Big coast, small footprint

Pacific Palms is a place to breathe deeply and tread lightly, writes Daniel Scott.

It's now four years since my partner and I moved to Pacific Palms - on the mid-north coast, south of Forster - exchanging the urban sophistication of Sydney and London for a quieter life among subtropical rainforests, coastal lakes and long, empty beaches.

Since then we've become a family of four and settled into a new home, inland from Blueys Beach, where dawn is heralded by a chorus of kookaburras and the valley vista regularly features egrets, galahs, ducks and sea eagles gliding overhead, with kangaroos and wallabies grazing in the paddock.

In summer we share our coastal idyll with holidaymakers. Surfers flock to Boomerang, Blueys and Cellito beaches, families spend long days on tranquil Elizabeth Beach and boaters launch into three coastal lake systems: Myall, Smiths andWallis. Some January days, it seems as if much of northern Sydney has migrated to local cafes, including Twenty by Twelve at Blueys and the Frothy Coffee Boatshed, beside Smiths Lake.

But for the rest of the year we have the area largely to ourselves.Wewalk along the beaches in solitude, take the children for a dip in the shallow lagoon at Neranie Head camping ground in Myall Lakes National Park and picnic on fresh oysters and prawns on the shores of Wallis Lake. If I need to blow off steam, I jump on my bike and take the road inland towards Coomba Park or do my favourite trek, which runs along the coast to Seven Mile Beach through Booti Booti National Park, before returning along the lakeside.

In the past four years, we've grown used to a gentler pace and a less-hectic social life. But when we arrived it felt as if we'd gone from city feast to country famine. There was just one good restaurant - the Kingfisher Cafe, at Blueys Beach.

Two new eateries have opened since then: M Bistro at Mobys, behind Boomerang Beach, and Buddha On The Lake at Charlotte Bay. The buzz around the latter, run by the team behind the acclaimed Buddha Belly restaurant in Sydney's Terrey Hills, is particularly good and it's always full at weekends.

Pacific Palms is, above all, a place where you can collect your thoughts and wind down in nature. There is peace to be found at the Green Cathedral, an open-air bush church besideWallis Lake; on the boardwalk, through littoral rainforest behind Cellito Beach; or high on Whoota Whoota Lookout, in Wallingat National Park, from which much of the area's panoply of lakes, wooded headlands and curling bays is visible.

Living in the Palms makes you passionate about protecting the environment. So it's fitting that this is the focus for the community's biggest event, the Small Footprint Initiative, which takes place this year on September 10-12.

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The weekend, organised by the local community association, opens with a slow-food dinner and an eco-trivia night on Friday. The following day will offer a "sustainable homes and gardens" tour, which has proved popular in previous years. Coinciding with national Sustainable House Day, it takes in seven homes in the area, and organic and permaculture gardens.

The Small Footprint Initiative Festival Day is on Sunday. Held at the community centre, near Pacific Palms Recreation Club at the edge of Wallis Lake, the event features alternative therapies, local food and produce, live music and children's activities. "In Pacific Palms, we are really fortunate to be surrounded by such a beautiful and unspoilt environment," says spokeswoman Kate McLean, "and the Small Footprint Initiative celebrates the area and showcases ways of living sustainably within it."

In the past, money raised from the event has funded the building of a community playground and the creation of a native garden. This year it will go towards bush and wetland regeneration on the Wallis Lake foreshore.

It's often said that Pacific Palms is like Byron Bay 30 years ago and yet a good deal closer to Sydney. It has similar natural assets to Byron, as well as a growing community of alternative therapists, yoga teachers and artists.

"As nature-based tourism grows here in the Palms, we hope it does so sustainably and that visitors leave behind a small footprint on the environment," McLean says.

FAST FACTS
Getting there
Pacific Palms is a collection of villages, including Blueys Beach and Boomerang Beach, on the mid-north coast, a three-hour drive from Sydney via the Pacific Highway and LakesWay. There's a daily coach service to and from Sydney; phone 1800 043 263, see busways.com.au. The Small Footprint Initiative is on September 10-12; see smallfootprint.com.au.

For more information, see greatlakes.org.au/pages/pacific-palms.

Staying there
For a selection of holiday rentals, see pacificpalmsholidays.com.au.
Other accommodation includes:
- Blueys by the Beach Motel, rooms from $110; phone 6554 0665, see www.blueysbythebeach.com.au.
- Mobys Beachside Retreat, Boomerang Beach, has chalets from $165; phone 1800 655 322, see mobysretreat.com.au.
- The Ruins campground, Booti Booti National Park, behind Seven Mile Beach, has sites from $10 a person; phone 6591 0300. Eating there
- The Kingfisher Restaurant at Blueys Retreat is our favourite eatery. The food and service are always excellent; phone 6552 9222, see blueysretreat.com.au/kingfisher/default.aspx.
- M Bistro at Mobys Beachside Retreat is the only restaurant between Newcastle and Port Macquarie to make the 2010 SMH Good Food Guide; phone 6554 0766, see mbistro.com.au.
- Buddha on the Lake, Charlotte Bay, has dinner entrees such as lobster tails and soft-shelled crab from $15. Mains, including twice-cooked duck, $22-$28. BYO only; phone 6554 0877.
- Pacific Palms Recreation Club, beside Wallis Lake, is good for a sunset drink and a cheap meal; phone 6554 0207, see pprc.com.au.

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