Finding peace and tranquility, with a side of donkey, on a rural family escape at Maitland’s Hunter River Retreat.
I wake to a kerfuffle. Sugarpuff is running urgently from room to room waking everyone. I panic as her cries get louder, hauling myself from the comfort of bed and racing out to find the source of all the commotion. Is the house on fire?
“Donkeys!” she shouts excitedly as I exchange confused looks with Raff, who has also stumbled from his room. She drags us on to the deck, the soft morning light causing my still sleepy eyes to squint and Raff to growl like a wounded animal.
“So, there’s no fire?”
“No, silly. Just donkeys. Two of them!” she says pointing to a paddock about 100 metres away. There are indeed two donkeys. And they’re busy minding their own business as most normal creatures do at 6.30 in the morning.
“They’re so cute. Can we take them apples?” she pleads.
The fact that we have neither apples or actual clothes on, given we’re all barefoot and clad in pyjamas, appears to have escaped her attention. As does the fact that it is so bloody early we shouldn’t even be conscious.
Meeting the neighbours
But awake we are, thanks to my donkey-loving daughter. As are a couple of wallabies who appear to be beating a hasty retreat into the bush after a big night, and a kookaburra who I swear is laughing at me.
By the time I make a cuppa and head back on to the deck to soak up the misty morning views over the valley, the kids are dressed and scampering around on the lawn downstairs in search of more critters. They’re in luck, because at the Hunter River Retreat, just 15 minutes from the Historic towns of Maitland and Morpeth, there are plenty to be found.
As they dance around the donkeys, I’m being greeted at the back door by Molly and Murphy, a couple of Scottish Highlander cows who call the retreat home. They’re so close I half expect them to invite themselves in for a cuppa and scones.
Thee kids return from exploring with tales of palatial chicken coups and their new BFF, Smoky, the resident horse who roams freely around the grounds of the retreat in search of apples and carrots.
Hunter River Retreat, spread across 110 acres of gum tree-clad Mountainside, boasts more than just farm animals. Due to the wonderfully secluded nature of our cottage, we don’t spot another human on the massive property, but we do spy more wallabies, a goanna, possums, rosellas, native pigeons and even a magnificent Wedge-Tail Eagle, soaring in the distance.
Room with a Moo
We’re staying in the retreat’s Bluegum Cottage, one of five secluded homes on the property. It is a rustic timber affair sitting at the top of a hill with its own full fenced yard and undercover parking. The ideal base for families eager to explore the Morpeth and Maitland, the cottage sleeps six and boasts two spacious bedrooms, a cosy living space with a slow combustion fire, reverse cycle air-conditioning and a decent size Smart television, complete with DVD player, which I am happy to report is being resolutely ignored for all the real-life action outside.
When they’re not bothering the animals, eating their way through Maitland’s fab food scene or tackling the bushwalking trails, the kids spend their time scoffing chocolate biscuits and marshmallows from the gorgeous grazing box our hosts Eloise and Troy have left us. Or submerged in the huge family-sized Jacuzzi on the cottage’s outdoor deck, where they happily wallowed shattering the peace and tranquillity of this gorgeous slice of the Hunter with their happy giggles.
Getting there: Hunter River Retreat is just 2 ½ hours from Sydney and 10 minutes from Maitland by car,
Disclosure: The BoyEatsWorld family were guests of Maitland City Council, but all critter bothering, spa splashing and opinions are our own.