Avoca House B&B Farmstay, Wollombi review: Baby steps in the bush

Read our writer's views on this property below

Joel Gibson introduces his daughter to the farmyard at a stylish retreat near Wollombi.

Taking a one-year-old on holiday is a bit like drinking tequila: you pray the benefits will outweigh the suffering, conveniently forget how it all ended last time and do it anyway because it makes you - and your companions - more interesting.

But it's always a gamble and it can lead to all kinds of sleep disruption and regret.

The trick to travelling with a little person, it seems, is to maintain the baby's overriding sense that the trip is all about her while making subtle side trips to cellar doors, pubs and cheese shops.

So Avoca House B&B Farmstay looked promising: enough cows, dogs and chickens to produce wonderment in a child whose book collection has just come to life; promises of hearty country soul food sourced from around sleepy Wollombi, a cork's throw from the vineyards of Pokolbin; and a layout that gives us privacy and spares our neighbours any 5am wake-up calls. There are two separate guest wings attached by a long verandah to the hosts' house.

We arrive mid-morning after a two-hour drive from Sydney, the last hour of it along the winding back road to Cessnock. Hosts Bob and Angela Prentice are drinking tea with friends and welcome us casually, with none of the suffocating hospitality that can make me nervous at B&Bs.

In fact, they seem to have struck the perfect balance between interest in their guests and a life of their own, making their company a delight and their house a lovely place to relax.

The secret to the Prentices's success, it transpires, is that they were once wound-up, overworked, traffic-huggers from Sydney, too.

Like us, they left the city for a day or two to sniff the eucalyptus and remember what the stars looked like but, unlike us, they had the good sense to stay.


"From Hunters Hill to Hunter Valley," a recent profile in Australian Country Collections magazine reads, describing how Bob, a former funds manager, and Angela, a mother of four, discovered Wollombi on the way to a Steely Dan concert in 2008.

They found Avoca House soon afterwards and set about restoring it to its former glory. There is more to do, Angela says, but she can't get her husband off the tractor. (He's busy tending a small herd of Murray grey cattle and planting a vineyard.)

All of which means the Prentices know two crucial things for a B&B owner: what their fellow urban refugees are better off without and what we simply can't do without.

We are better off without TV, much as it pains me to say. For emergencies, there is the hosts' Foxtel connection, or the local pub - where I watch a rugby league game and meet a motley crew of locals. (Remember the bar in Star Wars?)

We are better off eating eggs laid that day by Angela's Isa Brown hens, bacon from a neighbour's farm and chicken from another neighbour's farm.

And life just seems better when you have a slow wood-combustion heater to play with and bellbirds, koels and magpies warbling outside your window.

But middle-class urbanites who go bush for the weekend are after only a partial detox.

So, to ward off withdrawal symptoms, the Prentices have an industrial-strength Faema espresso machine and each of the two guest wings of the house contains a stereo, a TV for watching DVDs and a pile of magazines that includes a bit of gossip sandwiched between cooking and country-living titles.

They also have a cot and children's toys, which are barely noticed given the presence of real, live, mooing, clucking beasts outside.

Our wing has three bedrooms, a bathroom with heated floor and wraparound verandah. The other wing has two bedrooms.

It is our first time in Wollombi since the famed floods of 2007, when a friend's birthday party was washed out and some guests were stranded by the swollen river for days.

Wollombi has the look of the nearby-but-now-defunct Old Sydney Town. There are a handful of mostly sandstone and wood buildings, including a historic jailhouse, now a police station, with a door in the side leading to a two-metre by two-metre "prisoner's exercise yard", surrounded on three sides and above by iron bars. Good for chin-ups maybe but not much else.

Everybody knows everybody else in the town and the woman who sells you a meat pie for lunch will recognise you at the pub later and ask how it was. (She made it herself, after all, as she does with the Mars bar slice and other offerings on the menu at Shea's Cafe.)

The quirky town's roadside tavern, a favourite stop for bikers, is the home of Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice, a port wine concoction that has its own in-house cocktail list.

The only mistake we make all weekend is to leave town and drive to nearby Broke, which, save for a couple of wineries such as Margan and Krinklewood, is as bereft of things to do as it sounds.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.


Avoca House B&B Farmstay

Address 2683 Wollombi Road, Wollombi.

The verdict Relaxed, country-style hospitality and great, simple food from a family of tree-changers.

Price From $240 a couple a night midweek to $1360 for six adults for a weekend. All rates include breakfast and two-course dinner. Children cost from $25 a night extra depending on age.

Bookings Phone 4998 3233 or 0404 032 303; see avocahouse.com.au.

Getting there About two hours' drive from the Sydney city centre. Take the Peats Ridge exit from the F3 and follow the signs to Wollombi. Avoca House is two kilometres out of town on the road to Cessnock.

Perfect for A quiet break with kids close — but not too close — to Pokolbin.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Visit Wollombi or Hunter Valley vineyards, dine at Panini restaurant on weekends, or go to a concert in Pokolbin.