It’s a back to nature weekend in Port Macquarie with a farmstay, animals, fruitpicking, a lilly-pilly hedge maze and a walk through a state forest.
A Family Holiday in Port Macquarie
Look, there’s wallabies!” excitedly exclaims my daughter as we approach our accommodation. We’ve just arrived at Telegraph Retreat and are being greeted by a posse of wallabies outside the gate. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for our country break. There’s even more animals inside the gate. Chickens flap their wings in welcome and Ollie the dog barks hello. We’re spending the weekend at Telegraph Retreat located just 20 minutes north of Port Macquarie. Owner Melanie Marshall warmly greets us and shows us to our gorgeous country cottage.
Our accommodation is Federation House, a 2-level self-contained cottage with a wide verandah and private jacuzzi.
Our cottage includes two bedrooms and a family bathroom downstairs and a loft upstairs which we dub the “Kids Zone” in which my daughter disappears resulting in some free time for us. It’s full of fun activities for kids to enjoy such as the air hockey table, TV, kids DVDs and Wii games. There’s also a box full of toys as well as a bookcase containing a range of books for parents and kids alike.
However, the farm animals are the main drawcard for my daughter and she can’t wait to get out and meet them. Two of Melanie’s kids join us as we take some animal food and meet the resident critters. We start with feeding the geese and turkeys and then move down to the other animals.
We’re excited to meet the one-day old calf who is still unnamed. A little shy, the calf stays nursing by Mama Cow.
The goats aren’t as shy and as soon as they realise we have food, they bleat and run over. We’re soon introduced to some of the goats like Minnie, Mocha and Harry.
After feeding the animals, we have a look around the property.
Located on 8.5 hectares, owners Melanie and Roger provide luxury family-friendly accommodation and country hospitality. In addition to Federation House, there’s two additional self-contained cottages on the property for couples and small families. With four kids of their own, they understand what families need for a holiday away.
Melanie explains that they previously lived in Sydney and used to come up for family holidays to Telegraph Retreat. When the property came up for sale five years ago, they decided on a tree change and moved to the country. Living in a separate house on the property, they’re easily accessible if you need anything or have any questions.
There’s plenty of space and privacy on at Telegraph Retreat and families can do as little or as much as they want. Telegraph Retreat offers plenty of outdoor fun activities for kids including a heated swimming pool, kids play equipment and a trampoline and just the freedom to roam around and explore.
There’s also plenty of relaxing to enjoy such as lounging on the comfortable verandah…
…Or slipping into the private jacuzzi. It’s glorious to relax and enjoy the country views and fresh air. We even have a few duck visitors who come to check us out.
It’s then time for dinner. Although cottages are self-contained with a full kitchen, Telegraph Retreat also offers home-cooked dinners delivered to your door. We’ve opted for this choice and we’re so glad we did. Roger arrives with our meal and it looks divine. There’s a platter featuring tender lamb, potatoes, snow peas and asparagus and fresh baked foccacia. For dessert, we get to enjoy sticky date pudding, which incidentally is a favourite of Mr Mummy Project.
We’re ravenous, (must be the country air) and we tuck into our meal. After a few bites, the compliments begin. ‘Glorious’ raves my husband. ‘Yummo’ announces my daughter while I add “sublime”. It’s a sumptuous meal and it’s not long until all the food is gone.
The relaxing continues after dinner with another soak in our private jacuzzi. It’s wonderful to relax in the quiet of the country, looking out to the night sky dotted with stars while enjoying a glass of wine.
The next morning, we awake to a delivery of home-cooked sourdough bread to accompany our breakfast hamper that includes milk, orange juice, homemade granola, fresh farm eggs, bacon and homemade jams. We especially love the array of the multicoloured eggs. With these provisions, Mr Mummy Project cooks up a large country breakfast which we quickly devour.
‘Is it 9 o’clock yet?’ my daughter asks. She can’t wait for the farm stay tours which run on weekends and school holidays. We make our way to the main house and join Roger and the kids with feeding the animals. First task is to collect the eggs from the chickens and then it’s off to meet Stella the Donkey and Andy the Sheep before feeding the ducks and geese.
It’s a real novelty staying at a farm stay. It’s a taste of the country and we’re enjoying it immensely. As much as we would like to stay and relax at Telegraph Retreat, it’s time to explore Port Macquarie.
