One of the best (and most delicious) ways to get to know a region is via its local producers. Please take advantage of the wealth of knowledge they have to share about the unique wares they make or harvest and enjoy the unsurpassed quality you get from tasting straight from the source. On the Makers Trail, a self-guided road trip on the Central Coast, you’ll get to know four of them, all offering immersive experiences for passionate foodies just an hour from Sydney. Find out what makes these tours so special below, as well as insider tips on their favorite things to do in the region.

First stop: tour NSW’s only pearl farm

The fact that Broken Bay Pearl Farm is NSW’s only one gives you a clue to how rare these lustrous treasures are. Located on the Lower Hawkesbury River, the site started as an oyster farm, but when the owners discovered the native akoya oyster growing there, they knew they had struck gold. “Not only are they delicious, but they produce beautiful, lustrous pearls in amazing colours, ranging from deep blues to golds, creams, whites and pinks,” says lead farmer James Brown. The team is proud of their sustainable practices: “they are farmed directly from the waterways that surround us, and are not chemically treated or enhanced, meaning they’ll last a lifetime.” Visit the Shellar Door to browse the elegant jewelry and sit with a plate of local oysters overlooking the water.

Highlight experience: The private discovery tour is an immersive look into the world of pearl farming. On a scenic cruise of the Hawkesbury, you’ll see the pearl shell in the water and learn about the long process of growth. “Guests are genuinely surprised to learn the fascinating details around how we grow, seed and farm our oysters and how we grade and value our pearls,” says Brown.

Local tip: Brown loves the sleepy town of Woy Woy and its quiet waterfront parks, from the center of the city to Lions Park and all the way to Blackwell Mountain, which has a “secret lookout with incredible views of Brisbane Waters, Broken Bay, Lion Island, and all the way to Pittwater – and it’s usually deserted.”

Second stop: step inside a Willy Wonka-style factory

Ever wondered what exactly goes into making a delicious bar of nougat as you bite into this festive, chewy treat? “The process is so delicate,” says Andrew Yiasemides, owner of The Factory – Chocolate and Nougat. “The slightest variation could have a remarkable effect on the end product. From roasting all our nuts to blending our syrups, we do everything in house.” Peek through the portholes at the biggest nougat producer in Australia to see how it’s done – you’ll also see talented artisans making fine chocolate and gourmet marshmallows. Go on a behind-the-scenes tour for an in-depth explanation, then head straight to the retail store to make the difficult choice of what you’ll take home. Need help? “Our most original chocolate flavour is the Tea Leaf, with an earl grey tea-infused grenache encased in milk chocolate, and our most popular is the Passionfruit Cup, made with passionfruit puree in a creamy white chocolate cup,” says Yiasemides. There are also mint-flavored marshmallows dipped in chocolate, salted caramel crunchy rocky road, chocolate-coated cherries, a mocha milk chocolate bar, and a golden box of assorted fine chocolates… it may take a while.

Highlight experience: If you’ve brought the kids, the Junior Chocolatier experience is pretty special – they’ll learn how chocolate is tempered and make three creations of their own.

Local tip: “I’ve done the 5 Lands Walk many times – it’s such a beautiful thing to do.”

Third stop: wander through an enchanted garden and try botanical wine

It’s impossible to visit Firescreek Botanical Winery and not leave inspired by owner Nadia O’Connell’s vision. A truly unique labor of love, this two-acre permaculture farm, and pretty-as-a-fairytale garden is the source of her fruit, flower, and botanical wines, which are created and bottled on-site. You’ll find original seasonal flavors like coffee, blackcurrant, chocolate, blueberry and lavender, and apple and rose petal wine. “At any time, we could be working on 25 different wines – at the moment, it’s elderberry and lemon and nectarine and passionfruit,” says O’Connell. Spring is a particularly spectacular time to visit: “The garden totally jumps into action, with a magnificent arbor of wisteria covering the entryway, the grape vines burst back to life, and the ponds come into flower with the beautiful lilies.” On the Aboriginal Storytelling and Wine Tasting tour, you’ll learn from an Aboriginal Elder about culture and traditions, examine tools and artifacts, and, where possible, taste native plants such as Davidson plum, rye berry, and Dianella.

Highlight experience: On the Foraging and Mixology workshop, you’ll be let loose in the garden to pick your ingredients. With a bartender as your guide, you’ll then make three cocktails to enjoy in a private room overlooking the grounds, as well as tasting the current selection of wines.

Local tip: “Bamboo Buddha just around the corner from us is perfect for Sunday brunch. I love the cuisine at Suq at Wamberal and the Lord Ashley Bar at Crowne Plaza is just lovely to have a sunset drink watching the ocean in Terrigal.”

Fourth stop: make your ricotta and try award-winning halloumi

Turning a hobby into an award-winning business is no easy feat – something that Russell and Sue Parsons of Little Creek Cheese know all too well. Despite more than 200 industry accolades for their cheese since starting the business officially in 2010, it’s still a family-run operation (with their son Alex) at their little Wyong Milk Factory – which pays off. “Making our haloumi by hand enables us to watch how the cheese and milk is acting and respond to what it needs,” says Russell. “You won’t find machinery pushing out heaps of haloumi – it’s made with love and care.” You can see for yourself on the Private Tasting Experience, where you’ll tour the factory, learn the history of cheesemaking, and taste ten kinds of cheese from the range, which includes feta, labia, flavored cheddars, and sapphire — a semi-hard blue.

Highlight experience: The Cheese Experience offers an in-depth tour and chat with the cheesemakers, a tasting, and a hands-on ricotta and paneer-making lesson.

Local tips: “The number of amazing producers we have on the Central Coast is the best part of living up here – there’s something for every taste.” Try excellent ice cream at Mr. Goaty Gelato, beer at Block ‘n Tackle, and locally-made spirits at Distillery Botanica, to name a few.

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