A camping we did go

First night back from camping, I sat in bed and whilst it was lovely to be reclining once again in familiar comfort, something was missing. Walking to one of our bedrooms windows and pushing my face against the scratchy mesh of the flyscreen, I gulped in cool night air like a drowning person. Closing my eyes, the gentle hum of cicadas and rustling leaves of trees washed over me. That is what I was missing. Sister Three had declared that upon returning home from camping, she would have to live outside as she couldn’t bear to be stuck inside once more. Once again disconnected from nature.

Supposedly camping re-sets our circadian rhythms and whilst this light earplug-wearing ninja sleeper may not be able to vouch for that, what I do know is that our children run free, unfettered from the every day bane of television and overt technology. They play games, bike, swim, walk and carry on like pork chops. As adults we also walk more, talk more, chill more, read more, laugh more, puzzle more, connect more and carry on like pork chops more. All this is accomplished in the great outdoors that this very beautiful country provides for us.

For the first week of our two weeks this year, there were five families, 17 all told. We were back at our old haunt, the riverside camping ground in South West Rocks on the mid north coast of New South Wales. Sure, there was the odd unpleasant moment or two. Strong winds that sent tarps or tents flying can frighten both both young and old and a day or so of rain can kind of get you down. (Trying to dry towels whilst camping is one of my bugbears, don’t care if it ain’t clean but a damp towel seems so well, unnecessarily uncivilised.) Setting up camp is rather exciting but breaking down a camp and going home is well, far less so. There is usually fevered talk of burning the whole lot down and starting again next year, thus far, sanity, economy and a wish to stay of jail has won out. But any camping benefits far outweigh the negatives, making for the kind of holiday that allows you to totally check out of the everyday humdrum of life.

As usual we ate and drank very, very well and nobody starved. This part of the world is beautiful. White sand, turquoise waters on bright sunny days and the everchanging darker hues that the ocean provides on days that the sun refused to shine. Tall dark green Norfolk pines stand as silent sentinels, ever watchful and noble. Surely there is no greater marker of the Australian seaside than a stand of these magnificent trees?

Last year brought some sad changes to our lives and it was good to nudge them to the side, even if that sadness was merely simmering under the surface. This year brings new adventures for our family as our no longer chubby-legged big boy heads off to high school and into the somewhat scary state that is adolescence. As we purchase uniforms, pencils and new shoes I wonder where my little headstrong blonde curly haired lad has gone. He still likes a good argument but his body is lengthening and the planes of his face are refining, no remnant of baby fat is left except in this mothers memory. The Yak and myself are re-evaluating career paths alongside personal goals and right now, even though things feel wobbly, we know more than ever that life is bloody short. As cliched as it sounds, there are no guarantees (only death and taxes boom-tish) and our intention is to make the most of this life we have been given. So thanks South West Rocks, until we meet again.

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Starman

‘The Camping Collective’ does not starve. As time went on, two peeps undertook a trip to the local Seafood Co-op. The mighty hunters returned with a glorious ocean bounty. (Via the refrigerators of the Co-Op.) They had procured plump Sydney rock oysters, a slurpy minerally mouthful that we topped with a squeeze of lemon. A motza of green local prawns in their shells were tossed in oil, seasoned and barbecued. It was no hardship to partake in one of two of these juicy crustaceans. The icing on this seafood cake was a school of uber fresh flathead. Sister 4 lightly tossed these glistening beauties in seasoned cornflour (necessity is the mother of all invention) and they fried up a treat on the flat grill of the barbecue. Lip smackingly sweet and juicy.

Vegetables were also consumed. Crunchy green salads, coleslaw and one of our number made a simple white cabbage dish that hearkened back to her childhood. It was very finely sliced then dressed with lashings of lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper. Simply moreish.

Whilst we love to cook on our camping holidays it is a welcome relief to eat out and more importantly, not wash up. There was a lovely feed at Thai On the Rocks, we sat outside in balmy surrounds, sipping icy cold rose and perusing the vast menu. One of my favourite dishes was a deliciously creamy chicken panang and The Yak raved about a gigantic plate of stir-fried vegetables with chilli.

