NSW Southern Highlands with Sarah K

Today we bring you the second instalment of our new travel column! Our tour guide on this occasion is architect, designer and big-ideas person Sarah King.

You may have heard of ‘Sarah K’ in connection with  her sustainable design initiative Supercyclers, or perhaps The Other Hemisphere, which showcases Australian design at various international design events, including the Salone del Mobile in Milan and design weeks in London and Tokyo. Sarah K is a dynamic do-er, and is devoted to preserving and sharing beauty – be it natural or thoughtfully man-made!

Having lived all over Australia, Sarah is now based in Moss Vale, and has recently converted a workshop on her property into a charming weekender called closed(work)shop, furnished with a beautiful edit of Australian design pieces.

Today, Sarah introduces us to her top spots in the NSW Southern Highlands, just over one-and-a-half hours drive south-west of Sydney, with stop-offs at Fitzroy Falls, Moss Vale and Bowral.

Sarah K

The spectacular Fitzroy Falls in the Morton National Park is just under a two hour drive from Sydney. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Sarah K
8th of June 2017

I’m originally from Perth, but left WA to study at university in Melbourne, taking architecture at RMIT and film at VCA.  My family and I then lived in Sydney for 10 years, and spent two years in Hobart before relocating to Moss Vale in New South Wales’ Southern Highlands. We have family who have long lived in the area, and we often travelled from Sydney to spend a weekend here before settling in more permanently in 2012.

What I love about Moss Vale and its surrounds makes for a long list: the majestic trees and gardens, the fact that I can grow my own produce (fruit, nut and maple trees) as well as rare beautiful flowers (there are lots of black, white and blue flowers in my garden). I also enjoy how, in a smaller community like this, all types of people are thrown in together, and then of course the ease of getting around in comparison to a city.

In terms of natural beauty, the landscapes are so beautifully varied. There are pockets of lush rainforest (especially around Robertson and Burrawang), and then some of the clusters of ancient sassafras trees along laneways make it seem like you’re somewhere in the English countryside, but they’re are in fact native to these parts.

The area’s wine and boutique beer industries have really blossomed, and the cafe culture is finally happening too. Moss Vale had been regarded as a bit of ghost town in terms of retail and life on the main street, but things are changing, there’s a new vibrancy!

The higher altitude here means a colder climate and high rainfall, which is part of the reason for the incredibly beautiful gardens; the spring and autumn are really spectacular. Throughout the colder months, stop in at one of the restaurants or pubs and sit beside a warm fire with friends while you enjoy a drink or hearty meal. This is also my favourite time for flowers – look out for the hellebores and bulbs, especially snowbells and miniature iris!

NSW’s Southern Highlands are known for their cool temperate climate, lending to an abundance of wineries, dairy farms, beef studs and sheep properties. This shot was captured en route, a few kilometres before arriving to Fitzroy Falls. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Activity • Fitzroy Falls

Just under a two hour drive from Sydney (and 15-minute drive south of from Moss Vale) Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park are spectacular. They are 80-metres high and it’s mesmerising to watch the water plunging down into the valley.

The surrounding area is also beautiful with many worthwhile walks for you to explore; the nature is so lush, there’s some great viewpoints and you might also glimpse some wildlife along the tracks (listen out for the lyrebirds, and keep your eyes to the ground for mushrooms). There is also visitor centre with amenities.

1301 Nowra Road Fitzroy Falls NSW

Sarah was stoked when Highlands Merchant opened in Moss Vale. The cafe is owned and run by Lisa Wisken, pictured here is Head Chef Rachel Howlett. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

‘The area’s wine and boutique beer industries have really blossomed, and the cafe culture is finally happening too,’ says Sarah over lunch at Highlands Merchant. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Café • Highlands Merchant 

We are super lucky to have Highlands Merchant in Moss Vale, which is owned and run by Lisa Wisken, with wizards in the kitchen Rachel Howlett and Rowena Shannon.

This café does the best breakfast, focusing on really fresh, locally sourced, seasonal food, and they even serve wine with lunch (civilized!). They’re committed to small-batch preparation for minimal waste and utilise daily deliveries from organic farmers in the area.

The menu changes weekly, but the coffee served by the beautiful barista Ali Machado is reliably good! Along with dine-in, Highland’s Merchant also offers healthy take-away options and a catering service.

405 Argyle St, Moss Vale NSW

Hungry Vikings is my other pick for on a weekend, they can be found set-up at markets or events around the Highlands on most Saturdays and Sundays and you can keep track of where on facebook or instagram.

