WHEN we go on holidays we like to get away from it all.
The further off the beaten track the better. No phone reception, perfect. Four-wheel-drive only, ideal.
So, there's off the grid, then there's West Kunderang Recreational Retreat where we spent Christmas this year.
The private property "West Kunderang" where the Recreational Retreat is located, is buried deep in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, south east of Armidale.
To get there it's an hour drive from Armidale to Raspberry Road along sealed and unsealed roads. Then it's a 41km drive mainly through the Styx River State Forest down into the West Kunderang Recreational Retreat.
We work our way through forestry catching glimpses of impressive mountains and gorges. At the end, we wind down a mountain into a green valley.
The 10,000 acre West Kunderang Recreational Retreat is nestled in the gorge between two forested mountains.
Only 3000 acres of the property is grazing and it is along the spectacular Macleay River that the McRae family have opened up a section of their magnificent property to campers.
The property has been in the family for nearly 50 years.
Shearing contractor and grazier, John McRae, bought the property in 1972. He and his wife Esma removed the Jeogla dance hall rebuilding it on the site, tacking on a bathroom.
The little farmhouse has no electricity. These days there are solar panels that power any appliances and the satellite phone.
There are a couple of sheds and some cattle yards.
While no one has lived permanently at the property since the late 1870s, the retreat is open to campers all year round.
As we enter the property we pass calves snoozing in the shade of the trees while their mothers graze nearby.
A sign directs us to sign in at the cabin.
We are met by hostess Cindy, John and Esma's oldest daughter who now manages the property with her partner Max.
She invites us to sit down at the table on their veranda where we meet Esma who has come down from Armidale to spend Christmas.
She tells us about the rainforest we can explore and how we should cross the river and look back at the property because this is the best place to fully appreciate its beauty.
Cindy explains safety procedures (it's a 40 minute helicopter flight from Tamworth if there is an emergency) and hands us detailed maps of the property and campsites before pointing out our campsite and opening the gate for us.
Each campsite is 100m or more apart and each has a picnic table, sink, barbeque, water tank, ensuite toilet and firewood supplied.
We have the pleasure of being assigned their Riverview campsite. It overlooks the mighty Macleay River from beneath large shady trees.
On the first night we listen to thunder rumbling on the other side of the range. After a few hours it crosses, illuminating the valley with each strike of lightning. We sit under our awning watching our spluttering fire while the storm rages around us.
The next morning the storm gives way to sunshine. After opening our Christmas presents we go down to the river. The sun is gloriously warm and the river refreshingly cold.
The property fronts 10km of the Macleay river, all of which campers can explore on foot or by canoe. It is also ideal for bass fishing.
After skipping stones and exploring the rapids we come back for lunch, meeting Cindy who has brought us a gift of Esma's homemade Christmas cake. I'm not ashamed to say I ate three of the four pieces!
Keen to try his hand at bass fishing, my husband grabs his fishing rod and heads for the river but another storm rolls in. It sticks around all afternoon, misting the kids as they ride their new scooter and bike around the campsite.
A grazing property, a few of the campsites share the same paddock as a herd of beef cattle and five horses.
Twice a day, the horses stick their noses into our gazebo looking for bread or an apple.
The rain settles and continues all night and all the next day. It breaks long enough for us to go down the river for more swims and exploration and keeps us blissfully cool the rest of the time.
After four fantastic days and nights, we grudgingly pack up. The retreat is fully booked now for the next week or so. We were lucky to get the few days we got.
We say goodbye to Cindy and her family and make our way out of the West Kunderang Recreational Retreat all the while marvelling at what an amazing piece of property it is and how lucky we are that the McRae family invite anyone to come and enjoy it.
If it was mine, I'd be locking the gate and keeping it all for myself.
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