Meet NSW’s most passionate tour guides
There’s no better way to get to know a place and its people than on a tour – and with these six expert guides, you’ll find a passion for their own pockets of NSW that’s truly infectious.
There are tour guides. Then there are these six tour guides – the kind of people so passionate about their product that time with them passes in the blink of an eye, their stories so captivating you can’t help but feel an immediate connection to the destinations and experiences they reveal.
Brett Weingarth: Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours
Brett “Captain Sponge” Weingarth knows a thing or two about shucking oysters. And growing them, for that matter. His oyster leases on the South Coast of NSW span Merimbula Lake, Pambula Lake and the Pambula River. Ask Sapphire Coast locals, and they’ll tell you Sponge is a “legend”; a “loveable rogue”.
On his Magical Oyster Tours across vast waterways, he gets hands-on, hauling in deliciously briny molluscs requiring nothing more than a squeeze of lemon and a glass of champagne to make the perfect lunch. As you glide along, he jokes that he has the ultimate office view.
All this, plus glimpses of wedge-tailed eagles overhead and wallabies on the banks – not a bad way to spend the day, right?
Robbie Knowles: PS Cumberoona
Robbie Knowles could talk your ear off about southern NSW’s Murray River region. Born and bred here, he can’t imagine life anywhere else. Why would you want to leave a place that offers everything you covet: great wines, golf and water?
Once a professional water-skier, today Robbie spends most working days as captain of the historic paddle steamer Cumberoona or boat The Sienna Daisy, cruising the waters of Lake Mulwala, a vast man-made reservoir. When you love what you do, no job is “work”.
It’s a sentiment you inhale as you putter around with Robbie, his witty commentary revealing locals-only insights into places you pass. He has some pretty good fishing tips, too.
Margret Campbell: Dreamtime Southern X
There’s not much Margret Campbell can’t do, or in fact, hasn’t done. She pioneered Indigenous tourism in Sydney in the 1990s, serves on advisory boards for Aboriginal Affairs, and today runs Dreamtime Southern X, a company offering tours around The Rocks neighbourhood of Sydney – through Indigenous eyes.
She doesn’t sugar-coat history, acknowledging the turbulent times endured by Australian Aboriginals. But she also uses her experiences to highlight the positives: the heritage her Elders left here, the stories they relayed through generations, the hidden bush tucker and ancient art hiding around every corner.
She’ll tell you there’s no wrong question to ask – revealing Sydney’s past through its present is her passion.
Tim McMullen: Borambola Wines
Down to earth is the best way to describe Tim McMullen, head winemaker and estate owner at Borambola, outside Wagga Wagga in the Riverina region. Indeed, he regularly greets visitors in gumboots and dirt-smeared overalls – but isn’t that the ultimate sign of a connection and commitment to the land he farms?
Tim’s property is ridiculously pretty; the kind of place that makes you want to pack your bags for a tree change. It’s also full of history, with significant Aboriginal artefacts discovered here by another Wagga local and guide, Mark Saddler (check out his Bundyi Cultural Tours).
When you’ve finished strolling through the vines, Tim ushers you inside for a grazing platter, perhaps, and a flight of his beers and wines. He’ll pull up a stool and tell you the story behind every single label, including the Double Joy Rosé, so named after Prince Charles: visiting a neighbouring estate many moons ago, Charles exclaimed, “Double Joy!” after sipping Tim’s wine. It’s a story, and an experience, you’ll never forget.
Vinh Tran: Military Vehicle Tours
Bowral local Vinh Tran sits behind the wheel of what is certainly the most exhilarating tour chariot you’ll ever experience around the Southern Highlands. But also perhaps the slowest – the retired military Jeeps he and volunteers drive don’t go very fast. But when you’re in the passenger seat of the open-air vehicle, wind in your hair, Don’t Stop Believin’ blaring from the stereo… it’s hard not to feel alive.
A top speed of 40kph doesn’t matter when you’re scooting around the postcard-perfect countryside, feeling closer to Bowral and Morton National Park (an essential stop) than you ever would in a normal car. When your Jeep slows at lights, you’ll be able to hear Vinh explain how his father survived the Vietnam war before moving to Australia.
Today, the charismatic guide not only operates these tours, donating all proceeds to charities supporting the most vulnerable Vietnamese, but also owns a delicious pho joint back in Bowral. He waves at every passer-by as you drive – when you’re this involved in the community, there’s no one you don’t know.
Maeve O’Meara: Gourmet Safari Sydney
There’s little Maeve O’Meara doesn’t know about food. She has learnt the art of making baguettes with a French baker, tried her hand at perfecting Sri Lankan curries, discovered the intricacies of burrata – and put together TV shows along the way. She’s always hungry for more.
Her Gourmet Safari tours are a snapshot of multicultural Sydney, led by someone just as passionate about the people she meets as the cuisines she highlights.
While Maeve doesn’t guide every tour, she enlists experts in globetrotting delicacies to assist her. Like Abdullah Hashimi – you’ll visit his home in Merrylands, meet his family, and taste how they use spices to create dishes like aushak (dumplings topped with a yoghurt-mint sauce). Or Ulku Gani, who shows you around Auburn and introduces the Turkish food of her home country; dishes featured in her upcoming cookbook.
Maeve and team engage and delight – mind, eyes and tastebuds alike.