What does the best farmstay in NSW actually mean? whats makes it the best? There are so many farm holidays available in NSW to choose from, so how how could I possibly claim such an arrogant title? I’m going to share a little bit about how I got here and you can make your own minds up. Or better yet, come and stay and see for yourself.
I have always had a passion for travelling and this began at 19 years old when I played on the women’s international tennis tour and travelled around the world for several years. These days I love travelling to countries with a completely different culture to my own so I can immerse myself in the new smells, sights and sounds of a different world to what I’m used to. Travelling gives me such a wonderful sense of freedom, to leave my daily routine, to switch off from my own day to day life and I find myself behaving like a kid in a candy store. No schedules, no routines now where to be. I like to free flow when I travel, I rarely book anything in advance, I arrive somewhere and I just go with the flow, open to whatever opens up for me. Since nineteen, I have travelled extensively, visiting almost every continent of the world, sometimes camping and hitching, at other times doing a very budget friendly version, just so I get away, and now that I’m older I can travel a little more high end. To be honest, I’m not a fussy traveller, maybe because I’m just so happy to be on a holiday at all. I’ve stayed in some of the most beautiful places and hotels in the world and had a miserable time and then stayed in a complete dump and had the best experience ever. People make my holiday, breathtaking scenery always helps, but going slow is what makes all the difference to me. Rather than racing through places just so I could tick them off my list, I realised that staying in one place for a reasonable length of time gives me a far better experience of the people, their culture, their food, and I get to connect a little deeper with my temporary community and their lifestyle. For me this offers a far richer overall travel experience for me.
Having children completely changed the way I travelled (especially when they were really young) and what mattered to me. Children don’t like to eat out all the time, they don’t want to try new exotic foods and they don’t want to stay out late and explore the world. They don’t really care about the interiors of a home, they just want a space to play and explore safely and to be close to me. For the most part children on holiday need their routine with a few interspersed outings, they want to maintain what is familiar to them as this reduces their anxiety and helps them settle into their holiday. What children really want most on a holiday is quality time with their parents, they just want to be prioritised and they want us to be present and emotionally available. Travelling with my children and my dogs ( at times) made me realise how poorly set up most self contained accommodation can be. I love to cook and having a quiet home cooked meal at the end of a busy day on holiday is important for children. I struggled to find a place that had everything I needed to prepare a decent meal, let alone have enough equipment to serve it on. I’m fine to improvise but when you need three pots and theres only one, it requires a lot more thought and this impacts the meal choices. Not having a bathtub with small kids is tougher. Not having a fenced outside area where they can play safely without the need for my parental hovering meant there was never any downtime for me on a holiday.
A holiday with children is a completely different type of holiday, to the one I would have on my own. You have to be reasonably organised and plan ahead. If their happy you’re going to have a decent holiday, so you really tailor the holiday more towards their needs than your own. You pick a place that will give you maximum downtime and one that will also bring your family closer together. When we moved from Sydney to Bellingen in 2009, we soon realised the limited pet friendly farm stays in NSW and they were mostly awful. But you took them, because you had no choice. So, when I set up my own farm stays, I did so with that all that in mind; ensuring that every one of my properties was geared to offering families a relaxing holiday with all that they needed to have a great time with their family and a place that offered them a chance to relax as well.
I set up my first holiday accommodation over 16 years ago, it was accidental, I had built an an off the grid converted shed in Putty in the Wollomi National Park 2 hours from Sydney. It was a simple rustic getaway for us to enjoy and escape from city. When my first child was born, we couldn’t get up there as much as we would have liked, so rather then have it sit empty we set it up as an affordable country getaway. We left all our belongings and clothes and food up there and guests just worked around our stuff. We made it affordable to everyone and for 8 years it thrived, with the same beautiful families returning year after year to enjoy its magical location in the stunning Wollomi. To my surprise, people loved what I had built there, with my recycled vintage and country furniture, a mish mash of interiors, rugs and artwork that never matched and were mostly from op shops and road side throw outs, before all this stuff became trendy.
