South West Rocks Tourist Park, review: In relative comfort

Read our writer's views on this property below

Emily Dunn is surprised by the luxury digs chosen for a family reunion.

Weekends away often fall into one of two camps: there are the places you want to visit, such as luxury hotels and beachside retreats; and there are those you would rather not visit but are compelled to for reasons such as weddings, funerals and family reunions.

In the latter category, we pack our 15-month-old toddler into the car and drive five hours on a Friday night to the South West Rocks Tourist Park for a Wardle family reunion, an annual gathering of my mother's five siblings, their children and their grandchildren.

The destination changes every few years but the accommodation chosen typically includes self-contained cabins and somewhere to swim.

Such experience has taught us that terms such as "tourist park" rarely mean stylish digs and it is with little sense of expectation that we book our "superior waterfront villa", one of three facing the Macleay River in a park populated largely by rows of caravans and poky looking cabins.

So it's a surprise when we arrive on our timber deck and slide open the pretty plantation shutter doors to find polished floorboards and a kitchen stocked with shiny stainless-steel mod-cons. The open-plan living area features beach-chic furnishings and leather couches facing a large flat-screen television and other assorted technologies. Down the hall is a spacious main bathroom with fluffy white towels and complimentary toiletries.

Mum and dad take the main bedroom, which is furnished tastefully and has an en suite, while we get the tiny second bedroom, with a bunk bed and a single. Not that we're complaining. The room is small but it still has stylish touches and hotel-quality mattresses, sheets and pillows.

Obvious care has gone into the decoration. Compared with cabins we have stayed in at previous reunions - I remember vinyl-covered mattresses and fish scales in the sink - our superior waterfront villa looks and feels more like it's at a resort.

The only drawback is that the park is not on the beach. The grassy stretch to the tree-lined river in front of the cabin is lovely but when we wake on Saturday morning and feel like a swim, the beach is not within strolling distance. Some family members decide to stay behind and paddle canoes, which are available for hire, while the rest of us car-pool for the short drive to town.

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The tourist town is a mecca for surfers and fishing enthusiasts and even visiting outside of peak season last month there was still plenty of activity. After a swim at Horseshoe Bay beach in town, we join the queue at the bakery for sandwiches. Later, we wander around the stalls at the local markets, which are selling everything from home-made jams and chutneys to clothes, plants and bric-a-brac. One stall is stocked with clothes made of chenille, which sends my sister into a fit of laughter. Returning to the cabins later that day, we laugh even more when an uncle presents the toddler with a pair of toddler-sized chenille pants.

The toddler appears delighted with his new threads but the grown-ups are not fooled. We know the gift is a thinly veiled bribe to buy our votes for The Cup, a prize awarded each reunion weekend to a family member for random acts of absurdity. One year it went to an uncle for catching a fish with his hands; another year it went to a pair of cousins, aged four and six, who put on a dazzling headstand display. Several years ago my parents were the victors, thanks to a salsa-dancing performance that had my siblings and I cringing into our steak and salad.

The toddler is not old enough for headstands or salsa dancing but, as the only grandchild attending the reunion this year, my mother has high hopes he will earn enough points for general cuteness for her to claim The Cup again.

Inside the cabins are shiny, timber dining tables and chairs but come dinner time, we opt instead for the rough-hewn table and bench seats on the deck. As dusk falls, we move the benches and tables from each of the family cabins onto the lawn, creating a makeshift banquet setting with wine and cheese. The toddler waddles around in his chenille pants, charming everyone.

I tuck him into his portable cot by the time the party is in full swing. Salads are laid out to share and trips are made to the barbecue, returning with plates piled high. In a last-ditch effort to gain votes, some of the older generation break into song, as the younger generation hide their faces in their hands.

By the time my aunt hands out squares of home-made fudge, it's time to vote.

It emerges that the toddler wasn't alone in receiving gifts from the chenille-toting uncle, who has attempted to bribe others to vote for him. However, it's the votes for "the cutest [and only] baby in the camp" that tip our branch of the family over the line to claim The Cup. On the question of where to hold the next reunion, the verdict is unanimous: we will return.

Weekends away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

South West Rocks Tourist Park

VISITORS' BOOK

Address Gordon Young Drive, South West Rocks.

The verdict Surprisingly luxurious lodgings in a peaceful, if slightly out-of-the-way destination.

Price The two-bedroom, two-bathroom Superior Waterfront Villa costs from $187 a night, with a two-night minimum stay. Other cabins are cheaper.

Bookings Phone 6566 6264, see southwestrockstourist.com.au.

Getting there South West Rocks is five hours' drive north of Sydney. Turn off the Pacific Highway at Kempsey and follow the signs.

Perfect for A family reunion or large gathering where neighbouring but separate living spaces are required.

Wheelchair access One cabin has a ramp instead of stairs for wheelchair access.

While you're there Hire a canoe and paddle along the river; drive to the beach and markets in town; visit the historic jail and beach at neighbouring Trial Bay.