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Robertson, NSW

Home of the Big Potato and the idyllic setting for the movie Babe.

Robertson is a small and charming village on the Illawarra Highway which is little more than a main street (the Illawarra Highway) surrounded by the attractions of the Fitzroy and Belmore Falls, the dramatic Macquarie Pass and the gently undulating countryside and the panoramic views offered by the Illawarra escarpment. Historically the town is famed for its distinctive red volcanic basalt soil known as Robertson soil. This rich soil combined with a good rainfall and cool winters has made the town famous for its potatoes which are celebrated with the unusual 'Big Potato’.

Location

Robertson is located on the Illawarra Highway 129 kilometres from Sydney via Wollongong and 141 km via the Hume Freeway and Bowral. It is 730 metres above sea-level on the escarpment above the coastal towns of Shellharbour and Kiama.

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Origin of Name

Robertson is named after Sir John Robertson, one time Premier of New South Wales and the man behind the 1861 Land Act.

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Things to See and Do

Tourist Attractions in the Town
Robertson is a town in which day trippers love to mooch. There are gift shops, an excellent pizza restaurant (reputedly the best in the district), the Old Cheese factory which is both a restaurant and a gift shop, and the surrounding countryside has a certain European-English feel which made it the ideal setting for the Australian movie Babe. One of the very best views, which encapsulates the charm of the area, is from the town cemetery which can be accessed by turning south on Meryla Street and following the signs to the cemetery.

Robertson Heritage Walk
Check out http://www.robertson.nsw.au/robertson-heritage-walk.html where there is a list of 12 locations around town which are worth exploring. The route starts at the Railway Station and moves along Hoddle Street (the Illawarra Highway) and back to the station. It includes the Police Station (1887), the School of Arts (1886), the Uniting Church (1902) and Parsonage (1896), the Public School (1872), Hampden Park (1897), St Johns Anglican Church (1876) and the Robertson Inn (1887).

Fountaindale Grand Manor a/k/a Ranelagh House and now The Robertson Hotel
At the eastern end of town, surrounded by impressive gardens, is The Robertson Hotel, a guest house and conference centre which was built in 1924 (a typical between-the-wars cool country retreat) and initially known as the Hotel Robertson. At the time it was modelled on an English Manor House. It was set in 13.5 acres (5.5 ha) of landscaped gardens and the gardens included statues, a swimming pool, fountains and a weir. It never really succeeded and so in 1930 it was renamed Ranelagh House and marketed as an exclusive country club. During World War II it was used as a WRAAF depot. In 1947 it became a Franciscan friary and seminary and was renamed St Anthony's College. The house returned to being a private hotel in 1972. It is currently known as The Robertson Hotel. For more details check out http://therobertsonhotel.com.

The Cockatoo Run and Fountaindale Grand Manor
There is a delightful, and unusual, historic rail journey from Wollongong to Moss Vale via Robertson and Fountaindale on a 3801 Limited which climbs 600 metres from the coast through rainforest and past waterfalls. It offers dramatic views across the Illawarra Escarpment and the Tasman Sea. Fountaindale Grand Manor has its own platform and is easily accessed from the Cockatoo Run. The train, which hauls historic carriages dating from the 1930s, operates on selected Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, tel: 1300 65 3801 and check out http://www.3801limited.com.au/cockatoo.htm.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Robertson Nature Reserve
Located on South Street (head off the Illawarra Highway west of the hotel and drive over the railway line) is the delightful 5 ha remnant of temperate rainforest known as the Robertson Nature Reserve. It is a remnant of the Yarrawa Brush. There is an easy and peaceful 600 metre circular walking track through the reserve with interpretative signage identifying and explaining the flora including the edible Lilly Pilly and the smooth-leafed Featherwood.

Surveyor Robert Hoddle and a gang of convicts cut their way through this section of Yarrawa Brush. Hoddle described the Yarrawa Brush as "the most formidable brush I have ever seen. The vines so thickly entwined around the huge trees as to render the sun obscure at the time it shone with great brilliancy".

