New South Wales
Where can you find a sprawling wonderland of grasses, a sun-drenched cafe with incredible (affordable) food, towering gumtrees, sensory bushwalks, hiking tracks, and a huge flower nursery studded with water features and a rainbow of blooms to buy? You’ll find all these things and more at the spectacular but secluded Cumberland State Forest Cafe just outside Hornsby at West Pennant Hills.
Our family is a diverse one. We have two doting grandparents, a wheelchair user, a toddler and her 30-something parents, so finding a spot that caters to all of our needs over the years has been tricky. But Cafe Salinga has become our go-to for family celebrations (think milestone birthday lunches) and as well a spot for a spontaneous weekend jaunt. Despite being nestled in the centre of breathtaking bushland, it’s 100% accessible with ample parking including designated wheelchair spots, and there’s flat walking tracks and access to the cafe for the less able and elderly. Another bonus? You can book, so you don’t have to worry about waiting in line with a squirming toddler or heading there only to be turned away.
We stopped by for lunch on Saturday and smashed through a gorgeous feast. The menu is modern Australian, with some Moroccan flavours, and by the time our meals had finished coming out the table was groaning with plates of grilled John Dory with potatoes, heirloom carrots and broccoli, a heaven-sent chicken sandwich with bacon, avocado and a gorgeously creamy aioli, a heaped plate of spiced couscous and a lentil burger. That last one would not even cross my mind as an option, but when it came out the blackened bun, crinkle-cut chips and gorgeously fluffy couscous and lentil pattie dripping with melted cheddar gave the whole table an unexpected case of food envy (good choice, husband). The coffees are rich and mellow, giving you a lovely Saturday morning lift without any caffeine jitters.
The cafe is an intimate building (helpfully warm on chillier days) but our favourite table is outside in the gorgeous sun-drenched courtyard that’s surrounded by waving green tree fronds and hanging pot plants with trailing tendrils that reach almost to the tabletops.
After a meal, we recommend grabbing another coffee to go and taking a wander through the grounds, there’s so much to see and do!
As we drove down the winding road to the cafe, we passed picnic tables, green rolling expanses of grass and ponds covered in a soft green moss, plenty to explore for families! But the most eye-catching adventure was a crowd of people of all ages (from adults to lanky teens and little kids) all gathered at the base of the towering trees of Cumberland State Forest. Their orange hardhats and complex harnesses told us they were there for a TreeTop Adventure Park climb, and sure enough, as we made our way home we saw the people clambering about in the trees! There’s courses for all ages, with Hills children’s courses for 3-9 year olds slightly more challenging for younger or less confident children. The average height of challenges is 10 metres and for adult/junior courses 25 metres. More.
Our daughter is just a toddler, so the TreeTop Adventure was a bit beyond her! However, after lunch, we were thrilled to have a more baby-friendly version of a big adventure on the Sensory Trail. The 350-metre looped walking track is flat and even, but the best part is that the track is studded with suggestions for educational or even just fun activities! From touching tree textures, listening for birdcalls or trying to spot a possum, green panels set at spots along the way are full of instructions to guide you through different ideas. The track is opposite the cafe, so we chose to take a couple of coffees to keep our hands warm and wander over for the Sensory Trail, where our baby happily ran riot along the safe and pram-friendly track. For the more adventurous, there’s also hiking and walking tracks with steeper paths set into more challenging cliffsides and with plenty to see.
We finished off our morning at Plants Plus, the nursery adjacent to Cafe Salinga. The sprawling site is bursting with gorgeous blooms to buy, plenty of experienced staff and bubbling water features that will fascinate the babies. The glorious range of plants is set against the greenery of the Cumberland Forest, making you feel you’re in a gorgeous glade! Plants Plus stocks a huge range (which made Dad happy!) – over 200 varieties of quality tubestock plants ready for garden planting, including grevilleas, callistemons, native grasses and rainforest plants to name a few. Plus they stock the favourite Koala food trees with distinct local, regional and seasonal preferences to our Sydney region.
Find all these hidden gems and more at Cafe Salinga, Cumberland State Forest, 95 Castle Hill Road, West Pennant Hills. More details here.