There were lazy days spent fishing in pristine lakes, hours lost roaming through dense mangrove forests.
Dinner was often down at the beach baking potatoes in the white sand - Jan Winn's childhood at Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest in the 1940s is the stuff most of us can only dream about.
Surrounded by mountains, lakes and the ocean, the coastal river town was home to timber cutters and fishermen.
"It was a very free sort of childhood. We didn't wear shoes to school; everyone looked out for you," Ms Winn, whose family were among the area's first settlers in the 1880s, said.
Three quarters of a century later and this wonderland located on the border of the Mid-Coast LGA has lost none of its appeal to locals and visitors alike.
"It's always been a family place," says Jan Peeters, who with her husband Ray and their young children stumbled onto Tea Gardens while on a caravan trip along the coast 50 years ago.
"You could bring your kids here. They could ride their bikes and you didn't have to worry about them. It's the same types of people who still come here today."
The area's natural beauty is famous around Australia, but the community is what many consider to be its main attraction.
"It has an incredible community spirit. It's got a Sea Change [the 90s tv show] feel about it," says Ben Hanson, who took over the Tea Gardens Hotel five years ago.
"It's eclectic and everyone is passionate about what's going on. The tourists don't understand that side of the town because they're not here when it's quiet."
With a median age of 63.4, the area's population is dominated by retirees, many of whom were regular visitors to Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest over several decades before retirement.
Dozens of community groups - Red Cross, Probus, Lions Club, Mens Shed and the RSL intersect with the community art and craft centre, the prostate cancer support group, the croquet club and the Myall Stringers Ukulele group to form a social tapestry that bonds the residents together.
"There are so many things to do. You just have to figure out what it is that you like doing and get involved," Ms Peeters said.
"What I love most is the sense of community. People really look out for each other. You walk along the waterfront and 10 people will say G'Day; it's that small town thing.
As an extension, the clubs and organisations have supported a free bus service for the past 26 years to transport residents to medical appointments.
Myall Coast Radio 87.8FM, a boutique broadcast and streaming service, is another cog that keeps the community ticking over.
It's 13 presenters conduct interviews about pressing local issues as well as promoting local businesses and musicians.
With a lifestyle like this, it's little wonder many believe Tea Gardens and Hawks have the best of both worlds.
But, while the area's non-holiday population remains relatively small at 4100, there are some who are asking how long can this idyllic existence last?
Less than five kilometres across the water the bright lights and medium density development of Nelson Bay beckons. Is this the future of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest? There are plenty who hope not.
"Can you imagine a Gold Coast skyscraper over there," Mike Ferris says pointing to a patch of pristine scrub across the water at Mungo Brush.
Mr Ferris bought a fishing shack in 1982. The Marine Drive shack was a holiday retreat for close to 40 years. It stood until 2018 when Mr Ferris and his wife Nerida built their retirement home on the site.
"It's grown tremendously since I started coming here. There's been a lot of change in the last five years - a lot of rebuilds, new houses on vacant blocks of land." he said.
The area's holiday population varies from year to year, but it's fair to say Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens are one of the busiest parts of the State over Christmas and New Year.
"We go from 4100 to what feels like 30,000. We are absolutely pumped from Boxing Day to Australia Day. The first week of the holidays is generally Sydney people coming to town. They don't care what they spend.- Tea Gardens Hotel publican Ben Hanson
"We go from about 4000 to what feels like 30,000. We are absolutely pumped from Boxing Day to Australia Day," Mr Hanson said.
"The first week of the holidays is generally Sydney people coming to town. They don't care what they spend.
"The second week people worry about their money a bit more. The third week is people from Maitland and those sorts of areas and the fourth is a mix of everyone."
Like it or not, most locals accept the population spike, and the associated economic boom, as part and parcel of their life.
"It gets busy but I accept it, it gets us through the quieter months," Mr Ferris said.
"But the town can only cater for so many people. There's only so many houses that are for let. There's only so many motels."
If there is one subject that everyone in town has an opinion about it is building height limits, which are considered the key to the area's evolution.
The current height limit along Marine Drive in Tea Gardens, Booner Street, Moira Parade and Yamba Street in Hawks Nest is 12 metres.
The rest of the surrounding area is 8.5 metres.
MidCoast Council's recently completed housing strategy recommends reducing height limits in some areas from 12 to 8.5 metres.
But, at the same time, the council has received a development proposal for a 17.8 metre apartment block in Marine Drive.
"We don't want to become another Gold Coast," Ms Peeters said of the proposal.
"The council has got to plan for more houses. People here want to live in houses, not high rise apartments."
A council spokeswoman said feedback received during the recent consultation process for the area's new housing strategy had reinforced the desire to preserve the towns' character.
Community feedback, which includes recommendations to reduce height limits in some areas, will be incorporated into the new Local Environment Plan and Development Control Plan for the area.
The other challenge is opening up more land to meet the incessant demand for housing.
A $100million 725 residential development, known as Parry's Cove, on the edge of the Myall River, was earlier this month given the green light to go ahead.
Surrounded by 100 hectares of bushland, it is regarded as a short to medium term solution to the shortage of housing in the area.
It is estimated the project would generate up to 1841 construction jobs over 10 years and provide 704 permanent local jobs.
In addition, the development would inject about $1 billion to the local community when it is complete in 10 years' time.
"If you go to the real estate, there is nothing for sale. There's no stock, there's no land," Ms Peeters said.
"In 1970 there were blocks of land for $2500 and they couldn't give them away."
Like most publicans, Ben Hanson hears opinions about where the town is or should be heading all day.
"A lot of the tradies like the change because there is more work for them," he said.
"The long-term locals are mixed. Some want progress, some don't want it to change. But ultimately Newcastle is getting bigger and people are going to start living up here and commuting to Newcastle."
Mr Hanson is among those who wants to see more young people visit and perhaps settle in the area.
"We need a backpackers and more young people coming through town. How we do that I don't know, " he said.
Most agree change is coming - and it's not just the holiday makers and those looking for a sea change who have taken an interest in the area.
Australia's most famous golfer and golf course developer, Greg Norman, has fixed his eye on what he considers to be an "amazing parcel of land" in Hawks Nest.
Norman's design and construction development arm, Greg Norman Golf Course Designs, earlier this year indicated interest in the development of a 1.4 hectare of land adjacent to the Hawks Nest Golf Club.
While a development application has not been lodged, Norman's company has been in talks with Core Leric since March regarding the potential to transform the property into a world class golf residence.
The site was one of two parcels of land that the Karuah Local Aboriginal Land Council sold in late 2016 for $1.5 mill to two companies, Core Property Developments and Leric Group.
Despite being signed-off on by the then land council board, some members have recently argued the land should not have been sold.
Former land council chief executive Len Roberts said the proceeds were used to support the land council, which he said was 'absolutely broke'.
Paul Bendy, who moved to the area with his partner Wendy Hammond in 2007, says he is not opposed to change as long as it is accompanied by upgraded infrastructure.
"The people who move here in 10 or 15 years' time will have a new perspective on what the place is all about," he said.
"One day we will have a set of traffic lights and the town will have a few more roundabouts and things. It's annoying but we should be thankful for the times we have had."
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