Somewhere between the world of camping, with drop toilets and sleeping under the stars, and the world of Club Med with programmed activities 24/7 and a personal butler, is the humble farm-stay.
Perfect for families with children, the farm stay is a chance to teach city kids about life on the farm, without having to actually live on a farm, and while decidedly three-star as far as luxuries go, it is definitely a five-star experience to share with your family.
Pemberton Farm Chalets are located about one kilometre north of the town of Pemberton, which is 335km south of Perth. Set in natural bushland, this family-friendly holiday melds the world of the farm with that of the Aussie bush, as demonstrated by the resident kangaroo who spends his time in the paddock hugging sheep.
Accommodation is simple, with around a dozen two-bedroom chalets lining a grassy strip alongside the main paddock. In clusters of two, these chalets all sleep six people, with a queen bed and four bunks. As well as all the basic facilities, each chalet has a TV (that plays DVDs), gas BBQ, wood-burning fireplace and electric blankets for those frosty winter mornings. The 2-bed chalets all share access to a laundry.
The two-bedroom chalets are clustered in groups of two
Although with a beautiful view over the paddock and Pemberton Valley (and even in the middle of summer, you can wake up to see the valley full of mist), there is not a lot of privacy in some of the chalets, as everyone comes up the same path to feed the animals. Ask for one of the chalets at the far end, for a bit more privacy.
The private four bedroom chalet which sleeps ten people
For larger groups, there is the four bedroom chalet which sleeps up to 10. With four bedrooms it is perfect for two families who wish to share a holiday, and the house is large enough to never feel hemmed in. The larger four-bedroom house is set apart from the rest of the chalets, making it more private, although it is still less than a minute or two to walk to the main paddock. With views of the bushland from its raised verandah, it is the perfect place to have a BBQ and enjoy the evening meal. The larger chalet also has a spa, shower and two toilets as well as its own laundry.
All the chalets share a number of other facilities including a salt water swimming pool, tennis court, trampoline and adventure playground. Racquets, balls, scooters and other toys are left for guests to use at their leisure.
For kids, the primary attraction is feeding the animals. Hens and their chicks free-range around the property, as does a male peacock and the occasional wild kangaroo. Guinea pigs and bunnies share a shed, while the main paddock houses sheep, cows, donkeys, a kangaroo, goats and some really grumpy horses. Depending on the time of year there may also be joeys, calves and lambs.
Unlike some other farm stays, there are few organised activities at Pemberton Farm Chalets. When you hear the sound of Farmer Mike's little tractor around 8.30am in the morning it means it is time to dash up to the paddock and feed the animals some hay and pellets. Otherwise, kids help themselves to the massive orange bags of carrots in the main shed, and haul them down to the paddocks to feed to the animals. At busy times, the carrots can run out, so grab a few extra in the morning so the kids can feed the animals again in the evening.
Farm stays are not for the precious. There is dirt, poo, ditches, dust, rocks, roaming animals, machinery, nails and broken things everywhere. The water comes from the sky not the pipes, and the colour of the bath before you wash the kids, is probably what it looks like after you wash the kids in Perth scheme water. After they have spent the day digging ditches at Naturescape. In other words, it can be quite brown: completely harmless but perhaps save the washing til you get home, and pop into Pemberton IGA for some bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing.
The Farm Stay would be perfect for kids of all ages, except perhaps those under two. With gravel roads that are very slippery, and plenty of natural hazards, it would be a rather stressful trip for small babies who are crawling or still learning to walk. Kids under three would probably need help with the adventure playground, and the trampoline is old-style, with no protective net. This is not a holiday for parents who need to wrap their kids in cotton wool.
Older kids will be happy to hang out in the pool and in the tennis court, smaller kids will be amused by the animals.
What should you bring? Apart from all your food, bring old clothes and old shoes (thongs can be a bit slippery on the gravel). If you don't have your own, wellies are provided in winter (a necessity with the mud) and in summer you should bring a hat and some bug spray.
If you're a light sleeper, bring ear plugs as you may be serenaded to sleep (or awake) with the ear-piercing honk of a donkey or dawn-loving rooster. Bring DVDs (or you can hire some from Farmer Mike) and even in the middle of summer, don't forget to pack a jumper.
Pemberton Farm Chalets proved to be an awesome family adventure. Dirty and loud at times, but seeing the joy on the kids faces when they were feeding the animals was worth it.
Cost:prices start at $115 per night (off-peak) for a standard cabin for two people up to $245 per night (peak times) for the large cabin for six people. Additional fees for extra people ($20 adults/$15 kids) and there are mid-week specials