This post is dedicated to my beautiful sister and her family in Melboune, and all Melburnians for that matter, who have showed much grace, unity and responsibility in their handling of one of the longest lockdowns worldwide.
I'm not sure what my reflections on our holiday are, other than that we were lucky to get out into the wide open land and be together all 4 of us.
It didn’t matter where we were going. We just went because we could. With very little research (besides where to get good coffee) and even less preparation. I mean, even the preparation I did do (like packing the girls bags a week early) was a waste of time as we’d inadvertently left them stacked neatly in their bedroom for the duration of the holiday.
I did however have spare linen sheets and a king sized doona. I forgot a tooth brush, bought a new one, left it at the accommodation after using it once and resigned myself to the fact I’d be sharing my husbands for the week.
Even the week before school holidays in the most seemingly random of places, the accommodation was almost entirely booked out. The time we had in each place was probably the reverse of what one would plan. But that’s the beauty of just enjoying where you are and working it out.
I actually think forgetting the girls things was an important part of the experience. The unimportance of stuff. As long as we had each other pretty much anything else is replaceable or do-without-able. Stuff isn’t what makes us happy.
Once I recovered from the Sydney lockdown and found some clarity, I sat down and wrote some life goals including identifying the things that made me happy.
The top 3 things I listed of what I wanted on the other side of lockdown were:
go on a family trip
see more of my husband
2020 has taught me not to wait to do the things we want to do. There may be many fewer cents to our name as my husband is taking the rest of the year off, but we were headed off on our trip and by day 3 day I’d spotted red earth in NSW and felt lucky to get a taste of what we might see when we get to the Red Centre.
When the sabbatical calls,
even if your pockets are empty,
listen to her voice;
she brings all that can't be bought.
Tess Guinery, The Apricot Memoirs
When driving hours and hours through wide open plains – it really is the journey not the destination. We saw a whole lot of not a lot and that for me was the highlight.
Some of the destinations were tiny towns with barely anything in them and no-one around. We had to drive 50kms to the nearest sight. The towns were like being in iso – with only a bank, post office, bakery, vinnies, church, school, medical centre and pub. Nothing superfluous, just the essentials. People only travelled into town from their farms to utilise these essential services and go back home. I was impressed with the diligence shown in even the most remote and quiet towns, like Bingala – that social distancing was adhered to and every tiny business had a covid policy and plan.
My original idea was to get a campervan and travel slowly and for longer, but when we went to check one out and I got panicky and car sick within seconds of stepping into the vehicle, so that idea, along with my vision of becoming a cool hippie mum, died on the spot. It was helped by the fact the bottom-of-the-line camper was $1600 for 6 nights and a powered site (a concrete car parking space with a power cord) was $80/night. That gave me a budget of almost $350 a night to find alternative accommodation and not have to prepare meals in shoe box camper kitchen. I can see now that preparing all your own meals is where you save the money, but stepping into a supermarket and cooking in a mobile kitchen isn’t my idea of a holiday. So nicer places for less time became my new plan.
So where did we go & what did we see?
From Sydney we drove through the Blue Mountains, had lunch in Katoomba then stopped at The Lolly Bug which the kids loved. Through Bathurst and then to Orange. I would have loved to have made a diversion to Carcoar as I love the look of the design store Tomolly.
What a beautiful time of year to visit with the blossoms and snow pears in full bloom. There’s no shortage of cute cafes and wineries. You could easily spend 3 days here or a week if you had a house. We only stayed overnight. Here are my recs.
Eat/Drink - Birdie – Coffee, food drinks all day long (Lolli Rodini’s partner business), Groundstone – Coffee, breakfast and lunch in the regional museum precinct, Hillside Harvest café – a little out of town and right near Heifer Station winery. Coffee and cake inside as well as fresh fruit and produce to purchase and apple trees outside (this is where the kids had a pic on the apple truck). Other coffee/foodie stops on my list were - Byng St local store, Good Eddy café, Factory Espresso, Agrestic Grocer.
Stay - We stayed at The Ophir pub which has very basic rooms but a lovely pub with good food and a huge outdoor play castle for kids for a peaceful meal. The Byng St Boutique Hotel looks lovely, as does The White Place (an extension of the store with the same name). Check Broadsheet for more lovely accomm recs.
Wine & Dine List - We visited Heifer Station and it was stunning. Small and stylish with lovely gardens and there are ponies, goats, a sandpit for the kids and a wine tasting glamping tent for the adults. If we had time I would have loved to have visited Philip Shaw and Nashdale, where they have gorgeous glamping accommodation.
What’s on - Details of FOOD week, farmers markets and festivals here – just make sure they’re still on before you leave as lots of things have been cancelled due to you-know-what
Check out Country Style’s guide to the best places to stay, eat and shop in Orange
Above: Heifer Station Wines.