Our first stop is Billabong Zoo. This regional zoo features a wide range of Australian and exotic animals, reptiles and birds. All of our favourites are here including koalas, monkeys, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, cassowaries, quolls, crocodiles, lizards, snakes and birds. Set on 10 acres, this zoo is fantastic for families as it offers lots of opportunities for meets and greets but it’s not too large and overwhelming.
The first animal we spot are the koalas. Billabong is a major breeding centre for koalas and supplies koalas for Taronga Zoo and Western Plains Zoo.
We pat a koala named Harley, stroke a dingo named Ernie and touch a snake.
We also feed kangaroos and wallabies and spot a few joeys in pouches.
There’s different keeper presentations throughout the day including penguins, dingoes, snow leopards and a reptile show which provide an opportunity to learn more about different animals.
We also manage to see glimpses of snow leopards who are hiding under the rocks taking refuge from the heat. It’s a highlight of our visit seeing these big cats. Billabong Zoo is now one of only five zoos in Australia to host snow leopards, which are one of the most endangered big cats on earth with a wild population estimated at less than 4,000.
Next door are the red pandas. Small and agile these multicoloured creatures are a delight to watch with mischievous faces.
We time our visit perfectly to catch the Crocodile Show featuring Shrek, a massive 4.5 metre saltwater crocodile who demonstrates his leaping ability.
Watching Shrek munch away on his lunch whets our appetite for lunch as well and we stop to enjoy lunch at Billabong Cafe. There’s a variety of tasty options and it’s not long until our food comes out. You can also bring your own food for a picnic as there’s plenty of undercover picnic tables to sit down and enjoy some food.
The park is wonderfully landscaped with plenty of shade which is necessary on a hot day. With wide paths, there’s plenty of space to push prams and strollers around and there’s even pram parking near the Croc Show amphitheatre.
There’s also a children’s playground as well as a chalk desk area in the outdoor seating area of the cafe.
Reluctantly, we leave Billabong Zoo and head into Port Macquarie. It’s been a few years since our last visit to the city and we’re impressed. We stop first at the Visitor Information centre in the Glasshouse. Opened in 2009, this soaring building houses a performing arts centre, a regional gallery and a shop.
We wander around the gallery and enjoy the current exhibition “Grey” while my daughter sits down and completes a kids activity related to the exhibition. Lyn, the friendly woman at the Gallery mentions we should book our daughter in for Sprouts’ art session the next time we visit. Every month on a Saturday, the gallery provides art activities for kids helping them grow their creativity and learn new skills.
Leaving the Glasshouse, we stroll around the CBD that’s dotted with restaurants, cafes and funky boutiques. It’s Saturday afternoon and most of the boutiques have closed already but this doesn’t stop me from window shopping. Meg and Me Boutique and Espresso looks especially good and I make a note to check it out on our next visit. Luckily, The Corner restaurant is still open so we stop to enjoy a delicious coffee and cake there.
We then head down to the southern breakwall to check out the painted rocks. Originally started as a Lions Club art competition in 1995, this is now an unofficial gallery containing declarations of love, tributes to loved ones, commemoration of special occasions and holiday memories.
After much searching, we find a rock painted by our friends on their recent holiday to Port Macquarie!
The breakwall is actually part of a 9km coastal walk which starts at Town Green and ends at Lighthouse Beach. Completing this walk is another thing we’ll save for our next visit. We instead do an abbreviated walk along the breakwall to Town Beach and watch some talented skateboarders doing tricks at the skate park before heading to the nearby playground.
It’s then time for a quick swim to cool off in the waves at Town Beach, just one of 17 beaches in the region.
We dry off walking back along the breakwall to Town Green and even spot some frolicking bottlenose dolphins in the Hastings River.
Once back at Town Green, we order some takeaway fish and chips from locally recommended Off the Hook and drive to nearby Flynns Beach. This is a popular beach with families featuring large shaded picnic areas. It’s a beautiful spot to sit and watch the sun go down.
The next day is another glorious autumn day and we head to Ricardoes for some strawberry picking. We meet owner Anthony Sarks who takes us on a tour of the undercover hydrophonic tomato and strawberry operations. He explains how tomatoes are grown from seedlings and strung up to carefully manage the plant’s growth. Four yummy varieties of tomatoes are grown at Ricardoes including cherry tomatoes, round and roma.
