Natasha Wallace finds the perfect spot to keep every member of her clan happy.
The trouble with a family getaway is this: how to fit in visits to pristine beaches and perhaps a couple of attractions while still feeling there is time to relax (parents of toddlers don't rest). First, we need to plan for at least three nights away. Second, we adjust our outings according to the weather. And, third, we get going early and cram it in.
We are on our first trip away with friends. Our combined gaggle of six BFFs aged under seven is in a pants-wetting state of anticipation as we arrive at the unassuming Oaks Lure Apartments.
Meanwhile, we parents hatch a scheme to use baby monitors in our adjacent apartments so that the adults can sit together on one verandah once all children are in bed.
We are delighted with our spacious, self-contained apartment. It's about a five-minute walk to town but excellent value. The layout works well for us. Downstairs is a twin bedroom with an en suite, television and bar fridge. Cleopatra, 6, and Violet, 4, are excited to have what they think is their own hotel room. Through another door and up a long flight of stairs is the main living area - modern, simple, decorated in neutral greys and with comfortable couches.
A small balcony overlooks the hotel pool and barbecue area, with views beyond of the Nelson Bay foreshore.
The kitchen has a dishwasher, oven and large fridge. There's a table for four, but not enough crockery and utensils to cater for our family. We borrow a frying pan from our friends; they bring wine glasses from their apartment to ours when it's time for drinks.
Our apartment's large main bedroom has a built-in wardrobe, enough floor space for our portable cot for baby Leon, and a separate bathroom.
As soon as we settle in, we race to the gorgeous, secluded Dutchmans ("Dutchies") Beach, a short drive away. It's shallow enough for the kids to splash about in while we drink enough wine to muster the energy to cook a barbecue dinner. But there's no real need to self-cater, as families are spoilt for choice in Nelson Bay - there are plenty of restaurants on the marina, as well as Thai, Indian and pizza restaurants around Stockton Street.
There's also a bakery, several cafes and a burger place offering gluten-free food. If we were child-free, I would have suggested a meal at the one-hat Zest Restaurant.
We spend the next morning relaxing at nearby Little Beach before taking a dolphin-spotting cruise. It's a key attraction of the Port Stephens region, where a population of about 70 bottlenose dolphins never disappoints. It's a bit late in the season to spot humpback whales passing by, though.
My girlfriend and I manage to squeeze in an hour at the shops before we join the throngs of locals in the park opposite the marina at dusk, where our children run wild while we eat takeaway pizza.
On our last day, we take a swim at Shoal Bay beach and buy lunch from the deservedly popular Aussie Bob's seafood shop across the road. It all makes for a great trip, but I have just one complaint: we needed more time.
Oaks Lure Apartments
Address 20 Tomaree Street, Nelson Bay. Phone 4980 4888, see oakshotelsresorts.com.
The verdict Modern, clean, spacious and family friendly.
Price Hotel rooms from $119 a night; one-bedroom apartments from $149; two-bedders from $204 a night.
Bookings Phone 4980 4888, see oakshotelsresorts.com.
Getting there Take the F3 Freeway, then the Hexham Bridge turn-off. Turn right on to Tomago Road, then left on to Nelson Bay Road.
While you're there Visit beaches beyond Nelson Bay, such as the stunning One Mile Beach and Fingal surf beach, both on the edge of Tomaree National Park. Or sandboard and four-wheel-drive at Stockton Beach. Oakvale Farm and Fauna World at nearby Salt Ash is home to a wealth of animals. The grounds are open daily.