Southern Highlands means a couple of things: country train journeys and very crisp weather; jackets required, beanies a must. Welcome to the New South Wales township of Bundanoon, 90 minutes equidistant from Australia’s Capital, Canberra, and its most urbanised metropolis, my hometown, Sydney…
Another thing Bundanoon means is “deep gorges and gullies.” This word was used by the first inhabitants, the Gundungurra people, and adopted as the locality’s placename in 1881 by early settlers. The present day township’s surrounds are indeed all gorges and gullies.
My travelling companion and I begin our journey with a rollicking train ride chugging up hills, ascending mountains, and higher in altitude to an elevation of 700 metres above sea level, to a place of country beauty that takes in breathtaking views of Kangaroo Valley with Jervis Bay on the horizon. We have arrived in Bundanoon, population 1,964.
Whether summer or winter, it rains here, alot. The entire Southern Highlands is literally green all year round, farmers tending fat dairy cattle, cool climate vinyards, restaurants serving locally produced fare and public gardens opening their doors to the visiting public. This I would expect Bundanoon offers up in abundance. And it does.
But what really took me by surprise was that a Thai Buddhist monastery covering an area of 100 acres of natural bush land, hills and cliff faces, would be built here…
Sunnataram Monastery was established in 1989 by Phra Ajahn Yantra and his disciples in the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition, with the property donated by a devotee, Elizabeth Gorski, for this singular purpose.
[Best thing about journeys: I get to learn about the world, things that would not normally cross my cerebral radar. And so it goes with Theravada or the “Teaching of the Elders.” This the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It is conservative, and for many centuries has been the predominant religion of Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Thailand.]
Commanding immense views to the coast, the site of the monastery previously harboured Edenholme Guesthouse, in Teudts Road. It was here during World War I that some Germans were arrested and interned for the duration, accused of spying on naval shipping movements in Jervis Bay.
Teudts road was named after the original owners. Mr. Teudt, an orchid farmer, had one arm and a hook fastened to the stump of the other. Local lore has it that he used to put wrapping paper under his stump and roll the apples along his good arm and so wrap the apples. He drove his horse and dray with the reins held with his hook and so strong was he that a bag of bran would be pulled right off a stack just with his mighty hook.
These days, Bundanoon is a vibrant community with a village atmosphere. Old guesthouses have been restored and welcome the traveller once more. Outdoor pursuits and fresh air diversions continue to draw visitors, just as they did us this autumn day.