Scene 1: I’m on a weekend road-trip to Orange, NSW, and the place is buzzing. It’s so popular that I hear talk of people chartering aircraft to fly in, and vineyards clearing land for helicopter landings. “That’s ridiculous!” I think. “It’s only three hours’ drive from Sydney.”
Scene 2, a few months later: I’m being ridiculous myself, sitting smugly in the comfort of a chartered Beechcraft 200 King Air early on a Friday morning as it revs up on the runway at Bankstown Airport. “Guess what?” I text my friends, “I’m just going to Orange for lunch. I’ll be back this evening.”
My membership of the jet set is only temporary, courtesy of Destination NSW and boutique tour operator Crooked Compass By Air, but it’s an experience to relish. A mere 45 minutes later, we are greeted at Orange Airport by Nicole Farrell of Country Food Trails, who’s eager to show us “my fabulous home town”. Not long after, we’re sampling the coffee at the hippest place in town, The Sonic, a cafe-cum-boutique (clothes, homewares, artworks) set in a former Masonic Hall.
It’s a chilly, rainy day but my spirits are high. I feel like I’m in an episode of Star Trek and have just been beamed onto another planet. Light aircraft is a wonderful way to travel – so much nicer than having to negotiate Sydney’s road traffic, and checking in at Bankstown is a breeze compared to the palaver you have to go through at Sydney airport.
Is that thunder? No. My tummy’s rumbling. At Indigenous Cultural Adventures’ nursery garden, founder Gerald Power treats us to lemon myrtle tea and a Bush Tucka Tasting, including freshly-made damper and delicious marmalades and relishes, made using his grandmother’s recipes. The thunder abates.
Another highlight is Thornbrook Orchard, a family-run farm that grows stone fruit, grapes, figs, apples, persimmons and pears. Our visit coincides with the apple season and there’s a huge range of forbidden fruit to sample, including varieties that I’ve never seen before such as Jonathan.
Our long lunch takes place at Printhie Wines, winner of the 2021 Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Best Small Cellar Door. Here we taste four ‘methodé traditionnelle’ sparkling wines paired with fresh oysters from Batemans Bay, shucked on site, and a delectable selection of locally-made cheeses, cured meats and dips curated by Country Food Trails. Afterwards, Nicole takes us on a scenic drive in the foothills of Mount Canobolas, culminating in sundowners at SkyBar on Borrodell Estate.
No long lunch is complete without dessert: back at the airport, as we board the Beechcraft, Nicole hands us each a boxed treat: a Sugar Mill lemon meringue pie. We return to Sydney each weighing a couple more kilos than we did when we arrived.
Crooked Compass By Air also does Long Lunches to Callubri Station in NSW and Lord Howe Island from Bankstown; to Whitehaven Beach from Brisbane; and to Coffin Bay in SA from Essendon Airport, Vic.