Below: The Sonic where you'll find Jumbled.
On the drive to Dubbo, we hit some dirt road highway which was a bit terrifying as we had no idea where we were or when it would end, but it did and we soon found sealed road and stopped in Coonabarabran. It’s the astronomy capital of Australia, so if you’re into stars and observatories, this town is for you. It’s also a good jumping off point to visit the Piliga forest. We had a coffee stop and a play at the park here (such a beautiful park with gorgeous trees, a wishing well and awesome equipment for the kids).
Two days here would be plenty. Everything good is in here. The coffee at Press was amazing. The Zoo is only 5 mins out of town and is so beautifully designed and laid out. You can self-drive, it’s like being on safari. They have 3 types of accommodation there too and most include zoo tickets and bike hire so don't book tickets first. Take some swimmers as there is a water park for the kids. A ticket covers you for 2 consecutive days so take it slow and come back the next day.
We stayed at The Repose. The most beautiful space I’ve been in. I could not stop looking around. I haven't seen a better example of the beauty, originality and quality resulting from upcycling vintage furniture. They povide beautiful breakfast produce, but for dinner pick up some produce and make a simple meal. We got take away pizza from Spartans and ate it in the little garden courtyard.
I would have liked to have visited The Auctioneer café and bar, I read you can pick up a sandwich or wrap which is a good idea to take to the zoo. And next door is a lovely clothing store Frank & Enid. Leather store Saddler & Co looks lovley too.
This guide of things to do and places to stay was published 2 days after we returned from our trip! FML!! But we found everything listed, because Narrabri is a strip of shops with no-one around. You come here to get out into the surrounding natural beauty not to stay in town. Yield is gorgeous café we went to everyday and we stayed at the Tourist Hotel. The interior fit out is next level and the outside beer garden is gorgeous. Book the presidential suite or a room with an ensuite – they only had one queen ensuite room left so we took a blow up bed for the girls which was a highlight for them!
The visitors centre (look for the big yelow 'i') is full of information and will send you on daytrips – just get a fresh sandwich, drink and some cookies from the bakery across the road from The Tourist and you’re set for the day.
Day trips we went on were:
Sawnrocks (amazing, in the Kaputar National Park on an extinct volcano). We then drove to Rocky Creek Glacial Area (it’s a LONG beautiful drive there and back, but its long - we could have skipped this) but instead we kept going to Bingara. We found a bakery, park and public toilet – was it worth 100kms? No.
Wee Waa – cute tiny town, got lunch from the bakery and headed to the Barren Junction Bore Baths. These are artesian springs that tap into water 1km below the ground and are believed to be healing. They are 37 degrees, smell a bit like fart and have green bacterial slime floating in them. No-one tells you that do they! They just call them primitive! I saw red dirt out here though so I was happy and the kids loved the hot pool. We should have visited the CSIRO Australia telescope and Yarrie Lake on the way but instead we came back into Wee Waa and the kids found some play and exercise equipment opposite the local primary school, I visited PJ’s country wares and discovered the brand love henry (founded on a cotton farm in Goondawindi) and we got a coffee.
It was recommended we visit the Piliga East State Forest (we drove through Coonabarabran so already passed this by and didn’t want to go back) to see the salt and sandstone caves as well as the sculptures in the scrub.
I think a trip to arty Moree would have been great. They have more hot springs and a café art gallery called the Yama Ganu.
We drove through through Gunnedah which was a pretty big town compared to what we’d been in. If you need lunch or a coffee, drop into eclectic cafe Bitter Suite and then unleash the kids in the most beautiful inclusive park called Livvie’s Place with little signs in brail and sign language, slides, a zip line with a seat you can buckle kids into and in-ground mini tramps plus more.
Tamworth is a big town and we were only there overnight, 2 nights would be good. It’s busy too, we found it hard to find a parking spot. We stayed a little out of town in a stunning place called Goonoo Goonoo Station. This is a destination within itself with pool, restaurant and accommodation with a little kitchen.
Coffee – campgrounds
Drinks – Welders Dog Brewery Bar
We drove home via The Hunter Valley – all good things in this area are on hunter hunter
Highlights and learnings
Highlights for the girls were finding exercise equipment in a park in Wee Waa and running down the hallway in the house in Dubbo! Who would have guessed? Oh and the cow poo that fell of the back off the truck travelling 100kms/hr that scraped our bonnet and hit our windscreen.
I loved being in the front of the car with my husband, looking at the fields of wheat swishing in the breeze, the shock of yellow when we passed canola fields and the wildflowers, weeds and native grasses all along the side of the road. In some parts they were accompanied by shreds of fluffy cotton befallen from trucks or massive patches of queen anne’s lace in such an abundance I figured it must spread like wildfire, its hardiness belying the delicacy of its flowers. Unfortunately it was planting season for cotton so there was no crops to be seen.