The Springs Cottages, Swanhaven review: Scenes from a well-spent youth

Read our writer's views on this property below

It's rustic fun on the south coast, where the kids go feral and the adults get nostalgic, writes Kate Cox.

Growing up, weekends away invariably meant visiting my grandparents at their weatherboard country cottage. The walls of their dining room were lined with hundreds of ancient postcards from far-flung locales. As we devoured usually forbidden Coco Pops for breakfast, we dreamt about journeying to Echuca, Expo '88 and The Big Banana.

Granny cooked her famous butterscotch pudding and grandfather pottered in his vegetable garden with the horse races on a permanent loop on the transistor radio. It was predictable, comfortable, cosy. Time stood still - in a good way.

Granny and grandfather are, sadly, long gone but it was difficult to shake the feeling that they'd had a hand in Grandma's Cottage at The Springs, at the lakeside village of Swanhaven, about 200 kilometres south of Sydney.

From the long, dusty drive in a rusty family car packed to the gills with bags, toys and food, to making temporary home in our rustic cabin with its lace curtains, doillied teapots, pastel-pink toilet and '50s styling, the memories came flooding back at every turn.

On the shelves of our cabin were dusty books, old magazines and a decorative transistor radio; other novelty '50s features included vintage mirrors and lamps and a coin-operated electricity meter. There were wooden ducks on the verandah and a well-kept garden outside.

So it wasn't a surprise to learn that the cottage was built for the elderly mother of Phyllis, the previous owner. (Who knew grandmothers' living quarters were so similar?)

When Julie took ownership of The Springs 17 years ago, she kept the retro theme flowing through the other five 1950s-built fibro cabins that are also part of the property. She found many of the key pieces at local garage sales and op-shops, her stylish eye ensuring it felt chic and quirky rather than dated and stuffy.

My friend Rachel chanced upon The Springs several years ago while filming a '50s-style advertisement for a US soap company.

Aiming for an action-packed, family-friendly weekend, our group of 12 adults and 10 kids (aged from eight months to eight years old) booked all six cottages.

Via a complicated algorithm of age and number of children, my partner and I somehow scored "Grandma's": slightly bigger, with its own bathroom. It consisted of three sections: one room with cupboards and a double bed with mosquito net; a large-ish living area with a bunk bed, couch, combustion fire, kitchenette and dining table; and an attached laundry and bathroom.

The other cabins were also on bricks, with lovely watching-the-world-go-by decks and character-laden stuffed couches, but their occupants shared the centrally located bathrooms.

Swan Lake is a two-minute meander around the bend. With its sparkling white sand and shallow, calm, clear water, it's a popular learn-to-swim spot for locals. However, we had it virtually to ourselves the entire weekend.

Rachel's husband, Gregor, had brought the boat down and the children amused themselves bobbing about in the water, racing in the shallows and ramming one another with bodyboards.

As the sun set, the gang gathered at the water's edge for a spot of fishing and drinking and - shock of all shocks - a miniature bream was caught and released.

Back at base camp, the huge wood supply doubled as a pile of blocks for the children. There was a roomy sandpit on the lawn for the little ones and the kooky "fairy garden" among the shrubs was perfect for an elaborate treasure hunt.

At night, we cooked five-star meals - salmon on the campfire barbecue, roast lamb in the cabin's oven - and all ate together on the picnic tables under the stars.

For coffee, fish and chips and additional supplies, the town of Sussex Inlet was just a five-minute drive away, which meant we were able to indulge in the sentimental delight of Coco Pops for breakfast and discover that it's never too late to revisit your favourite memories of childhood.


WHERE The Springs Cottages, Swanhaven. Phone (02) 4441 2067 or 0409 228 244, see

HOW MUCH Standard cottages from $120 a night, Grandma's Cottage from $140 a night. There's also Forrest Studio, an out-of-sight, two-storey mudbrick cottage, from $150 a night. All cottages sleep up to five.

BEST THING The Aussie childhood break immortalised: simple, no-stress fun.

WORST THING Older kids (read: grumpy teens) will complain there's nothing to do. No TV, no movies, no bright lights.

LOCAL SECRET Sussex Inlet beach has water so fresh and clear, and sand so soft and white, we felt as though we were in the Maldives. The beach is massive, too.