What would the newsfeed of our life over the past couple of years look like if we played it back? If we’re lucky, a shambles under the surface, but enough smiling selfies to show we’re holding it together, if only by a thread. We’re all uneasy about something. Big and little tangles that catch on the corners of our decisions and our days. In an otherwise ordinary life, full to the brim with responsibility, it’s hard to know where to go to catch your breath. Until you swing through the driveway to Billabong Retreat, where catching your breath for a moment of sanctuary is what it’s all about.

Rebalancing act

Overlooking an expansive billabong bursting with lemon coloured lilies, the eco-retreat is a hub for yoga, mindfulness, and wellness. Looking up from the water’s edge, the cabins and main centre sit amongst the tree-tops of sage eucalypts and you feel a million miles from anywhere.

It can be tricky blending the crazy parts of being a grown up with our search for peace, in body, mind and spirit. We might find escapes, or favourite things to do, but nurturing the stillness of our mind is a whole new superpower. My overarching belief has always been that whatever you believe in, whatever name you give it, whatever you follow to bring you to that place of stillness, is a deeply personal and private choice. It’s a one on one with you and the Divine all the way. So, when the groundswell of mums in active gear (even though I am one), started talking about mindfulness I switched off.  No amount of almond milk and journaling, I thought, could connect you with your inner peace. In truth, I  thought mindfulness was for hacks.

Searching for wellness

It’s easy to overlook the wish for a little peace and quiet as the day pulls us in so many directions. Of course we don’t have time, have you seen the to-do list that we all hang on to? But what would happen if we told ourselves we could put the list down for a moment, not ignore it, just gave ourselves permission to pick it back up in half an hour. Actually, amazing things happen!

I’ve since come to believe that mindfulness might very well be the religion of our time, in this day, and age. There are many who no longer crave a place to worship or feel that the words of a book are solace enough. The simple act of quietness away from the noise of our minds in the stillness of where we are, we can find a safe harbour. And that’s pretty powerful stuff. A short 2 day getaway to Billabong Retreat will gently push the pressures to one side and fill your mind with a natural harmony that leaves little room for all else.

Like most things at Billabong, mindfulness comes as a sampler. Learn as little or as much as you like. If I’d thought I was in for a week of hard-core yoga and prune juice, well, I wouldn’t have moved from my couch. Thankfully, the offerings are plenty, but the expectations few. The choice is yours to do a lot, a little or none at all. Like many, we chose the retreat as a way to kick-start some better health habits and it paved the way just nicely. Nature walks, gentle yoga, wholesome food, and most of all time. In this quiet space between the moments, we breathe, finding a rhythm that calms and energises.

You might like to read about writing a daily gratitude list. You can see Billabong Retreat’s upcoming programs here.

Bathurst gold mine

For anyone who has travelled the Blue Mountains and surrounds, you’ll know that the real gold lays beyond. As you pass the historic village of Hartley, the slopes open up to sweeping countryside that meanders westbound towards the towns of Bathurst, Mudgee, Orange, and Dubbo until you reach the mid-western plains. While each has their own story, settlement, and corner pub, today we’re heading to Bathurst. Here’s our quick guide to exploring this cultured and celebrated region and discovering the best of Bathurst.

On the outskirts, the golden grass shifts in the wind. It’s mostly farmland until the Hotels and Motels referencing Goldfields and Nuggets catch your eye. The oversized bushman kneeling above his gold-pan is a dead giveaway. You’ve now reached the home of New South Wales’ Goldrush.

Bridges to the past

It’s influence as the first European Settlement is easily spotted in the stately Churches and grand central gardens. Known as a Cathedral City, the town centre is dominated by the War Memorial Carillion on Kings Parade. Home to Galleries, Museums and heritage listed buildings, cafes and artisan stores now line the streets. For curious kids, the Fossil Museum, located in the heritage listed Public School Buildings (1874) is a worthwhile stop where they’ll even be able to see Dinosaurs. I can’t think of anyone over the age of 4 who wouldn’t be mesmerised by the life size t-rex on display. It’s a fascinating introduction to a step back in time.

The surrounds of Bathurst lay within the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri people of the three rivers – the Wambool (Macquarie), the Calare/Kalari (Lachlan) and the Murrumbidgee. European settlers first agreed on Bathurst as a central point of government administration, through for the next 5 years, this met with great resistance from the Aboriginal people. Some 30 years later, with the discovery of gold, the history of Bathurst would be rewritten.

Today, Aboriginal artistic relics, including carved trees can be seen on display in the Bathurst District Historical Society Museum in the wing of the Bathurst Courthouse.

