Family Retreat to Coffs Harbour

School holidays are now on in Sydney and a few weeks ago we booked a family holiday to Coffs Harbour, a six-hour drive north of Sydney.  The uni students were unable to join us on this family vacation as they have no holidays and Archie is in the middle of exams and Arabella has three essays to hand in on Wednesday.

But Archie is an opportunist.  His attention immediately diverted from exam preparation to free house/parents away mode and asked if, in our absence, he could host a dinner party.  ‘How civilised’, I thought, ‘So good of him not to ask for a party’.  I imagined Archie and seven guests sitting around our dining table that seats eight (10 at a pinch), and Archie ladling up the food he’d prepared.  But forever the optimist, Archie then announced he needed me to write out the recipes for garlic bread and spaghetti bolognaise in quantities for 24 people.  ’24 People is not a dinner party Archie, that’s a gathering’.

‘Well, I’ve invited them and they all said they can come so what do I do?’

‘You can’t cook for that many.  I only have two large saucepans that can fit on the stove at one time and as large as they are, those saucepans can’t cook pasta for 24 people.’

‘Can I cook it in advance?’

‘Absolutely not.  And what about cutlery?  And plates?  And seating?  For that many you do pass-around food, not sit down.  At least that’s the way you have to do it in this house’.  So Archie culled his list to 15 and told them to bring their own food.  His father told him he couldn’t have anyone over because the last time he entertained he left the hot plate on all night as well as the lights.  Archie wasn’t pleased to have his entertaining plans curtailed so we are at our 3-star resort on the razor’s edge wondering if he’s remembered our rule of ‘first time obedience’.

Arabella is not planning any parties.  She’s just phoning me to ask me to transfer money into her account for the leather jacket we promised her in exchange for the removal of her nose piercing and somehow also, a vintage fur jacket she has found on e-bay.  ‘But mum; you know I don’t have any money.  And it’s so very cold now.  I’m freezing.  This house has no heating.  And if I just have that fur jacket and if I could find my ugg boots, I wouldn’t complain about the cold at all.  It’s a bargain mum, an absolute steal.  And I could pay you back.  One day’.

‘One day’ never arrives.

We set off for our 7-day vacation very early on Friday morning.  In our 7-seater people mover with just one child, I thought we’d have a lot of extra space.  But no.  No, we can’t travel light.  Carl has to fill every available space and this time it’s with surf boards, boogie boards, fishing rods, tackle boxes, bike racks, the bikes of course and bike helmets.  The last items to be thrown in were essentials such as Monopoly, the coffee machine and a cigar humidor.

Can I bring out anything else, Carl?

Can I bring out anything else, Carl?

So the car with just three occupants was jam-packed and off we set for the six-hour journey.  By the time we motored into Newcastle we were starving and it was very much breakfast time.  We pulled into a modern concrete oasis where you could not only serve your own petrol, you could have a woeful dining experience under fluro lights.

My mind was taken back to when I was a teenager and we used to go on holidays to Queensland.  My father hated stopping during the 13-hour journey.  Such an inconvenience and it rendered all that over-taking of caravans a disappointing failure as our pit-stop gave these weighty caravans the opportunity to once again fall into lead position.  The one stop that was reluctantly allowed was a breakfast stop and this was such a treat because fast-food outlets had not yet arrived, nor had freeway bypasses of country towns so as we drove through we would reduce our speed by 50% (sometimes) and crawl into these towns where small business owners had little cafes in a complete time-warp where you would sit in leather booths and be handed a laminated menu of all they had on offer – milkshakes, thick-shakes and hot chocolates (never mind the coffee) and then it was a mixed grill all round.   Out came enormous plates of bacon, sausages, baked beans, fried eggs, hot chips, roasted tomatoes, sauteed mushooms and wilted spinach, all crammed onto the one oval shaped plate.  Just the sort of fuel you needed for a family road trip.

Well these small businesses are a thing of the past as they were replaced by absolutely inferior nightmares.  Have a look at what I paid $7.20 for and this is after I sent it back as the first time they handed it to me, the bacon was raw – clearly only waved over the flame.

This is a bacon and egg roll.  I believe the roll was microwaved.  The eggs overcooked, the bacon thrown onto the bun and no sauce to speak of.

This is a bacon and egg roll. I believe the roll was microwaved. The eggs overcooked, the bacon thrown onto the bun and no sauce to speak of.

