Every year my husband and I take a weekend off by ourselves WITHOUT THE CHILDREN! I know. Crazy right.
We justify this indulgence because I have an amazing mum and dad who love looking after our kids (they're six and eight), and will happily take them over the weekend.
In the beginning, I used to feel really guilty - I have MAJOR mother guilt and two days is the longest I have ever left them. I also realised it was because ever since becoming a mum I feel anxious getting on planes without them. What if it crashes and I leave them without a mother? The guilt swallows me up and I could never relax. The first time we flew to Byron Bay I actually made us come home early, that's how guilty I felt.
Now I've realised the trick is to drive somewhere, so I don't have the plane anxiety. This time our weekend away was to Bannisters at Port Stephens - we've already done the Mollymook one which was incredible - so I wanted experience Port Stephens.
Guilt factor - after six years of mental health weekends, now it's close to zero. Or maybe just one.
It's two and a half hours out of Sydney so not too far away. We get there at lunchtime and immediately nab two pool chairs, change into swimmers and order fish tacos for lunch. There's nothing better than fish tacos done well and this place gets it right, they even use wholemeal tacos so they are actually healthy.
Looking out into the treetops beyond the pool is immediately relaxing and we sink into the lounges for an afternoon of sunning and swimming. Note: Bannisters is quite glamorous for these parts, so take your best cossie. There are people having fancy lunch in the restaurant behind the pool. I love eating poolside though.
You know how usually it takes ages to actually chill out on holiday? Not this time. I immediately destress from the hectic week I've had with work, children and our puppy.
I take my laptop down to the pool to finish off some work and order an elderflower mojito (kind of nourishing but bad for you at the same time) and the antipasto platter. My husband and I just can't actually believe that we are doing this. It's our Christmas present to each other and all we can talk about is how necessary it is to get away by ourselves for some "us" time.
You can't buy headspace. You need to make it. Get out there and take it. Lose the guilt we have with needing to work/shop/clean/look after small children and dogs and older family members and just take time for yourself just to BE YOU. It's so important, cannot stress this enough. Especially at this hectic time of year.
What would a mental health weekend be without a massage? We have a couples massage (which I've never really understood besides the time efficiency factor, it's not like you're holding hands or something, you're just in the same room). The massage itself is lovely and relaxing, and she increased the pressure when I asked her to which I think is always important to speak up. You're paying for it - get what you want.
The spa is lovely with organic products and I would totally get a facial if we were there for longer. As it is, I do my own facial later in our room. I cleanse, exfoliate, and then use a resurfacing mask to clear off the old skin cells and feel new again.
It actually works. Then for the ultimate in self care I smooth our RECREATION Luxury Body + Hair Oil in Stardust all over my body. It sinks in and feels light, not greasy, and leaves a beautiful scent on my skin which I then top up with Stardust natural perfume. We are sharing our fragrance this weekend and Stardust is the ultimate sexy smell. Now, freshly glowing and buffed and smelling gorgeous, I am ready for dinner.
The first night we had dinner at the Terrace Bar which is the same place you have lunch and not that incredible because it's the same menu. Still good though.
The second night we splurged and did the whole Rick Stein experience. It was incredible. Service at this restaurant was excellent (as opposed to just okay in the other parts of the hotel) and for the prices that's a good thing, it's expensive. But well worth it.
I went all out - oysters, prawns, mussels, clams, and then lobster. With wine. I mean, if you're going to be there, you might as well be there, right? I'm just going to close my eyes when I pay the bill at the end. Which was hefty, I'm not going to lie.
We had a Paperbark room which looked out over the gardens. It was about $200 less than a Seaview room which were all booked out the weekend we went (probs just as well, spent more than that on massages!). But it wasn't super special like a seaview room would have been, so there's that. The furnishings were lovely and we barely spent any time in our room anyway so it was perfectly fine.
One of my favourite things to do is cocktails by the pool which is why I'll often choose a hotel over an air bnb where I have to serve myself the whole weekend. There is something extra special about someone bringing you eggplant chips and a gin cocktail that you can't replicate in your own holiday house. It is doubly expensive though so we can't do it all the time. But when I do it's so worth it. After our weekend is over we are happy to head back to Sydney and pick up the girls and our dog and get back to the hectic that Christmas brings, just that little bit more energised, recharged and ready to tackle life head on again.
Bannisters at Port Stephens is worth it for the Rick Stein restaurant alone. The hotel is beautifully designed and feels luxe, but service is slightly lacking and the surrounding area is not as beautiful as Mollymook on the South Coast. Still, I'd give it an 8 out of 10.