‘Rick Stein put Mollymook on the map’ is a phrase I hear more than once.
The exchange of goods is appreciated by Milk Haus owner Danielle McKeon, who left Canberra a few years ago also seeking a seachange. Since opening in 2015, Danielle has created a go-to cafe for locals. “When I moved down here, I only knew one person and it was interesting to see there’s a genuine interest and friendship between the restaurant owners here, which is really refreshing,” she says. The stylishly minimal Milk Haus is slightly out of the way – a drawcard in itself. After a breakfast of gluten-free muesli with a pot of sticky chai, I stroll through the vegetable garden, teeming with zucchini, tomatoes and numerous herbs. Later that day, I farewell Milly to visit vivacious Molly, who’s calling me over for a pre-summer surf lesson. Mollymook Beach is an ideal location to kick-start my ‘learn-to-surf-better’ campaign with Geoff Hansen, a Molly local of 20 years. Geoff pinpoints where I’m going wrong and, in between gentle, two-foot sets, tells me about life with Molly. “As a surfer, you couldn’t wish for more. The variety and quality of the waves in the area is amazing,” he says. “Friends will wave as you drive down the street and people have time to stop and chat when you see them out and about.” But the town is growing, with more people moving in and buildings going up. “There’s a major new hotel (Bannisters Pavilion), new restaurants and cafes (Tallwood) and some very big, private houses being built,” Geoff says. “Tourism is the biggest industry in the area and there are more people coming during the main holiday periods, as well as throughout the year.” Flour Water Salt, a cafe along Milton’s main street, is one operator relishing the boom. As I enjoy a healthy roast chicken and carrot slaw sandwich, followed by a delicious dark chocolate and caramel tart, a mix of locals and tourists flood through the door. They don’t have to wait long for their takeaway coffees and organic, dairy- or gluten-free meals, with the young waitresses quick on their feet. I’m not surprised by the cafe’s popularity. Co-owner Joost Hilkemeijer is the man behind the successful Berry Organic Sourdough Bakery, an hour north. Joost is yet another example of the kind of passionate folk adding to the charisma of little old Milly and Molly. And it’s this thought that I ponder into the night, as I relax beside the campfire at The Old Schoolhouse, stars shining in a clear country sky and two border collies lounging at my feet.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The Schoolhouse swing; The forgiving waves at Mollymook ; Settle in at the stables; Jenny’s chickens are (extremely) free range; The day’s labours at Flour Water Salt.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: A boutique of suitable charm in Milton; Sunshine and daisies; Milk Haus is a go-to cafe for locals; Top-shelf eats and ( in background) pineapples on display at Bannisters by the Sea; A curious Woodstock local.