Belmore Falls
Located 10 km from Robertson on Belmore Falls Road (turn south on Meryla Street and right into South Street) are the impressive and dramatic Belmore Falls. The road is unsealed but suitable for 2WD vehicles. Parking is at the Hindmarsh Lookout car park and from there it is a short walk to Hindmarsh Lookout from where there are panoramic views over Morton National Park and Kangaroo Valley. From Hindmarsh Lookout there is a walking track which follows the cliff line for about 300 metres to a lookout over Belmore Falls. The falls were named after the Earl of Belmore who was the Governor of New South Wales at the time. A road to the falls was built in 1887. The water falls over 100 metres into the Barrengarry Creek which, in turn, joins the Kangaroo Creek which is part of the Shoalhaven River catchment area. This is an ideal place for a bush picnic.

Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre
The National Parks and Wildlife Service are proud of the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre which has extensive information on local history, wildlife and birdwatching in the area as well as information about local Aboriginal history. There are also a cafe, picnic and barbecue facilities beside Yarrunga Creek, a pleasant creek which tumbles over the escarpment into the Yarrunga Creek Valley. For more information check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkVisitorCentre.aspx?id=N0022.

Fitzroy Falls
It has been claimed that the falls were not particularly important to the local Tharawal people. When they were discovered by Charles Throsby they became a popular picnic place. In fact they were so popular that the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Charles Fitzroy, visited in 1850. The falls are where the Yarrunga Creek tumbles into the Kangaroo Valley and flows into the Kangaroo River. A reserve around the falls was established as early as 1882. The reserve was absorbed into the larger Morton National Park in the 1960s. The flow at the falls has been reduced since the construction of the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir which has dammed the Yarrunga Creek upstream from the falls since 1974. The reservoir is 5.2 square kilometres in area and has a maximum capacity of 9,950 megalitres.

Fitzroy Falls Walking Tracks and Lookout
There are two major walks: the East Rim Walking Track (2.5 km return, 90 minutes) and the West Rim Walking Track (4 km return, 2 hours). There is a brochure and map available at the Visitor Information Centre.

Both walks start at the Lookout which offers dramatic views of the falls which tumble 82 metres to the valley floor. The view is always impressive. On a clear day it is panoramic and dramatic. On a miserable day it is misty and mysterious.

The East Rim Walking Track "starts at the footbridge on the eastern side of the falls and follows the escarpment to May Lookout (10 minutes) where the visitor can see the lower Grotto Falls and the bottom of the Twin Falls. The track then leaves the escarpment in an easterly direction and gradually winds down to Fern Tree Gully (25 minutes). From Fern Tree Gully the track winds up to Warragong Lookout (40 minutes) where a side view of Fitzroy Falls can be seen. The track then follows the cliff face to Valley View Lookout (70 minutes) which offers superb views of the top of Twin Falls and the plateau of Mount Carrialoo. West of Mount Carrialoo is the volcanic extrusion Mount Moollatoo or the Grassy Mountain and the Yarrunga Valley." It is rated as an easy walk. The flora is particularly impressive in spring when the wildflowers are in bloom

The West Rim Walking Track can be either a very short walk or a longer walk. There is an easy walk of 15 minutes to the Jersey Lookout which offers an excellent view of the falls and the dense rainforest at its base. This is the popular location for photographs. Beyond the Jersey Lookout the track continues to the fire trail before branching west to Twin Falls. The lookouts on the eastern side of Twin Falls give some good views of Yarrunga Creek, Twin Falls, and the lower Grotto Falls. On the western side of the stream Paines Lookout allows walkers an excellent close view of Twin Falls. The track then continues to Starkey’s Lookout which has a view of the Lady Hordern Falls which cascade 76 metres to the valley floor. Beyond Starkey’s Lookout the track continues on to Renown Lookout where there is a view of all the major falls in the upper Yarrunga Creek system. There are numerous guides to the walks on the internet. Check out http://www.rabbitte.com.au/TreksandClimbs/tracknotes_fitzroy.htm and http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkWalking.aspx?id=N0022 for more details.

Macquarie Pass National Park
Heading east from Robertson on the Illawarra Highway the visitor reaches Macquarie Pass which drops down the Illawarra escarpment to Albion Park. The escarpment is particularly beautiful with remnants of rainforest and views across the narrow Illawarra coastal plain. There are three walks in the Macquarie Pass National Park.

(a) The Glenview Track leads off Glenview Road. It is a particularly beautiful walk through the rainforest which, at one point, crosses the Cascades.