After our meal, sans kidlets, some of us sneaked off for a delicious post dinner gin and tonic at the Seabreeze Hotel. During dinner, we had found out that the marvellous David Bowie, the iconic Ziggy and Starman, had succumbed to the cursed cancer that has taken so many. His music speaks for itself and as an actor, he shone in ‘Labyrinth’ and ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’. We were all admirers or fans but Sister 3, perhaps, loved him the most. Over our icy cold drinks, we toasted his passing. His loss ominously highlighted the ongoing health battle of one of our nearest and dearest. And the cut was deeper. That evening, gazing at a crystal clear night sky, I imagined that I whispered ‘Farewell beautiful Starman, you really blew my mind.’

An early morning beach walk along hard sands and by azure waters to Trial Bay was rewarded with breakfast at the Trial Bay Kiosk and Licensed Restaurant. The Yak and I both had the haloumi stack with pesto, spinach and poached eggs topped with avocado. Mine was perched atop a crunchy slice of sourdough rye and The Yaks was served with gluten free toast. The Yak headily proclaimed this one of the best breakfasts he had ever eaten. Mine was very tasty, despite feeling slightly ripped off by the tiny amount of avocado. The coffee here is velvety, rich and smooth, I have no idea what their brand of coffee was. Shamefully, this Cheergerm will never make it to the lofty echelons of a true hipster.

Towards the end of our last week, we booked dinner at the Seabreeze Hotel where the food impressed and delighted. My linguine with prawns, chilli and basil was seriously good. Fat juicy prawns, perfectly cooked pasta and just a nice backbite of heat. The night was topped off by The Polish Stepfather winning a nice big meat tray. A true Aussie tradition.

More than anything, my hope is that camping provides our children with the experience of a simplified existence, of learning to be part of a communal group, to compromise and co-operate. To forgo television and play card games again. To dive into frothy waves unfettered by the multiple trappings of everyday life. This Australia Day, whilst I will be present wherever I am, a small section of my heart and mind will be back in South West Rocks. Enjoying the truly egalitarian pleasures of this vast nations amazing beaches and natural beauty.

http://www.seabreezebeachhotel.com.au

http://www.trialbaykiosk.com.au

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/north-coast/kempsey-area/south-west-rocks?nst=0&gclid=CO-b07HfwcoCFUosvQod7gcM3A&gclsrc=aw.ds


Baggage and Gerringong

Everyone needs a little time away. To unwind, read a good book, to perhaps experience something a little different than the everyday. But two ‘three day mini-break weekends’ in a row? Now that seems a little, well, greedy. To quote Gordon Gecko from that 80’s hit movie Wall Street, ‘The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.’

So five friends from Mothers Group, once again threw together our winter woollies and piled our literal and metaphorical baggage into one car. This in itself was a small miracle, can you imagine? (Some of us may have packed more than others.) Our destination this time was the adorable hill perched coastal village of Gerringong on the South Coast of New South Wales. Only two hours (if that) from Sydney. We had the lend of a small holiday house and counted ourselves as very lucky chicks indeed.

Lunch had been missed and a loo visit was called for. So to start this gourmet weekend away, a stop was made at the infamous Maccy D’s just out of Wollongong. Now, I am no fan of this multinational fast food joint, for a number of reasons. However, not being a purist, I must tell you that we did eat the fries. Not sure if it was our hunger, excitement or the fact that we had just emptied our bladders but they tasted damn good. Let’s leave it at that.

Heading deeper south, the sky darkened. By the time we arrived, a full blown storm had settled in. Rooms and space divided, luggage unpacked, wine placed into the fridge and the kettle boiled. Snug as bugs in rugs, we looked at each other and heard not, the sound of children. And it was good.