The sad thing is I actually think I ordered the better choice as I went to the ‘cafe’ while Carl and Alfie contented themselves with Hungry Jacks.

We made it to Coffs with not another break to mention and our friends staying in the same resort informed us that it was tradition to hit the local RSL for dinner.  Off we went with me in high heels that was probably just a notch or two above where I should have been and I queued for a variety of not-surprising options.  I went for the ‘Roast of the Day’ that was pork and a tougher bit of pork I’ve never experienced.  It was served with a watery, flavourless gravy and bland vegetables, all for $17.00.  Excellent fare for hungry travelers.

Roast of the day with cauliflower, pumpkin, potato, beans, gravy and a bit of corn

Roast of the day with cauliflower, pumpkin, potato, beans, gravy and a bit of corn

Today I was poolside reading my book while Carl was off fishing with Alfie – absolutely no need for me to tag along.  I saw all the nature I needed with this beautiful water dragon.

A friendly water dragon

A friendly water dragon

I’ve had a lovely relaxing day reading my book beside the pool being momentarily entertained by a number of these water dragons.




  1. You must be so glad to have finally arrived, but I bet you are missing your own food. I remember those funny little roadside places to eat, in small towns – they seemed so ordinary at the time, but definitely were an improvement on the cardboard food you were served on this journey. Hope you have a lovely relaxing time.

  2. I’m interested to hear whether or not Archie actually listened to you or not! And I hope the food gets better!

  3. Yeah but you got wine 🙂

    I hope you relax, read a lot of books, enjoy your son and ride one of those bikes. You’ll come back refreshed and happy.

  4. Sounds like you are having a great time despite the food situation! Enjoy your time with your son and hubby.

    Nazneen xx

  5. It looks like your weather is perfect for such a holiday, Charlie. It’s sunny here, but we’ve got a cold snap with snow flurries so I’m not very happy. I’d love to wear sandals but it’s too damn cold. Yes, that’s bitterness you detect!
    Too bad you food experience wasn’t great, I do hope it gets better during your holiday.
    PS I hope Archie doesn’t burn down the house.

  6. What a wonderful getaway…the book reading by the pool sounds fabulous! Those pitiful meals are really sad. One of the best things about a road trip can be finding the little diners with surprisingly good food, but you didn’t seem to find them this time! I look forward to updates on Archie and Arabella…what did they end up doing while you were out of town? Always a good story in review. Enjoy your time away, Charlie…you need as many poolside downtimes as you can manage! oxo

  7. Oh, the water shot is gorgeous…not so sure about the dragon ;/ I’d definitely take advantage of the time the boys are fishing…in fact, I’d encourage them to go every day! And fingers crossed there were no wild parties while you were away!

  8. Not going to lie: that bacon and egg roll looks awesome.

  9. I hope you have a restful week and there isn’t too much of a mess waiting for you when you get home. 🙂

  10. Besides the food (which I’m sure got better) I hope you are relaxing with the break you deserve!

    Choc Chip Uru

  11. Do these water dragons have sharp teeth or are they at all threatening? The food does sound/look awful.

    • Yes, Audrey. Everything in Australia has sharp teeth. But these water dragons won’t attack you unless you threaten them. They’re actually quite lovely.

  12. We went to Florida recently and ate absolutely horrendous food. The getaway looks so refreshing 🙂

  13. A cigar humidor. I have one of those but I doubt I would take it on holidays with me. Very funny.

    Shame about all the S%^t food. I’ve given up on takeaway food on road trips, it is completely disgusting.

  14. There is something so comforting about a roast meal like that. And as much as I’m tempted to moan about how my parents never bought me leather or fur jackets once I was Arabella’s age, I also think there’s an argument to be made for her paying you back in stories for this blog 😉 IT’S LIKE I’M SEEING THE PARENT’S AND CHILD’S VIEWPOINTS AT THE SAME TIME!

    Or maybe just my viewpoint.

    I’ve eaten a lot of candy tonight, so I’m probably making no sense.