Big kid’s day out

Even as a day trip, if you’re prepared for the 200km journey from Sydney, Bathurst has something for everyone. Every year, school camps flock to the Bathurst Goldfields. Fortunately, we went on the school holidays with only a handful of kids and plenty of space to try our hands at panning for gold. With accommodation also on site, a walk around the Goldfields is a true to life exhibition. Wander into the Blacksmiths shed, turn the Whim or lean against the aging sheds that overlook Bathurst. Our host Gary, who filled us in on all things “goldrush” (Bushrangers included) was as genuine as he was educational.

As the Goldfields are set on Mount Panorama (home of the Supercars Championship), the “rush” ironies are obvious. Every November, the Bathurst 1000 brings life to the mountain as the 1,000km touring car race winds around the hillside. For everyone else driving the circuit at any other time of the year, it’s the perfect spot to overlook the Bathurst Plains, on the western edge of the Great Dividing Range. (Just in case the name Mount Panorama didn’t give it away). And because you don’t need to drive the track 161 times, it’s a quick add on to the Goldfields tour.

There’s also an annual Inland Sea of Sound Festival held at the end of summer on top of Wahluu-Mount Panorama which features a line-up of local and national artists.

Backdrops, bites, and buzz

When it’s time to unwind, abundant fresh local produce can be tasted in cafés, restaurants, pubs or leafy garden settings. Try Vine & Tap at Brooke Moore House, The Hub or Harvest Café and Store for delicious food and an easy atmosphere. It’s always hard to beat Wholefoods and the Pear Tree Co-op on William Street has everything, including Shell, the most helpful health-food specialist ever!

The beauty of Bathurst is that everything on the traveller’s menu can be sampled in just a day or two. You could literally go to town with phrases that describe the region as a real gem, but let’s not. Instead, jump in the car, or take the daily train to a town that has history, culture, magnificent scenery with a story that’s alive. Dare I say it’s worth its weight in…stop!

Read about some of our other favourite getaways in regional New South Wales.

Remember the days

No one tells you when you enrol your child in Primary School that you will spend the next 6 years of your life reliving your own classroom hiccups, social awkwardness and academic pitfalls all over again. Maybe the Math’s Tutor in Grade 2 was overkill, but knowing what lay ahead, I didn’t want my kid to fall into the same algebraic minefield that robbed me of so much time on my roller skates.

From the outside, it looks so easy; drop off your effervescent, perfectly adjusted child at the front gates, grab a coffee on the way to work, close a few deals in time to swoop into the Kiss & Ride and collect your growing bundle of joy. I should have known when in Year 5 the newly minted teacher asked the kids to draw an image of how they felt about math’s and mine drew a gravestone with RIP etched into the mossy stone. It remains one of his best still-life depictions to this day.

In moments of absolute honesty, you have to admit that raising children is not easy. Joyous yes, mind-blowingly fabulous, yes, but easy, well not every day. While I’m being honest, it was only thanks to you-tube and Khan academy that we made it through lockdown learning at all. While I was casually making a cuppa and letting him run off for a break, I was in reality, busily solving volume problems and calculating the area of a make believe floor-plan. None of which I’m sure will help him in his aspiration to become a gamer with a million followers.

Saved by the bell

The intensity of everything your child goes through is magnified through your eyes. I recall a good friend, highly accomplished educator, speaker and mother, cringe behind the laundry door when her Mister 7 announced he’d sat alone on the bench at lunch because no one would play with him. I’m sure it happened to us all, I don’t remember it tearing me apart at school, but when your child tells you this tale, it is literally heart breaking. Should I call the school, enrol my child in a self-help group, start a journal of feelings, I don’t know…something.

My crushing moment came when mine came home from school and described the seating arrangements in class as if he’d walked into a movie theatre where everyone had their name on their chair, except him. When I scraped my heart up off the floor and had a moment to think, I was more impressed by his use of metaphor. By morning, my perfectly well-adjusted child had moved on. When I think about the primary school episodes I ponder as life defining, I realize I hardly had a lucid memory before the age of 9. The truth is they are not life crushing, they are life-affirming.

Oh the places you’ll go!

It never ceases to amaze me what we roll through year by year, going about our days, quietly absorbing even the things that shake us to the core. That there is the definition of resilience. In year 4, my little Mister went on a campaign to promote positivity and with the help of a very mindful teacher, created and hung good vibes quotes from the trees around the playground. When yesterday he pronounced his impending sadness at nearing the end of school next week, I too felt the weight that comes with shifting change.

