The alluring waters and vast bushland of the Mid North Coast of NSW have long attracted holidaymakers. While bushfires and droughts have affected parts of this idyllic region, the communities are fighting back.
Next to Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana, the Cheesemaking Workshop and Deli started life more than a decade ago.
You can learn how to make creamy cheeses and buy over 100 different types at this well-loved local business.
In November, the owners were right in the thick of the bushfires. But they have persevered and are back in business.
“We feel lucky – we are fine. Things are getting back to normal and we are running our workshops again,” said Melanie Browne, daughter of owner Lyndall Dykes.
The cheese-making workshops host 12 people at a time and most are domestic and interstate visitors.
“There are heaps of things to do around the area – there are beautiful beaches nearby, fabulous walks and waterfalls in the Dorrigo National Park, different hiking trails and wineries,” she added.
The workshops are held next to the deli which sells all kinds of local and imported cheese. The family has been operating the business for 11 years and last November was the first time they had to evacuate because of the bushfires.
“Thankfully, we are fine. The winds died down and our business was not affected by the fires – we simply got lucky,” Browne said.
But the cheesemakers are dealing with supply problems as some of their suppliers in Victoria’s Gippsland region and in the Adelaide Hills are struggling to get their stock to NSW.
“While things are getting back to normal, bookings are still slow over Easter – but it’s still early days,” she adds.
Boogie Woogie down
Just 100 metres from Old Bar Beach, the Boogie Woogie Beach House normally heaves with people dancing and singing Aussie classics until the wee hours of the morning.
But like many businesses around the popular surf town, the hotel has struggled since the bushfires hit the Taree region, 300 kilometres north of Sydney, in November.
Stephen Doessel, owner of Boogie Woogie since 2014, is determined to get people back to the area. He’s offering a 30 per cent discount for stays of two nights or more in one of the boutique hotel’s seven rooms, including two family rooms.
Boogie Woogie Beach House is an iconic local attraction with each room decked out in a unique design inspired by musicians David Bowie, Nick Cave and Blondie.
Born from a love of music, the beach house advertises itself as “not your home away from home, but rather it’s what you wished your home was like”.
Its restaurant, Flow Bar, serves daily breakfast and there’s great live music on Friday evenings and at Sunday lunch.
Doessel is also offering a 20 per cent discount if you book just one night.
“We ran a Facebook campaign to win two nights’ stay with a dinner voucher, totalling $1000 to help drum up business,” he said.
“We need to encourage people to support local tourism business over Easter. We need to soften the financial blow.
“And there have not been any more cancellations, which is good.”
Come feed the chooks
The ducks, donkeys, cow and chooks are all safe at Telegraph Retreat Cottages, and owner Melanie Marshall says the kids should come and feed them.
“All the animals, including lots of birdlife, cockatoos, heron, wallabies and kangaroos, have returned. The property’s four donkeys, chickens, ducks, goat and cow are all safe. And conditions have returned to normal about six weeks ago with clear air quality,” Melanie said.
Just off the Pacific Highway near Port Macquarie, Telegraph Retreat Cottages is a boutique, private hideaway of three selfcontained cottages aimed at families and couples looking for a romantic getaway.
The cottages come with private hot tubs and fresh bread delivered to your doorstep.
If you’re keen to take a dip, the property also has a heated swimming pool, barbecue facilities and table tennis. There’s so much for families to do when they stay at the hideaway, set among native bushland.
Children can feed the chickens, ducks, goats and donkeys. And they can also collect fresh chicken eggs for scrambled eggs in the morning.
“The area is known for its big water park where you can go water skiing and do other water sports. Close by there is Ricardoes tomato and strawberry farm, plenty of lovely wineries and the Koala Hospital where children can watch koalas being fed daily in the afternoon,” Melanie said.
The bushfires came as close as 500 metres but, thank goodness, the property was unscathed.
“Travellers may still be anxious and not booking much ahead – we need them to come back,” she said.
Koalas are the superstars
Overnight, our koalas have become global stars.
The Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie is the number one tourist attraction of the region, receiving 1000 visitors a day – and almost half are international tourists.
The hospital’s recent GoFundMe has raised more than $2 million so far, with funds going towards installing drinking stations for native wildlife in burnt areas.
“These are wild koalas and the public is not allowed to handle them. There is a total of 65 koalas in the hospital – many have been admitted because of the fires, disease or dehydration,” says clinical director Cheyne Flanagan.
“When the koalas have recovered and recuperated, they are released back to their natural habitat. The koalas who were rescued in the recent fires will not be back in the wild until winter,” she added.
The hospital is a not-for-profit mostly run by volunteers who hold three tours daily. Visitors can see the koalas feeding and observe from the treatment viewing room.
Dawn’s Christmas with 2000 friends
Manager of the NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park Dawn Marchment spent Christmas with 2000 of her newest friends.
When the fires started to spook customers off, she went on the offensive and emailed hundreds of photographs, showing them how the park was still in pristine condition.
And her hard work paid off – over Christmas, she was at full capacity.
The icing on the cake: all her guests singing “Jingle Bells” by the beach.
“I am a very positive person,” said Marchment.
“I told my staff to reassure customers we are definitely open for business. The roads are open, the air is clean and there are so many things to enjoy in the area.
“We plan daytrips for our customers, suggesting they visit North Brother Mountain, go for nature walks and enjoy some of the best views of the east coast of Australia. We are also a big water-sports destination and the biggest accommodation park in Port Macquarie.”
The beachfront property runs a school-holiday kids’ club, and has a skate park, pool, fishing spots and barbecue pits. There are 300 caravan sites, 100 unpowered campsites and 45 cabins, which can sleep six.
Now Marchment is busy taking bookings for Easter and many of her loyal customers have booked ahead to Christmas this year.
Her boundless energy to deliver the “best family holiday” has been rewarded. The property won gold in the NSW Tourism Awards.
The wildlife is returning
The stunning native wompoo fruit-dove, which was displaced after the bushfires, can again be seen larking around the lush grounds of Diamond Waters Treehouse Retreat, 35 kilometres south of Port Macquarie.
“For the first time in a few weeks, we have spotted the return of the spectacular, emerald green, maroon and yellow wompoo fruit-dove which has been so uplifting,” says Kerry McFadyen, owner of the boutique luxury retreat.
“The roads are back to normal, the air quality is good, we are surrounded by five national parks and with a little bit of rain, our property has been re-energised.”
Located 600 metres from Dunbogan Beach, the retreat sits on the Camden Haven Inlet where holidaymakers can go birdwatching, boating or hiking and buy fresh blue swimmer crabs at the local co-op. The retreat is also close to the charming town of Laurieton and its cafes.
The eco-friendly, luxury accommodation consists of two houses, each sleeping up to four people. The self-catering treehouse has two open decks for watching the sun set.
The retreat had a tough time in late 2019 when the bushfires hit Crowdy Bay National Park, which lies to the south.
“Thank goodness we were spared but we had a very sobering experience in the lead-up to Christmas. We suffered a significant number of cancellations but had some visitors from the Blue Mountains who were fleeing the fires there,” she said.
Things are now picking up again.