    But, of course, I eat truckloads of candy every night…

  15. LOL! I can’t believe you choose the two weeks I am away from Coffs to visit my home!!! From your pictures and the water dragons I am guessing you are near Diggers Beach?? If you are staying at Aanuka, walk down onto the beach and look left at the yellow house on the headland… that’s us. Pity I didn’t know you were coming, you could have house sat for me 😉

    I hope you have a good time, I hope the rain has stopped :0! For food try Pansabella (for deli treats) or CreAsian for a tasty light Asian lunch in the city centre. Avoid the RSL in future :/ Café Fiasco at the Jetty is a great Italian wine bar with an awesome chef Stefano and his Sicilian (I think) family. Urban at the jetty is great for a casual lunch, make sure you order the Sichuan spiced salt and pepper squid salad and a glass of wine.
    Latitude 30 at the Marina is a great spot for dinner, they have a view over the Marina on one side and North Beach on the other. Start there in the afternoon for a glass of wine.

    A cheap lunch option with delicious gourmet burgers that Alfie and hubby should love is downstairs at Attitude Burgers.
    If there is anything else you want to know flick me a message. I wish I was hoe to show you around. No more RSL’s or pubs please!

  16. I love the lagoon, in spite of the dragons. Looks like a corner of paradise.

  17. I’m glad to hear that you got some relaxation time because the food isn’t the highlight is it? And I wonder how Archie’s dinner party went? I guess there were no calls this morning after it which is a good sign?

  18. That is one full car! Thank goodness you didn’t have to squeeze in your other two children or the drive may have had more challenges than just food. I hope now you’ve arrived you find some better eating options and that you have a great week away!

  19. I LOVE your recollections of road-tripping as a child. Those old-school cafes sound awesome. McDonalds were well and truly established when we were doing those trips. I loved it! It was the only time all year we could have Maccas – often for two of our daily meals! I loved it! Fi x

  20. I’m glad you’re getting soem good relaxation in Charlie but shame about the food. I just wonder how people can get away with serving such rubbish.

  21. I remember those road trips, Charlie. Dad not wanting to stop because we were “making good time.” And although there were a few “chain” restaurants along the way, they offered meals, not a sack o’ food and a soda in a paper cup. Sounds like you’ve a relaxing week ahead. Good for you! Enjoy!

  22. I hope the cuisine improves for the rest of your break Charlie. I also hope the house is intact when you get back home. It’s a worry leaving these boys to their own devices.

  23. Even though the food so far has left a lot to be desired, sittiing by that pool with a book well and truly makes up for it.

  24. ~~~How fun to have quality time w/ the fam!
    Did you read good books? What did you read?
    I have a feeling the food was not good because YOU cook so fabulously, dear. Xxx

  25. Men – they cannot travel lightly can they? And women usually take all the slack for the luggage. Lol Have a wonderful time. xx

  26. My husbands travel plans sounds similar to your dads. When we actually do stop on our 18 hour-without-real-breaks trip, he stares out the window counting all the vehicles that go past that we’ve overtaken. It’s even trickier for me with my food issues when traveling, so sadly we tend to stick with crappy chain restaurants as I know what there is that’s ‘safe’ to eat.
    I think you’re very brave handing over your house and credit card number to the Uni students…. How did that work out for you? 🙂

  27. Looks like a great place for a holiday and I hope it proves to be a relaxing and uninterrupted stay. Also hope the food is much better there than on the road!

  28. Yay, some R&R time for you Charlie – here’s hoping the food picks up though.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  29. Charlie, it’ll be fun to see what you come home to. (Fun for me to read, maybe not so fun for you…) I’ll keep my fingers crossed! Those water dragons are gorgeous, as is your book reading spot. Sorry to hear about the dismal food… I miss “Mom & Pop” cafes, too.

  30. Enjoy your holidays Charlie – I remember when my sister no longer came on our family vacations because it was “much more fun” to stay home and see friends. Sod that… I’d rather spend a week in the country any day. I’ve always been like that… big nature lover! Looks like you’re having a lovely time… getting some well earned peace and quiet with just a water dragon for company 🙂

  31. That corner of heaven from the last pic, makes up for all that terrible food… 🙂

  32. I hope that you were able to find some better food! And I hope that your home is still in one piece when you return 🙂 Enjoy your holiday!

  33. First of all I thought you are brave to leave the teenage kids at home… haha!! I cannot imagine letting MY kids have a party at home. Maybe when my kids are getting older, I’ll change my stance. And I was laughing hard when you said you have 7 seater and one kid, and no space!!! LOL! I can relate… xD Enjoy your holiday Charlie! xo

  34. Hi Charlie, wonderful getaway. Look like you bring lots of things along? 7 seater car with 1 kid but no space. 🙂

    I like your “One day’ never arrives.” LOL… anyway you’re a great mum. Love your humour. Enjoy your holiday, be seeing you.

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