Perhaps you’ve never previously considered Penrith as a destination in it’s own right, but turns out there is so much more to this Western Sydney suburb than merely a Blue Mountain pit-stop. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed, adrenaline filled weekend, or a relaxing cultural getaway, there’s a multitude of fun things to do and here’s what happened when I uncovered the ‘adventure capital of NSW’:
1. BRUNCH AT HIGH STREET DEPO
First things first. There’s nothing like a solid breakfast of Smashed Avo and Feta on Sourdough to get you fuelled up ready for an adventure day- and that’s exactly what I chose from the brunch menu at High Street Depo, a popular spot with locals in the centre of Penrith. Washed down with a large freshly roasted Single Origin coffee, we were ready to take on the day.
If, like me, you like the whole idea of skydiving but the thought of physically throwing yourself out of a plane puts the fear of God into you, then iFly Downunder is for you. On entering the building it quickly becomes apparent that Indoor skydiving can be as much fun to watch as it is to take part; spectators gather round the giant glass wind tunnel to watch spectacular aerobatic displays put on by the highly skilled professional instructors, who take flight at any given opportunity when customers aren’t having a go. This, combined with the comedy mishaps of novices like me, makes for quite the display, and you could easily grab a coffee from the cafe, pull up a pew and be thoroughly entertained for an afternoon.
But when the professionals make it look so easy it would be rude not to have a go, right? Following a quick safety briefing you zip up into a flattering boiler suit and equally attractive protective goggles. Lace-up kicks are a must and lockers are provided for all your valuables. Once prepared you are led into a benched seating area outside the tunnel where you wait to take flight.
Accompanied by an instructor at all times we each got a turn in the tunnel and after much flailing about- plus being the only person to achieve the unachievable by falling OUT of the wind tunnel backwards- by the final attempt I was ready to be spun up into the air. Now I’m not one for heights, so was not looking forward to this AT ALL, but for all the adrenaline junkies out there I reluctantly took one for the team- spinning up to the top of the tube and back again, safe in the hands of our extremely talented instructor Kyle, who then proceeded to show us what REALLY could be done. [Video coming soon]
3. LUNCH AND CULTURE AT CAFE@ LEWES and PENRITH REGIONAL ART GALLERY
With our feet firmly back on the ground, it was time to get our heart rates back to a relatively steady pace, and so we headed out to enjoy lunch in the sunshine at Cafe@Lewers, a beautiful bistro cafe set within the grounds of Penrith Regional Art Gallery. Despite being mid-week and outside of the holiday period, the cafe was bustling, and served up a delightful seasonal menu featuring locally sourced produce, including herbs and vegetables grown right there in the Gallery’s gardens.
The Gallery was once the former home of Gerald and Margo Lewers, a formidable pair of world class artists who were renowned for entertaining, throwing fabulous parties for family and close friends in their beautiful garden. And you can see why; set back from the banks of the River Neapean near Emu plains the grounds offer a tranquil and picturesque setting, with Asian art and design influences, indigenous and exotic plantings, sculptures by Gerald Lewers and ancient Aboriginal rock carvings, makes the venue a popular and bohemian venue for weddings and private events today.
The current exhibition in the main gallery is a celebration of aboriginal culture, and includes Artback NT’s Punuku Tjukurpa (until 22nd May 2016). Featuring works from three generations of Anangu (Central and Western desert people) using traditional wood carving techniques which form the intricate designs and markings of each piece. It truly is an opportunity to glimpse into history and view one of Australia’s finest art movements; well worth a visit.
4. NEED FOR SPEED AT LUDDENHAM RACEWAY
For what I lack in enthusiasm for heights, I sure make up for it when it comes to driving and for anyone with a mild competitive streak who fancies themselves as an aspiring Daniel Ricciardo, Luddenham Raceway is right up your street. The Go-Karting track is super smart with newly kitted out state-of-the-art go karts imported from Germany.
At Luddenham you can either ‘Arrive and Drive’ – turn up and race in the next available slot, or if there is a group of you a grand prix or time challenge, be it a corporate activity, birthday, or perhaps a hens or bucks day out. The family-run business runs seven days a week, come rain or shine, although check ahead if there is a big group of you; the place gets pretty packed at weekends so it’s a good idea to book ahead to guarantee drive time.
After you’ve checked in (make sure you have your driver’s licence), you sit down for a safety briefing and the rules of the track, which is important as these bad boys can reach up to 75 kph. And there ARE rules – break them, and you’ll be flagged off the course. All equipment is provided, including a balaclava which you get to keep. You can bring your own helmet if you choose, however it must be up to AUS standards (Cycling helmets are NOT acceptable- don’t be that guy).
