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Blue-sky thinking on the Central Coast

November 24, 2014 - Central Coast

There’s something a little bit wicked about sneaking off on a Sunday for a jaunt up to the Central Coast. While most Sydney-siders are returning to their busy city lives after a weekend away, we’re blasting Triple J, playing spotto with Jacaranda trees and feeling a little bit smug about skiving off work and school in favour of play.
Despite it being a flat-out scorcher of a day, we’ve somehow managed to beat the heat and file away a few happy family memories in the back catalogue for future reference.
A Web of Intrigue: 
The first stop on our traipse-around the Central Coast, on The Legendary Pacific Coast, was The Australian Reptile Park in Somersby, just one hour’s north from Sydney.  What the children learnt at this hands-on zoo today extends beyond anything they might learn from a textbook and then some. As well as enhancing our understanding of the eight-legged inhabitants of Spider World, the experience of scurrying around this cave of creepy crawlies saw me outed as an arachnophobe from the get-go. The displays are interactive and really fun, informative and occasionally freaky. I now know how to identify various species of deadly incy-wincy spiders and confirm my reaction when confronted with hairy tarantulas is, as suspected, one of abject terror (this is despite the safety net that is the inch-thick glass). What the children loved most about this den of predatory arachnids was what they absorbed about the park’s long association with the production of funnel-web spider venoms for Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.
If you arrive at 9.45am, you can even observe the funnel-webs being milked. Since the advent of the antivenom in 1980 there have been no further deaths attributed to bites from this – the world’s deadliest spider.
Snakes alive
Other highlights of the park included seeing venomous snakes, a legless lizard, learning about the park’s efforts to save the iconic Tassie devil, having our photos taken with Polly, the koala, hand-feeding the kangaroos, staring in awe at Hugo, the giant Galapagos tortoise and Elvis, NSW’s largest crocodile and watching the zookeepers feed a gang of ‘hangry’ gators.
After enjoying a welcome picnic of sandwiches and fruit at the Hard Croc Cafe, we motor back out on the highway and head to the Glenworth Valley, which is heaven for outdoor adventurers. Despite being scheduled to go horseriding, the heat flowing down into the valley precludes this an option as the engines of both horses and humans are overheating. According to my phone, it’s 42 degrees in the shade. So the suggestion to go kayaking is the kind of blue-sky thinking that Australia’s largest outdoor adventure centres is renowned for.
Too cool for school
After patting a few palaminos, we follow our guide James on his quad bike spiralling through the grey green eucalyptus forest until we reach a pretty crook of the Popran Creek. After dragging our kayaks down onto the river bank, we all flop into the mineral-rich water for a swim that can be best described as life-changing, with the creek a delicious mix of rainwater from the mangroves and saltwater from the Hawkesbury. I know it’s not rational, but with the alligator feeding frenzy still front-of-mind, I keep a close eye out for any croc-ologs.
After an hour slicing through the silky water, we board the family wagon for the short drive to Umina, which is still so accessible from Sydney. “You say You Miner, I say You Meena,” says my husband, which prompts a Dad Joke Alert from the back.
Fun, fun and then some
The air smells delicious at the Ocean Beach Holiday Park, briny from the sea and fragrant with the blossoms of the flowering gums. Our cabin is clean and comfortable and has a Honey I Shrunk The Holiday House in the Hamptons vibe. This is the sort of place that is purpose-built for kids and parents because of ‘the Big 4′ quinella: jumping pillows, waterpark, half-size tennis courts and adventure playground.
While our boys, aged 10 and 11, affix their faces into the joyful uproar position for the afternoon – doing backflips on the inflatable pillows, racing each other on pimped-up go-karts and doing potentially illegal bombies into the pool, we then stroll along Umina Beach until we hit the local surf club, where, for the sum of $6 we enjoy sundown at the session the locals call ‘Sips’.
The park is protected by Broken Bay at the southern end of the Central Coast and the children have pinky-sweared we will enjoy the 4km return journey again along the talcum-soft sands tomorrow morning.
Pub Grub at Patonga
Any pub awarded Best Regional Pub and a whopping three schooners by Fairfax’s Pub Food Guide is worth travelling to. Patonga means ‘little oyster’ in the Guringai people’s language, whose country stretched from the north side of Port Jackson to the southern end of Lake Macquarie.
While sitting in the beer garden at the Patonga Hotel  we watch as a boy and his father walk past with their fishing gear, their faces tanned by the sun, a couple of families arrive with their children dressed in their PJs and a table of touros sit obsessing over the view.
We order burgers for the kids, grilled barramundi for the grown-ups and rejoice at just how sedate this setting is, how relaxed and reasonable the staff are and how seductive the overall experience is. While we can see Palmie and the City of Sydney in the distance, it feels like we are a world away. Worth noting is that, from Patonga,  you can walk to Pearl Beach via a fire trail, a picturesque trip that will take about 2 hours. It’s another reason to return to this stretch of coastline, which has now been smudged away with dusk. Do join us tomorrow as we explore Avoca, Kincumber and Terrigal.