Read our writer's views on this property below
Sean Mooney and his family escape the city and the rain in a cabin where the home fires are burning.
It's the quickest of Friday night escapes: we bundle our food, clothes and children into the car as the rain buckets down and we head north on the F3. An hour later we're in another world, driving along a deserted stretch of road between the Popran and Dharug national parks in the Central Coast hinterland. We roll to a stop beside a cute log cabin that appears like a beacon in the darkness. Smoke rises from the chimney, signalling that we're expected and a warm living room awaits us.
There's certainly a warm welcome from Tony Ralph, the owner of Mangrove Creek Cottage. He shows us around the two-bedroom cottage heated by a slow-combustion wood heater. After answering our questions, Ralph heads back to the house he shares with his wife, Jenny. At first we're disappointed to discover their house is only 20 metres from our cottage but their respect for our privacy is evident throughout our stay and we soon decide it's not a problem.
The Ralphs lived in this cottage for years while building the main house and it's clear they have a great affection for it. That must be why the place has a nice lived-in feel, despite the fact they only started accepting paying guests at the beginning of the year.
It feels as if someone has eccentrically but not tastelessly decorated a home, using plenty of wood and neutral tones to put you at ease. The decor is what you might call "country comfort", with soft chairs and a couch with dark floral print, thick insulating curtains over the large windows and a decent-sized dining table and credenza. The main bedroom has a queen-size bed, with mosquito net for the warmer months, and the second bedroom has two singles that can be pushed together for a second couple. Sure, the shower is small and the sound of the water pump is startling at first but it's part of living with tank water and a septic toilet system.
The kitchen is well equipped with crockery, cutlery and glassware, plus tea, (real) coffee, sugar and milk. There's a full-sized fridge, microwave, hotplates, plunger, toaster and jug but no oven. We've planned for this and have brought an electric slow-cooker that keeps us in stew for the weekend. Pulling some chairs up around the wood heater, we open its door and toast marshmallows. It's not long before the heat and the sweets have us crawling to bed.
After a sound sleep broken only by the sound of yet more heavy rain, we wake to the calls of magpies and kookaburras.
Stepping onto the wide, covered veranda we survey the field that lies between us and the swollen creek. A couple of horses and some low-line Angus cattle graze between large puddles created by the night's deluge.
Ralph tells us to help ourselves to any eggs we can find in the chicken coop. The children find enough to fry up and after breakfast we head out to explore the 10-hectare property. Blundstone gumboots left by the back door comfortably accommodate the feet of all but our smallest family member but he has come prepared with his own pirate-themed pair. And they're certainly needed, as we squelch through sodden pasture and mangrove mud to reach the creek.
We find the property's small sandy beach with its private jetty. This is where Ralph says you can catch bream, yellowtail, flathead and even small snapper, mainly at high tide. Apparently the swimming is also good but we take his word for it and leave that for a warmer season.
We paddle about in a canoe before the rain returns and forces us back to the cottage. Now the TV and DVD player come in handy, with a decent selection of films sitting in the bookcase, alongside an eclectic mix of paperbacks, magazines and fishing almanacs. The reception is good for the free-to-air channels and the absence of mobile phone coverage makes for a peaceful afternoon.
The sky is clear on Sunday, so we cook breakfast on the veranda barbecue, joined by king parrots, rainbow lorikeets and kookaburras making use of the bird feeder. Even a beautiful Asian kingfisher drops by, which Ralph tells us is a rare treat.
We return home via Wisemans Ferry, walking in Dharug National Park then lunching at historic Settlers Arms Inn at St Albans along the way.
It's only when we get home that we discover that we've left those pirate gumboots behind. Two days later Jenny delivers them to our door in Sydney, which says a lot about how the Ralphs treat their guests.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Mangrove Creek Cottage
Address 300 Oyster Shell Road, Lower Mangrove.
The verdict Enjoyable, comfortable and affordable - and so close to Sydney.
Price $390 for a two-night weekend (with early check-in and late check-out), $120 a night midweek.
Bookings Phone 4377 1518 or see mangrove.com.au.
Getting there About 90 minutes' drive north of Sydney.
Perfect for Families looking for a quick rural escape.
Wheelchair access No.
While you're there Visit nearby Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures for horseriding, kayaking, quad-biking and abseiling (glenworth.com.au) or bring your own boat and launch it in Mangrove Creek.