AT reader Natalie Bray shows us that not all ‘luxury lodges’ need cost a fortune, which she discovered on a recent family getaway to the Hunter Valley, NSW

I pointed to a floor-to-ceiling, sparkling clean sheet of glass backed by a serene bushland view. “That there is a window,” I told my three-year-old son. “Don’t run through it.” Truth be told, I had just been fooled by its appearance – so clean it looked like an open door – and knocked my own forehead into it as I unloaded our luggage into Swagman’s Rest, the smallest of three luxury lodges that make up Banjos Bushland Retreat.

The retreat was the location of the first group getaway we were to enjoy with our friends in years, and was the result of having spent those few years searching high and low for accommodation that ticked all the boxes for our rapidly expanding social group. Gone were the days where we’d spend the weekend chilling out, knocking back a few drinks and doing whatever we felt like. We are now all married or partnered, with several kiddies between us.

Banjos Bushland Retreat is set on 20 acres of private bushland two hours from Sydney, near Vacy in the beautiful Hunter Valley. Getting there is straightforward, but I’d suggest arriving in daylight as the final stretch of the journey follows a winding, narrow road. It’s a real eye opener – in more ways than one, the view is pretty amazing, too. As we settled into the two-bedroom Swagman’s Rest lodge, other friends were trying to control their excited kiddies while unpacking in the four-bedroom Brumby’s Run. The three-bedroom Clancy’s, which was only 100 metres away, may as well have been on another planet, as it was the designated “child-free” lodge for the remaining DINKs.

The five-star self-contained lodges have won numerous tourism awards, thanks to their dedicated owners. The fact that not one of our nine couples needed to leave the retreat all weekend proves the place really does provide everything. The spacious lodges are well appointed with comfortable, clean and attractive furnishings. They are stocked with all the essentials, from linen and towels to wide-screen TVs, books, magazines, board games, tea, coffee, shampoos and soap, all of which made packing for the weekend (especially with all the extras that come with packing for children) that little bit easier. Large slow-combustion wood fires provide warmth and ambience, while wrap-around verandahs that overlook spectacular valley views act as entertaining spaces, wildlife feeding stations, relaxation spots and racecourses for toddlers on tricycles.

But the most impressive feature is that every bedroom has a king bed, space for an extra single or porta-cot, and its own bathroom. No more tensions caused by adults being allocated bunks or lining up for showers. Another big tick goes to the owners for really thinking about big groups like ours, correctly predicting guests would want to congregate together at mealtimes. The largest of the lodges contained enough crockery, cutlery and glassware for everyone, and the huge dining table was certainly well used.

As for things to do: while the kids would have been perfectly happy running from lodge to lodge along the bushland paths, spotting kangaroos, possums and birds, or riding their bikes on the verandah, the Recreation Centre is for exclusive use of Banjos guests. It includes a full-sized tennis court, table tennis and billiards, giant chess set, sauna and large indoor spa with glass concertina doors, opening it up to the eucalypt scents and melodic bird calls of the outside world.

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The the adventure playground, swing set and nine-hole mini-golf course was especially popular with the kids (in fact, it put the mini-golf course near our home to shame). Unlike us, should you feel the need to exit Banjo’s during your stay there is a fine-dining restaurant, day spa and swimming pool access just a few minutes’ drive away, numerous walking trails in the surrounding 1000-acre nature reserve, and quaint little towns and popular attractions nearby.

Our stay at Banjos was a truly unique experience. Having everything you could need for a relaxing or action-packed family weekend away in one tranquil and private location made it the ideal group getaway. But after spending the weekend chasing after a toddler and a crawler, I wouldn’t mind another stay for hubby and I to truly experience that log fire, valley view, spa and peaceful location – minus the kids!

The details

Banjos Bushland Retreat, Moonabung Mountain Range, Vacy (Paterson), NSW.
Notes Swagman’s Rest has two bedrooms and costs from $105 per person per night midweek (or $58 per night per child); or $430 for a couple staying two nights. Weekends and school holidays cost from $120 per person per night ($64 per child); or $520 for a couple staying two nights.
Contact  (02) 9403 4488; banjosretreat.com.au

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