the road less travelled to port stephens

Needing an escape from Covid19-induced cabin fever? Take a 3h drive to Port Stephens.

This is not our first trip to the area, but this time, it is just Mr T and I. With a couple of free nights and an urge to go the road less travelled, we set off north and decide to drive a new route, Putty Road. 

Well known by motorbike riders for its windy sections, bends and twists the road takes you on the western edge of the Hawkesbury river for 160km and north to the Hunter Valley…it is supposed to be very busy in weekends, but on a Tuesday morning, there is hardly any traffic. Admittedly it is raining quite heavily ( the east coast low is hovering ) and being the middle of winter, who in their right mind would want to take up a scenic drive? To reach the scenic Putty Road drive, we have to deal with heavy traffic in western Sydney for about 1 hour, but once on the scenic road proper,  all cars disappear and it is pretty much us and the odd council truck. The road winds its way thru bush that obviously burnt last summer. Never I have seen so many cremated trees before, though most have regrowth on the trunks. Nature obviously will recover. On the other hand, there are lots of burnt out cars around, how many from the bush fires, I don’t know.

To make the drive interesting, Mr T downloaded this camping app on his phone, Wikicamps. It shows points of interests and places to stop for a coffee or for a night. That’s how we find the Bra Tree near Colo ( don’t ask! ) as well as a couple of lookouts.

Overlooking the Colo Valley

There is a café half way between Windsor and Singleton, the only place within 70 km, and I am really looking forward to a coffee and a snack. But guess what? It is closed. I guess the app could benefit from users updates and I make a mental note to double check before we embark on our next road trip.

There aren’t that many pitstops along the way, beside basic rest areas with fireplaces and toilets. And the few camping grounds are closed for the season. It is lunch time before we find a café/bakery in Braxton, at the northern edge of the Hunter Valley, and I am starving. I really enjoy that cappuccino, the first drink since breakfast! The small curried egg and salad sandwich hits the spot, enough to continue on.

It is another 90 minutes thru partly flooded pastoral and wine country until we reach Port Stephens.

Our base is The Anchorage for the next 2 nights. Located on Corlette Point and overlooking the marina, the resort is made of 80 rooms spread between the main building and separate houses. It also boasts 2 restaurants, a bar, a spa, a pool…just what you expect from a luxury resort. 

I booked an internet special months ago, at the time hoping to take our boat and escape the rigours of Sydney’s winter. Little did I know that weather issues would be the least of our worries, replaced by COVID19 and lockdown. We nearly cancelled our stay, when a couple of weeks prior to our visit, a positive case in the town was reported. I monitored the local news, checked the hotel policy daily ( as they say it is a dynamic situation ), and Mr T kept saying that we could stay in and order room service, if we had to. That’s how keen he was to get out of the house!

The hotel called us in the morning to confirm that our booking was all good, pending both of us being in good health and our postcode not featuring on the Sydney’s hotspot  list. Actually, she was more diplomatic than that, but I was pleased they took these extra steps to ensure the safety of everyone and I can report that we passed the test. Our temperature was checked on arrival and a welcome drink of champagne offered, in that order. Dinner reservations were confirmed and it was a short drive to our room in the Corlette House.    

Though ours is the “basic” Anchorage room, it is quite spacious and with the terrace overlooking the pool and its bar ( not opened at that time of the year?). Décor is chic Hampton-style, think crips white linen, muted timber furnishing and splashes of blue. I feel like we’re on one of our previous boats. 

We have just enough time for a short drive to Anna Bay, where we stayed a year ago. I just want to see the beach, really. It looks definitely different in this wild weather, much of the sand washed up by the swell. As a result of COVID19 and the weather, none of the tour operators are there of course. The same can be said in Nelson Bay, where the town feels very empty. Then again, considering the recent outbreak, I am sure everyone is staying home.

By contrast, the hotel bar is busy though social distancing rules mean that half of the lounges are not in use ( and labelled so ) and there is plenty of space between guests. 

Likewise in the Galley Kitchen, the all-day restaurant which for now, only caters for in-house guests. Not only are tables spaced out to accommodate the 4-sqm per person rule, but the space in the rotunda usually occupied by the fine dining Wild Herring from Thursday to Sunday, is also “repurposed” to allow for safe spreading of the guests.

We start dinner with an appetiser plate of warm marinated olives, salami, goats cheese, grilled turkish bread.

I also order an entrée of buffalo mozzarella, pancetta, chilli, thyme, and sourdough gremolata because I can’t go past fresh mozzarella.

These are quite sizeable entrees, and Mr T reckons he would be very happy snacking on these all night. 

Then our main arrives. Instead of choosing separate dishes, we decided on one of the shared dishes.  The slow cooked lamb shoulder comes with roast root vegetables, redcurrant glaze, and mint sauce. It is melt-in-your-mouth soft, rich with flavour and large enough to feed 4 people. We take our time and try to eat it all, but we stand defeated. At least I do.

Mr T somehow still has room for dessert, having spotted the chocolate mousse tart on the menu. It’s a waddle back to our room and fast asleep!

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