Ruwenzori Retreat, Mudgee review: Perfect for blowing off steam

Steaming in ... it's old-style opulence in the State Car.
Steaming in ... it's old-style opulence in the State Car. 

Read our writer's views on this property below

Matt Martel savours the thrill of a stay on a train bound for nowhere.

When we open our eyes, it's still there. We really are sleeping in a genuine railway carriage, all red fleur-de-lis carpets, massive beds, red velvet curtains with gold fringes, dark wood, marble bathroom and pressed-tin ceilings. It's like the Orient Express, except that we're 32 kilometres from Mudgee and we're not moving.

Three railway carriages are perched high on a flat-topped hill, turned into two opulent sleeping cars and a dining car. Outside, a multi-level garden tumbles about, fashioned from granite blocks and lawn. Lavender, a fountain, barbecues and seats to take in the view are tucked around the foundations.

Beyond that is a second, stranger garden of industrial antiques, wagons, a signal box with shining lights, pulleys, wheels and other memorabilia strewn about among boulders and twisted gumtrees.

Further out, we can see the stunning views over wide, flat plains.

When we arrived the night before, the weather was wild and we were too taken up with putting children to bed (as if the four-year-old could sleep she was so over-excited in her own original train bunk in its own little compartment) to look around much. Next morning, the winds have calmed but it's freezing. The underfloor heating doesn't seem to be working, so we go through to the dining car to get breakfast.

But nothing works. No lights, no heaters, no stove. No phone. It seems the storm has taken out the district's electricity. Not to worry. The train is equipped with wood fires, a gas stove and matches as well as eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, waffles and coffee. Warm and well fed, we get at least four steps from the carriage door before we are stopped by the reindeer swing. A little further on, it's the tree made of taps.

We follow paths through the trees, down to the picnic area, past wombat holes and weird sculptures, back up past more magnificent views. We have to keep stopping. This takes several hours.

In 1979, Ruwenzori began life as a bare block of freshly subdivided land. Television presenter Scott McGregor, perhaps best known for his spots on a DIY show, began to build his eccentric family retreat.

At the time, State Rail was selling off its old rolling stock and McGregor managed to snap up several carriages for just their scrap value. He's spent years rebuilding the 1920s State Car, the 1890 Sydney Passenger Car and the 1899 Pullman Car into sumptuous sleeping and living spaces of old-fashioned luxury.

The State Car has a large lounge with a writing desk and a double bed at one end, marble bathroom with a deep bath, the original compartment that has a double bunk, plus a large second bedroom with queen bed.

The Pullman has a pale-blue theme, a queen stateroom, a lounge with a kitchenette, a double bed with privacy curtaining and a day bed that converts to two single beds.

The dining car has a long table, comfortable lounge area and a superbly equipped kitchen with all the basics, including a bottle of local wine.

You'd never believe McGregor paid less than $500 for the carriages. It's hard to imagine the labour involved getting them up to the top of that hill and dropped into position and all the years that must have gone into finding all the bits and pieces that have turned them into marvellous works of art.

Details abound railway signs ("gentlemen should not loiter around the toilets when smoking or conversing"), memorabilia and insignia. Despite being anchored by a large veranda between the cars, it still feels as though you might wake up at night and hear the steam whistle blowing and the clickety clack starting up as they roll off on another journey.

Although we could spend several more days here (it takes hours to drag ourselves away), we have to head home. But we'll be back. All aboard.

The writer was a guest of Ruwenzori and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

ADDRESS Ruwenzori Retreat, 193 Ridge Road, 32 kilometres from Mudgee.

BOOKINGS Phone (02) 6687 2004, see www.otr.com.au.

RATES From $420 a night at weekends for up to four people. Two-night minimum.

VERDICT

Oh sooo cool. You can pretend to be European royalty or that you are on the Orient Express.

WHY YOU'D GO For the experience or to visit Mudgee and Gulgong in style.

WHY YOU WOULDN'T You have no sense of fun.

FIND TIME TO

- Visit the museum in Gulgong. Old coaches, cars, toys and dolls. It's really good.

- Visit wineries.

- Take walks in the bush and drink in the views.