I think it’s ok to take a moment and look back at the first grader who walked into school, tugging at both my fingers and my heart, to the big kid bouncing out. Nothing screams Braveheart more than dropping off your pre-schooler for the first time. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve been utterly absorbed in every step he’s taken by my side and on his own. I’ve been needed more each year and needed less too. It’s an adventurous, wild, crazy, awakening ride, this Primary School thing. And it’s all we can do to hold on in awe while they fly!

You may also like School’s out and I’m in

It’s been a bleak winter of lockdown for many. For too long we’ve sat inside over the long chilly months, living the ups and downs of reality tv life punctuated by holiday promo’s wondering who’s going anywhere. As the world has opened up, social media pages have flickered with snap shots of European coastlines, packed street markets and life looking reassuringly like we remembered it before we faced another season of restrictions. With the lifting of lockdown just weeks away now, we’re eager to brush off the winter blues and find our own chance to follow the sun. Here’s our guide to what travel in NSW will look like when restrictions ease plus some easy holiday destinations!

What’s on your travel list?

Considering your travel options poses more questions than ever as we navigate the many complexities of re-emerging from lockdown and finding our feet in a slightly altered universe. With people saving on international travel over lockdown, our spending capacity for domestic travel has increased. Day trips to weeklong getaways will be high on many people’s agendas, with last minute bookings becoming the new norm. The novelty of taking off and exploring what have been recently unreachable holidays spots, will have thousands of us day tripping and beyond. Will we travel to new locations because our holiday options feel impeded?  Will we take longer holidays where it can be combined with work from home flexibility?

And while some will already have their backpacks stacked high on the roof racks, others will consider travel with a little more trepidation. Weighing up whether house-stays, hotels, or something in-between will suit your post-lockdown comfort may also depend on how accommodation stays have risen to the occasion to deliver a welcoming, safe, and inclusive message.

A new brand of service

9/11 is when travel changed for all of us and after nearly 2 decades, we’re facing new travel reforms, once again with our safety in mind. With the number of formalities involved in travelling today, many will have become more conscious as travellers, choosing destinations, hotels and airlines based on safety standards. Our idea of customer service may reflect a new industry standard where the gold star is regard for personal care, rather than a dazzling welcome smile and free sweets.

B&B Owner from Overnight Reflections in Lake Macquarie, Narelle looks forward to welcome guests back, but is aware that many accommodation owners may be more cautious about unvaccinated guests and also aware how service will reflect a new way of holidaying. The kumbaya shared breakfast might be replaced by individual meal service and there will certainly be an increase in government regulations, which will be passed on to guests.

They’ll be a greater vigilance on new safety protocols, QR codes and contactless check in and checkouts. Shared stationery such as printed menus, magazines, pens, and paper will be out, but refitted first aid kits, sanitizers and health guidelines are in. Accommodation outlets will have higher standards of cleanliness to follow, including using cleaning products effective against coronavirus for room cleans and shared spaces. Thankfully, in the same way that the pandemic reminded us all that washing hands is good, we’ll all feel better for knowing that hygiene protocols everywhere will be held to a higher standard.

5 easy destination ideas!

With NSW travel top of mind, we’ve also compiled our 5 favourite easy to reach, no-fuss destinations within a few hours’ drive from Sydney. Places that offer the sanctity of village charm, unwaveringly beautiful scenery, and a chance to sink into a home away from home.

Lake Macquarie

Just 1.5 hours north from Sydney lays expansive Lake Macquarie. Taking almost as long to drive around, there are plenty of little townships tempting you along the way for walks, a bite, or views of the bay. As you wind around the lake, some areas greet you with café lined boardwalks, others in close proximity to tessellated rocky outcrops and the wild open sea. Nature walks, open parklands, and beaches are all a short drive to the coastal suburbs of Catherine Hill Bay, Caves Beach, Blacksmiths Beach and Redhead. Start with Belmont, Cardiff, Charlestown, Glendale, Swansea, Toronto when thinking of shopping precincts.

Port Stephens

The surrounding region of Port Stephens takes in an undulating hinterland and sweeping coastline that firms around the Headland. From a gull’s eye view, the peninsula must look like an outstretched hand, with the villages of Salamander Bay and Corlette to swanky tourist towns like Nelson Bay, all spilling onto kilometres of coastal beach. Just 3 hours north of Sydney, it’s a haven for a summer getaway whether you prefer pub stays, boutique hotels and resorts or family camping. The steep, picturesque walk up Mount Tomaree is set between the friendly waters of Port Stephens, with a jetty for jumping into the bay and Zenith Beach with its lashing waves and deep sand. Hire a bike to get from one suburb to the next, or paddle board and kayak alongside the dolphins.