Dinner that first night was an arduous trek (ok, it took three minutes) up to the main drag of Gerringong. There, we ate at the Werri Thai Restaurant, a hole in the wall and encountered some of the freshest Thai food any of us had eaten in quite the while. The tofu and cashew nuts, with a jammy spicy sauce was the standout. Enough that the restaurant was earmarked to re-visit before we left. That and a glass or two of Arras sparkling wine from Tasmania (for those of our number who partake in the odd alcoholic beverage), was a great start to our long weekend.

The next morning, after a luscious lie-in, the lot of us traversed the full twenty minute drive to the pretty town of Berry. Our destination being the renowned Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery. My last visit was many years ago and we were all keen to give it a whirl. Our sleep-in meant missing out on the full breakfast menu. So a cut down menu it was and sadly, no eggies. My choice was a Croque Monsieur style ham and cheese croissant. Not sure if this is actually done in the land of the French, but oh my. Flaky and buttery with a creamy, porcine interior. The others tried a very good spinach, pumpkin, pepita, sunflower seed and feta muffin. The coffee was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

After drooling over a fine selection of various baked goods, choices were made and boxed up to take back to the cottage. A stellar multigrain sourdough, a chocolate almond croissant, lemon yoghurt tea cake, prune and custard tart and macadamia tart. The intention being to share for afternoon tea, if not that day, the next. (No-one likes to go hungry.)

Back in Gerringong, we walked along the cliffs and drank excellent coffee from the Blue Espresso Bar. This Cheergerm eyed off some gorgeous hand-etched wine glasses at Mas Homewares. A shop brimming with an array of delightful European goodies.

Books were read, blankets snuggled under. Friday night, we had pre-booked (at a local’s suggestion), Zoobs Woodfired Pizza. They prepare their hand rolled pizza dough fresh every day and fire it in a proper woodfired oven. To start, some of the laydeez shared an excellent salt and pepper crusted squid. Then it was the pizza. My margarita with mushrooms was to die for. The base was puffy, light, yeasty with the smoky taste that only a woodfired pizza can give you.

A slap up home cooked brekky then a visit to the Gerringong Saturday markets. Cold but fun. Woolen hats, homemade cakes and jams, alpaca wool and handcrafted pillow cases. Hot chips eaten from the paper, another contender throws it’s hat into the ring for the hotly contested title of ‘the best chips in the world.’

Cups of tea, coffee, herbal libations, glasses of wine, reading, movies and tears over parenting journeys that seem to have become more complex. This gift of time allows us to expand on conversations that usually happen over the space of a cup of coffee. For a brief while, our burdens are unshouldered. It feels like we have unpacked far more this weekend than just our actual physical luggage.

We head out again that evening to Werri Thai to once again chow down upon that delicious tofu and cashew nut dish. This time trying an equally good massaman beef which is creamy and mildy spicy.

Sunday arrives all too quickly. Breakfast was booked at the Seavista Cafe in Gerringong. Light, airy with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The breakfast is decently solid. My poached eggs with hollandaise, avocado and smoked salmon is tasty. Back at the house, our re-packed bags are skillfully arranged (not unlike a jigsaw puzzle), into the car. I cannot speak for everyone but my baggage seemed just that little bit lighter. (Well, apart from those rather fabulous wine glasses I purchased.)

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blue-Espresso-Bar-Official/456897421029059

http://berrysourdoughcafe.com.au

http://www.zoobswoodfired.com

https://www.facebook.com/GerringongSeaVistaCafe

http://www.mashomewares.com.au

http://www.gerringongvillagemarkets.com.au

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/south-coast/kiama-area/gerringong

https://cheergerm.com/2014/08/24/shadow-sisters-and-the-apple-bar/


Bonny Bonnay

School holidays had arrived so we decided to hitch the cart to the horse, throw the sproglets in the back and take off to the Hunter Valley. This is a beautiful wine growing region a mere one and a half hours drive north from Sydney. A mini-break that involved wine tasting? You don’t have to ask me twice.

