Moo time ... Mowbray Park Farmstay.
Natasha Wallace and her young family explore a hands-on farm stay south-west of Sydney.
There was a time when I would pride myself on roughing it. I'd travel the world and crash wherever I laid my proverbial hat. But I've since changed - a lot. Now, I unashamedly want to be indulged.
At the very least I want modern facilities and tasteful soft furnishings. Which is why I stand, a forlorn-looking lamb, at the threshold of our basic three-bedroom cottage at Mowbray Park Farmstay, watching as a mouse darts about beneath the tired-looking lounge room's frayed couch and collection of dusty, dinky ornaments. "It's a farm," says my husband, Nick. What Mowbray lacks in luxury it more than makes up for with friendly, fun, farm activities, including free pony rides and a supervised kids' club (which caters for our child's gluten intolerance with no notice). And it is one of the closest large farm stays to central Sydney, as I'm not keen on travelling far with a five-week-old baby.
Mowbray's a family-run working farm with horses, sheep and cattle. The property is a mix of lush farmland and unspoilt bush, and is geared to hosting school camps, tourists (who arrive by the bus load) and families wanting a short break.
The farm's four lodges look half Swiss chalet, half school dormitory and between them have en suite rooms and family rooms with bunks. Our three-bedroom Chapel cottage comfortably sleeps six (seven with a trundle bed). Bore water is used so we make do with a 20-litre drum that we need to fill each day, though there are drinking taps in the lodges.
A daily activity sheet at the main outdoor seating area, where an open fire burns, lists damper making, hay rides, whip cracking and tractor rides. There's also archery, a tennis court, games room, swimming pool and a kids' play area, as well as canoeing, fishing and horse riding.
And then we ate After settling in, we fire up the barbecue outside our cottage (there's also a communal dining room for Mowbray guests). The cottage's kitchen has plenty of cooking utensils, but little bench space. Despite the large number of people about outdoors, it being school holidays, we don't feel crowded and it's surprisingly quiet in the early evening.
The deal maker The main game for young children are the barnyard animals and pony rides. In the morning, we jump on the regular tractor run to feed the donkeys, pigs and llamas. The kids take turns milking a cow and cuddling rabbits, lambs, chickens and guinea pigs. A farmhand tells my husband and I that some animals "get recycled through the kitchen", but most are kept for the children's pleasure.
When we pile back onto the tractor, the farmhand laughs, graciously, at my oversized, overpriced pram (called the Donkey in our house) and tells me he used to walk his children four kilometres to school on a donkey. And how, when they were just a few years old, he took them on a seven-week trek through the Snowy Mountains and they were so cold "they turned blue".
Boomerang throwing and whip cracking finish off a great day. A girl in Blundstones and an Akubra shows how it's done, then hands out goggles, warning the kids to be careful.
Stepping out During a five-day stay, I squeeze in an afternoon in Picton, scouring bric-a-brac shops. Collectables, on the main street, has antique jewellery, ornaments, vintage clothes, toys, books and furniture.
Mowbray Park Farmstay Holidays
Address 745 Barkers Lodge Road, Picton.
The verdict A great family getaway close to the city offering an authentic slice of farm life.
Prices From $172 an adult a night, twin share, $89 a child (6-14 years) and $59 for youngsters (3-5 years), including all meals. If self-catering, it's $98 an adult a night, $49 (6-14 years) and $35 (3-5 years). Midweek deals available. Minimum two-night weekends and three nights during peak holiday periods. Includes most activities (kids' club and horse riding for over eight-year-olds is extra).
Bookings (02) 4680 9243, see farmstayholidays.com.au.
Getting there Take the M5 Motorway from central Sydney south, turn off to Picton and follow the signs.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.