On the surface, Gloucester is a fairly typical NSW country town. But scratch that surface and you will find people who want to live here, cafes that serve killer coffee, parks that honour the indigenous history and farmers’ markets that celebrate produce plucked straight from the Earth.
To get a feel for the town, we start by popping into the tourist information office to pick up a map of its many mosaics, which tell a story about the coterie of creative folk who call the area home. By following the trail, visitors can learn about the first settlers, the iconic butter factory, the steam trains, gold mining and timber industries and about the bushranger, Thunderbolt, who rode tall in the saddle through the countryside in the early days.
The Gloucester Boomerang Discovery Walk starts in the town’s main drag, which has been taken over by 30 artists live-painting for Art in the Street. From here, the sign-posted trail veers toward the direction of the liquidambar trees in Centenarians’ Row before arcing around the Bunyah Bunyah Pines and rambling down to the river. Spend some time reading the sign in Minimbah Gardens, which acknowledges the Worimi people, the traditional custodians of the land.
After a restorative cup of coffee at Roadie’s Café, we check out of our comfortable homestead, at 37 Queen, and head for Tourist Drive 2, a.k.a The Bucketts Way. Keep your eyes peeled for roadside stalls selling eggs, nuts, fruit or vegetables and for the boutique vineyards that come highly recommended by locals, some of whom help hand-pick the grapes that produce their small vintages. Smackbang between Gloucester and Taree is the leafy village of Krambach, where, about 1km out of town, we climb into the hillside toward King Creek Retreat
We all stop talking when we arrive at the retreat, struck by the fabulous spectacle of tall towering tipis, the jangling of wind chimes and creak of forest birds. We are soon greeted by Frodo the dog and owner Carla Hickman, who is passionate about Native American Indian culture.
The retreat offers a group glamping experience aimed at really immersing guests in the bush experience. Carla breeds horses and also has a resident pony, Hopey, which she uses, with great effect, to put children and parents at ease. Despite being reluctant, at first, to even get close to the pony, my two city boys are soon feeling soothed by its liquid brown eyes and gentle manner, and take to patting the sweet-natured pony, putting their hands, gently on its neck and, at Carla’s urging, even painting the pony in neon-bright colours. The paint-the-horse tradition is one used by Native American Indians when they went to war, says Carla. Thankfully, the only conflict we are set to experience this afternoon and evening is the Battle of the Bands that is the annual Akoostik Festival, in nearby Wingham.
After a fantastic and filling lunch – chicken burgers, Greek salad with grilled lamb and haloumi and chicken on spinach wraps – at Bent on Food, we arrive at Akoostik just in time to see legendary ‘90s rocker Floyd Vincent, the dirty slide blues of the Swamp Stompers and Harry Hookey’s gravelly alt folk vibe.
There’s also live music back at Bent on Food, where we return for top-notch nosh while tapping our feet to Up in Annie’s Room, one of the headline acts at the three-day music festival. When night falls, we return for a wifi-free wigwam around a pit fire. It’s here, under a sky that has become a pin cushion, spiked with stars, that we contemplate the many wonderful reasons to return to the Manning Valley, on The Legendary Pacific Coast.