If you reach podium position you’ll receive a medal (and with a modest laptime of 55.84 I was
robbed in for a silver) you get a group photograph to take away with you.
There is a smaller track for kids aged 8 -14 years old. With an on site cafe and spectator area, and so to open paintball arena soon to open in the adjoining fields and helicopter rides (!) Luddenham Racetrack is great for hen or bucks parties, or corporate events and makes for a pretty decent day out.
4. SETTLE DOWN & REST UP AT HOTEL MECURE PENRITH
Centrally located as part of the Penrith Panthers World of Entertainment complex, the Mercure Penrith offers a clean, convenient and comfortable place to stay for some well needed R&R after a hectic day out. The 223 room hotel offers spacious rooms with King size beds on which you can go full splat after your action packed day. TV with Foxtel is included in the room, and Wifi can be included.
An onsite fitness centre and outdoor pool are also available if you feel like you haven’t partaken in enough physical activity during the day, and there is also a guest lounge with bar, and BBQ areas if you prefer to chill with friends to reflect on your day out, or indeed plan for the next!
5. MEAT FEAST AT OSSO RESTAURANT
What better way to end a day of strenuous activity then a good steak? We headed out to Osso Restaurant, the self proclaimed destination for ‘connoisseurs of meat’. And they’re not wrong; from steak to burgers to ribs, 10 different cuts of steak, including chicken and lamb; this really is a meat-lovers paradise. Vegetarians look away (although there were a few options).
Osso claims of philosophy of ‘gate to plate’ ensuring that meat served has been treated ethically with with utmost respect to ensure a quality of cut that they have now become famous for. Credit to the waiters who are extremely knowledgeable on the cuts, what sauce works best and which one of the 100 Australian wines you should be washing it all down with.
Everything on the menu sounded ready to fill a hungry belly, however personally when you visit a steak restaurant, hey it’s what they do best. So I went for a 300g Scotch Fillet (Grain Fed, from Wagga Wagga) with a Brandies Pink Peppercorn Sauce and a jacket potato with a dollop of sour cream. And man, that was one big slab of meat. Ain’t no-one gonna go home hungry after eating at Osso.
6. HENRI MARC FOR THE PRETTIEST BRUNCH YOU’LL EVER EAT
After a good night’s sleep we were up and at ’em early, to enjoy what was quite possibly the prettiest breakfast I’ve ever seen at Henri Marc. The modern Australian cafe wouldn’t be out of place in Surry Hills, with dishes served on mismatched chintz with antique silver-plated cutlery, within industrial chic decor. The brunch menu is literally to die for- although changes on a regular basis- accompanied by Reuben Hills coffee. I DARE you to try the salted caramel toast. Life really doesn’t get much better.(here’s a tip: share with friends).
Having over indulged somewhat on breakfast, we took a stroll along the banks of the Nepean River in the Autumn sunshine. Over the past few years, Penrith City Council has developed the area into a 6 kilometre track alongside the riverbank stretching from Penrith to Emu plains. There are numerous points of interest, resting posts and lookout points where you can watch birds and other wildlife. But we branched off to Sun Musamane to check in on Australia’s one and only Sake Brewery.
7. SAKE AND SEE
Yes, Sake. Using Australian-grown rice and traditional methods to produce the traditional Japanese rice wine, Sun Musamune is the brewer of Go-Shu Australian Sake. Interestingly, although the end liquid is similar to a wine with a volume of 15%, Sake production methods are actually more akin to craft brewing, and you can go see the process in action by booking on one of the visitors tours.
The health benefits of Sake (consumed in moderation, of course) are considered to be plenty. The liquid itself contains nine essential amino acids, which are not only thought to ease muscle fatigue and pain, but even have anti- ageing properties. There is no waste in the making of Sake, and the brewery sells a fabulous range of boutique skin care products called Nuka created from the bi-products of the wine.
I think I have a new favourite drink…
8. TEAM-BUILDING AT PENRITH WHITE WATER STADIUM
The former site of the canoe/kayak slalom events in Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Games, Penrith Whitewater Stadium is a man-made freshwater rapid, with 14,000 litres per second of raging water. If there is one thing you can guarantee with this activity, it’s that you are going to get WET!
After being taken through a safety briefing we donned our wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and armed with a paddle we took to the water.
So the first few laps were, er. Being a group o I spent the majority tucked up in a small ball bouncing around in the back of the boat.and I’m pretty sure our guide took control of the boat. On the third go, our team seemed to have got our flow. Paddling purposefully through each twist and turn, with a newfound confidence (perhaps a little too much) we boldly negotiated our way toward the final waterfall and then managed to shoot the raft at a high speed in the wrong direction, leaving our group precariously hanging off a cliff edge, much to the amusement of the onlooking rafters.
