Wilga Station is a 260-acre working sheep farm wedged between historic Bathurst and the rolling wine country of Orange. Its third-generation family owners recently opened their idyllic country lifestyle to guests seeking luxe seclusion.
When owner of Wilga Station Hamish Keith hears I’m planning on dinner in Bathurst, he sends a hot tip. “I recommend a 7.30pm dining slot so you can [first] see the beautiful and famous pink sunsets at Wilga Station while nibbling on our local antipasto platter,” he writes.
In my Sydney home, I almost roll my eyes. How can Keith be so confident I’ll witness a rosy rural glow while staying at The Farmers Hut, the luxury hilltop accommodation he and wife Mez opened in late 2020?
It’s something I ponder as the sky, as though following judge’s orders, duly blushes pink after the sun slips behind the NSW Central West’s higgledy horizon. The next morning, things become clearer when I chat to Keith by willow-lined Wilga Creek. He’s the third generation to farm this 105-hectare property, 15km south-west of Bathurst and a three-hour drive from both Sydney and Canberra. He grew up here before heading off to study hospitality in Sydney, live in Singapore and the US, and work as CEO of Mayfield Garden (Australia’s largest cool climate botanic garden) at nearby Oberon.
It helps explain how the Keiths got so many things right with their hut, an off-grid, grass-roofed, temperature-stable structure that exudes confidence in its simplicity. The vibe is modern with rustic touches. Weathered farm fences and rusted ramps are positioned so you must zig-zag through them just like a sheep on approach to your accommodation.
Swinging open the front door reveals a huge merino sheepskin sprawled over polished concrete floor. There’s a daybed/dining table tucked into a three-sided picture window, and a king bed with repurposed-timber bedhead, so high you clamber onto it as though you are royalty. A chest is stuffed with games, novels and extra blankets, and a rack filled with design magazines. In the corner is a small fireplace (at an elevation of 750 metres, the hilltop sometimes receives snow).
A door leads to a bathroom with a rain shower; it’s stocked with generously sized Hunter Lab toiletries. A separate kitchenette includes a bar fridge and microwave, coffee and plunger, tea leaves and pot, marshmallows, and skewers. Outside is a small tepee of timber, built over newspaper, ready for when you feel like kicking back on a log and toasting marshmallows.
After scoffing much of the complimentary antipasto – olives, almonds, soft cheese, pate and strawberries – and photographing that sunset, I head into town for more eats. One of Keith’s recommendations is Dogwood BX – a cosy saloon serving southern-fried chicken, burgers, brisket and ribs, which can be washed down with beer, cocktails, mocktails, American soft-drinks such as Dr Pepper or even an ice-cream float. I try the Jersey Lightning – a granny smith juiced and spiked with apple brandy, vanilla and spiced bitters. It turns out owner Evan Stanley studied hospitality with Keith and was once named Melbourne Time Out’s Bartender of the Year. This experience is on show during the evening as Stanley unobtrusively whirls around the space, making sure everyone’s happy.
By 9.30pm, most of Bathurst has headed home. I stroll the empty streets, both working off the indulgences and admiring the historic buildings of Australia’s oldest inland city, before doing the same. Inside the hut, you can buzz an automatic blind down to block out the picture window but I’m not sure why anyone would do that. Waking to see dawn light gilding the countryside and feather boas of mist cloaking the valley is a prime reason to stay.
The only thing that can make the morning more atmospheric is to start a campfire. As birdsong drifts from gum trees, I barbecue the provided bacon, eggs and cherry tomatoes and enjoy breakfast by the fire, finishing with charcoal marshmallows.
The grass and scattered flowers (a Mayfield-inspired touch) are still dewy as I pick my way down the Sheep Trail to meet Keith by the creek. He points out the wilga trees as we watch ewes on a far hill move away from a bounding kangaroo. One stands her ground, bellowing for out-of-sight offspring (the farm raises fat lambs). We talk sheep psychology, how the flock likes to sleep on higher ground where it’s easier to keep an eye out for predators. On occasion, they surround the hut at night (the compendium includes instructions on how to shoo them away).
Afterwards, I’m shown around the corrugated-iron shed that’s being transformed into a five-bedroom, two-bathroom retreat that will showcase authentic features such as the old wool table and sheep chutes. The Shearers Hall will open in October, providing a perfect bolthole for groups seeking a luxe taste of sheep-farm life.
GET THERE: Wilga Station is 12 minutes from Bathurst and 40 minutes from Orange; about a three-hour drive from Sydney.
STAY THERE: Rates start at $450 per night in the Farmers Hut (suitable for couples) and $1,100 for the 10-person Shearer’s Hall – opening to guests in October 2021.