Assume the koala position

In the seclusion of a coastal tree house, Lissa Christopher matches the pace of life around her.

We've driven north in the kind of rain that would make you seriously consider trading in your car for a kayak, or even starting work on an ark. And more is forecast, lots more.

Consequently, I've packed a whacking great load of stuff just in case: just in case we get bored, just in case we get wet, just in case one of us develops Ebola, that kind of thing. Now we just have to cart it all up the stairs of our tree house. It's not literally a tree house, more of a cottage on stilts planted in a copse of tall, thin eucalypts. Once you're up the stairs, however, the feeling is very much of being in the trees and of seclusion. There's another tree house right next door but it's facing the other way and out of sight, hearing and mind.

Our nest is small but perfectly formed. The main L-shaped area has a beautifully made queen-size bed set against the back wall (you can see the trees from the pillow), a two-seater couch with coffee table and, tucked into the toe of the L, a neat kitchenette with a microwave. A big television is mounted on the wall so it can be seen from couch and bed and there's a sound system and DVD player, too. It's charming, cosy and romantic; modestly kitted out but with all the essentials, plus a few luxuries.

The bathroom, separated from the main room by a temperamental sliding door, houses a big spa bath with shower and a long-drop toilet. Wanderers Retreat markets itself as an "eco'' enterprise and has won several recentNSWtourism awards. The owners planted 1000 native trees during construction and installed instantaneous gas hot water and the dry composting toilets that are notably odourless. There are 11 cottages. Warmer or at least finer weather would have us sitting on our neat, private verandah. Alas, it's not to be this weekend. The barbecue and outdoor setting sit idle and glossy with rain.

Inside, however, plenty of creature comforts await. There's a bottle of sparkling wine in the fridge, two chocolates and a small decanter of port of unknown ancestry. They're nice gestures in the direction of the high end of the accommodation market but the products themselves aren't high-end. There are two plush white robes on the bed. We put them on and look like a pair of stumpy polar bears.

The modest kitchen has everything we need and makes me think how much excess tends to be hoarded in home kitchens. The only thing that bothers me is a sign threatening to charge $50 if we don't wash our dishes before departure. The cost seems a bit OTT to me and I personally detest ending a relaxing weekend away from domestic duties with my hands in the sink. The cost is an effective deterrent, however. When it comes time to leave, we dutifully wash, dry and put away.

Wanderers Retreat is set in habitat popular with koalas and in the morning, standing on the verandah wrapped in those white dressing gowns, we discover one dozing in a tree in front of our cottage. (I can't help but imagine we look like a pair of polar bears eyeing off a koala bear for breakfast.)

It's windy and the tree shakes so violently it looks as if the bear will catapult north, perhaps as far as Taree. The bear's response to its seemingly dire situation is to sleep. We check its status regularly: unchanged, unchanged and ... unchanged. Inspired by its approach, we also do very little for quite a long time.

During a rare break in theweather,we head for One Mile Beach, which is across the road, first taking a stroll through the grounds. The retreat must be a particularly pleasant place in finer, warmer weather. There is a swimming pool, barbecues and tables set under shady trees and a series of one- and two-bedroom cottages that are not on stilts.


One Mile Beach turns out to be a lovely spot and is deserted, apart from a few devoted surfers. We explore the rocks at the far end, take photos, poke at the bluebottles stranded on the high-tide line and are rained on several times. At the suggestion of the retreat's welcoming staff, we also take the two-minute drive to Boat Harbour to try our luck spotting whales. It's blowing a gale, though, and we can't tell the whales from the whitecaps.

Still, on the wildlife front, we're chuffed enough with our koala encounter and check eagerly on its status when we get back. Unchanged. Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

Wanderers Retreat
Address 7 Koala Place (formerly 32 Eucalyptus Drive), One Mile Beach.

The verdict A cosy and compact hideaway.

Price For a tree house, $235 a night on weekends, with a two-night minimum stay. One-and two-bedroom eco and spa cottages are also available.

Bookings Phone 4982 1702 or see

Getting there Port Stephens is about 200 kilometres north of Sydney via the Pacific Highway. Exit the highway at Tomago Road, shortly after the bridge at Hexham. Follow the signs to Anna Bay, which will bring you on to Gan Gan Road. Koala Place is a left turn at a roundabout on Gan Gan Road, just past Anna Bay.

Perfect for Couples seeking a sense of seclusion.

Wheelchair access No.

While you're there Take a whale or dolphin-watching cruise ( or keep your eyes peeled from the shore at Boat Harbour; book for dinner at the one-hat Zest restaurant in Nelson Bay; try a more casual dining option at Bub's Fish & Chips, next to the fish co-op at the Nelson Bay marina; visit the remarkable Stockton Beach sand dunes.