; for bookings and Bath House honeymoon stay inquiries, contact boutique Sydney travel agency, Travel Well, +61 2 9922 2260; travelwell.net.au.






Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab. susan@excessallareas.com.au

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.