Green scene ... the retreat is spacious.

Green scene ... the retreat is spacious. Photo: Mags King

An energy-efficient cottage makes for a great base when exploring the Capertee Valley, writes Mags King.

It's a three-hour drive to Ilford, in the Mudgee region, and I generously sacrifice the front seat to a dear sister who suffers from carsickness.

I find myself sitting in the back with two boys aged five and seven and I hand over the Nintendos from the word go. The trick is to wind the window down and let the breeze block out the "ping, tring, bang" noises in the background.

Decor is comfortable.

Decor is comfortable. Photo: Mags King

Ilford doesn't warrant a reduced speed of 50 kilometres an hour so if you blink you may find yourself in heritage Rylstone, or Kandos, the gateway to the Wollemi National Park.

"Boys, look, kangaroos!" I shout, for standing by the gate to Ilford's Carpel Cottage are three perfectly poised marsupials, caught frozen by our headlights for a moment before flitting across the fields.

We enter a grand circular drive, edged with shrubs in vibrant autumnal colours with a pretty rose garden as a centrepiece. Carpel Cottage is described on the net as a "cosy retreat", so we half expect a toasty welcome with the combustion heater already cranking. It would have been a nice touch but logs are provided and there's kindling to show the boys how it's done.

The cottage has three bedrooms and the two upstairs have lounges, high ceilings and gable windows overlooking the front garden. The bedroom downstairs has a walk-in wardrobe and french doors opening to the front veranda. There's a bathroom upstairs and another downstairs, a laundry and an annexe that looks like a dining area-cum-games room, so it's well set up for families. In cooler months, the property's hub is where the potbelly heater is, in the open-plan living area alongside a country-style kitchen with pantry, grown-ups' dining area and lounge.

It's comfortable and very clean, with charming lace curtains, potpourri, quilted wall hangings, dolls, cushions and throws and a rocking chair. Think grandparents in the country without the aroma of warm baked goods.

We soon realise it was smart thinking to bring a pre-cooked dinner for our first night because the kitchen is equipped with the basics - can opener, yes, garlic press, no.There's also no mobile or internet reception; however, Carpel does have pay TV and the linen police will be happy here, with fresh, crisp bedding and super-puffy pillows so new that even the heaviest of heads fails to leave an imprint. Electric blankets are also provided.

We wake to the sound of birds traipsing on the roof and the sound of Ben 10 on TV; aaagh, there are mornings when I'm thankful for not having those little blessings.

The cottage is an environmentally friendly solar home, so at breakfast we comply and use the grill in the kitchen instead of the toaster. It's not quite second nature for me, this energy-efficiency habit, and I'm not sure if it's conducive to me having a relaxing stay. There's a lot to be said about conserving energy but it's not much fun when all the power goes out the minute the dishwasher is turned on - even if it's entertaining for the children to roar about in the dark until the power comes back on.

A few minutes' drive down the road and I'm taking photographs in rapid succession as we pass scenery worthy of 100 frames. Stretches of plains, rocky outcrops on the side of the road, peculiar-looking knolls on the horizon, dappled light weaving through copses of gum trees, making them appear like copper-toned and ghostly limbs - it's captivating stuff.

A weekend away is not quite long enough to fully appreciate nearby Wollemi National Park. A good idea is to book well ahead for a helicopter ride to take in the awe-inspiring views of the world's second-largest canyon, the Capertee Valley. You may want to find time to sit and sample the lip-smacking yum cha offerings at 29 Nine 99 in Rylstone, too.

The writer was a guest of Carpel Cottage and Tourism NSW.

Trip notes


Where Carpel Cottage, 1057 Mount Vincent Road, Ilford. (02) 6372 7800, email rowena@rpseeds.com.au, visitmudgeeregion.com.au.

Getting there Take either the Bells Line of Road or the Great Western Highway to Lithgow and turn onto Castlereagh Highway/State Route 86 towards Mudgee. Exit at Mount Vincent Road before the Sofala turnoff and drive a further three kilometres to Carpel's gates.

How much The cottage sleeps six people for $250 a night; $150 a night for a couple. Minimum two-night stays.

Style statement Little House on the Prairie, with an authentic Australian twist.

Perfect for A bit of splendid isolation or as a base for exploring Capertee Valley.

Don't forget To bring a bike or two for a ride on quiet roads.

Shame about The dishwasher causes instant power cuts, which in turn can briefly affect the flow of tap water and showers until the power comes back on.

Kudos The property was established in 1998 as a tree-seed farm to provide seeds from species that are not readily available in Australia.

Take the kids? Yes, there's a games room if it rains.