Gourmets from around Australia flock to Port Macquarie each October, but it is a fun destination any time of the year, travel editor Winsor Dobbin reports.
Mum wants good shopping and maybe a spa treatment or two. Dad is keen on good restaurants and maybe the chance of a round of golf. The kids, meanwhile, are looking for a beach and the opportunity to play with someone their own age.
There are a lot of “family friendly” destinations that fail to deliver to one or more demographics, but Port Macquarie, on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to making sure all members of the family have fun – even down to creative ways to amuse the little ones at local cellar doors.
For a start there are those food and wine moments; seriously good coffees at Drury Lane and Meg & Me, great dinners at the Stunned Mullet and terrific charcuterie and wines by the glass at Bar Florian.
Port Macquarie is on the rise as a gourmet destination with a new wave of eateries and watering holes.
And while the region’s wineries are quite low profile, they make every effort to ensure that family groups can enjoy themselves.
Rose’s Vineyard has a petting farm with baby animals to keep the younger members of the family amused; Cassegrain offers horse-riding trails through the vines and Bago Vineyards has both its own maze and events like an annual cupcake treasure hunt, as well its monthly jazz concerts.
The region’s wineries are dotted around the green Port Macquarie hinterland – and none is too far from town.
Innes Lake Vineyard is an ideal family destination with delicious French-accented food at Little Fish Café from chef Steve Delandemare, as well as a special $10 menu for children, who can also run around the vines and extensive gardens. For adults think dishes like veal paupiettes with ratatouille, or a Provencal take on freshly caught local seafood.
At Cassegrain, parents can wine and dine on the deck at Seasons Café and Restaurant, which also serves meals for the younger family members. There are also picnic areas and barbecue facilities here.
At Douglas Vale Historic Vineyard, young ones can learn about Port Macquarie’s penal history and explore the Homestead built in 1859.
Bago Vineyards offers a maze and a mountain bike trail while parents sip on some wine and sample a cheese platter. Long Point Vineyard, meanwhile, has a display of outdoor sculptures scattered through the gardens, as well as an indoor art gallery.
And the kids are well entertained in town, as well, with the Hello Koalas sculpture trail featuring 50 one-metre-high hand-painted koalas at locations including wineries, beaches, parks and hotels.
There is so much fun to be had here, from the many beaches to the wild hinterland that it is easy to forget that from 1820 to 1830, Port Macquarie was a place of punishment, a convict penal settlement that homed the worst of the worst criminals “at constant hard labour”.
Today what was once a place of fear and loathing has a population fast approaching 50,000 and is one of the fastest-growing holiday destinations in Australia.
While the Mid North Coast has in the past been something of a gastronomic desert, Port Macquarie now offers a cosmopolitan selection of restaurants and bars.
Among the stars are Stunned Mullet, where owner Lou Perri has earned a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hat. He also owns grillhouse Scampi’s on the same block.
The Stunned Mullet space is a casual one, dominated by an artwork of wine cases, but the modern Australian food with a local bent is serious and the walk-in cellar and wine list reflect a global view with a focus on quality.
For a few wines by the glass, cheese or charcuterie platters, or a gourmet pizza try recent newcomer Bar Florian with its casual, relaxed vibe and a Venice theme.
Local producers worth visiting include Ricardoes Tomatoes, where you can pick your own strawberries or tomatoes, perhaps buy some jams and chutneys made from both, as well as enjoying a Devonshire tea at Café Red.
City kids will relish the chance to pick their own fruit treats and a genuine farm gate experience.
For those with more adult tastes, the Little Brewing Company makes a range of boutique brews and is about to open its own beer bar. Try labels like the Wicked Elf, Fastidious Bastard and Stab In The Dark.
There are two major food and wine festivals each year, a Slice of Haven at nearby Camden Haven, held each May, and Tastings on Hastings over three days each October.
The town itself is encircled by beaches on one side and the Hastings River on the other side, and plenty of attractions are within walking distance of the many hotels and motels. The only Koala hospital in the world, Timbertown and the Glasshouse arts and entertainment centre are all major drawcards.
Port Macquarie is a four-hour drive north of Sydney or a one-hour flight from Sydney and Brisbane. Call 1300 303 155 or go online at www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au.
Tastings on Hastings (October 28-30, 2016) is the region’s biggest culinary festival and this year features celebrity chef dinners with Matt Wilkinson, a Harvest produce lunch with Matt Golinski, and culminates on the Sunday with the main event, a huge outdoor festival held on the banks of the Hastings River with over 120 local artisans, farmers, wine growers, brewers, restaurants and cafés. Now in its 14th year, the festival has a hugely expanded program including beer and wine masterclasses, oyster shucking and cooking demonstrations. You can find the full program at www.tastingsonhastings.com.au.
Other key events include: Jazz In The Vines, held every second Sunday of the month at Bago Vineyards; Ekam Yoga Festival (September 18), a day of music and connection that features talks and classes by some of the most senior yoga teachers in Australia and Port Macquarie Beer and Cider Festival (September 24) with live music and dozens of brewers and cider makers in attendance.
Where to stay
Macquarie Waters is an award-winning 4.5-star boutique apartment hotel that is close to cafés and restaurants. It has a heated outdoor pool and spa, spacious apartments with fully equipped kitchens, a roof deck with a hot tub and water views, and an on-site café and restaurant. There is free wifi, security parking and room service. www.mwaters.com.au.