Caves Beachside Resort review: Over water and under its spell

Read our writer's views on this property below

Peter Vincent discovers a stylish new resort where suites, eats and views hit the mark.

Every man knows the feeling: you've booked a room, which looks reasonable on the web. But then you start sweating on what your partner will make of it. What if the pictures posted online were 10 years old? Maybe it's as small as a shoebox, or tacky?

I know I'm off the hook when my partner slides open the door to our beach suite, perched above a lagoon and barely 50 metres from the sand at Caves Beach, Lake Macquarie, and squeals with delight.

"There," she says, pointing at a deep spa tub in the stone-and-tile bathroom. "I'm going to be drinking wine in there later."

For once, photos don't do a room justice. Lionel Glendenning's HBO+EMTB architects deserve praise for creating stylish but comfortable suites that wouldn't be out of place in new apartments in Surry Hills or even Darlinghurst.

Caves Beachside Resort's couples' suites have a great balance. They feel stylish and urban (each has a smart concealed kitchenette, a pair of rough-hewn stone-wash basins, the gorgeous designer spa tub and a palette of subtle creams and browns) but are beachy and serene too, with driftwood-inspired table lamps, sandy-coloured wool carpets and cane lounge chairs.

It's a good start and when we find the contents of the mini-bar - two Crown Lagers, a bottle of Hunter chardy, two juices and some nibbles - are freebies, we see no reason to leave our room for some time.

The first stages of Caves Beachside, the latest of several new resorts springing up on the Central Coast, were completed a few months ago . So far, 18 suites and a hotel (in the licensed premises sense) are open but the rest of the resort is far from finished - by 2013, 40 beach houses (accommodating up to six people each), 57 village houses and 131 apartments in five low-rise blocks are to be built. All up, the entire project cost is estimated at $100 million.

The hotel, also designed by HBO+EMTB, is a handsome building. It occupies 3000 square metres of floor space but smart use of space means it never feels like a beer barn, although it has five bars, a bistro, big outdoor terrace, an a la carte restaurant, cafe, kids' room, sports bar, sports betting room and pokies area.

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Partitions help divide the space, while large windows keep it filled with light - especially at the front of the building, where you can't help ogling at the ocean view - so you don't notice just how big it is inside the hotel.

While the hotel has created a buzz on the Central Coast (apparently the MP for Lake Macquarie and local mayor, Greg Piper, had his Christmas party there), it's not perfect. It has a fine-dining restaurant (with food and service way above the standard you'd find at most hotels of this ilk), with a lovely, romantic ambience on the terrace at night. But the restaurant would be better if located away from the adjacent sports bar, TAB room and pokie grotto. They break the fine-dining spell. If you were being kind, you'd say the hotel was guilty of trying to be all things to all people.

Another hitch, albeit more easily solvable, is the railing that interrupts what would otherwise be a stunning ocean view from the dining table. Rip it down and you'll really have a rare dining experience.

While we found it hard to tear ourselves away from our beach suite and its spa, there's plenty to do locally. Caves Beach itself is a classic, long white sandy strip; the southern end has a patrolled swimming area, picnic tables and kiosk. Just south of the flags are the caves that give the beach its name. There's really only one cave you can easily enter and the narrow doorways in the rock make it a fun romp for parents with kids.

For a country pub experience, try the Catho Pub at Catherine Hill Bay to the south. It has live music most weekends and has its own bus service, so there are no drinking and driving issues.

The writer was a guest of Caves Beachside Resort and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

WHERE Mawson Close, Caves Beach Road, Caves Beach, Lake Macquarie.

HOW MUCH From $180 to $350 a night. Phone (02) 4980 9999, see cavesbeachhotel.com.au.

BEST THING It's a tie between the restaurant service and watching the sunrise without having to get out of our comfy king-size bed.

WORST THING The motel-quality guest products and the lack of room service.

LOCAL SECRET When the wind picks up on the beach, it might not feel hot but you'll get fried. We did.