What made it so special for everyone, and the reason people came back time and time again was our generous “community based set up” that we were sharing our holiday home with others and as such they were incredibly respectful of our space. We were generous in what we offered, a fully stocked kitchen pantry which they could help themselves to with plenty of food, condiments and plenty of cooking equipment, plates and platters and bowls to serve 7 people easily, we had shampoos and conditioners and soaps in the bathroom and plenty of loo paper (the number of times I have had to buy my own when travelling is ridiculous) The generosity came back to us, with many guests, gifting us their spare food and sauces and condiments, sometimes they left us a case of beer or a beautiful bottle of wine and our communal country getaway filled with new books, games, toys and candles that guests had kindly added to our collection on offer.
I moved to Bellingen to fulfil my dream of living on a farm. My fondest memories as a child was going to our farm in South Africa, six hours outside of Cape Town with my family. There we had a basic house, no power, we took a horse and cart to town to collect milk, we had kerosene lighting and my brothers and sisters and I ran around with all the local African children until the sun went down. There was a sense of freedom there, being surrounded by nature and getting so much joy from the simplest things like building a cubby house, or looking for snakes or swimming in the dam. Those trips moulded me and ignited my love of nature, beauty and simplicity, which has become the ethos for my business today. When I bought our farm in Bellingen, I wanted to offer the same again, a chance for people to share in what we have to offer here, and to provide a holiday experience that was almost nostalgic, like the god old days, when life seemed simpler.
Moving to Bellingen, I fell in love with growing food and so that began a new journey into sustainable farming practises, where I was drawn to biodynamic farming and permaculture. Soon we had a small flock of chickens, two rescued sheep, 3 horses to ride and enjoy with my girls and four cows. I wanted to raise my children with the understanding that our precious resources are finite, and to learn to live with that in mind, so we learn to just take enough, not more than we needed, to put back into our soil what we take out in our crops, to use water sparingly and to limit our consumption by buying secondhand and recycled goods rather then new. This concept takes up little space, it’s what they have always known and it’s just the way we do things here. My children, who are 5 and 10 years old help me run the farm, and they both play an integral part of keeping it going. As a single mother, it was a matter of necessity that everyone help out and pull their weight, and both of my girls stepped up with the daily chores and day to day running of the farm.
I set up the Bellingen Vintage Farmstay first, it’s a pet friendly farm stays in NSW on our working farm. It was the house we lived in when we first moved here, while I was building my current home. It’s the kind of place I would love to stay in if I was travelling and it is also our only pet friendly country getaway. It has some of my favourite collectables in there, it’s light and spacious, it has a slow combustion fireplace, a reverse cycled heating and air con, a better equiped kitchen than most homes have and a fully fenced back yard for children and dogs to run around in safely. There’s a small citrus orchard that guests can help themselves to, a creek below the house and a bonfire pit, for everyone to enjoy. We refused to put a TV in there during the early years so we filled it with books, games, puzzles, toys and card games. We have since succumbed and there is now a TV/DVD player with a great library of videos for all ages. The response to this country getaway was overwhelming. I got the feedback that I was hoping for. They loved sharing our ‘simple’ life with them, it slowed everyone down, they just relaxed and hung out and played around the farm, played board games and puzzles, toasted marshmallows by the fire and enjoyed connected family time …everything I wanted them to take away. People got it, they wanted to have a holiday that embraced all of those values. Our lives are speeding up and people are working longer and harder then ever and most of us are exhausted a lot of the time because of this lifestyle. So, to provide a beautiful home in a beautiful place surrounded by nature and farm animals, people find themselves dropping down a level and being more present with themselves and those around them, and that makes for a special time. Over time we have improved each country getaway so that we can offer what we believe is the best farmstay in NSW.
Over time and with life’s changes I chose to put my own home the Bellingen Farm House up for holiday stays when I was away. On the back of a magazine article and a book cover it become a thriving country getaway for people with a big budget. I wasn’t expecting the response I got, but it made me realise that what we offer here is special and unique to anywhere else. People who stay here often comment on how hard it must be to share my home with strangers, and I have to confess it was a little challenging at first, but because of the response and the respect people have for my space it has shifted for me. My taste is very left of centre and it’s not the norm, so it always surprises me that people respond so positively to what I have created here. Sometimes I have guests that have seen my house in a coffee table book “Rural Australian Country” from years ago, and they tell me how my home inspired what they built for themselves, and that feels incredible because that is what happened for me when I was 20 years old. My love of vintage and country furniture and collectables came from Sheila Carrol at her homestead in Ilford NSW, I had never seen anything like that before, and I fell in love with this style and have been collecting ever since then. Her life and her farm combined with my childhood inspired me in such a way that I had to go with it and create that life for myself.
