As we walk around the side of our mudbrick cottage, five grey kangaroos raise their heads and gaze at us. They don't hop away.
Ours is one of five cottages created from handmade mudbricks at Secret Valley Escape, an 80-hectare property at Little Hartley on the western edge of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales' high country. Each cottage is positioned so guests look across grassy paddocks to the escarpment.
Each one-room cottage has a kitchenette; century-old turpentine timber floors (reclaimed from Sydney's Finger Wharf); reverse-cycle airconditioning, an overhead fan and a small slow-combustion heater (wood is $15 extra).
There is a two-seater lounge in front of a flatscreen television - it only works with DVDs - and a comfortable queen-size, four-poster bed. The bathroom has a shower, with plenty of hot water, and a simple basin. Bathrobes and slippers are provided.
On the front deck of each cottage is a spa, a table for two and a small, wood-fired barbecue.
And then we ate: With a basket of fresh free-range eggs, butter and home-made strawberry jam included in the stay, we are well catered for. Our cottage has a bread maker, complete with bread mix, too. The ingredients for evening meals can be bought on site. We opt for a meal of pasta and home-made sauce - at A$35 for two people, it's a smart and easy option. The pasta meal was supposed to be accompanied by a garden salad but it never arrived. Lamb chops and gourmet sausages ($85 for a barbecue package) are also available.
Secret Valley is about 10 kilometres from the Great Western Highway turnoff, but you don't have to drive to Mount Victoria or Blackheath for lunch or dinner. Little Hartley's Ambermere Rose Inn (ambermereroseinn.com.au) is a 10-minute drive from the cottages and is open from 10am until late on Friday and Saturday nights, and from 10am to 4pm on Sundays and Mondays.
Housed in a former Cobb & Co staging post, the inn's original section was built in 1845 from convict-cut sandstone. We opt for an excellent pheasant and juniper-berry pie and a superbly cooked rare eye fillet with mushroom vinaigrette and potato au gratin.
The deal maker: The valley's appeal lies in its privacy, its sense of get-away-from-it-all weekend romance, and the delicious ambience of relaxing in the outdoor spa. While snuggling up inside in front of the fire is fun in winter, Secret Valley is almost certainly a better destination in warmer seasons.
Stepping out: Hartley Historic Site is a beautifully preserved 19th-century village, with guided tours available (ask at the on-site information centre). There are also bushwalks of historic note from the time of the early explorers. These include Lawsons Long Alley, Lockyer's Pass and Berghofer's Pass.
If you have a four-wheel-drive and a copy of the excellent Boiling Billy publication 4WD Treks Close to Sydney, explore little-known areas nearby, such as the Six Foot Track to Cox's River and the Glow Worm Tunnel, Lost City and the fascinating old oil-shale town of Newnes.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Secret Valley Escape
Address 548 Blackheath Creek Road, Little Hartley.
The verdict A pricey romantic getaway.
Price From NZ$550 for two nights midweek; NZ$700 two-night weekends.
Bookings Phone (02) 4787 1967 or 0413 888 999; see secretvalleyescape.com.
Getting there From Sydney, take the Great Western Highway, descend Victoria Pass, turn left at Cox's River Road, and left again into Blackheath Creek Road. Then follow the signs.
Perfect for A bush getaway.
Wheelchair access No.
While you're there Drive to Blackheath and enjoy a meal at one of the excellent Good Food Guide-listed restaurants; spend a day at the Jenolan Caves.
- The Age
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