How green is our valley

Lance Richardson forages for beef and honey, wine and oil on a tour of boutique producers.

Breakfast takes the form of home-made muesli and a million-dollar view from Wentworth Falls. The mountains are such a gradual ascent, it isn't until you look down at the distant haze of Sydney that you realise how high they are. Still, Charles Darwin wasn't particularly impressed when he came here in 1836. "From so grand a title as Blue Mountains," he wrote, "I expected to have seen a bold chain of mountains crossing the country; but instead of this, a sloping plain presents merely an inconsiderable front to the low land of the coast." Perhaps his morning coffee wasn't as good as ours.

We're staying at Silvermere, a private country estate built in 1923 on the hill between the Jamison and Grose valleys. The Mediterranean-style villa has become a guesthouse and the rooms have been modernised to accommodate 12 in comfort. But as tempting as the wood fire is, there's no time for lounging about the house today with the newspaper. We finish our coffee and climb into a four-wheel-drive that is waiting at the gate.

The whirlwind Blue Mountains Food Discovery Tour begins wherever you are but it goes, Mark Perrin says, to "places the locals don't even know are here".

Recognising the often-overlooked food offerings of the mountains, Perrin and his wife, Rebecca, wanted to offer something a little different.

They have assembled an itinerary that ranges wide in the pursuit of local produce. In their hands we are hunters and gatherers with a checklist and we will eat what we find by the hot blaze of a modern barbecue. Again, things have changed dramatically since Darwin wrote: "With the exception of two or three small inns, there are no houses, or cultivated land: the road, moreover, is solitary; the most frequent object being a bullock-wagon, piled up with bales of wool."

By the time we're done with the road, our "wagon" will be full of gourmet treats and wellfed hunters. At least that's the plan. It occurs to me that breakfast might have been a bad idea.

Our first proper pause comes at the Blue M Cafe. It's only 500 metres from the Three Sisters, but all eyes are on the hand-made preserves. A small tasting area has been set up and a dozen jars sit open and waiting. As we sample caramelised garlic and chilli jam, it doesn't take much to convince us that the preserves are delicious - but they're hardly a meal on their own. We have a long way to go to build up this barbecue lunch. But not that far to get to morning tea.

"When my wife still worked in the city and drove up, this is one of the towns she wished didn't exist to make the journey a little bit quicker," Perrin says as we slide into Woodford. "She thinks differently about it now."

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Our second stop is hidden just beyond the beginning of the Oaks Fire Trail, a popular 27-kilometre track with bushwalkers and cyclists that threads all the way fromWoodford to Glenbrook. Woodford Honey is run by Karen and Lyle Clinton, and past their house and terraced lawns we come upon a tiny extraction shed, buzzing with industry as honey is machine-spun from the comb.

Lyle regales us with a graphic description of how honey is born that involves a second stomach, natural enzymes and regurgitation between the ranks of worker bees, which we digest with home-made scones and piping-hot tea intended to fortify us for the rest of our journey.

This takes the form of a quiet drive into the Megalong Valley. It took a vista of the Jamison to finally impress Darwin, and Megalong is equally stunning. We drop down into a fertile gloom of temperate rainforest, past two campers trudging up the road. Not far from here is the Six Foot Track, another popular route for hikers with a few days up their sleeve. Stretching 45 kilometres from Katoomba to the Jenolan Caves, it proves there are more ways than the 4WD to discover the fruits of the mountains.

Our purpose in the valley is threefold and falls under the banner of Megalong Produce.

First, we visit Megalong Beef and its curious "beef door", a carnivorous take on the cellar door. On some Sundays a live band plays and the audience can grow to an impressive party. Craig Schuetrumpf is a vegetarian but his Angus beef tastes like the work of a master. We also visit Megalong Gold, with its award-winning olive oils, but it's the third destination that's the winner. Lunch arrives sizzling on the barbecue at Dryridge Estate, just over the crest of the next hill. Its shiraz, riesling and rose´ grapes frame the fortifying meal we've been gradually accumulating along the way.

By the time we return to Silvermere several hours later, it's nearly dark. The tour takes in coffee at Whisk and Pin, and ends with handmade chocolates in Leura. By this stage, the popular adage that there's always room for dessert seems slightly over-confident. As Perrin drives off in his 4WD, leaving us to loosen the belts, I'm surprised there is enough room in the car.

Lance Richardson travelled courtesy of Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism and Tourism NSW.

FAST FACTS
Eating there

- The Blue Mountains Food Discovery tour runs most weekends and includes a door-todoor service from Wentworth Falls, Leura and Katoomba accommodation, or pick-up from Katoomba station. It costs $139 a person, which includes tastings, morning tea, lunch and hand-crafted chocolate. Tailored private charters are also available. Phone 4784 3031; see bmtfooddiscovery.com.au.
- Blue M Cafe, 171 Lurline Street, Katoomba. Phone 4782 6828.
- Woodford Honey. Phone 4758 7017; see woodfordhoney.com.au.
- Megalong Beef, The Six Foot Track, Megalong Valley. Phone 4787 6013; see megalongbeef.com.
- Dryridge Estate, The Six Foot Track, Megalong Valley. Phone 4787 5625; see dryridge.com.au.

Staying there Silvermere Guesthouse in Wentworth Falls has a variety of bedand- breakfast and self-contained options, from$160 a night. The Chauffeur's Cottage is particularly suited to couples wanting extra privacy.
Phone 4757 3311, see silvermere.com.au.

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