To reinterpret that line from the Frank Sinatra number, New York, New York, if you can make a tourist drawcard here you can make a tourist drawcard anywhere. A long, long way from the Big Apple, somehow this ambitious and impressive cellar door, restaurant, event and accommodation complex (you name it, it does it) near Griffith in NSW's Riverina, has risen around the unlikely backdrop of the Voyager Craft Malt production plant. In doing so, its enterprising owners, riding the crest of Australia's craft whisky, vodka and gin boom, have sought to create (craft?) a venue to showcase "the fruits of small batch artisanal malts from its locally grown and regionally-sourced seasonal grains", such as Sydney's award-winning Archie Rose Rye Malt whisky.
A six-hour drive from Sydney, Whitton Malt House is near the less-than-flourishing village from which it derives its place name and about 50 kilometres south of Griffith and 33 kilometres east of Leeton. Qantas recently launched daily services between Sydney and Griffith with flights taking one hour and 35 minutes.
You don't have to give a dram about whisky, let alone love gin, vodka or craft beer (hang on - you're sounding like a teetotaler) to salute the accomplishment that the Malt House represents. The complex's focal point is a cavernous main building hosting a cellar door, cafe, function rooms and gift shop. It overlooks Lake Hulong, a man-made water feature including a mini golf driving range (with the balls clubbed directly into the lake), catch and release fishing and even a wedding snap-friendly waterfall which you can walk behind via a small tunnel beneath a landscaped rock garden mound.
The lakeside "villas" are, in reality, glorified shipping-container-like cabins starting at a generously-sized 52.3 metres. But, oh, what glorified shipping-container-like cabins they are. Each of the right-on-trend one and two-bedroom cabins are beautifully and stylishly-appointed with a terrace replete with a pair of smart armchairs and a barbecue overlooking the lake. Inside the cabin is a kitchenette with a microwave and an always welcome espresso machine with pre-ordered meat packs for the barbie available. The snug separate bedrooms at the cabin's rear contain king size mattresses with fluffy bathrobes and an iron and ironing board. It's the tiny house you're having when you're not quite having a tiny house.
In the main, architecturally-designed building there's an easy-going cellar door menu with steaks, burgers and schnitzels as well as the simpler cafe-style choices. A la carte, with more restaurant-style dishes, is available on selected nights. Beyond Whitton, the best dining choices are in Griffith with its huge array of Italian restaurants and cafes, mainly spread along Banna Street, the main thoroughfare. With its well-established Italian heritage, vibrant Griffith is the bush equivalent of a Leichhardt or a Carlton.
The tourism potential for this corner of the Riverina food bowl is seriously undervalued. Griffith's appeal aside, the rice-growing centre of Leeton, the Walter Burley Griffin-designed town, is a haven for lovers of Art Deco architecture, as in the historic Hydro Motor Inn or the Roxy Theatre, built in 1930, the centrepiece of a cluster of buildings from the era. Elsewhere, once you've had your fill of nips at Whitton, nip off to the welcoming Yarran Wines at Yenda, under half-an-hour from Whitton. Tuck into cheese and wine on the terrace, along with a selection of local produce, while enjoying the views of the vines, which grow right up to the cellar door, with the hills of the Cocoparra National Park as a backdrop.
Wherever you turn, there's a real wow factor to the Whitton Malt House, which opened last November. Its owners have taken the showy winery model and crafted it to its own objectives (and, in the process, have rather shown up the local Riverina winemakers at what should be their own game).
One bedroom cabins start from $280 per night. Whitton Malt House, 783 Whitton Darlington Point Road, Whitton, NSW. Phone 02 6955 259. See whittonmalthouse.com.au; qantas.com; leetontourism.com.au; yarranwines.com.au; theriverina.com.au
The brilliantly-designed and outfitted cabins (okay, villas) with their lakeside setting really stand out. They offer a touch of genuine luxury and style somewhat uncommon to these parts.
Beyond the cabins there are large expanses of dirt, in what amounts to stage two of this bold project. One concept is for the creation of wetlands which would add another compelling feature.
Anthony Dennis visited as a guest of Destination NSW. See visitnsw.com