History and natural wonders await at Braidwood, where time stands still.
The beautifully-preserved township of Braidwood, NSW, has a distinct Georgian flair that reflects its early 1800s origins. The State-Heritage listed Braidwood District Historical Society Museum, built in 1845 as the Royal Hotel, joins a hundred others catalogued by the state body. Indeed, ‘Braidwood and its settings’ was the first complete town to be heritage listed by the New South Wales government in 2006. You’ll find plenty of old and sensitively restored buildings throughout town, servicing tourists and the local community as pubs, cafes, galleries and antique shops today.
Braidwood is at the doorstep of an impressive natural environment. Many locals are familiar with the Big Hole in Deua National Park. This limestone feature is a roofless cave more than 100m deep and 50m wide. It’s reached on foot via a 3.6km round trip from Berlang Campground, one of several in the park. Getting to the Big Hole is fairly easy walk but it involves a wade across the Shoalhaven River – so be careful if the water level is up. It’s not uncommon for hikers to get stranded on the wrong side of the water!
Probably less well-known is the ancient rainforest located in Monga NP. While there’s no camping in the park, there is a privately-owned campground on its edge, and the area’s natural heritage is easy to access with both 2WDs and 4WDs and is just a short drive. Penance Grove, an interpretative boardwalk within the park, provides easy access to an oasis of ferns, mosses, tree ferns and plumwoods – a plant genus that was once widespread on the ancient Gondwana continent.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Braidwood is within an easy drive of any number of places of interest. It’s an hour west of Canberra, where you’ll find plenty to see. Canberra is the gateway to the Snowy Mountains, accessible via the Monaro Highway or, more scenically, through the Brindabella Range.
Braidwood is also just a stone’s throw from the state’s south coast. Anyone who’s been to this area and hasn’t yet found the beachfront campsite at Pebbly Beach is missing a real treat. Throughout the region, there are great trout and bass fishing spots. So find yourself a free camp next to a river or near a bushwalking track, and get back to basics.
GOLD IN THEM HILLS
Gold was discovered in Majors Creek in 1851. The goldfields extend from Braidwood to Bungonia Gorge including the Majors Creek area in Elrington, the Jembaicumbene alluvial goldfield and the Araluen alluvial goldfield, the largest alluvial deposit in New South Wales. At its peak in 1871, the Braidwood population swelled from around 1100 people in the early 1840s to more than 10,000 people in and its surrounding townships. The impact of the gold rush on Braidwood can still be seen in some of the town’s historic buildings.
While deposits began to dry up for prospectors after around 20 years, gold fever has not entirely left the region. Since 2006, an area of around 650sq km has been under active exploration by a commercial mining company. Raising controversy in the Braidwood community, part of the holding at Dargues Reef is currently being expanded with an underground mine, crushing facility, processing plant and associated infrastructure under development. The focus of the mining effort is more than two million tonnes of ore, expected to yield nearly 330,000 ounces
Not surprising then, the Braidwood region is still popular for fossicking. About 10km west of Braidwood, Bombay (among others) is favoured by prospectors. In fact, wherever there’s public river access, dipping a gold pan in the water can yield results. Check out Stuart Crossing, north of Braidwood which has a good free camping spot next to a river. If you can’t find gold, at least you’ll enjoy a swim.
FAME AND INFAMY
While Braidwood is a laidback place, it’s actually made some fairly significant contributions to our national identity. You may be surprised, for example, to learn that several iconic Australian films were made in the vicinity of Braidwood. These include the 1969 movie Ned Kelly with Mick Jagger in the title role, The Year My Voice Broke in 1987 with Noah Taylor and On Our Selection with an all-star cast including Leo McKern, Joan Sutherland and Geoffrey Rush. The Miles Franklin award-winning author of 1915, Roger McDonald, is a Braidwood local. The town was also visited by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith in the Southern Cross in 1932.
The Braidwood area was also home to the Clarke brothers who have been called ‘the worst and most troublesome bushrangers of all time’ by Peter Smith, Braidwood local and author of the recently published The Clarke Gang – Outlawed, Outcast and Forgotten. Sons of an Irish convict father, the Clarke brothers grew up in and around Braidwood to become thieves, cattle rustlers and gold robbers. They menaced an area stretching from Canberra to the south coast. On March 13 1865, the brothers are reputed to have attacked a gold escort, with another famous bushranger Ben Hall, on a steep and narrow stretch of the Majors Creek Road leading from the Araluen valley towards Braidwood. The spot is marked on the roadside. In a separate incident, the brothers are suspected to have executed four constables who were attempting to track them down.
A memorial to the constables can be seen today in the Braidwood Cemetery. At the Nelligen Park and rest area on the Clyde River near Batemans Bay, you can still visit a tree stump where the Clarke brothers were reputedly chained awaiting transportation to Sydney’s Darlinghurst Gaol where they were tried and then executed on June 25, 1867.
Braidwood has enjoyed a gastronomic revival in recent times. A favourite among locals and visitors alike is the Dojo Bakery which has a great selection of pastries, traditional pies and sour dough breads, all utilising the freshest local ingredients. And walking the main street, you’ll find no fewer than four other signs advertising freshly baked home-made pies. If you’re looking for a wider range of options, you’ll find plenty of local produce lovingly prepared and plated for your enjoyment amid your choice of 150-year-old, architecturally-designed surroundings. Remember though, this is a town that caters mostly for day-time traffic, so your options after dark may be more limited.
For something a little different, head to Sully’s Cidery near Reidsdale, a short drive out of town. Located in an old cheese factory, this place makes traditional cider using local ingredients and rare varieties of apples previously unrecorded in Australia but found nearby on old farms – likely legacies from British immigrants to the gold rush. Among other local produce sold at Sully’s, the pickled garlic ‘scapes’ (stalks) are an unusual find – great for antipasto platters, to add to stews or snip over pizza. Sully’s offers cider tastings and a tasty lunch menu on Sundays.
Braidwood is 88km east of Canberra and 285km south of Sydney.
Camping near Braidwood is available at Warri Reserve, 13km north-west; Majors Creek Recreational Reserve, 16km south; at Araluen Creek campground, 23km south; Stuart Crossing, 35km north; on private property (by arrangement) at the Monga Settlement, bordering Monga NP; Deua River campground 49km south of Braidwood or within Deua NP.
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Check out the full feature in issue #101 June 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.