The past few months may have left us wishing we could step back in time… to a time where it was safe again. Whilst space travel supposedly isn’t that far away, time travel is elusive unless you find yourself in a ‘safecation’ in a National park just minutes from Manly. This corner of the world where time stands still.
What’s now branded as ‘Q Station used’ to be the quarantine station for NSW immigrants from the 1830’s. As recently at 1984 ships suspected to be containing contagious diseases were stopped inside North Head to offload passengers (and crew) into quarantine. Perhaps its rather ironic in these current COVID times that we choose to stay in a quarantine station of our own free will!
Accommodation – Staff Cottage
With three classes of accommodation (in keeping with its history) you can chose from 1st, 2nd or third class. Our home for the night is Cottage S6. Set up high on the hill. We tip toe over the uneven cobblestones and unlock the front door. It’s a little eerie – part museum part holiday home. The narrow corridor stretches the length of the house.
The bathroom is off to the right. Its huge, with a stand alone claw footed bath overlooking magnificent water views.
The Kitchen – If you needed a reminder of the era, the kitchen says it all. It looks like something out of Downtown Abbey. Cupboards with layers and layers of white paint with original handles, metal chairs, wooden shelving and 21st Century perks that look weirdly, but welcomely out of place – hello coffee pod machine and microwave! Three bedrooms sit off the corridor, white linens, heritage side lamps and touches like old transistor radios, pine cones and miniature ships carved from wood add personality.
The Lounge – The lounge is cute as a button. Picture windows and an old black leather sofa crackled with age and stacked with soft fabric cushions. An old sea-chest doubles as a coffee table, and a magnificent fireplace dominates the room which given the cold would have been a welcome feature to have roaring away.
The Conservatory – The last room is one which makes you go oooohhhhh. A skinny conservatory stretches the width of the cottage – is basking in afternoon sunshine, 180 degree views of the sparkling harbour with a charming 2-seater wicker bench seat accompanied by high tables and chairs. Whilst the world have changed so much in 150 years, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to recognise the human enjoyment of a view like this – it’s something which crosses time and connects you to whoever stared at this view and lived in this house years ago.
The Boiler House Kitchen & Bar
A courtesy bus picks us up, which is a better option than a steep 10-minute walk downwards to the water’s edge on such a dark chilly night. The Boiler House is a welcome sight, glowing in the darkness.
It’s a stunning two level dining space with dining tables positioned in the wrap around gallery above. This is fabulous for foodie voyers who can peer over into the kitchen gallery below. We order a glass of sparkling De Beeaurepaire ‘Blanchefleur’ from Rylestone.
Incoming Executive Chef Griffith Pamment (ex Rockpool, Bills, Sean’s Panorama and most recently, Longrain) hits his straps early with a savoury twist on hummus using fermented butternuts. Its deep gold in colour, oozing with buttery toasted pinenuts simply waiting to be scooped up with warm yoghurt flatbreads.
The falafel is a tooth crunching affair and all the better for a bit of jaw action v chickpea battle served on green tahini, with a wedge of lemon. Potted prawns would not normally have us this excited, but these are juicy, sweet and unctuous especially when paired with a creamy celeriac remoulade. The octopus slightly misses the mark – its slow cooking pushing it into mushy, powdery territory, but its balanced with a spicy muhammara and has nice acidity and sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. Its hard to go past a wine called ‘Frisky Farmer’ especially when its an organic chardonnay. Its light on oak but big on fruit. Mains of slow cooked beef cheek on bed of creamy polenta and a narrow slice of oh so crispy ocean trout is partnered with cauliflower two ways, first sun tanned florets, second a silky swoosh of creamed cauliflower topped with podded peas and a flurry of salad greens. We run out of time as our 8pm Ghost tour is about to depart so a swiftly scoff (that’s the politest way of describing it) a creamy coconut panna cotta acompanied by cooked rhubarb and raspberries.
The Ghost Tour
By now we have made friends with a few fellow diners, who like us, tried to defiantely enjoy the last of our meal and wines. We don hats, gloves and gather outside where our tour guide greets us. We are masked up and a few of our group volunteer to hold electro-magnetic meters which flicker green to red (ie we can feel the force Luke!) others carry lanterns. Its bitterly cold. We have a mixed group of sceptics, believers, and pranksters. As the night goes on, whether its a tap on your shoulder or a jump out behind the showers, somehow this tour brings out some big personalities! We listen to the darker side of quarantine life, as we walk through different parts of the hospital we are asked ‘do we feel different? tingles? Change in atmosphere or temperature?’ A corner bed is pointed out as stories of past tours, other experiences and sightings of ghosts are retold. We move to the laundry where clothes and bags were treated to 150 degree heat to get rid of bugs, and the showers where chemicals added to the water meant that your skin melted off a few days later. Five hundred are recorded as dead, but the lkely number is over two thousand. The most haunted and violent cottage is one some of the guides won’t go in alone as we hear how a man called Dave and a few others had violent, evil lives inside the cottage walls. The electronic meters are going bonkers at this point, flashing red every time his name was called. Mmmm taxi???
It’s a new dawn – breakfast at The Boilerhouse
After a quiet night sleep under a night’s sky where you can see the stars (as there are little to no lights), we head for breakfast. Coffee, a fruit, a scrambled egg breakfast roll along with porridge us up for a bit of exploring. With no cars allowed, the narrow lanes weave up and down the hillside which weaves around a myriad of houses, walkways, historic buildings and opens into a beach to explore. From this vantage point we can see Balmoral, the headlands and off to Manly. It feels like a world that time forgot, except for the fact that the Manly ferries and the odd plane in the sky that bring you back to the present.
The Addiction Factor – There is a range of accommodation and price points to suit all. The most remarkable thing is how close it is to busy city life yet how it transports you back in time. A nicely chosen Hently Farm wine and a note left in the kitchen from the team was a lovely welcome.
To get us more Addicted – In winter the cottages are cold. With heaters only in the bedrooms and lounge – a trip to the bathroom is a chilly one! Bring an extra doona and warm thermals.