My best friend Liesl’s mum is Danish, and she and her sisters grew up making the yummiest smörre bröd (I don’t think I’d ever had the real version of this until I met them). Today, Liesl’s little sister Olivia has turned these skills into a brilliant business.

Hungry Vikings’ delicate little open sandwiches that are so satisfying! These small treats usually consist of three different toppings – a protein, a salad ingredient and a dressing and Olivia uses my next door neighbour Applecart Produce‘s edible flowers for garnish, which makes them especially beautiful. They also make a mean range of Nordic Hotdogs including my fave the Ragner (with obvs reference to our hero of the TV series Vikings).


PITSTOP • Coffee Culture 

Another favourite is Coffee Culture, behind the Empire Cinema in Bowral (no longer in two locations – don’t trust the internet for facts!!) and they were the first to roast and supply coffee locally. I am (not so) secretly in love with all the staff who are the friendliest folk in the Southern Highlands.

6/327 Bong Bong St, Bowral NSW

Sarah is calling Dirty Jane’s the best place for second-hand Australian and European goods in NSW, if not the whole country! Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

The precinct occupies a whole block in Bowral, and is divided into more than 75 stalls. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Store • Dirty Jane’s

For as long as I have been coming to the Highlands the people behind treasure-trove Dirty Jane’s have been buying and selling second-hand Australian and European goods. It’s the best place in NSW, if not the whole of Oz.

Prior to Dirty Jane’s, Athol and Jane ran The Shed in Mittagong, and I still have everything I ever covetously bought from there. Dirty Jane’s is now a precinct taking up a whole block in Bowral, and is divided into more than 75 stalls of second-hand and vintage wares, from furniture to lighting, architectural elements, vintage clothing, jewellery and more. All around it’s periphery are eateries and other little stores. The store’s prices there are not unwieldly and its popularity means there is a healthy turnover with new things coming in all the time.

13-15 Banyette St, Bowral NSW

After a day of sight-seeing and shopping, Sarah K leads us to Bistro Officina for an espresso martini and a hearty meal. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Alexandra from France and her Italian husband, chef Nicola Coccia, run the place, which boasts a bistro menu is focused on Mediterranean cuisine and premium meat specialities. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Bistro Officina. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

‘Throughout the colder months, stop in at one of the restaurants or pubs and sit beside a warm fire with friends while you enjoy a drink or hearty meal,’ Sarah recommends. Photo – Nikki To for The Design Files.

Eatery • Bistro Officina

Located in the respectfully renovated old Berrida Manor just out of Bowral, Bistro Officina is perfect for dinner or a drink at the bar. I was so happy when this place opened in the Highlands, and it is especially nice in winter with the fire crackling – it feels like somewhere cosy, yet contemporary, in Melbourne to me (who still misses Melbourne).

Alexandra from France and her Italian husband, chef Nicola Coccia, run the place. The bistro menu is focused on Mediterranean cuisine and premium meat specialities. You can also enjoy an ever-changing menu of bar food to accompany a selection of wines and cocktails if you just want a drink and something light to eat. Nicola cooks the best Gnocchi ever, and I also usually order either an espresso martini or a full bodied local red wine.

6 David St, Bowral NSW 2576


Stay • Unique Contemporary Country Studio

Earlier this year, I converted the workshop on our garden property in Moss Vale into a weekender, called closed(work)shop and listed as Unique Contemporary Country Studio on AirBnB. We previously used the space to design and build work for our designlabel Blakebrough+King. I designed the building, and Ben and I built it together with our own blood sweat and tears!

The blackened timber exterior walls were purchased on eBay when floods in Queensland damaged some freeway siding! I’ve kitted it out with our own designs and those of friends and colleagues in the industry including my good buddies Henry Wilson, Sarah Trotter, Murray Barker, Esther Stewart (Groupwork), The Fortynine Studio, Tom Skeehan, Fink, DesignbyThem, and Andrew Simpson… The list goes on, and we’ll continue to expand on it – in breaking news I’ve just created a new range with Tretford Rugs which will be included. All of the pieces are available to purchase and take home.

Guests can also enjoy the garden, where I’ve planted over 120 trees. Or inside, the freestanding bath, and a library with some of the design, film and art books as well as design games I’ve collected. The studio is located on the outskirts of Moss Vale, so it’s close enough to walk to town, but still easy to get back on the road as you head off to surrounding destinations.

East St Moss Vale NSW

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