Thirty minutes south-west of Coffs Harbour lies the charming and picturesque township of Bellingen with its dairy farms, green rolling hills, vibrant art and markets, restaurants and cafes, boutique shops, delightful rainforest walks and river activities.
It was to the Old Butter Factory we were headed, after leaving the Pacific Highway for Waterfall Way. Breakfast was first on the agenda at the factory that is now a cafe. The building has retained the 'old' with its decor of chandeliers and statues, along with the arches and high ceilings. There's a lot of history here with it being used for different purposes. The Alma Doepel, a three masted topsail schooner, was built on the site in the early 1900's and carried timber between Bellingen, Port Macquarie and New Zealand. It now sails out of Docklands in Melbourne. The site was also once home to the largest Model T Ford dealership and has since produced bacon as well as butter, milk and cheese before becoming a storage place for machinery. In 1991, the factory was developed into the craft and tourist complex it is today.
Ye olde style furnishings
For breakfast, we each scoffed down bacon and scrambled eggs with roasted tomatoes on toast ($12.50). Huge and filling, it hit the spot along with our cappuccinos. You can get lots of additions to your bacon and eggs here with The Lot also providing sautéed mushrooms, hash brown and mild chorizo ($19.50) and The Chilli coming with spiced chats (potatoes), avocado salsa, rocket and chilli jam ($17).
No saving on calories here
If you want something a bit healthier, try the Toasted Hearthfire Macadamia Fruit Bread with ricotta and honey ($6.50) or the Gluten-free Muesli and Chia Parfait with vanilla bean yoghurt and strawberries ($12.50).
A separate lunch menu has starters and share plates from $8.50 as well as burgers and salads, BBQ barramundi, chilli garlic king prawns plus more ranging from $14.90 to $21. All good value, I thought. Then there was the cake display that I spotted. All the cakes looked fabulous, especially the mango cheesecake, which would have been great for morning or afternoon tea but even after browsing the village shops our bellies wouldn't take anymore.
The cafe has both indoor and outdoor areas, with the latter having wooden tables and bench seats adding to the charm of the place. It's licensed and open 7 days a week, from 8am-4.30pm. On Saturdays, it's even open for dinner from 6pm.
Enjoying the fresh air
Whilst the cafe food fills you up, the boutique shops and galleries can easily leave your wallet empty. There's an assortment of several interesting treasure troves here surrounding a beautiful garden courtyard.
A couple of the boutique shops from several here
Cargo Lane sources unusual gifts and furnishings with some rare finds. You'll find fossils in company with oriental storage bowls, Moroccan ceramic urns, candles, mirrors and a range of tables. Next door is Awl Leather with everything from your usual leather products, such as belts and bags, to unique opera costumes. Standouts for me were the beautiful book covers with native Australian wildlife on them.
One of several unique book covers
The Courtyard Shoppe is a mixed bag of books, pictures, clothes, jewellery and gifts. Standing outside was this wonderful mosaic piece that would have been good as a table top but at $2800 it was a bit outside my holiday budget.
If only the budget allowed
Nexus Community Gallery promotes art and local artists with exhibitions of their works whilst the Woodcraft Gallery produces Australian made timber products that are both functional and beautiful to look at. Bellingen's famous precision tuned Windsong Chimes are available here along with wooden furniture, bird sculptures, kitchenware, candelabras, young children's toys, puzzles and giftware. All so beautiful, I wish I could have bought the whole shop.
Some Australian craftmanship at its best in here
Other shops include Robins Massage, Bellingen Beauty, Creative Etch and Mac Art Jewellery. Peruse the website
for more on what they offer.
The centrepiece of the village is equally interesting with remnants of machinery from the old butter factory, flowering garden beds and shady trees, tables and benches, and wonderful pathways adorned with colourful mosaics. It's a great place for chilling and reading a book or taking a breath after your shopping.
A courtyard of history and growth
All in all, this is a lovely little haven near the river with views of the extensive hinterland where people wander in and out like there's not a care in the world to worry about. That's the charm of Bellingen and the special relaxed vibe you get here.