Well-stocked with undies – and some very nice red wine – Sarah Whyte finds a break with the folks is not too taxing at all.
When I was 20 I flew to Hamilton Island with my parents and three sisters. As we boarded our flight my mother told me matter-of-factly that this would be my last family holiday. “Twenty-year-olds don’t go on family holidays,” she said unequivocally.
That was five years ago and I’ve just reminded her of this as I sit in the back seat of my dad’s car on our third family getaway since that flight.
It’s a brave move to go away with your family when you’re 25. And one that I’m starting to regret as mum asks me if I’ve packed enough undies for the two-day trip; or when dad asks whether I have organised my tax for next year; or when my 21-year-old sister sits glued to Facebook on her phone. (My other two sisters are overseas and can’t come.)
But relax, I tell myself. We’re going to the Hunter Valley, where I will be able to go for long walks in the fresh country air; contemplate my life as I sip on a good pinot noir and …
“And I hope you’ve packed something warm because it can get very cold up here and don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
Oh god, exactly what have I gotten myself into?
It’s after 8pm when we turn into the gravelled road after the two-hour drive. It’s so dark that the bright stars and our car’s headlights are the only source of light.
As we wind down the dirt driveway, we reach a long rectangular woolshed-looking building called the Longhouse. From the outside it doesn’t look all that special. In fact, it is a woolshed. But as we slide across the giant corrugated iron door we are confronted with an architect’s dream: sparse design, a fireplace, white leather lounge, finishing timbers that come from a 130-year-old woolshed in Western Australia, and a polished cement kitchen top. Not to mention two king-size bedrooms with en suites and a 48-metre wooden communal balcony. “That’s nearly the size of an Olympic swimming pool,” my dad informs us. Thanks dad.
Tired, we light the fire and open a bottle of wine. My parents even tolerate my sister and I becoming resident DJs for the night. My sister and I exchange glances. This is shaping up to be a good weekend.
But it’s not until we wake up the next morning (after sleeping in the world’s most comfortable bed) that we truly appreciate this renovated woolshed for what it is. Outside, a 10-hectare vineyard stretches out across the property, two kangaroos happily graze nearby, while the morning sunlight streams through the six-metre ceiling-to-floor sliding glass doors. The unit has been designed so that during summer you can slide open both the glass doors and the corrugated iron doors to create a truly open space. In winter, the corrugated iron door then acts as insulation. Too clever.
The Longhouse has been open only since November and was designed by architects Jo Baker and Dean Williams. Baker at present manages the accommodation.
In the three years it took to build the Longhouse, she invited more than 50 architecture students to join her to create this three-unit masterpiece. When she pops over that day, we’re basking in the sunlight and are already onto our second bottle of shiraz . “Ten out of 10!” my mum yells a little woozily.
Earlier that day we drove to the Hunter Valley Gardens. It’s a fairyland of roses, exquisite garden displays and definitely worth a look if a wine-tasting tour is not your thing. (For the record, wine tasting is my thing, but you have to negotiate some things when you’re travelling with your green-fingered parents.)
Dinner has been booked at the award-winning Il Cacciatore – a northern Italian restaurant about 10 minutes’ drive away from the Longhouse in an open-plan house that also offers boutique accommodation. Every meal is delicious if a tad overpriced. But the best thing about travelling with your parents is they pay for the meal. Another mental note: do this again.
Our stay is not complete without a country stroll the next morning. The Longhouse property is large enough for a decent walk and the only noise we can hear is a gentle breeze blowing through gum trees. I breathe in deeply, feeling calm and at peace. I notice my parents and sister look remarkably content, too.
As we drive home my mum chats happily, dad hums to the radio and my sister talks about all the 21st parties she has coming up.
I’m already looking forward to our next family getaway.
The writer was a guest of Destination NSW and the Longhouse.
Where The Longhouse, 385 Palmers Lane, Pokolbin. 0402 101 551, thelonghouse.net.au.
Getting there Pokolbin is about two hours north of Sydney. Take the F3 Highway to Cessnock, turn right onto Vincent Street, right into Wine Country Drive, turn left into Broke Road, turn right at McDonalds Road (near Tempus Two Winery) and then turn left into Palmers Lane.
How much Full rate is $650 a night on weekends and weekday rate is $325 a night; sleeps four people.
Style statement An architect’s dream meets country bliss.
Don’t forget To bring walking shoes, groceries (there is a fully equipped and highly technical kitchen) and a great book.
Perfect for An adult family holiday or couples retreat (two double rooms).
Shame about The design of the apartment is so spectacularly modern we had issues working out how to open doors (you push them in and they pop out) and how to work the kitchen tap, which looks as though it dropped in from outer space.
Kudos The amazing view and the serenity. Light the fire, get a book and enjoy watching the kangaroos hop by your doorstep.
Take the kids Probably not. This is a true adult retreat.