The inaugural WILDfest, Australia’s first wilderness festival, has successfully launched in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. The three-day event in Joadja, (held from October 27-29) attracted nature lovers and foodies from around the state, with the highlight being WILD Native Feast. The feast had a “top hats and tiaras” surprise theme and featured live entertainment and a seven-course meal by Damien Monley, head chef and owner of Grand Bistro, Bowral. But WILDfest, the brainchild of Southern Highlands local Amanda Fry, is more than an indulgent weekend away. It’s a festival designed to encourage a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
“This is intellectual tourism but I’m trying not to make it so obvious,” Fry told The Adventure Journal.
“I’m trying to teach you without teaching you, and that’s really what intellectual tourism is. You just don’t hit people over the head with it; you just get them excited enough to want to ask the questions rather than feeling like they’re being dictated to.”
Fry has been an animal carer for years and says she decided to start WILDfest because of her love of wildlife.
“I wanted to do work in Australia and say to people ‘you can go to the Northern Territory and have one of the most amazing experiences, but if you don’t have seven hours on a plane and you don’t have the time, look what we can show you an hour and half from where you live’.”
Joadja was a fitting location to achieve Fry’s objectives, given its cultural significance and location in a somewhat hidden valley at the end of a rutted clay road. Founded in 1850, Joadja was a shale mining town made up of mostly Scottish immigrants. At its peak, there were 1200 people living in the isolated valley before the Australian Kerosene Oil and Mineral Company ceased mining operations in the early 20th century. Subsequently, the workers abandoned Joadja and now native vegetation is reclaiming the ruins of a village that’s become home to mobs of eastern grey kangaroos.
At daybreak, those kangaroos greet WILDfest’s overnight guests who stay in a “pop up wilderness hotel” consisting of stunning glamping tents from Avant-Garde Camping Co. These guests were joined by festival day-trippers on hiking and mountain-bike tours of Joadja, and on kayak excursions in nearby Kangaroo Valley. Local conservationists and animal carers also called in with an eastern grey kangaroo joey and koala as part of an educational talk on the importance of maintaining healthy habitats for Australia’s native wildlife.
*WILDfest will be held annually at Joadja, with pop-up events across Australia. For more, visit wildfest.com.au.