- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 13, 2003

TAYLORS ARM, Australia — When the bottom dropped out of the beef market, Sam Aboud decided to try mustering tourists at his Bakers Creek cattle station.

Now visitors seeking tranquility and a rest from their cell phones — coverage doesn’t extend to Mr. Aboud’s rural oasis — are heading to his hidden valley.

The entrance to Bakers Creek Station looks like any other sprawling property along a winding, dusty road about an hour’s drive off Australia’s busy Pacific Highway: a Texas-style cattle gate sunk into the ground to keep the cows in and an old milk jug as a mailbox.

After driving down the path and beyond the home of Mr. Aboud and his Brazilian-born wife Irlange, the reason why the Abouds decided to create their small resort becomes apparent.

A sloping road with steep drop-offs leads visitors into a 1,000-acre valley with a manmade 18-acre lake stocked with fish, decorated with native Australian flora — most of them planted by Mr. Aboud himself — and rolling hills, some with rain forests, as a backdrop.

Mr. Aboud built six well-appointed cabins and two bunkhouses, a games room that features snooker and table tennis, a tennis court, canoes on the lake, fishing rods for the willing and a cozy restaurant.

There are no televisions or telephones in the rooms, no mobile phone towers for miles, so anyone looking for a complete break from the hectic pace of life can find it — 295 miles north of Sydney, a comfortable 5-hour drive.

“We call it our hidden valley,” says Mr. Aboud, who gave up on the cattle business about 15 years ago.

After scouring Australia for a suitable site for a small-scale tourist venture, Mr. Aboud finally realized he was already sitting on it. “We knew what we wanted to do, but we wanted a good location,” says Mr. Aboud. “We looked all over the place, then realized we had everything we wanted right here — no through roads or neighbors, and a catchment area for a lake.”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Mr. Aboud created the lake now stocked with bass and trout — he offers a free fish dinner in his restaurant to any accomplished fisherman who doesn’t catch one from the lake.

Mr. Aboud, who studied horticulture, planted most of the trees on the property grafted from his own nursery. The jack-of-all-trades even cooks the meals in the restaurant, saying he gave up about 18 months ago on “chefs who didn’t really want to work.”

The maximum capacity at Bakers Creek Station is 16 guests, but Mr. Aboud will soon build two new cabins to increase the load to 24 in an attempt to improve his small conference business. Midweek visits in the off-season could result in guests having the resort to themselves.

“We don’t mind either way,” says Mr. Aboud. “We have periods here when we are extremely busy and don’t stop for days.”

Cabins with queen-size beds, a CD player, wood stove, fully equipped kitchen and a large veranda that overlooks the lake makes the going even easier.

The privacy is delightful. The sounds of birds and the intermittent braying of a donkey were interrupted only by a visit to the cabin from chef Aboud about an hour before dinner to go over that evening’s menu.

Two hours later, wholesome steamed vegetables and Mr. Aboud’s special antipasto bread is served ahead of pork with plum sauce from the station’s fruit trees.

He also grows his owns herbs and incorporates seeds from native trees and bushes on the property into the Billabong Restaurant menu that also includes fish and steak.

Mr. Aboud started the resort as a horse-riding operation, buying a dozen horses and saddles to offer scenic escorted rides in the region. He continues to offer the horse outings, including a two-hour ride up steep terrain and valleys that take in a good chunk of the property.

The closest community of Taylors Arm has the famous “Pub with No Beer,” but very little in the way of groceries.

The Pub with No Beer, less commonly known as the 1903-built Cosmopolitan Hotel, was made famous in a song by legendary Australian country singer Slim Dusty, who lamented that wartime beer rations and the community’s thirst for the brew had combined to force the pub to regularly run out of beer.

• • •

Bakers Creek Station is in Taylors Arm, New South Wales state, in the Nambucca Valley just north of Port Macquarie. Qantas regional services have flights from Sydney to small airports at Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbor, and pickups can be organized from either of those airports. You can book by phone at 61/2-6564-2165 or via the Internet, www.bcstation.com.au.

Cabins cost from $87 to $107. Main dinner courses in the restaurant usually range from $12 to $20. Room and dinner packages can be arranged.

Take grocery and other supplies in with you as there is nothing much in the way of supermarkets until you reach the coast.

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