Road trips with kids, most people veer well clear of them. Not me! I love them. Our first one was when Baby C was six months old when we travelled from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town in South Africa (about 750 km in eight days). It was one of the best holidays we have ever had.
We recently did another biggie. This time from Sydney to Byron Bay (almost 800 km in five nights). I first did this trip in a campervan when I was 25, kid-free and care-free. My, how things change! One thing I love about Australia is that there are so many incredible places to visit and you don’t need to get on a plane, although you do have to be prepared for a long, long drive. Having lived on the tiny island of Singapore for nearly four years, I have begun to crave space and loved the idea of getting in a car and driving and driving.
Farm fun in The Hunter Valley
Our first port of call after leaving Sydney was The Hunter Valley, a region I’ve always wanted to visit but missed out as a backpacker. Way back then I thought wine tasting was was dull. Why have a few sips when you could down an entire cask. And casks were cheap, bottles of wines in wineries were not. My tastes have matured a little since then.
Part of my plan for the trip was to make sure my kids got to experience lots of different things, especially things that were typically Australian, or that they hadn’t done in Singapore. You don’t see farm animals in Singapore, other than the odd rooster strutting its stuff around by the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on River Valley Road, near where we used to live. My three year old only knows farm animals from her story books and the television as she was born here. And, she doesn’t have a clue what a tractor is (can you imagine?). So, I organised a farm stay at Myalls Away Farm, near Cessnock, an hour and a quarter out of Sydney.
It lies on 90-acres of land in the middle of nowhere and is accessible via long dirt track. My kids first spotted pigs in pens not far from the main house. Both children screamed with excitement and nearly fell out of the car as they tried to be the first out so they could race to see them. I’m ashamed to say they were even more excited about the trampoline.
The owner, Claire, was the loveliest lady you could meet and certainly was not the stereotypical farmer. She was very attractive and super chatty – the kind of person you’d find browsing Sydney’s designer boutiques, not feeding pigs while knee-deep in mud on a farm in the sticks. She manages the farm single-handedly (I have no idea how or why!).
Our cozy cabin
Our accommodation for two nights was a cozy cabin set quite a way from the house. It had three bedrooms, classical country-style decor with a red painted roof and a huge verandah looking out across the fields and lake. Perfect for what we wanted. There was a second cabin and a swimming pool at the main house, which sadly we didn’t use as the weather was rather cooler than we’d hoped.
We stocked up on supplies (lots of wine and beer, and a bit of food) in nearby Cessnock, a typical Australian country town with a pretty main street lined with colourful buildings. Once we got back, my husband’s hunter-gatherer instinct kicked in and he went straight off to collect sticks and build a fire.
We fired up the barbecue and roasted marshmallows on the camp fire. The solitude, the space, the silence and the freshness of the air was uplifting – it felt a long way from Singapore. Sadly the promise of spotting a kangaroo on the farm was never fulfilled. I blame it on my noisy kids!
Early the first morning, we headed up to the farm to help with feeding time. The sun was just rising and the initial chilly temperature was climbing quickly. The wellies we’d bought for the kids in Sydney because it had rained and rained and rained came in useful. My Converse, on the other hand, were completely inappropriate.
Farmer Claire briefed the kids on the plan for the morning and they were soon mixing meal up for the ducks, feeding carrots to crazy, snorting piglets and pellets to the sheep and the big daddy pig. The kids were certainly wary at first and kept their distance from the animals. (I was more cautious of the giant spiders’ webs I could see everywhere.)
Feeding the guinea pigs was a highlight. Baby C didn’t want to give hers back and instead gave it a rather tight squeeze before reluctantly handing it over. Their last activity of the very busy morning was bareback riding on a miniature Shetland pony. The sight of Miss C, whose feet were almost touching the ground, clinging on for dear life when the pony did a late charge had me rolling around in laughter.
Of course, you can’t leave Hunter Valley without doing at least one visit to a winery and at least one wine tasting, although it’s far from ideal with kids in tow. I’d researched kid-friendly wineries, and the one we went to had a swing and some sheep, but the reality is they’re not the best places to take kids. We did visit the Smelly Cheese Shop in Pokolbin, mainly to get a picture of us all stood under the name sign. There’s also a zoo, which is meant to be fabulous, but it was shut.
Myalls Away Farm is a little gem if you want to get away from it all for a night or two. It felt ‘myalls away’ from anything (sorry, I couldn’t resist), possibly a bit too isolated for city-girl like me, but the rest of the family didn’t mind at all. The hands-on experience on offer was amazing and the girls absolutely loved it. The talk of wanting to get a guinea pig or perhaps a horse still continues today.
For more info visit Myalls Away Farm Cottages.