June 19, 2017

Ride Queensland's Valley Rattler

Chugging and choofing right on track

If the shriek of a steam whistle and the hiss of a steam engine are music to your ears, Helen Flanagan suggests the Valley Rattler.

Hanging baskets of flowers, a dinky refreshment room and the ticketing office of the Gympie Railway Station are shades of 1913, the year the original 1870's building was replaced and the new rail line, connecting the gold-rich town to Brisbane was opened. Travel by coastal steamer to Maryborough and train to Gympie with an onward stagecoach service to Noosa had finally become a thing of the past.  

Today the Mary Valley Rattler Heritage Railway runs steam train tours as a tribute to the region's rail heritage. In charge of the eight driving-wheeled, 80 tonne locomotive, built in the UK by Armstrong Whitworth, at a cost of 5013 pounds and shipped to Brisbane in 1927 is John, a steam train driver since 1959. He is assisted by fireman Archie.

The station master calls "all aboard" and rings the big brass bell as the steam whistle shrieks. Number 802 pulls out of the station past the old Queenslander-style Railway Hotel, masses of brilliantly coloured jacaranda trees, work sheds and outhouses swathed in bougainvillea, through the Gympie burbs and onto what was considered the alternative railway to the coastal line from Brisbane in 1884/85.

The Rattler's carriages date from 1909 and were built at workshops in Ipswich. The Club car with its bar, coffee tables, comfy tub chairs and banquette-style seats was originally built as a Pullman-type sleeper with curtained berths down each side and a central aisle. When delivered to the workshop for major restoration, all that could be salvaged was the underframe and bogies. These were repaired, refurbed and fitted with a completely new superstructure.

From Deep Creek Bridge, which is thirty metres above the creek bed, evidence can be seen of the many gold workings that made up an essential part of Gympie's golden era. Once past Monkland railway station, the Rattler crosses the Mary Valley and negotiates steep gradients and narrow bridges. Thrusting up the windows, ale in hand, there's a much-needed cool breeze. It's now also much easier to check out 802's billowing smoke stack and rear carriages as it rounds each bend. There are spectacular views, much evidence of thriving rural communities, large herds of grazing dairy and beef cattle and a tapestry of pineapple, macadamia and vegetable farms whiz by.

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks. Is this what train buffs call the romanticism of rail?

Amamoor is home to the Gympie Muster and after a brief stop at the fully restored station, a squiz at the arts and crafts, plus knits and bits that are reminiscent of yesteryear, passengers gawk as the locomotive and fire truck go into turn-around-mode. Back on board it's full steam ahead to Dagun station. Moffatdale Ridge wines and Kenilworth cheeses are available for tastings and purchase, large local pineapples and organic avocados are an absolute steal and an icy Dagun Delight with mango and macadamia, lived up to its name.

Forty kilometres of huffing-puffing and choo-chooing later, a memorable afternoon was over. Next time we'll pack the esky for the journey and experience a full day on the Rattler. The stop at Imbil for country-style markets and a good old fashioned lunch at the Railway Hotel is a must-do.

Doing It:

Ride the Rattler on Saturday, Sunday and Wedndesdays. Ph: (07) 5482 2750 www.thevalleyrattler.com

The gentle cha-kung cha-kung rhythm reaches max crescendo, is replaced by sounds of creaking wood and punctuated by much clanking over tracks


Words: Helen Flanagan

Images: As supplied

Feature supplied by: www.wtfmedia.com.au



At full steam
Almost ready
A quick check
Steam train supremos John and Archie
Leaving Gympie
Gympie Station

June 08, 2017

Mudgee's Blue Wren Winery: A bright feather in your culinary cap

After a complete upgrade to every aspect of the property, one of Mudgee’s signature wineries relaunches as a bold gastronomic and events venue. Roderick Eime tested his taste buds.

There’s a wry smirk on Chef Steve’s face as he digs deep into the punnet of thick coffee-coloured mousse he’s about to put on my plate. The velvet-smooth paste is delicately extracted with an ice cream scoop and placed to the side.

Chef Steve is a demon with the blowtorch

As I ponder this strange concoction, Steve continues to taunt me with cheeky glances as he prepares for the next astonishing procedure. Sugar is generously sprinkled on the mass and - voila - a blowtorch! The crystals are quickly turned to brûlée under the blaze of the gas flame, nearly searing our iPhones as we clamber for a photo.

duck breast etc
Crispy Skin Duck breast, duck liver ice-cream brûlée, pickled radish, cauliflower, crouton, dehydrated raspberry.

A healthy sliver of crispy skin duck breast, pickled radish, cauliflower fragments and sliced crouton the size of Smith’s crisps are meticulously arranged before the entire ensemble is garnished with a dusting of crimson dehydrated raspberry. We look at each other in amazement as this creation reaches its climax. The ice cream? Duck liver, of course.

Here at the Blue Wren Winery in Mudgee, Executive Chef and owner Kip Harris, is launching his new five-course winter degustation menu and we’re among the first to try this cavalcade of indulgence, constructed before our very eyes.

Boasting the only Chef’s Table experience in the burgeoning NSW Central West wine region, The Restaurant @ Blue Wren exhibits an outrageous cornucopia of flavours and challenges the taste buds of the most discerning and adventurous diner.

“This dish is certainly a non-traditional mix of flavours but I love experimenting with methods when putting together the ingredients for a dish and pushing boundaries in playing with the diners’ perception of flavours” Harris tells us, our jaws still dropping.

The Restaurant is quickly becoming a ‘must visit’ destination for those wanting to experience fine dining in regional New South Wales and now provides ease for diners with private car transfers for those staying locally.

“Since launching our first five-course tasting menu last season we have received a great reaction from our guests. People have trust in our bold flavours and gastronomy forms the foundation for a memorable experience”, he adds.

Chefs Table (adjusted)
Kip Harris with guests at his chef's table

Harris, 37, took over at Blue Wren two years ago from his father and has recently spent more than $500,000 upgrading the property. Enhancements include substantial reworking of the function space to accommodate 200 seated and 450 standing guests as well as a ‘clean slate’ rebuild of the kitchen.

Visitors can pop in and enjoy a wine flight, featuring five of the winery’s top single vineyard drops. The reserve shiraz (no.913) is the standout with, as Kip loves to describe, ‘aromas of sweaty saddle and creosote-soaked railway sleepers in the blazing summer sun’.

But you could be easily satisfied with the ‘regular’ shiraz (No.914) or one of the delightful whites like the low alcohol and zesty Verscato (No.216) or simmering rose (No.516).

Comfortable digs: Blue Wren Farmhouse sleeps ten
Situated a leisurely four hours’ drive from Sydney, Blue Wren is only a short distance from Mudgee township - where guests can explore the delightful country town that offers plenty of old world charm and ambiance mixed with plenty of rustic funk and edgy cuisine like Kip’s.


Why not stay at the winery itself in the brand new five bedroom Farmhouse? Take the family or a group of fun friends for a weekend of frolic in the vineyards. You can even fly in economically with regional airline, Fly Pelican [http://www.flypelican.com.au], who service Mudgee six times a week from T2 at Sydney.


Open for dinner from Wednesday through to Saturday, and lunch Friday through Sunday; the menu features a five-course tasting menu $98 per person with matching wines from the Blue Wren range at $35 per person. Bookings essential.

For more information and bookings:
www.bluewrenwines.com.au or Ph: +61 2 6372 6205

433 Ulan Road
Mudgee NSW 2850

The writer stayed as a guest of Blue Wren Winery