Looking after people and making them feel at home has become the foundation of our business. It’s not something I consciously chose to do and I certainly haven’t always done it well, but really understanding how to make people feel welcome has transformed my business, and I genuinely enjoy doing it. We want guests to know how much we value them being here, that nothing is too much trouble and we love to share what we do and let others experience a little bit of our life when they’re here. So they can help us feed the farm animals, collect eggs, pick a basket of fresh organic fruit and veggies and they can run around and play with our children. Nothing is too hard for us, we are flexible and we always make things work for people who have special needs or concerns. We love sharing our farm with others and in turn we get to meet the most wonderful people from around the world , so it works both ways.
I recently completed (yes I do all my own building now!) our newest ‘budget friendly’ accommodation on the farm, the Farm Shed an old converted shed, it’s s space that we used for farm helpers, and it’s now where I stay with my girls if my house gets booked up. So it’s set up for us, similarly to what we did at Putty. I have a thing for sheds, maybe because it takes me back to my childhood. I love staying here, it’s quirky and brings simplicity back into my life, the rustic feel of it means that nothing is precious and having to cook and shower outside is my favourite way to live. My girls love it too, as it’s close to all the animals, the horses are out front, the chickens are next door and its small, so we are closer together and that does wonders for us as a family. It also means that those on a budget can have a great farm holiday as well and I love that we can offer that to people, because I really want everyone to have access to this.
We now have something for everyone on our farm and I don’t know anywhere else that offers what we do the way we do it here, so I’m really proud of that. For special occasions we have had people book up our entire farm for a weekend and have the whole farm to themselves. That’s a wonderful thing to offer people. The people we tend to attract her; are those who are interested in living a more sustainable life, who want to eat biodynamic/organic food and who want to tread lightly on the planet, and most are already doing a version of this in their own homes and lives. They want have a holiday in a place that embodies all of that that without the preaching. We attract families that want an experience for their children, that they can’t have at home, being surrounded by nature, farm animals and having the freedom to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and participate in activities that are not part of their daily life in the city.
But my favourite place to stay is Hernani Wilderness Hut, my little off the grid hut one hour away from Bellingen in the mountains behind Dorrigo. I love this wild rugged outback country, the real scrubby Australian bush. Maybe because it reminds me of living in South Africa. The colours here are soft and romantic and the hut is surrounded by large recycled glass windows and doors so you can see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets whilst you’re still lying in bed beside the fire. The night skies are breathtaking and we spend most of our down time by the bonfire where we cook most of our meals. My children get to play on fallen trees, pick fruit off the 100 year old orchard of peaches, pears and nectarines. We swim in the local water holes, chase rabbits and watch the huge kangaroos traverse the hills on sunset. Living on our farm in a hilly valley you don’t get that sense of openness and spaciousness that you do with large areas of flat land where the hut is. The landscape is totally different to our green sub tropical farm and you feel like you are in another country let alone an hour away. I have no animals or crops to take care of up there, so I get much needed down time with my girls. Hiking and trail riding are my two favourite pass times (beside lying on a beach!) and the reason I bought this hut, as it is situated right on the National Trail, the longest uninterrupted walking and horse riding trail in the southern hemisphere, and 10 minutes away from the three most magnificent National parks for hiking lovers and trout fishing enthusiasts. There’s nothing like this out there for people to experience at this price. I’ve kept it affordable for a reason and will continue to do so, because I want to share this with everyone.
So, are we the best farmstay in NSW? Well, that’s subjective, so I can’t really answer a question like that without being bias, and surely I’m not the one to make that claim, but it’s something to strive for, not necessarily in the literal sense, but rather as a desire to continue to improve our product, so that what makes it the best farmstay in NSW is that our guests leave feeling more rested, more relaxed and more connected then when they arrived and and maybe even a little inspired by having a taste of a simple life.