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Monday 5 September 2016

Port Macquarie offers something for every member of the family

Gourmets from around Australia flock to Port Macquarie each October, but it is a fun destination any time of the year.

Mum wants good shopping and maybe a spa treatment or two. Dad is keen on good restaurants and maybe the chance of a round of golf.

The kids, meanwhile, are looking for a beach and the opportunity to play with someone their own age.

There are a lot of “family friendly” destinations that fail to deliver to one or more demographics, but Port Macquarie, on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales, ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to making sure all members of the family have fun - even down to creative ways to amuse the little ones at local cellar doors.

For a start, there are those food and wine moments; seriously good coffees at Drury Lane and Meg & Me, great dinners at the Stunned Mullet and terrific charcuterie and wines by the glass at Bar Florian.

Port Macquarie is on the rise as a gourmet destination with a new wave of eateries and watering holes.

And while the region's wineries are quite low profile, producers like Cassegrain, Rose's Vineyard, Innes Lake Vineyard and Bago Vineyards have family-friendly offerings.

Innes Lake Vineyard is an ideal family destination with delicious French-accented food at Little Fish Café from chef Steve Delandemare, as well as a special $10 menu for children, who can also run around the vines and extensive gardens. For adults think dishes like veal paupiettes with ratatouille, or a Provencal take on freshly caught local seafood.

At Cassegrain, parents can wine and dine on the deck at Seasons Café and Restaurant, which also serves meals for the younger family members. There are also picnic areas and barbecue facilities here.

And the kids are well entertained in town, as well, with the Hello Koalas sculpture trail featuring 50 one-metre-high hand-painted koalas at locations including wineries, beaches, parks and hotels.

There is so much fun to be had here, from the many beaches to the wild hinterland that it is easy to forget that from 1820 to 1830, Port Macquarie was a place of punishment, a convict penal settlement that housed the worst of the worst criminals "at constant hard labour".

Today what was once a place of fear and loathing has a population fast approaching 50,000 and is one of the fastest-growing holiday destinations in Australia.

While the Mid North Coast has in the past been something of a gastronomic desert, Port Macquarie now offers a cosmopolitan selection of restaurants and bars.

Among the stars are Stunned Mullet (above), where owner Lou Perri has earned a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hat. He also owns grillhouse Scampi's on the same block.

The Stunned Mullet space is a casual one, dominated by an artwork of wine cases, but the modern Australian food with a local bent is serious and the walk-in cellar and wine list reflect a global view with a focus on quality.
There may be a beachy feel, but there is some serious technique in dishes like southern yellowfin tuna sashimi with nori ash, ginger gel, avocado, cucumber, puffed wild rice and wasabi and local mackerel with toasted rice skin, sweet corn puree, green salsa, squid ink and fennel salad.
Dessert was salty creme caramel with yuzu, spiced rum jelly, brown butter crumb and black sesame gelato; another standout. The food here is as good as anything you might find in Surry Hills or Fitzroy – the service probably more friendly.

For a few wines by the glass, cheese or charcuterie platters, or a gourmet pizza try recent newcomer Bar Florian (above) with its casual, relaxed vibe and a Venice theme.

Fusion 7 and Burger Rebellion are also extremely popular while ZeBu Bar and Grill (below) is a great spot for a couple of cocktails with keen mixologists and a choice of wood-fired pizzas or an a la carte menu.

Local producers worth visiting include Ricardoes Tomatoes, where you can pick your own strawberries or tomatoes, perhaps buy some jams and chutneys made from both, as well as enjoying a Devonshire tea at Café Red.

City kids will relish the chance to pick their own fruit treats and a genuine farm gate experience.

For those with more adult tastes, the Little Brewing Company makes a range of boutique brews and is about to open its own beer bar. Try labels like the Wicked Elf, Fastidious Bastard and Stab In The Dark.

There are two major food and wine festivals each year, a Slice of Haven at nearby Camden Haven, held each May, and Tastings on Hastings over three days each October. Try to check out local producers like Barbushco bush foods, Lorne Valley Macadamias and Comboyne Culture cheeses.

The town itself is encircled by beaches on one side and the Hastings River on the other side, and plenty of attractions are within walking distance of the many hotels and motels.

History buffs, meanwhile will enjoy the Port Macquarie Historical Museum, one of the several museums in town, the convict-built St Thomas Church and the old graveyards on Horton Street.

There are plenty of walking tracks, too, river cruises and golf are popular and there are several delightful beaches to choose from. The only Koala hospital in the world, Timbertown and the Glasshouse arts and entertainment centre are all major drawcards.

Port Macquarie is a four-hour drive north of Sydney or a one-hour flight from Sydney and Brisbane. Call 1300 303 155 or go on-line at

Tastings on Hastings (October 28-30, 2016) is the region’s biggest culinary festival and this year features celebrity chef dinners with Matt Wilkinson, a Harvest produce lunch with Matt Golinski, and culminates on the Sunday with the main event, a huge outdoor festival held on the banks of the Hastings River with over 120 local artisans, farmers, wine growers, brewers, restaurants and cafés. Now in its 14th year, the festival has a hugely expanded program including beer and wine masterclasses, oyster shucking and cooking demonstrations.You can find the full program at

Other key events include: Jazz In The Vines, held every second Sunday of the month at Bago Vineyards; Ekam Yoga Festival (September 18), a day of music and connection that features talks and classes by some of the most senior yoga teachers in Australia and Port Macquarie Beer and Cider Festival (September 24) with live music and dozens of brewers and cider makers in attendance.

Macquarie Waters (above) is an award-winning 4.5-star boutique apartment hotel that is close to cafés and restaurants. It has a heated outdoor pool and spa, spacious apartments with fully equipped kitchens, a roof deck with a hot tub and water views, and an on-site café and restaurant. There is free wifi, security parking and room service.

# This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in Nourish Magazine. 


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