Daniel Scott plans an eco-friendly long weekend on the Mid North Coast with all-age activities.
We're on a family quest. On a long weekend in Port Macquarie, we're hoping two children under three will be entertained, their parents rested and that all our activities will be as environmentally friendly as possible. The weekend has been planned with crack precision and two rules: each day's activities must feature something for everybody; and it mustn't cost the Earth.
For the children
For our three-year-old daughter, Mila, the weekend gets off to the perfect start with a hands-on experience of Australian animals at this park just outside Port Macquarie. Run by wildlife expert Mark Stone, the park has most of Mila's picture-book favourites in expansive enclosures, set among gardens and lily ponds. We begin with the kangaroos, which she feeds while our other joey, 10-month-old Freya, smiles from her pram.
Day one: Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park
Throughout the day there are opportunities to meet more of the park's animals and listen to educational talks from their carers. First up are the koalas and both girls stroke a patient old bear in a keeper's arms. Then we watch two cheeky spider monkeys being fed fruit between displays of acrobatics. After a stroll through the new wombat cave and a visit to the reptile house, which houses some of Australia's most venomous snakes, we join the dingo show. Here we're introduced to two wild dogs: Ernie, a pure-bred male, and Beauty, an albino female.
Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park, 61 Billabong Drive, Port Macquarie. Open daily 9am-5pm (except Christmas Day). Entry $18 adults, $11 children (ages 3-15).
Day Two: Ricardoes Tomatoes
At home we've recently planted a vegie patch with tomatoes, strawberries and lettuce, and Mila has taken a keen interest, always on hand with trowel and watering can. So we're sure she'll enjoy picking strawberries at Ricardoes. But our visit to this farm gate, in the country north of Port, is not for her alone. Ricardoes has won several awards for its vine-grown tomatoes and we're keen to take some home, along with a few gourmet products from the farm shop.
''The strawberry-picking started with an honesty box at the front gate,'' says one of two brothers who runs Ricardoes, Anthony Sarks, as he shows us into a huge, sweet-scented greenhouse.
''But it's really caught on with families and we're busy every day.''
Kneeling between rows of strawberries, Sarks shows Mila how to gently snip them off the plant. Although she can't resist gobbling a few, she eventually fills her bucket.
''We're intent on bringing people to the freshest produce,'' Sarks says as we load the car with tomatoes, strawberries and preserves, ''and on reducing the food miles involved in sourcing it''.
Ricardoes Tomatoes and Strawberries, Blackmans Point Road, 6585 0663, ricardoes.com. Open daily for strawberry-picking, 7am-5pm. Pay for what you pick; an average bucket costs $7. Cafe open 9am-3pm.
Day Three: Port's beaches
We begin today as we've started the others: with an extended alfresco breakfast at the Milkbar, a friendly cafe below the Observatory Hotel, where we're staying.
Both girls love the organic wood-fired sourdough toast; we all devour the baked local eggs.
This is our first visit to Port Macquarie and we've been surprised by its green space and the quality of the beaches that curl around its shores.
Today we camp out on Town Beach, below Port's extensive, graffiti-covered breakwall. Mila wants to add a design to the hundreds of artistic scrawls but we've neglected to bring spray paint.
The Milkbar, 40 William Street, open 7.30am-3pm (until 2pm weekends).
For the adults
Day One: Dinner at the Stunned Mullet
Just a hundred metres from the Observatory Hotel is this superb modern Australian restaurant, opened in 2004 by Canadian Lou Perri and executive chef David Henry. It's set behind an unpromising shop front but inside it's an Aladdin's cave of coloured lights, salt-cellar table lamps and sycamore leaf-shaped fans whirring overhead. The Stunned Mullet is the venue for the finest dinner we've had this year.
We begin with a blue swimmer crab cappellini with roasted chilli, garlic, parsley and pangrattato and eastern king prawn tempura. When we think it can't get any better we're presented with our mains: a magnificent local harpuka (kingfish) and ocean trout with five-spice risotto and tamarind relish. It's complemented by a bone-dry chablis from the restaurant's impressive worldwide wine list.
The Stunned Mullet, 24 William Street, 6584 7757, open daily for lunch and dinner. Dinner entrees cost $21-$24, mains $26-$49.
Day Two: Farmers' market, massages and a barbecue
Early in the morning, Sarah escapes to the Hastings Farmers' Market, held at the nearby Maritime Museum. She returns with armfuls of produce, including some seriously smelly camembert from Comboyne.
On our return from Ricardoes, we take turns child-minding while the other slips into the Observatory's spa. The massages, using organic oils, are excellent, with therapist Kelly using long strokes and plenty of pressure.
In the evening we go nowhere, savouring coastal views north to Point Plomer from our penthouse apartment's 15-metre-long balcony. We cook dinner on the barbecue with ingredients including Moroccan-spiced chicken breast, delivered to our door by the Stunned Mullet. It's part of an arrangement with the Observatory Hotel; we can even order its panna cotta desserts.
Hastings Farmers' Markets, corner of William Street and Pacific Drive, hastingsfarmers market.com. Every second Saturday, 8am-noon. Endota Day Spa at the Observatory Hotel, 40 William Street, 6584 7888.
Day Three: Dinner at the Breakwall Restaurant
During the day, I steal a two-hour cycle around Port's shoreline and we take the kids for a stroll along the town's extensive coastal pathway.
At night we head downstairs to the new Breakwall restaurant.
While Mila tucks into fish and chips, we order crab cakes and seafood risotto followed by local organic duck breast in Thai red curry and a lobster mornay.
Graham Seers Cyclery, Shop 1 Port Marina, Park Street, 6583 2333; bike rental costs $40 a day. Breakwall Restaurant, 40 William Street, 6583 9300, thebreakwall.com.au; open daily 7.30am-9pm. Average dinner costs $60.
For the environment
The Observatory Hotel
Staying in an ''O-zone'' room at the Observatory, which won the Tourism NSW silver award for sustainable tourism in 2009, ensures our visit to Port Macquarie is as eco-friendly as possible. As part of the O-zone room tariff, we contribute $40 to have a tree planted at a ''climate change retreat'' behind a nearby beach and the hotel offsets all carbon emissions generated by our stay. The hotel plans to be 100 per cent carbon neutral by 2012 and has already retrofitted all its rooms to reduce emissions.
The green theme extends throughout our three-bedroom apartment. The kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks, including an organic tasting plate, which we have for lunch on arrival. There's a small eco-library, including David Suzuki's autobiography and children's books on recycling and conserving water. There's also fitness gear in the shape of an exercise fitball, weights and Wii Fit Nintendo machine.
Our long weekend in Port Macquarie has been relaxing and fun for the entire family and guilt-free, too.
On our final night, with the children sleeping soundly, Sarah and I toast our first real holiday since they were born. With organic white wine, of course.
The Observatory Hotel, Town Beach, 40 William Street, has a summer special: stay three nights, pay for two in a two-bedroom garden terrace for $119 a night. Penthouse apartment costs $315 a night for a couple; $415 a night for four. ''O-zone'' supplement costs $40, 6586 8000, observatory.net.au.
Daniel Scott stayed courtesy of the Observatory Hotel.