Rochelle Tubb enjoys the wildlife and surrounds of Mandalong Valley.
THE KANGAROO count started just minutes off the F3 freeway. "There's one," shouted my excited five-year-old as we drove down the country lane heading towards Brush Gully Farm B&B in the Mandalong Valley. "There's another one, and there's number three," she squealed with delight as we turned into the driveway.
OK, they were actually wallabies but I wasn't about to quibble, especially when our hosts Wayne and Denise Ford and their friendly pooches, Bella and Jed, were waiting on the lawns to greet us.
Brush Gully Farm B&B, a 55-minute drive north of Hornsby and a 10-minute drive to the bustling town of Morisset, blends harmoniously into its tranquil bush surrounds.
Not all B&Bs are suited to young kids, but at this property there are plenty of outdoor areas and activities (egg collecting, feeding the alpacas and the cows) for children.
The homestead is set on 21 hectares of bushland in a secluded valley with direct access to the Olney State Forest. All the luxuries you'd expect are on offer at Brush Gully Farm, including stylish accommodation in five bedrooms and two separate living rooms - one with a television and one with an open fire that is perfect for curling up in front of with a good book and glass of red.
While it's a popular retreat for city couples and singles, Brush Gully Farm is also an ideal destination for larger groups and can accommodate up to 12 people. Denise and Wayne said they get a lot of repeat business from four-wheel-drive clubs, bushwalking enthusiasts and family groups looking to explore the natural beauty of the area or just wanting to chill out in comfortable surrounds.
At night, after spending a few minutes listening to an orchestra of frogs sing their little hearts out, we headed inside to the open fire and whiled away some time playing Where's Wally before heading to bed.
Fresh baked bread and a generous country-style breakfast were waiting for us in the morning. The local birdlife - including pied butcher birds, brown doves, galahs and a pair of bower birds - also joined in the morning feed just outside our window. There's no shortage of things to do in this part of the world: there are several bushwalks that lead from the house into the forest, Lake Macquarie and a plethora of water sports and activities are just a short drive away and guests can hire mountain bikes or canoes and have them delivered to a prearranged site.
Our chosen activity for the Sunday was horse riding. We found some suitable steeds a short drive from our accommodation at AAA Horse Riding and More. Vanessa and Wayne Hegarty have been operating trail rides into the Watagan Mountains for years and they tailor rides to suit the ability of the rider - from complete beginner to seasoned professional.
After a few relaxing hours in the saddle weaving through densely-timbered trails and splashing through creeks, we headed back to the yards for a quick pat of the rabbits at AAA's petting zoo before heading back onto the freeway. This time there wasn't a marsupial in sight.
Address: Brush Gully Farm B&B, 149 Little Valley Road, Mandalong.
Bookings: Phone (02) 4977 2230 or see www.brushgully.com.au.
Rates: Weekend $120 to $130 per room. Midweek $105 to $115 per room. Weekend house rent $800 (BYO food).
A relaxing and comfortable bush retreat with country-style hospitality.
Why you'd go: To get back to nature and explore the beautiful bush surrounds.
Why you wouldn't: You need a surf break within a few minutes' drive.
FIND TIME TO
* Take a bush walk, mountain bike or horse ride into the state forest and do some wallaby spotting.
* For the horse ride, contact AAA Horse Riding and More. Phone (02) 4977 2245 or see www.aaahorseriding.com.au. Hour-long rides start from $35.
* Explore the nearby town of Cooranbong and its renowned Elephant Shop.
* Take a drive up to the Hunter vineyards and bring back a case of red and enjoy a bottle in front of the crackling open fire.
The writer was a guest of Tourism NSW, Brush Gully Farm B&B and AAA Horse Riding and More.