After taking a leisurely six nights to make our way up to Sydney, we completely reversed the strategy and had a one night stopover on the way home. Surprisingly, the element of the trip that I had feared the most (three restless kids cooped up in the car) panned out to be the most relaxing segments, and the part I had assumed would be smooth (the day break in between each drive) proved our most difficult.
The five and a half hour drive flew by, attributed predominantly to the thoughtful and timely surprises packed by Grandma Pat to break up the trip. Dave and I kept sneaking glances in the rearview mirror to find Hudson quietly revving his new monster trucks over the arm rest of his car seat, and Eli creating worlds for his cars and dinosaurs, complete with different voices and storylines.
It also helped that our GPS completely over-estimated the time it would take to arrive at our out of the way destination near Corowa. Before we knew it, we had pulled up to the Oakleigh Hideaway Rural Retreat and had parked in the cool shadow of the enormous Bay tree.
The rustic homestead had oodles of character. With the original structure built in the late 1800’s, the Piggin family had expanded the house a number of times, leading to a slightly ‘rabbit warren’ feel to the layout, which I found completely magical. The place was divided into two self-contained retreats, each with four bedrooms and a kitchen. Our side was the Western half and the other managed to accommodate a rather large extended family, numbering at least eight children who traipsed around in little huddles exploring, swimming, creating makeshift slides and worlds together to remember for years to come.
Dave made his way with some urgency to the narrow TV room and flicked the channel to the Grand Final game. The boys explored the house, trying on hats and dancing with canes, making Ivy laugh hysterically with their antics.
In honour of our last night of the trip we had decided to try a special dinner in Corowa, and piled back into the car again. The town was absolutely lovely in the shadowed heat of late afternoon, towering trees and whitewashed heritage buildings. The only downside was that our dinner schedule was an hour out of sync with the bistros so we had to settle on some take-home Chicken Korma and Beef Madras instead.
We squeezed into the booth seats in the creaky dining hall and shared our last meal of the adventure together, savouring Murray River Salted Caramel Connoisseur ice creams for dessert. The boys settled remarkably well, Eli in the sunroom along the window, and Hudson tucked into an enormous bed with a silken canopy encasing his tiny body. Dave and I were spent, with countless broken sleeps and the magnitude of the wedding now behind us, as well as a flu that had found me half way through the trip. We crashed early that night, knowing we would also have to deal with the loss of another hour to the time change.
Morning came and brought with it a heavy heat and swarms of blowflies. The cool and peace of the homestead shifting sharply as the screen doors creakily swung shut behind us. Pack up was now a well-practiced affair as we each took turns exploring the property with the kids while the other packed or stacked bags into the car. On the road again, we managed to almost drive straight through, stopping only for drive-thru and a quick toilet break.
I had an epiphany on the way home about the magic of ‘not quite seeing everything’ a place has to offer. The incredible pull of nostalgia that comes with suspecting you only got to uncover a glimpse of a town or location and if you were to return there would be hours of excitement just waiting to be unpacked. A one night stay really does contain a magnitude of hours to feel as if you have tasted the atmosphere without burning through the whimsical illusion.
As we entered our estate, it was as if the seasons had shifted while we were away. Trees hanging heavy with leaves barely visible when we left, an enormous expanse of land cleared ready for the next swathe of houses, and blossoms opening eagerly to the sunlight. Even stepping through the front door felt foreign, the black countertops and white cupboards momentarily disorienting us, as for a moment it felt as if we were arriving at our next stay, bringing chaos and life back into the structure as we entered. Even Eli remarked “We have black doors, Mum, I didn’t know that!”
While the pull of adventure will never fully be stifled, it feels absolutely amazing to be home. Back to rhythms and routines that are familiar, drawers that hold exactly what I need, a toy room that holds hours of quiet play and entertainment and a garden that is bursting with promise. It’s the little things, like being able to wash up with gloves again, cook with proper vegetables, and the magic of feeling overwhelmed with the incredible wealth we have- a house to inhabit, food to eat, and a family to share it all with.