Armana Resort, Nelson Bay review: Right on the buttons

Read our writer's views on this property below

The guests are in control at a Nelson Bay resort where the luxury comes high-tech, writes Peter Gearin.

THERE isn't one thing about Nelson Bay that reminds you of Sydney. Instead of parked cars, there are graceful boats at dock. Instead of choked-up roads, there are towering sand dunes. Instead of snarling dogs, there are smiling dolphins.

Bliss. It's no surprise that generations of Sydneysiders have considered Nelson Bay - about 2½ hours' drive north - an excellent destination for a weekend away.

What seems to have changed is what you find here. Greasy-spoon takeaways have been replaced by swanky cafe bars. Fishing shacks have been replaced by waterside palaces. One such palace is Armana Resort. This apartment complex is straight from the pages of the Noosa accommodation guide, with a matching list of specifications.

First impressions are hard to gauge after parrying with northbound traffic on a Friday evening. Nelson Bay is dark when we arrive and Armana is camouflaged at the end of a cul-de-sac behind a tiny, elegant sign whispering its presence. Motion-activated lighting directs us to our apartment.

If your definition of the perfect weekender is "never having to lift a finger", Armana fails - you need your pinky to operate just about everything here. There are three temperature controls for different zones and a push-button gas fireplace, remote controls for the high-definition TV, pay TV, DVD player and amp with surround-sound speakers. Soft-touch buttons direct the Miele kitchen appliances.

The apartment block has a C-Bus wiring network, which means all electrics can be operated remotely.

The affable owner-manager, Trent Norburn, tells us there are a range of accommodation options at Armana, though it's clear that all come with luxury appointments as standard.

Our first-floor apartment's living area has a large sofa, coffee table and chaise lounge; the adjoining dining area has a $6000 table.

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Our apartment has two good-sized bedrooms, both with en suite and balcony, and a media room for those mad enough to think the ideal weekend is spent holding a TV remote. The other rooms - an extra toilet plus laundry with washer and dryer - carry items emblazoned with the names of well-known German companies and they're all spelt "E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E". There's no doubting the quality and slickness, though we think it could do with a bit more colour and character - that is until morning, when Port Stephens is offered up to us for breakfast, with the balcony our dress-circle seat.

The sparkling lake plays host to moored yachts and boats headed out for a day's adventure. Kayakers serenely paddle past, kids play football on the sand and walkers laugh breathlessly on the path. The kookaburras, pelicans and even those unseen dolphins play supporting roles. Who needs interior frippery when you have this?

Below our balcony we see another of Norburn's labours of love: an award-winning 25-metre pool warmed to 27 degrees and a spa heated to 36 degrees. When we pull ourselves away from the view and pool, we indulge in some of Nelson Bay's pleasures, including sandboarding, dolphin-watching and camel riding. A barbecue on the balcony and the sun setting over Port Stephens beckon.

It's clear why Sydneysiders have taken to Nelson Bay; Armana gives them a way to enjoy it without compromise. Until, that is, someone discovers how to turn that 2½-hour journey into 2½ minutes.

The writer was a guest of Armana and Port Stephens Tourism.

Nelson Bay

Trip notes

Where

Armana Resort, 16 Christmas Bush Avenue, Nelson Bay, Port Stephens. (02) 4981 1644, amarnaresort.com.au.

Getting there

Take the F3. Turn off at Hexham and on to the Pacific Highway. Turn on to Richardson Road and follow the signs. You can also drive to Newcastle and follow Stockton Beach north to Nelson Bay.

How much

From $450 a night for a one-bedroom suite. All stays include breakfast.

Style statement

Modern, masculine, exclusive.

Perfect for

Couples with older kids and older couples.

Don't forget

A bottle of wine with which to enjoy the view.

A shame about

The incy-wincy white-wine glasses.

Kudos

Each mosaic tile has been individually placed in the spa.

Take the kids?

Sure.