Blue Mountains

In summer the haze that sets low across the Blue Mountains shimmers and the winter gardens bloom under the warmer skies. Within an hour drives west, you’ll reach the picturesque and popular township of Leura, just before arriving in Katoomba to view the valley of the Three Sisters. Head a little further over the mountains and the land opens up into a patchwork of native forests and farmland, dotted with villages that carry you to Lithgow and beyond. As well as Leura and Katoomba, you’ll find great accommodation, sightseeing and walks in Glenbrook (great village feel and lunch stop), Wentworth Falls ( majestic valley lookout of the waterfall) or Mount Tomah, home to the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens (with its own alpine garden).

Pearl Beach

At only an hours drive away from Sydney, Pearl Beach located on the western shoreline of Broken Bay, is one of the most stunning seaside villages south of Gosford. Sharing the peninsula with nearby Patonga, Pearl Beach is the hub of a nature loving community; small enough to blend in with its abundant natural surrounds. Discovering sandy pathways that wind through the National Parks, hidden beaches, jetties and fishing spots between Avalon and Newcastle, the Central Coast could keep even the most curious holiday maker intrigued all season. Drop in for lunch at The Boathouse Hotel, Patonga after trekking the Pearl Beach to Patonga Track. Even a day trip will tempt your travel taste buds.

Southern Highlands

What’s not to love about the Southern Highlands? Even the name has a poetic ring to it, harking back to its Scottish namesake. But the Southern Coast of NSW is more than tea and scones and the occasional jail; it’s a chain of charming, rural, off-beat and upmarket towns and villages draped along a magnificent coastline. It would take even the most dedicated traveller weeks to uncover all the hidden charms of the region that’s fast becoming known for its eclectic mix of highbrow home décor, artisan eateries and homemade collectables. Mittagong, Berrima and Bowral are wonderful country day escapes or wind a little further inland to Moss Vale or Kangaroo Valley. Each town has its own arts hub, its own rural feel and story to tell.

sydney lockdown

It’s no one’s fault that today, when lockdown was due to end, the rains have come. The washed out sky is full to the brim, promising Greater Sydney a wet weekend, if the news from health officials wasn’t dreary enough. Hearing another quivering press update at 11.00am, you might be forgiven for thinking that Henny Penny was onto something when she famously declared the sky is falling.

It’s not called homework for nothing

After sweeping restrictions were re-announced today, we’re now faced with school closures next week. I’m reminded of my first stint of home learning, when by 9.40am on day 1, my primary schooler asked if he could take the next day off. After picking myself (and the laundry) up off the floor, he declared this home school routine way too imposing and deserved a break. Quite so. The logistical upheaval now facing educators and parents alike seems vastly out of step with the real impact of Covid in our community. Fear is indeed a powerful motivator.

“May we live in interesting times”

As uncertain as we are about the origin of the virus, no one knows either if this phrase took its translation from a Chinese curse, but it’s fitting enough. One thing we can all agree on is that when times get a bit too interesting, we’re not sure we want them anymore. If you don’t think I’m onto something, consider where we were just 2 years ago. Even hinting at the suggestion that entire cities could be fortressed would have read as a ridiculous sci-fi storyline.

Wake me up before you go go

Clearly, shutting the door on the problem is not fixing it any more than closing our eyes and hoping the boogie man will go away. There’s more at stake for people, cities, states, and a country if we don’t find reasonable, respectful, and inclusive ways of living with this virus.

With change as relentless as it is, it’s hard, really hard to get our bearings. Subsequent lockdowns have left towns, businesses, and people on the brink. Border restrictions have left families cut down the middle. All in all, the media’s panicked approach has left many downright scared. And as frightening and dangerous as Covid is, watching the media sensationalise the problem is equally so. It’s enough that within our own country we’re not free to travel, to mix, to go about our days.

Too much reality TV

Thank goodness the numbers aren’t swelling; how lucky we are. But when we use words like “super spreader” we’re engendering fear and anxiety and it’s without substantiation. Bad news stories championed every day can push people to the periphery. When the proponents of the lockdown message are so loudly spread, it can feel jarring and isolating, especially for those who hope for a different outcome. 

It’s a strange and vulnerable time, where none of us really have the answer, even our elected leaders are spruiking an agenda that’s new to them too. In the barrage of information and talking, we, the people are not being included in the conversation. With every day we’re thrown new challenges, new ways of working and new expectations to keep up with. As Abbie Chatfield once said (though more likely about a slew of buffed up bachelors throwing themselves at her) “it’s a lot.”

You might like to read Schools Out and I’m In.

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