Read our writer's views on this property below
Kate Cox samples a retreat with a difference as the chocolate, wine and beer flow freely.
LET'S face it, the organic movement is confusing. Seriously, what does organic body wash even mean? Still, aiming to eat local, fresh and organic produce where possible is a worthy goal. So, suitably alarmed by a screening of Food, Inc., our little family took off on an organic retreat.
I know what you're thinking: an organic retreat? Like me, you might expect hippies and tepees and food guilt. You'd be wrong. At The Tops Organic Retreat, there's coffee. And sugar. There's wine - organic - from Canowindra and lots of desserts on the dinner menu.
In other words, if you want to do nothing but lie in your cabin's sunken bath and gorge on wine and chocolate, you can. Indeed, you can do it with less guilt than you may usually have, because the wine, the chocolate and the bubble bath at The Tops is organic (or rainforest organic, or fair-trade organic, or absolute organic), as is the tea, coffee, sugar, beer, shampoo, conditioner, milk, goat-milk soap and detergent.
A passion for natural food and sustainable living drives the resort's owners, Sharini and John Kumarage Sergeant. Sharini is a lawyer turned nutritionist-chef. John has also had a rich and varied life, with a sustained passion for the environment.
The pair launched The Organic Shop in Rozelle before selling up to start Whitsunday Organic Bed and Breakfast on Airlie Beach seven years ago. Now they're in the Barrington Tops, with their three daughters and a mission to transform the former Hooke's Creek Resort into a nature-lover's dream. They have spruced up the eight cottages (with organic oils and paints, thank you), which had grown tired after the previous ownership went bust.
The self-contained cedar cottages have new kitchens and can squeeze up to eight in their two bedrooms and on extra sofa beds, while the romantic loft cabins feel like a private hideaway for two.
With log fires and gas heating, comfy beds and couches, the cottages are spaced well apart, have wonderful views from balconies and are perfectly cosy, yet could do with a further spritz.
The food and philosophy are what The Tops excels at. Sharini cooks an organic Sri Lankan feast for dinner ($35 for a range of three course delicacies) and breakfast the next day is home-made and extensive ($25, fresh muesli, eggs, wagyu beef sausages, local relish).
John has installed solar power, rainwater tanks, water-saving devices and an organic vegetable and herb garden and there seem to be dozens of chickens. We pick delicious lemons growing wild near our cottage. An orchard and additional cabins are slated for the 800-hectare property and the couple plans to build a sustainable house that "feeds itself".
Nudging on to the Barrington World Heritage-listed wilderness, it's hard to miss the wildlife. Previous guests have spied koalas, brumbies, echidnas, wedge-tailed eagles and platypus, as well as possums, kangaroos and - gulp - snakes.
Although you could spend your entire time exploring the property's 20 kilometres of creeks, rivers and forest on foot, the retreat also offers tennis, mountain bike riding, four-wheel-driving, fishing and swimming. You can learn about growing food, sustainable building, energy usage and composting. Indoorsy types will appreciate the reception-dining-hang-out area with groovy oak tree bar, huge open fire and a range of DVDs, magazines and books.
Kayaking, horseriding and wine tours can be arranged and the Bowral-esque Gloucester is about an hour's drive from the retreat. It's a town of many cafes (although Cafe 57's forgettable sandwiches and salads reconfirmed my distrust of unimaginatively numbered restaurants) and friendly locals - a crowd were shaving their heads for charity on the footpath when we visited and we noted that former Idol contender James Johnston was performing at the Soldiers Club that night. However, we were too busy drinking, dining and being virtuous at the retreat to catch him.
The writer was a guest of The Tops Organic Retreat and Tourism NSW.
The Tops Organic Retreat, 384 Jems Creek Road, Cobark. 6558 5544, thetopsretreat.com.au.
It's about five hours' drive from Sydney. Take the F3 to Newcastle, then follow the signs to Taree, until you can take the Bucketts Way to Gloucester via Booral, Stroud and Stratford. Drive to the end of Gloucester's main street and turn left at the roundabout on to Thunderbolts Way. The Retreat is 42 kilometres from Gloucester, through Barrington and along Scone Road until the Jems Creek Road turn-off.
How much Weekends from $250 a night. Ask for specials.
Style statement Woody, wholesome, rustic.
Perfect for Anyone who values good food and nature.
Take the kids? Yes. As well as nature, there's a play barn.
Don't forget Slow down to ogle the pre-loved homes and chic cottages along Bucketts Way.
A shame about Innovative interior styling and better furniture would go well with the progressive foodie trends.
Kudos Run by a couple who walk the walk.