River bliss ... cute cottages.

River bliss ... cute cottages. Photo: Daniel Dasey

With his toddler in tow, Daniel Dasey discovers the magnetism of animals on a break in big-sky country.

ONE of the things I like best about leaving the city and spending time in the bush is eating at local restaurants. I don't mean the fancy-pants fare you'll find in the trendy, city-influenced places in towns, with their rocket and pannecotta.

I mean the timeless, comfortable, nostalgic food you get when you sit down in a country Chinese and order special fried rice and short soup. Or the excellent surf-and-turf you'll get at RSLs and bowling clubs in towns up and down the coast.

So I'm in heaven when, halfway through a farm stay south-west of Sydney, my partner, our daughter and I have brunch at Goulburn's Paragon Cafe.

Seemingly no sooner have we ordered than laden white plates arrive from the kitchen. My partner tucks into a generous serve of scrambled eggs on toast while I wolf down a home-style serve of bacon, liver (I know, you either love it or hate it), Worcestershire sauce, chips, toast and a huge, incredibly chocolatey milkshake served in a metal container that is dripping with condensation.

I wouldn't want to eat like this all the time but occasionally it's bliss. And so it is with our farm stay.

From time to time, getting out of town to relax surrounded by a host of farm animals is just the ticket. We're staying in a cottage at Wollondale, a 485-hectare property near Towrang, north of Goulburn. Two cottages are available for guests wanting to kick off their shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. Gouldian is best for couples. It's a super-cute, compact affair not far from the property's main homestead. Step off Gouldian's vine-clad front verandah and you can stroll down past pigs (there's no smell) and poultry to a "beach" fashioned from a dam with adjacent, English-style gardens.

We're staying at Magpie cottage, a short drive from Wollondale's central cluster of dwellings. It's modern and less romantic than Gouldian, clean and spacious with uninterrupted views to the paddocks. After the city, it's startling quiet here and incredibly dark at night. During the day, a friendly magpie and two colourful parrots keep us company.

Magpie cottage has full kitchen facilities, four bedrooms and a portable cot has been furnished for our toddler, Gabby.

We sleep in on the first day of our stay before heading to the cluster for animal encounters. The property runs cattle as well as rare breeds of sheep, pigs and poultry, and though we've missed lambing season, there's plenty to see.

Ducks and chickens are out of their cages for the day and Gabby is at first reticent to see creatures she's previously only experienced in books. The pigs are a hit and she ogles the poll Herefords from the comfort of her car seat, like a tourist in an African safari park.

Later that day we head to the Wollondilly River, which we can see from the weeping willow trees is across a neighbouring paddock. Minutes later we're on its banks, contemplating plunging in. The river is wide and fast-moving with a lot of duckweed between the bank and the open water.

But it's a warm, sunny day, so while my partner and Gabby opt to sit on the bank, I scramble Gollum-like along a tree root and jump in. I'm rewarded with a hit of cold and refreshing water and a sense of well-being. Who knew you could have this much fun in the water so far from the coast?

That night we head into nearby Towrang, where a sign by the side of the road lets us know a bush dance is being held.

We stump up $25 a head and join the locals for a barbecue dinner in the bush fire brigade shed.

My semi-vegetarian partner sighs when she sees there's a choice between pork, steak and beef sausages on the menu. But the mood is good-natured, so much so that we regret having to take our tired little one back to the farm before the bush band gets into full swing, leaving the locals to dance well into the night.

The writer was a guest of Wollondale Farm Stay and Tourism NSW.

Trip notes

Where

Magpie Cottage, Wollondale Farm Stay, 1144 Towrang Road, Towrang. (02) 4829 8115, 0428 445 160, wollondale.com.au.

Getting there

From Sydney, take the Hume Highway south. About 10 kilometres before Goulburn, look for the Towrang exit, a right turn off the Hume. Drive through Towrang and you'll see the Wollondale sign on the right.

How much

$150 a night, minimum two-night stay. Weekly rates available.

Style statement

No-nonsense country living.

Perfect for

Recharging the batteries under open skies.

Don't forget

Your cossies for a swim in the river.

Shame about

Magpie cottage lacking the charm of Gouldian.

Kudos

The farm's free-range eggs are to die for.

Take the kids?

Absolutely. Think animals.

- Sun-Herald