Anthony then takes us over to the strawberry area. Like the tomatoes, these are cultivated off the ground and are grown in vertical PVC pipes with drip feeders supplying water and fertiliser to each individual plant. He provides us with a bucket and scissors and encourages us to pick our own strawberries. It’s free to visit Ricardoes. You just pay by kilo for the strawberries you pick.
We spend the next half an hour picking strawberries. My daughter carefully picks the strawberries at her height while Mr Mummy Project and I can reach the top for ripe berries.
It’s a wonderful experience to illustrate to kids how strawberries and tomatoes grow. If you visit on a weekend, I recommend joining the free farm tours. After filling the tub, we return to the shop and get our strawberries weighed for purchase and check out the award-winning jams, relishes and chutneys.
We’re keen to taste the Ricardoes tomatoes and strawberries so order bruschetta. Biting into the bruschetta, we can taste the difference between Ricardoes tomatoes and “store bought” tomatoes. The tomatoes are fresh with lots of flavour. This is followed by a serving of freshly baked scones with Ricardoes famous strawberry jam. These light fluffy scones soon disappear.
Bellies full, we set off for a drive inland and end up in the charming rural township of Wauchope. We go for a stroll along the picturesque River Street Walk.
We also manage to find a playground as well, Bain Park which my daughter rates highly due to its many activities.
Leaving Wauchope, we head out of town on Bago Road. We’re off to see a tree, but it’s not just any tree. It’s Old Bottlebutt, the largest Red Bloodwood tree in the southern hemisphere. After 15 minutes down a single-lane gravel road, we arrive at a parking and picnic area in Burrawan State Forest. But there’s no tree in site. However, we do spot a walking track and venture down the 600 metre Old Bottlebutt Walking Track.
We meander through remnant rainforest and cross two small bridges until we eventually spot Old Bottlebutt which looms in front of us. The tree is aptly named. It’s large flared “butt” measures 16 metres around and it’s more than 52 metres high.
My neck starts to crane from looking up at the tree and I take a seat on a new hardwood timber viewing deck which is a much more relaxing way to enjoy Old Bottlebutt. It’s awe-inspiring to stand below the tree and marvel at its size and height.
We say goodbye to Old Bottlebutt and swap trees for hedges. We’re heading to Bago Vineyards and Maze. There we meet owner Jim Mobbs who explains that the maze took six years to complete with the construction of towers, bridges and allowing native lilly-pilly hedge to grow to a sufficient height. Standing from the top of the hill overlooking the maze, it doesn’t look that difficult.
However, once we get in, we realise how challenging it is. The aim of the maze is to reach the two lookout towers and then find your way out or if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can try the Bago Maze Treasure Hunt.
Unable to resist a challenge, we opt to do this one which involves finding our way to the lookout towers and searching for hidden items like searching for leprechauns and hidden items. It’s harder than it looks and there’s a few wrong turns.
However, we find some other secret stuff like the Recyclabells and the Thongophone!
It’s a fun excursion and one that tests our navigational and teamwork skills. After finding our way through the maze, we finally locate an exit and escape. We’re tempted to celebrate our maze skills with a cheese plate and few glasses of wine but it’s getting late and we need to drive back home. (We’re planning to come back for the popular Jazz in the Vineyards which takes place on the second Sunday of every month).
However, there’s one more stop on our way home to Newcastle and that’s at North Brother Lookout near Laurieton. It’s a 10 minute drive to the top of the mountain (490 metres high) and once there, we’re rewarded with spectacular views of the coast. It’s worth a visit.
All to soon, our back to nature weekend in Port Macquarie is over! But we’ll be back to enjoy more time here.
Telegraph Retreat is located 20 minutes north of Port Macquarie in Telegraph Point. Accommodation starts from $140 for the spa cottages.
Billabong Zoo charges $26.50 for adults, $15 for children 3 to 15 years or a family pass (2 Adults & 2 Children) is $77.
Admission to Bago Maze is $10 for adults and $7 for children.
The Mummy Project was a guest of Port Macquarie Tourism. All opinions are my own.