Digs just way too cool

A relaxing sea haven perched among banksias and birds awaits Peter Spinks' arrival.

The welcome isn't warm. Sea Villa 1's thermostat is set on 19 degrees, ideal for this sweaty, humid day. But, unknown to our hosts, we'd stopped en route in Lorne for a bracing dip, which leaves us cool-to-shivery by the time we reach Apollo Bay.

Contemplating using the wood-burning fireplace, we decide instead to reverse the aircon; this resolves our first and last "problem", if you could call it that.

We explore our luxury weekender at Chocolate Gannets. The two bedrooms' cavernous walk-in robes - with fluffy white flannel dressing gowns and valuables safe in one - seem bigger than a room I once rented in London.

What the villa lacks in solar power and double glazing, it makes up for in recycle bins and water-efficient, but functional, dual showers.

I select natural latex, while my wife plumps for low-firm from the extraordinary choice of pillows. We flop onto the super-soft yet supportive king-size bed in the spacious main bedroom, which boasts near floor-to-ceiling panoramas of the adjacent beach.

The back bedroom has fine linen on its two single beds, which can be converted into a double. A good night's rest is assured here.

Next morning, we tuck into the complimentary hamper of fresh fruit, muesli, bread, marmalade, jam, free-range eggs, milk and orange juice, then venture out onto the front deck, bedazzled by a cloudless sunny sky. The swing-seat's superb beach view is interrupted only partially by a villa to one side. The distant drone of cars on the road between us and the white expanse of sand is drowned out by the crash of waves.

The foaming surf is tempting, but we settle for more talk, and yet more coffee from the automatic espresso machine with inbuilt grinder. Perish the thought of moving, we conclude.


Before we know it, it's midday. The humidity has soared and it's now a 30-degree-plus scorcher. We retreat inside to the floor-ducted cooling and electric shades that ensure it's neither too bright nor too dark.

My 13-year-old daughter, Janelle, delights in the drawers and shelves of board and card games, music discs and videos. Lounging on the rich leather sofa, she's soon engrossed in the movie A Bug's Life, before resorting to the in-house wi-fi to connect with friends.

Eventually, we drag ourselves to the beach. Janelle explores the barnacled rock pools. I jog before plunging head first into the choppy waves. "Too cold," Janelle protests, before fatherly taunts persuade her to jump in. Rather too rough and rip-prone today for boogie boarding, it's unbeatably refreshing all the same.

And then we ate Apollo Bay's cafes and restaurants are less than a five-minute drive away. Reluctant to leave our haven, we opt for a barbecue on the back patio's electric grill. Perched on surrounding banksias, a chorus of chirping birds watches us polish off the free red wine and filled chocolates. These are not the eponymous gannets - heavily built seabirds with white plumage and dark markings, yellow heads, stout bills and pointy wings; this evening, it seems, we are the gannets (that's slang for gluttons).

The dealmakers Considered to be the Great Ocean Road's only five-star accommodation, Chocolate Gannets' four villas each have a two-person spa bath, with massage jets and beach vistas. The icing on top is the roofline's organic curve whose wave-like sweep pleases from outside and inside.

Stepping out The sand, rocks and surf, a road-crossing away, suit us. Using the supplied binoculars, spy on local bird life. This is hooded plover territory: black-headed, white-naped adults, up to 20 centimetres high, are sandy-brown above, white below, with black-tipped red bills and a black line adorning their lower hind necks. Don't mistake these beauties for yellow masked lapwings.


Chocolate Gannets

Address 6180 Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay.

The Verdict Outstanding. Cost From $364 a night during midweek and $432 at weekends for a couple. The two front villas, with better views, are pricier. Three-night stays attract a 10 per cent discount; four nights a complimentary dinner for two.

Bookings Phone 1300 500 139; see chocolategannets.com.au. Getting there Apollo Bay is an enjoyable 2½-hour drive south-west of Melbourne. Savour the winding stretch from Lorne along the endlessly awe-inspiring coastal road.

Perfect for Pampering in an unspoilt beach setting.

Wheelchair access Yes.