Our lives having flashed before our eyes, our instructor decided to mix it up a bit. We then paddled the raft in to the middle of the course, where there is a dip in the water and you can ‘surf’. It transpires that ‘surfing’, is essentially clinging on to the raft for dear life whilst he get dunked and thrown about and in the waves. I DID. NOT. STOP. laughing and in doing so managed to ingest at least half of those 14,000 litres of water – which didn’t help matters.
White water rafting is not as easy as it looks. In fact, I’m not sure it even looks easy. What it IS however, is HEAPS fun, and go in a big group it will definitely provide you with some great stories and laughs later on.
There is also a coffee shop on site for less adventurous friends and family to view your escapades.
9. KING OF THE SEAFOOD AT HANKS
Having spent most of the morning in the water, it seemed apt to enjoy a seafood lunch. Hanks Seafood Co Restaurant is another of the great dining choices located within the Panthers complex, and whilst freshly caught seafood is the top of the menu, there is a huge selection for every kind if of diner. We were really digging the interior of Hanks which was decked out with old rope, colourful rustic panels, retro artwork and lobster traps that made for very stylish light fittings.
With such an extensive menu, I decided to have EVERYTHING, which in this case presented itself in the form of a Seafood Basket. For $24 you can enjoy a humongous plate of fresh battered white fish, a fish schnitzel, split prawns, calamari rings and half a crab.Amazing value for money; our waiter suggested this was a single dish but there was more than enough to share between two. Plus I was saving room for our final visit of the day…
10. ZOKOKO ARTISIAN CHOCOLATE
What better way to end an amazing couple of days than eating, drinking and learning about chocolate. Artisan chocolate maker Zokoko invited us across to learn all about the process from sourcing the bean to the best bit- eating it.
The cafe really is a hidden gem set in the unlikely spot of an industrial estate so really, only those in the know would drop by. Think less Willy Wonka, more 50’s style tea room. Owner Michelle is very proud to show off her antique chocolate machine, a fine looking piece that officially goes by the name of a ‘Lehmann Melangeur – Broyeur’, but is also more affectionately referred to as “Molly”.
Michelle says she is living the dream, as a chocolate maker. The whole process chocolate takes place on site using the finest cacao beans sourced from South America and other exotic locations. whilst enjoying a fabulous cup of freshly brewed coffee (also produced on site) but really, the chocolate is heavenly.
Penrith is buzzing, and with just an hour’s drive-time outside of Sydney there is enough to keep you thoroughly entertained for a few days, or at the very least worth a revisit. Activities are definitely geared up to large groups so it really does lend itself as great choice for Bucks and Hen parties, or an ideal corporate getaway.
To get through even half of the activities I got through a car is necessary, as although Penrith station provides a great meeting point many of the locations are spread as far out as Emu Plains, so it’s a good idea to have a designated driver in place.
With thanks to Destination NSW for hosting Sydney Social 101 for an action packed two days. For further information visit www.visitpenrith.com.au. You can find details of all the venues visited below.
High Street Depot
1/488 High Street, Penrith NSW
T: 02 4704 8244
86 River Road, Emu Plains NSW 2750
T: 02 4732 8704
123 Mulgoa Road, Penrith NSW 2750
Hanks Seafood Co. Restaurant
123 Mulgoa Road, Penrith NSW 2750
T: 02 4720 5652
123 Mulgoa Road, Penrith NSW
T: 1300 366 364
Prices start from $89 for a mid-week flight. Bookings can be made here
821-849 Luddenham Road, Luddenham NSW
T: 02 9834 2366
Penrith National Gallery
86 River Road, Emu Plains NSW 2750
T: 02 4732 8704
Details of current and upcoming exhibitions and events can be found at penrithregionalgallery.org
Entry is free and donations are welcome.
Penrith Whitewater Stadium
McCarthy’s Lane, Cranebrook NSW 2749
T: 02 4730 4333
Water times and booking information can be found at penrithwhitewater.com.au
29 Cassola Place, Penrith NSW 2750
T: 02 4732 2833
Find out more about Go-Shu Sake, book a brewery tour, or to purchase Nuka Skincare visit sun-masamune.com.au
Zokoko Artisan Chocolate
Unit 3, 84-90 Old Bathurst Road, NSW 2750
T: 02 4735 0666
To learn more about Zokoko Artisan Chocolate or to order online visit www.zokoko.com
Mercure Penrith Hotel
Mulgoa Road & Jamison Roads, Penrith NSW 2750
T: 02 4721 7700
For reservations visit www.mercurepenrith.com.au prices from $220.00 for a standard room.