(b)  The Clover Hill Road Walk is an old logging trail halfway down the pass. It leads to Rainbow Falls and three smaller falls.  It is 6 km return. The National Parks and Wildlife Service website describes it as: "After walking in the dense shade of the forest, suddenly the landscape opens up at Clover Hill – these are the paddocks cleared by farmers over a century ago. High above, the massive cliffs of the escarpment glow yellow and orange in the sunlight.

"Bushwalkers, birdwatchers and adventurers will love this walk, with its sharp contrast between rainforest and open fields. The huge rainforest trees, eucalypts, beefwood, Illawarra flame trees, cabbage tree palms and tree ferns, home to lyrebirds and goannas, give way to sunny plains where you will often see kangaroos hopping about."

(c) The Cascades Rainforest Walk  is a 2 km return walk which starts at the car park on the northern side of the highway at the foot of the pass. It follows the creek for a kilometre until it reaches the Cascades which fall about 20 metres. There is a picnic ground with wheelchair access. It is possible to see lyrebirds, satin bowerbirds, crimson rosellas, wallabies, wombats and bandicoots in the park. For more information on the walks check out http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkFacility.aspx?id=N0020.

A note of caution: it is tempting to try and pass trucks on the pass. A friend who did the journey every day timed the difference between a straight run up and down the pass and one where he was stuck behind a truck. The difference was ten minutes. Is it really worth risking an accident for ten minutes?

Barren Grounds Nature Reserve
About equidistant between Robertson and Jamberoo on the Jamberoo Mountain Road is Barren Grounds Nature Reserve. It is located on the sandstone plateau 610 metres above sea level and, with a resident bird population of about 120 species, this 1,962 ha reserve is a birdwatcher's paradise. It is also ideal for bushwalkers who can walk 3.2 km (each way) to Cooks Nose, a rocky promontory overlooking Kangaroo Valley.

In 1956 ornithologists discovered that this piece of rugged, scrubby heathland was home to the rare ground parrot and eastern bristle bird and as a result it was declared a nature reserve. There are also grey currawongs, crimson rosellas, southern emu wrens, gang-gang cockatoos, honeyeaters and the occasional lyrebird.

The mammals include swamp wallabies, the long nosed potoroo and echidna. There are also plenty of snakes. The ecosystem is predominantly heathland which is covered with wildflowers in spring and dry sclerophyll woodland with rainforest in the gullies and gorges. Ferns cover the ground and there are orchids on the rock ledges.

The eastern edge of the reserve overlooks Saddleback Mountain. There are several walking tracks which depart from the car park and picnic area. Griffiths Trail is a circular 8 km track which meanders through heathland, rainforest and woodland and takes Illawarra lookout and Saddleback trig. The National Parks & Wildlife Service website provides maps for the Griffiths, Illawarra lookout and Cooks Nose walking tracks. See http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/barren-grounds-nature-reserve. There is also a useful brochure available at the Kiama Visitor Centre which provides information about:

(1) the Illawarra Lookout Walk (2 km, easy, 30 minutes)
(2) Redbank Gully Walk (1.5 km, easy, 30 minutes)
(3) Cooks Nose Lookout Walk (6 km, medium difficulty, 2 hrs 30 minutes)
(4) Flying Fox Pass Walk (5 km, easy, 2hrs 30 minutes)
(5) Griffiths Trail (8 km, medium difficulty, 3 hrs)
(6) Kangaroo Ridge Walk (20 km, medium difficulty, 8 hrs)
and invites potential walkers to contact the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre, Nowra Road, Fitzroy Falls, tel: (02) 4887 7270.

Carrington Falls
There is a sign on Jamberoo Mountain Road to Nellies Glen Picnic Area and Carrington Falls. From Thomas Place Picnic Area there is a  track (2 km return with disabled access) which leads to three lookouts over the falls which tumble 50 m over the Kangaroo Valley escarpment. There are a number of walks from the Carrington Falls Picnic Area including Izzards lookout track, Nellies Glen picnic area, Warris Chair lookout track and Missingham lookout track. Check out http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/Budderoo-National-Park/Carrington-Falls/picnic-bbq for more details.

Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk
Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk  is located 3 km off the Jamberoo Mountain Road approximately 10 minutes from Robertson and 15 minutes from Jamberoo. Historically Knights Hill, where it is located, was nothing more than a few houses,  undulating rural land and a Mission Australia camp. The Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk is a $6.5 million tree top walk which opened in 2008. It offers panoramic views over the Illawarra coastline, Lake Illawarra and Greater Wollongong from a 45 m high tower and two cantilevered vantage points which gently sway as people walk out on them. The bulk of the structure is nearly 50 m above the ground and is surrounded by tall rainforest eucalypts. The entire walk takes about an hour. There is a café serving good coffee and light meals and a gift shop. For more details contact 1300 362 881. For more information check out http://www.illawarrafly.com.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the Jamberoo Valley was inhabited for at least 20,000 years by the Tharawal people who moved backwards and forwards from the coast to the hinterland.

* The most significant early explorer was Charles Throsby who travelled south from the Moss Vale area into Kangaroo Valley in 1818. He was en route to Jervis Bay. He sent his servant Joseph Wild, accompanied by local Aborigines, to explore the Robertson area which became known as the Yarrawa Brush.

* In 1830 Surveyor Robert Hoddle and a gang of convicts cut a bridle path down Saddleback Mountain. It was part of a planned track from Cowpastures (now known as Camden) down the Illawarra escarpment to Kiama and Gerringong.

* The 1861 Land Act of Sir John Robertson (former Premier of New South Wales) was instrumental in the establishment of the town. It encouraged free selection by offering unreserved blocks of crown land at £1 per acre. All the landowner had to do was pay a 25 per cent down payment,  live on the land for three years, and make certain stipulated improvements.

* In 1862 a Kiama alderman named John Hanrahan and his brother-in-law William Davis followed Hoddle's track onto the escarpment and located prime land which they claimed and selected.

* In 1863 a basic track was cut from Albion Park. This was to become known as Macquarie Pass.

* The Robertson town site was surveyed in 1863 by Surveyor Campbell. He liked the area so much he reserved land for himself and subsequently built 'Rossgol'.

* Surveyor Campbell's town plan was approved in 1865.

* The first lots were sold in 1865 and the village was, at first, called 'Yarrawa'.

* By 1865 1200 selectors had taken up 30,000 acres of land in the district.

* In 1867 the new settlement was joined to the Old South Road via Kangaloon. This meant there was relatively easy access from the Southern Highlands and Camden.

* The first school was built in 1872 and the first store was opened around 1876.

* The first church in the district was a slab building for Methodists which was built around 1870. It was replaced by a more substantial church in 1888.

* The local Anglican church was consecrated in 1876.

* The Burrawang Farmers Club held its first meeting in 1878. It evolved into the Robertson Agricultural and Horticultural Society and held the first Agricultural Show at Burrawang in 1880 and Robertson in 1886.

* A number of steam-driven sawmills were operating in the district by the end of the 1870s.

* The post office opened in 1884.

* By 1887 the town had a school of arts (1886), a police station (1887) and two hotels, two bank branches, three stores, a baker, a bootmaker, a chemist and five butchers.

* In 1898 Macquarie Pass was opened. It connected Robertson to the coast.

* In 1912 a coach service from Robertson to the coast began operating.

* The railway finally reached the town in 1932. The locals had been agitating for it since 1872.

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Visitor Information

Robertson Visitor Information Centre, The Old Cheese Factory, Illawarra Highway, tel: (02) 4887 7002. Open 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

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Useful Websites

There is an entertaining and useful local website. Check out http://www.robertson.nsw.au/ for more details.

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Got something to add?

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1 suggestion so far
  • Hi Bruce, I love this website and that you are sharing your work with everyone for free 😀
    I just wanted to let you know that
    Fountaindale Manor is now being called The Robertson Hotel.
    I lived within 20 minutes of Robertson for 15 years when growing up in Bowral, and now 12 years whilst living in Albion Park. Our family love Robertson and use it to meet up for a catch-up or to take visitors for to see the Big Potato and have a look around town on the way to the Southern Highlands. II often stop half-way to visiting my mum to buy her bread or a pie or sausage roll for lunch at Southern Rise Bakery.
    In 2015 my daughter and son-in-law had their wedding photos taken around the railway at Robertson, followed by a lovely reception at the Robertson Inn.
    Now that you have drawn my attention to some of the local bush walks I am keen to try them out.
    I wish you all the best as you continue to write up our Aussie Towns. My Kiwi relatives are visiting and I’ve referred them to this website.

    Merilyn Muscat