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Read our writer's views on this property below
Kelsey Munro takes a break on the South Coast with all her best friends.
My first hint of what to expect from Penguin Head Retreat comes via an excited text message from friends who arrive early. "Holy s---!" it reads. "Make sure you get here before sunset!" We're sitting in unyielding Illawarra Friday traffic and I don't like our chances.
But the traffic gods are smiling on us: 90 minutes later we crawl up Penguin Head Road just as the sun drops below the horizon. It's so named because of the penguins that can be spotted off the headland. If you're lucky, it's also a good vantage point for spotting whales (between late May and November) and dolphins.
The street frontage - double garage, brick wall - isn't pretty and gives little clue to what waits inside. That's past the Marlin Bar, a thatch-roof bungalow housing the barbecue in the tropical, concrete front yard and the colourful stained-glass marlin window that divides that courtyard from the covered "garden room" with huge spa. As soon as we push through the front door and walk out into the living room, we see what our friends are talking about.
It's the view. There's a perfect green strip of lawn, a glass fence and a spectacular panorama of ocean and sky. The view stretches 180 degrees from the south corner of Culburra Beach, sweeps out to the ocean and horizon then up the coast past the Shoalhaven River mouth. Waves break on a small reef off the tip of the headland. There's a deck below the lawn that juts out of the cliff face over flat rocks below. The sky is tinged orange-gold from the sunset. A welcome goes up from our friends, who are sitting around the outside table with cold beers. They're about to fire up the (second) barbecue. The dogs tear around the yard, excited. Yes, life is sweet.
Even better news for us is the "parents' retreat" upstairs, which is our bedroom (even though we don't technically qualify). It has its own sitting room with television, DVD and well-stocked bookshelf, a walk-in wardrobe and a superbly comfortable bed with quality linen. Taking full advantage of the oceanside position, its bathroom has a long span of windows and a vast spa bath. Sitting in it, gazing out at the ocean, it's as though we're high up on the expensive deck of a cruise ship. Decadent.
The house has a homey feeling because the owners have made their books and board games available to holiday renters. They are also welcoming of our beloved dogs, providing leads, beds, bowls, address tags to put on the dogs' collars for the weekend and a box of toys (through which our friends' young labrador, Jones, cuts a trail of destruction). Both of the house's yards are securely fenced.
The house has two bathrooms and four bedrooms: two doubles, a room with two singles and a room with four bunks, so it's really better suited to two families with children than it is to our impromptu group of five couples and two dogs. Not that anyone minds.
The sprawling house is almost comically over-equipped. I count seven generous living spaces, including the Marlin Bar, the garden room, the lawn and outdoor table on the ocean side, three living-sitting rooms (all with ocean views) and a dining area. There are three stereos and televisions, a laundry and an outdoor shower. The kitchen caters for every culinary whim we can conjure: essentials such as a dishwasher, oven and good knives are accompanied by an astonishing number of appliances.
With 10 to cater for, we stick to the barbecues and grill some local perch and calamari we buy at the nearby fishing town of Greenwell Point.
We are blessed with a perfect sunny Saturday. The view is glorious, from the gold morning sun to the moon sparkling on the water at night. Sunday is grey and overcast but it's scarcely less pleasant to read the paper lying on the sun lounge. I can't imagine ever growing tired of this view.
The house's only drawback, apart from the fact that we have to return the keys, is its distance from the beach - you can't pop down for a swim. Beyond a child and dog-proof gate, there's access to the rock platform below the house but it's generally too rough to swim there. A 15-minute walk, however, will take you to the pretty, sheltered southern corner of Culburra Beach. Warrain Beach is a bit closer. If you're happy to get in the car, it is a short trip to Currarong Beach and the fish shops of Greenwell Point. Can we move in, please?
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
Penguin Head Retreat
Address 244 Penguins Head Road, Culburra Beach.
The verdict A fabulously well-equipped, dog-friendly, cliff-top house with spectacular ocean views.
Price From $800 for a weekend plus a $50 booking fee.
Bookings See lovemelovemydog .com.au or phone 0418 455 593.
Getting there About 21/2 to three hours' drive south of Sydney.
Perfect for A group of friends or two families with dogs.
Wheelchair access Yes but there are some steps in the house.
While you're there Run with your dog on Culburra Beach. Sit in the parents' retreat spa bath and contemplate the ocean. Buy fresh local fish at Greenwell Point for the barbecue.