Diamond Beach weekend away: One for the birds

Kate Cox finds a treetop eco-retreat that is the perfect place to unwind.

For a hotelier, it's the stuff of which dreams are made. A travelling British family - mum, dad and two young boys - take a stroll around the newly opened Treehouse Retreat at Diamond Waters and can't believe their eyes when they spot a koala climbing a tree just metres from their room.

They promptly post a glowing review, which includes lines such as "the best place we stayed" and "staff couldn't have been more helpful", on the accommodation review website TripAdvisor and - voila! - the guests start rolling in.

The retreat's passionate owners, corporate refugees Kerry and Peter, deserve all the accolades they get. They say their aim is to nurture guests with nature and, to this end, they have lovingly created a haven that is sustainable, stylish and comfortable. Built high in the rainforest and accessed by walkways, the two treehouses force you to relax as soon as you enter them.

Architecturally designed to have a low carbon footprint, they feature the work of local craftsmen, artists and artisans. The woodwork is wonderful. Each treehouse sleeps four (two on sofa beds) and has a fully equipped kitchen and laundry, lounge area with fireplace and television, and a slick bathroom with a rainwater shower. But it's the spacious balcony, which is perfect for bird-watching, and the garden and wilderness beyond that offer the real wow factor.

The site also serves as a garden nursery, with an excellent coffee bar, and there are vegetable, herb and bush-tucker gardens, fruit trees, native plantations and roaming gardens everywhere you turn. It's a little piece of paradise.

It's a real experience falling asleep to the sound of the near-deafening tree frogs, then waking up to the kookaburras. Besides the many musical birds and frogs, there are kangaroos, that famous koala, Jim the duck (who thinks he is a dog), and chooks - the kids love collecting the fresh eggs.

Treehouse Retreat, in Diamond Head Road, is bound by the Camden Haven River to the west, beaches to the east, Crowdy Head National Park to the south, and the township of Laurieton to the north.

When you do muster the energy to leave your treetop sanctuary, there is a beach - which is often wild - across the road. A short drive away are the safer, white-sand beaches of the national park.

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We explore the Diamond Beach rock pools, then teach the boys to body-surf, before having a family wave-jumping competition. It feels like a long time since we have laughed so much or so freely.

Kangaroos roam widely and, although there is a large camping ground, the beaches are secluded.

Our hosts are full of information and help. When we go to the Laurieton Hotel bistro on Seafood Sunday (fantastic giant seafood platters), they offer to take the boys fishing in the huge dam that serves as their backyard.

It turns out they have better luck there - we are not so lucky with the rods the next day on the nearby river. The historic Dunbogan Boatshed arranges not only bait and tackle, but also a range of tinnie options and even a party barbecue boat for eight people, as well as paddleboards and kayaks (possibly what we should have opted for, given our lack of luck with the fish), and gourmet food and coffees.

It's a relaxing day out and a great way to explore the waterways.

The food is excellent - delicious local oysters or blue swimmer crabs from the local co-operative, or a locally sourced hamper from your hosts, or some excellent local dining options.

In May, the annual Slice of Haven Food & Wine Festival attracts 17,000 people.

Our pick for lunch is Miss Nellie's Cafe in Kendall, named for poet Henry Kendall and featuring a scenic Poets' Walk.

The definition of granny chic, it offers great-value, old-school comfort food. The kids had milkshakes served in mini milk bottles, with mini pizzas, muffins and toast soldiers. The adults devoured the local dukkah with fresh bread and macadamia oil from up the road, and wonderfully fresh and full salads. For dessert, there is a long, mouthwatering list of cakes and slices, such as peppermint crisp slice and lemon myrtle cheesecake, all from $4.

Everything is prepared by the indefatigable Janelle, yet another tree-changer, who runs the cafe with her sister.

"Making all this must be time-consuming," I comment.

"That's why it's Miss Nellie's and not Mrs, I guess," she laughs.

If the weather is dodgy, head to Laurieton and its intimate cafes and the Plaza Theatre. Movie director Baz Luhrmann, whose dad was a projectionist there, has said this is where he was first bitten by the film bug.

Or just stay inside and listen to the rain, the birds and the frogs. It turns out there aren't many better ways to unwind.

Kate Cox was a guest of Greater Port Macquarie Tourism.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Dunbogan is almost four hours by car from Sydney, the same by train (pickups from Kendall can be arranged), and there are regular flights to Port Macquarie (shuttle bus and car hire available).

STAYING THERE

Diamond Waters Treehouse Retreat, 128 Diamond Head Road, Dunbogan, NSW. Phone (02) 6559 8328, see diamondwaters.com.au. From $550 for a three-night stay based on two people sharing.

MORE INFORMATION

portmacquarieinfo.com.au; visitnsw.com.

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