A quick visit to the local Hornsby Growers Market for supplies, then we hit the open road. We knew we were in wine country the minute we hit the vineyards. (A real bunch of Einsteins are we.)

First stop before arriving at the house was a spot of lunch, we spied a rustic looking joint called the Lovedale Store Cafe. A simple cheese toastie for the eight year old and a ‘slap me silly sideways it was so good Asian style pulled pork on a toasted bun with homemade coleslaw’ for Kid 1 and myself. A big pot of Yorkshire tea for the grown ups and a veggie frittata with a tasty potato salad for The Yak. And a chilled out Highland goatie oatie out the back. (Alive of course.)

Our first wine sipping stop is Peterson’s Wines where they make killer sparkling wine. Friendly, funny and attentively served, this Cheergerm solely sipped on stars and maybe even purchased one or two. A chocolate shop stop to keep the smaller people happy, then off to the house we went.

This soothing green house is timeless, stepping inside we feel instantly becalmed. Steady ticking clocks, the heartbeat of this home, remind us both of childhood. Patchwork quilts and vintage china, a well-stocked kitchen and a claw-footed bathtub. We look out onto pastoral landscape and an old school garden with lavender and citrus trees.

An afternoon walk, warm sunshine on a winters day. Kid 2 slipped his little hand in mine and chattered about the shapes of trees, what we will do next and other topics that are dear to this eight year old boys heart.

Sitting on the white bed, the view of the vibrantly orange mandarin tree from our bedroom window distracted me as I wrote. The only sound was the chirrup of birds and the occasional bovine moo.

Night fell and we rugged up to stargaze in the darkened country night. Kid 1 was initially frightened at the overwhelming vista, never has been before. Perhaps it is merely a symptom of his burgeoning awareness that sadly, the world is not the safe place he thought it once was. Our eyes adjusted to the night sky and Kid 2 marvelled at the Milky Way and multitudes of stars. He spoke of a high powered telescope and perhaps, another stargazer has been made.

A Peterson’s sparkling Shiraz Viognier goes very nicely with a black pepper pie and a gluten free veggie roll purchased from the Hornsby Farmers Market. (It’s my bloody holiday too.) A homemade baby kale (adorable or what and so much nicer than the grown up version) and fennel salad dressed with caramelised balsamic and olive oil, offsets the pastry richness.

As I sat in bed reading, the boys and Yak were fast asleep. I listened to the crackle of the open fire and felt lucky and grateful to be there, tucked cosily under the roof of this country home. (I also felt grateful for the sturdy fire guard that ensured we did not burn to death in the middle of the night.)

My master plan of slap up huge lunches and easy dinners worked a treat. Japanese and Thai food at Oishii in the Tempus Two complex is surprisingly good. On the next day, a solidly decent lunch of fish and chips at The Deck Cafe in Lovedale kept us going amongst the very difficult work of a spot of wine tasting. Vineyard highlights included Cappercaille, Brokenwood, Allandale, Tamburlaine Organic Vineyards and the stunningly beautifully located Audrey Wilkinson. Needless to say, we are well stocked in case of a wine apocaplyse.

Our final night found us by the open fire, scoffing Hunter Valley Smelly Cheese triple cream Brie. A delightful floral, chalky and creamy cheese. The lyrical and come hither strains of bohemian French Cafe jazz, (why does everything sound better in French?), kids revelling in toasting marshmallows on the open fire and a Hunter Valley Chardonnay from Allandale.

The Yak wanted to freeze time as he watched his two lads reading in their voluptuous white cloud-like beds. But the morning of leaving arrived as mornings are bound to do. As my mum always says, you have to leave so you can come back. And that we will.

http://www.bonnay.com.au

http://www.stayz.com.au/accommodation/nsw/hunter/hunter-valley/76903

https://www.facebook.com/lovedalestore

http://www.oishii.com.au

http://www.petersonswines.com.au

http://www.capercailliewine.com.au

http://www.allandalewinery.com.au

http://www.deckcafelovedale.com.au

http://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/hunter/hunter-valley