Banjos Bushland Retreat, Vacy review: Bush ballads at bedtime

Read our writer's views on this property below

There was movement at the station, for Natasha Wallace was approaching a mountain retreat with toddlers.

We knew we had crossed the "country line" and left Sydney when the few passing motorists offered the flick-of-the-finger greeting and not the flip-of-the-bird gesture some rude city drivers prefer.

It's hard to feel cranky in these parts, with postcard-pretty views of oversized cattle grazing on velvet-green hills and ducks fluttering on dams that dip in and out of view as we wind through the Moonabung Mountain range in the Hunter Valley.

Winter is the perfect time of year for a trip into wine country, when the trees are rows of black soldiers and the ground a carpet of brilliant red and orange leaves. Even better for our "bush holiday", the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

Our daughters, Cleopatra, 3, and Violet, 18 months, have donned their shiny city-slicker gumboots and are keen for some kangaroo and kookaburra interaction.

The great thing about travelling in the countryside with toddlers (yes, there are a few great things) is you can behave as if you have never before seen common animals. "Look, cows!" we screech. "And there's horses!" "And sheep!" But it's the kangaroos and the "wannabes" (wallabies) the girls really want to see and they've packed plastic mascots for reference.

Banjos Bushland Retreat is for families who don't mind animals sniffing around their front door but want the comfort and privacy that can be hard to find in similar getaways such as working farm-stays.

We book only a week before arrival and our disorganisation is rewarded by a fantastic deal: we're assigned the four-bedroom Brumby's Run lodge, which is normally rented to groups, not to a couple or a small family.

The retreat's properties are described on its website as "three luxury architect-designed five-star lodges": Clancy's is a three-bedroom lodge; Swagman's Rest has two rooms. All have king-size beds and an en suite and each lodge has a fireplace and a wide verandah with bush views.

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Comprehensive instructions are sent by mail, including where to pick up the key in the town of Vacy along the way and a private access code to enter the property's boom gates before we ascend the mountain. When the girls, my husband, Nick, and I arrive for our early check-in (offered because we can't take advantage of late check-out on the Sunday), a cleaner is blasting the path clear to our front door with a leaf blower, which seems an odd thing to do at an eight-hectare bush hideaway.

Nevertheless, we're delighted by our immaculate wood and glass "bush palace" nestled among the gum trees and named after a Banjo Paterson poem, Brumby's Run.

An array of awards adorns the foyer. This leads to a huge open-plan kitchen and dining area with high ceilings. We keep the fireplace roaring all weekend and make use of three lounge areas. The lodge has an extensive verandah with a barbecue and a large outdoor setting overlooking the Hunter Valley. Each bedroom has its own en suite and spectacular bushland views.

Within minutes of arriving, kangaroos and wallabies gather around the back deck, which the girls are busy covering with piles of birdseed. Crimson rosellas, king parrots and magpies descend and feast. A few kookaburras perch on the railing and are hand-fed bits of meat.

The highlight, though, is walking around the reserve with our two-kilogram bag of birdseed, spotting mobs of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos - there are so many with joeys. Some are too shy to get near but when Violet trips over the tail of a kangaroo, the beast gives her a clip over both ears with its paws and bounds away. I shriek, of course, while Violet takes the brace position and cries.

The only restaurant on the mountain, Treehops, about a minute's drive from our lodge and part of Eaglereach Wilderness Resort, entertains guests each afternoon about 5.30pm with kangaroo feeding, so we head there an hour earlier. Bad move. A mob of disgruntled kangaroos has gathered already and they push, scrap and grunt. The larger ones size me up for my bag of birdseed and we make a hasty retreat to the more placid wallabies.

Later, we make use of the large indoor heated spa in the communal recreation room at Banjos and play tennis while the girls play on the tunnel slide and swings. There's also a mini golf course.

On Saturday morning we drive down the mountain to East Gresford and visit the Camyr Allyn winery on the beautiful Allyn River. And more animals! We taste wine while the girls watch chickens and ducks. At our next stop, Bunna Bunoo olive grove, we pick up balsamic vinegar and green manzanilla olives and sample an array of preserves, tapenade and chutney.

On the way back to Sydney, we stop off at the historic town of Morpeth and visit the famous sourdough bakery housed in the first Arnott's bakehouse (it also has a restaurant listed in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide but we're short on time). The baker, Stephen, is the great-great-great-grandson of the founder of Arnott's Biscuits, William Arnott, and his olive sourdough is superb.

We realise we've forgotten to return the Banjos keys, so while Nick drives the girls back and I take a horse-and-cart ride through town.

We pick up lunch from the Morpeth Pie Man and peruse galleries and antique and craft shops.

The girls wail for more kangaroos and as we drive back to Sydney our excited cries of "look - cows" are met with dissatisfied grunts, not unlike those of the disgruntled kangaroos.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Banjos Bushland Retreat

Address Moonabung Mountain Range, Vacy (Paterson), Hunter Valley.

The verdict Spectacular views in luxurious comfort.

Price Rates vary but generally $110 a person a night on weekends, plus $58 for a child. Cheaper midweek.

Bookings Phone 9403 3388, see www.banjosretreat.com.au.

Getting there Two hours' drive north of Hornsby via the F3 Freeway, towards Maitland, Paterson and Vacy.

Perfect for Families or large groups who want a bushland escape with plenty of wildlife, or couples looking for a luxurious lodge near bushwalks, historic towns and wineries.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Visit wineries, the historic town of Morpeth, walk the historical trail around Paterson, visit the rainforests of Barrington Tops and take a scenic drive through Dungog Shire.