I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, home at various times to the Big Pineapple, Big Shell, Big Stubby, and a fairytale castle. So when I spotted the Macadamia Castle last week, I knew we had to pull over and take a look. My husband groaned but reluctantly agreed.
We were heading home after a trip to northern New South Wales. The Macadamia Castle is on the Pacific Highway between Ballina and Bangalow, a couple of hours from Brisbane and about 15 minutes from Byron Bay. It's hard to miss, with its besser-block ramparts and giant knight out the front. I wasn't sure what it would offer, but the castle gimmick sucked me in and I wanted to find out.
Basically, the castle is a clever (and, yes, kitsch) way to promote locally grown macadamias and other produce. The front part of the building houses a cafe, gift shop and nut bar. Entry to this part of the attraction is free.
The cafe has a surprisingly good menu, with a wide range of sandwiches, burgers and wraps ($10-$17), with a good, local twist. For example, the coffee is locally grown, the sausage on a bun is a local beef and macadamia sausage, and the steak sandwich is local Scotch fillet. A little guide on the menu tells you how many 'food miles' each dish has travelled, and most items are made from produce within 100km of the castle.
You can also buy freshly made sushi (I think plenty of Japanese tourists visit the castle), and there are good vegetarian and gluten-free options for reasonable prices. The kids' menu starts at $5.50 for the local sausage-and-bun deal, and includes enough options to satisfy most fussy eaters.
But the star of the show, as far as we were concerned, were the pancakes, which are a house specialty. A stack of three will set you back $11.50, and you can get them with mango and macadamias, local bananas and honey, caramel, maple syrup, etc, etc. We got the mango and macadamia combo and everybody loved it -- even my husband. My boys also had ice-creams, and pronounced them 'great'.
Attached to the cafe is a gift shop that features lots of good macadamia produce (e.g. chocolates, pesto, and the like). For those who love fresh nuts, there's also a hot-nut bar that sells macadamias in various flavours (e.g. garlic, wasabi, honey-roasted) from $6.99/100g. We didn't try them, but we were tempted.
We were also tempted to go into the park that's attached to the castle, which features petting nurseries, mini-golf, playgrounds, a flying-fox, bird-feeding and an adventure tree-house. Alas, however, this wasn't free. At $11.99 for each of our children and $16.99 per adult, we couldn't really justify it, given that we were rushing home.
But I peeked through the fence and saw lots of families having a lovely time. The attractions looked well-cared for, the landscaping was lovely, and a little tourist train was choofing around with happy kids on board. Apparently there are also free barbecues and picnic areas in the parkland, so you can take your own food and drink in and make a day of it if you want.
Overall, the Macadamia Castle was what I would class as a really good tourist attraction of its type. Despite its kitsch exterior, the food was good, the produce was local, and the attractions behind the fence seemed worth a visit if you have younger kids (up to about 10 or 11 years, I'd say).
It's not somewhere I'd drive to specially from Brisbane but, next time we pass, I think we'll be turning off at the 'big knight' to get those pancakes again.
Went there recently with our 20 mth old boy, he loved it. And we had some fruit & macadamia bread from the cafe that was AMAZING. The coffee was a bit dissapointed. But well worth the visit. Look forward to returning again.