A couple of weeks ago, I needed to go to Lithgow for my Aunty's funeral. I almost never go to funerals because I am such a sook even if I wasn't close to the person, but my Aunty was special to me so not only did I want to go, but I wanted my kids to come for some moral support.
Of course the kids could think of many things they would rather be doing, so I bribed them with a holiday - as you know, I don't get enough of them.
Ever since I have known, my Aunty Jean lived in 'the old manse', in Bowenfels (near Lithgow). Built around the 1860's, I think, I fondly remember it's thick stone walls, wide verandah, and my Uncle Tom, always standing with his back to the fireplace, whether there was a fire in it or not.
As you can imagine, I've visited Lithgow so many times over the years - my parents even lived there for a while - but not only had I never been to the glow worm tunnel, I didn't even know it existed!
Mind you, it's not in the most obvious place.
It's about 40kms down a dirt road, then a brisk couple more kms walk. The afternoon was cold, but clear, and the walk was punctuated by unique bird sounds.
The tunnel itself is really dark (derr), so you need a torch just to make your way into it a bit. Once away from the entrance, with the torches off, it only took our eyes a few minutes to adjust and reveal the twinkling larvae.
It's pretty magical.
So is the composting toilet in the car park, but not the same way. The acrid, vomit-inducing smell lingered with me like some otherworldly beast.
After bouncing back along the dirt road, we turned the wheel towards Orange, guided by an impressive orange sky. I mused that the setting sun in that vast western sky was the reason for the name, but I found out later it was because of a Dutch connection.
It was evening when we got there, and checked into our hotel, Duntryleague - a majestic building on the golf course, built in 1876 by James Dalton, the son of an Irish convict - all huge doorways, high ceilings, and stained glass.
The beds were super comfortable, the room was warm, and the staff were very friendly. The only negative I can raise is that I could hear all of my neighbour's discussions in their bathroom, from my bathroom, and I thank my lucky stars that they didn't decide to get romantic. This was only a problem while I was in the bathroom mind you, I didn't hear anything with the door closed.
I know I said I wanted to take the kids on a holiday, but I chose Orange as a destination mainly becaause I wanted to have another meal at the Bodhi Garden. I had stumbled on this restaurant about four years ago quite fortuitously. Staying the night in Orange, and wanting some dinner, I combed the main street for options. The usual fare take-away shops were not something I wanted, so in desperation I settled for the Chinese restaurant on the premise that at least I know what I'd be getting.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
It wasn't until I scanned the menu that I realised there was no meat (no, I hadn't read the big sign out the front) but as I tend to do, I convinced the kids to 'try something new and add another day to their lives'.
I'm so glad we did, because it was good enough for me to return to Orange for!
It's not going to win many interior design awards, but the service is friendly (our waitress, India, was lovely)
and the food is spectacular.
No meat? You wouldn't have known if I hadn't told you.
Amongst other things, we ordered Gow Gee, Sweet Corn Soup, Crispy Taro Parcels,
these pretty Steamed Buns,
Sweet Potato Balls, Mushroom Batons,
and Spring Rolls for dessert.
That's right. Ice-cream filled spring rolls with sweet syrup. So yummy!
Duntryleague offered up a brisk morning
With breakfast overlooking the golf course.
I couldn't go to Orange without a little wine tasting. The kids love that (no, they don't really, but for the most part, if it's brief enough they will tolerate it).
First stop was at Borrodell. I liked the chardonnay (rich, with a light finish) and wished I could stay an extra day, because I could have gone truffle hunting if I had. The kids made me promise to take them a-truffleing next year.
Driving down a dirt road, we see this corgi dog running towards us as fast as those stumpy legs would carry him (it), so we slowed down, then stopped. So did the dog. Belle opened the back door to say hello, and in hopped the dog.
Five minutes of cuddles and pats, the dog was reluctantly ejected, and kept heading along the road as if nothing had happened. Too cute!
Cargo Road Winery had this fantastic wood burner. I have a half one of these as a fire pit outside, but I've never seen one like this. I love it.
Stockman's Ridge had some animals for the kids to 'play' with. This pig looks likeable in the photo, but holey moley, the squeals of three of them had a thousand horror movies swimming in my head - not for the faint hearted.
Last winery was a late stop at Turner's. How could I not? Visually, it wasn't my namesake winery of dreams, but I ended up with a case of very drinkable chardonnay, at $8 a bottle, so I'm not complaining.
We left Orange and headed for the hills, actually the end of the hills, Hill End, and my promise to the kids of gold panning.
We got to Hosies B & B at night (that's a bit of a habit) excited about the open fire in our bedroom. Like all of Hill End, Hosies is antique. The bathroom is a shared facility downstairs (barefoot, post-shower in the winter morning air, those tiles would have given me frostbite for sure, if I'd taried) and the lounge area is a friendly hub of tales of exploring, and gold fossicking.
It's cosy, and warm, and a little run down in the best of possible ways. National Parks owns the historic town of Hill End, which is great in principal, but in practice means it's residents' hands are tied when it comes to issues of maintenece and upgrades, and National Parks lacks the funds to input themselves.
Not much choice for dinner. There's the pub.
So we ate at the pub, where the food was substantial, and there were drinks, and a pool table
Then it was back to that open fire in the bedroom. Love that!
Next morning (after an overnight in the minuses) we had a pretty frost. The girls were straight out there, ready to play before the sun got to it.
Love the morning sun on lacework verandahs.
Soft light and sun flare morning.
Breakfast is included, and cooked to order by Suzanne, then served at shared tables downstairs. All delicious! Suzanne then happily shares her local knowledge about the area, and it's many resident artists. Hill End is small, but it is a town you could stay in and really explore over a few days.
We bought some gold pans and took a hot tip about where to pan.
Hot tip. Freezing air and water.
We tried for about two hours, but no luck. The biggest event was when Evan (against my stern advice) threw the pan to me, over the water, and then had to strip off to go in and get it from the icy pool.
And it's moments like those that make a family holiday so much more special than any other holiday.