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Foodie Heaven at Port Macquarie

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					By Susie Boswell
14 May 2007

Foodie Heaven at Port Macquarie
Step aside, Noosa, back up a bit, Barossa Valley, there's a new contender on the national map
for the title of foodie leisure destination.

Port Macquarie on NSW's mid-north coast, long prized as a gentle sun, surf and fishing mecca, is
developing a unique food and wine culture.

Farm-gate experiences and wineries in the lush hinterland are flourishing, and there's a cooking
school with impeccable pedigree tucked in the undulating valleys of the munificent Hastings
River.

Fresh produce, renowned local oysters, cheese-makers, macadamia and olive groves, and chefs
who've escaped name restaurants in Sydney and London are on the rise, enjoying a heightened
profile as the Greater Port Macquarie region plumbs its fertile soil and residents' resourcefulness
to add an extra dimension to its lure for holidaymakers.

The biggest centre of population between Newcastle and the Tweed, 'Port' as it's affectionately
known, is one of the few districts in the country's south-east enjoying a bountiful water supply
that, added to a temperate climate, make it rich farming territory.

Rainfall from the slopes of the Great Divide on the coastal side of New England feeds the
Hastings, flushing vast oyster beds near the ocean mouth and hosting a healthy dolphin
population that frolics year-round amid mullet and bream in sandy shallows close to the breakwall
to the sea.

A variety of tour vessels tie up at the town wharf right beside the CBD where wide tracts of green
open space in a classic seaside setting host regular craft markets and performance events, as
well as joggers, walkers along the ocean pathways and children at play.

Immaculate beaches stretch from the North Shore on down to Tacking Point lighthouse and
further southwards to the Camden Haven; breathtaking scenic views beckon from mountain
vantage points above Point Perpendicular.

For about five months from July, picnickers at lofty Lighthouse Beach reserve can enjoy watching
whales and their cubs frolic freestyle in the warm waters below.

A short drive inland, Wauchope Farmers' Market showcases a cornucopia of produce. Locals
arrive early to descend on bright flower stalls and a colourful array of organic vegies running the
alphabet from apples to zucchinis, from fresh-dug chats to rhubarb, slender purple eggplant and
succulent kiwi fruit.

Visitors can enjoy a roving brunch, tasting camembert cultured at nearby Comboyne, preserves
and chutneys, fresh-pressed lime cordial, slivers of local-bred barbecued steak prized by
Japanese consumers, nouveau "sausage rolls" (hand-made pastries filled with pumpkin mash
and flavoured with kaffir lime), and macadamias roasted in salty flavours or lavished in lashings of
rich dark chocolate. Free cooking demonstrations include sampling the dish of the day: hotcakes
with fresh lime-lemon syrup, for example.
The market offers visitors a glimpse of what they'll find in a follow-up farm gate trip. The boutique
Bago wineries man is there, offering tastings and welcoming a visit to his vineyard. The
Ricardoes Tomatoes stall is stacked high with bunches of rich red globes of superbly sweet,
licopene-packed cocktail fruit.

A call at the Ricardoes brothers' orchard is an experience for adults and kids alike: seemingly
endless serried rows of towering vines dripping with the weight of an abundant crop. From July
when the farm diversifies, visitors can pick their own bucket of strawberries from waist-high rows
or enjoy a range of strawberry-themed treats in the cafe.

Perhaps the markets' piece de resistance is the Lorne Valley macadamias display. Charming
young tree-changers Ray and Joanne Scott spruik a free, bespoke tour of their 1400-tree farm
and factory at Kendall and the chance to enjoy nut tastings and excellent fresh cuisine at
sheltered tables set mid-orchard.

Elsewhere, The Company Farm at Gannon's Creek is a standout. A luxurious farmhouse set
high above lawns and gardens tumbling down to the Hastings hosts individually-designed cooking
demonstrations and dining in an amazing professional kitchen set inside soaring bay picture
windows framing the farm.

Owned by a rellie of the famed Neil Perry, the acreage grows organic coriander, lemon grass,
basil and a multiplicity of other fresh leaves used at Sydney's Rockpool and Sailor's Thai, among
others, plucked and carried to the city by road several times a week. Overnight or weekend stays
for small groups can be arranged.

Cassegrain Wines, showcase vineyards and a cellar door on the Pacific Highway, is the apex of
the Port Macquarie gourmet trail. There is no more keen or knowledgeable vigneron than French-
trained former Tyrell's winemaker John Cassegrain, a humble and amiable host whose
credentials are top-notch in the Australian wine-making community and who's happy to discuss
the finer points of a blend through to dusk.

The glorious green vineyard is accessed by laneways of thousands of stunning roses, bunches of
them cut for sale along with wholesale wine and a preserves section next door to the picturesque,
award-winning Ca Marche restaurant.

It's perhaps the winery's excellent reputation that has encouraged a small but growing band of
entrepreneurial restaurateurs to town. The Stunned Mullet, overlooking scenic Town Beach, is
an airy restaurant whose casual ambience for brunch and lunch belies its serious evening dining
standards.

We sampled a degustation menu of dishes the equal of Melbourne's Flower Drum or Sydney's
Tetsuya with matching wines, courtesy of two terrific now-local chefs. Soon, the restaurant will
open an annexe on the beach itself.

Capital-city chic is rivalled, too, at The Corner, a new venue with a varied modern menu, whose
antipasto and entree mixed platters and rectangle pizzas served on wooden boards are simple,
and simply scrumptious. Midtown, Fusion-7 is a labour of love for young former Paul Merrony
chef Lindsay Schwab whose fragrant laksas head an array of inventive cuisine. Don't let the
shopfront location just down from KFC fool you, Lindsay stays small to ensure rigorous quality
control.

Accommodation is on the up in Port Macquarie, too. While there's a wealth of styles from tents,
cabins and B&Bs to motels and leading hotel chains, two new stars have recently emerged.
Developed by local interests, The Observatory beats Jamie Packer's Bondi pad hands down,
standing immediately atop the beach and waves.

Nearby Macquarie Waters is similarly chic, also with spacious wraparound balconies and brilliant
views. Both offer either rooms or apartments, with bonus amenities such as sauna, hot tubs,
indoor swimming, and a "dive-in" cinema-cum-pool and both have introductory rates offering
terrific value for mid-range family budgets.

IF YOU GO:

Scheduled flights by Qantaslink operate via Sydney from all major centres; by Brindabella Air
from Brisbane, Canberra, Newcastle, Albury and Coffs Harbour. Call 13-13-13 for both airlines.

Driving time is around four hours from Sydney, six hours from Brisbane and two hours from
Newcastle. On the ground, town attractions and beaches are within walking distance.

Tailor-made hinterland touring by mini van at car-hire rates is offered by Let's Go Travel,
operated by informative local tour guide Kylie Malligan. Call 0407-667-524 or visit
http://www.letsgotravel.com.au.

Accommodation: http://www.theobservatory.net.au; http://www.mwaters.com.au.

Information on accommodation and attractions at local Visitor Information Centres or visit
http://www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au.

For a free Greater Port Macquarie DVD and holiday planner call 1300-303-155.

The writer was a guest of Greater Port Macquarie Tourism Association.

AAP

				
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