Mantra Ettalong Beach, review: Showboat on shore

Read our writer's views on this property below

Angie Schiavone checks into a hotel with the feel of a cruise liner.

Looming large by the waterside and surrounded by low-rise suburbia, the Mantra hotel at Ettalong Beach looks rather like the back end of a luxury cruise liner that's crash-landed on a sleepy stretch of coast. The complex dwarfs the houses, motels and modest shops surrounding it and is visible for miles in pretty much any direction.

We arrive in a nautical frame of mind, half expecting the smiling captain from the TV series The Love Boat to welcome us aboard, or to hear the show's theme song in the lift on the way to our room. We get the latter but only because I'm singing it. The Mantra's vibe is more Cafe Del Mar compilation than small-screen cabaret.

Cases of cabin fever are very unlikely, with the massive mooring housing 236 spacious studios and one- and two-bedroom suites.

These are arranged in a U-shape around a large, outdoor pool surrounded by deck chairs, umbrellas and potted palms. Outside, the colour scheme is white on white with the pool's brilliant blue a dazzling counterpoint. In the ship's wake is a pretty picture: a handful of boats and families of ducks floating on the calm waters of Broken Bay, lapping the beautiful Bouddi Peninsula.

Our fifth-floor studio spa suite has a calming feel, in shades of white and beige with touches of olive green. It's spacious, with a kitchenette by the door, a queen-sized bed, a lounge area and a balcony overlooking the pool and bay. (There are also in-room laundry facilities but these remain behind closed doors during our stay.)

Once we've given our room the once over, we borrow pool towels from reception and head out for a dip. Around the pool are elderly couples, a young family and a group of tanned, taut and tattooed European backpackers. Everyone seems relaxed, reclining on deck chairs, some reading trashy chick lit. It might just be the most unexciting episode of The Love Boat that never was. Perhaps we need a moustache-wearing bartender lurking nearby ready to shake some cocktails but we've come to Ettalong seeking a quiet place to unwind and we're pleased to have found exactly that.

Located more or less under the pool deck is the Ettalong Beach Club, open from breakfast to dinner, with water views. A little further afield are a Thai restaurant or two, a couple of cafes, a wood-fired pizza place and more.

On warmer days, be sure to visit Ice-del-ites of Ettalong, on Ocean View Road, for sweet treats. On weekends, don't miss the Ettalong Markets (Ocean View Road), for everything from food and craft to psychic readers and live entertainment. For more sophisticated dining, there are a couple of gems a short drive from Mantra.

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At Pearl Beach (a 15-minute drive south of Ettalong) is Pearls on the Beach, a restaurant with a tranquil beach view, a good wine list, a globally influenced menu and desserts you'll want to photograph before eating. Or head off in the opposite direction and wind your way to lovely Hardys Bay (also about 15 minutes' drive), where you'll find the tiny Yum Yum Eatery. The crowd favourite here seems to be prawn and scallop pot stickers with burnt butter and five-spice.

We visit Hardys Bay in the morning, picking up a warm house-baked croissant from the Fat Goose cafe-patisserie and walk south along the water, past mangroves, to Pretty Beach.

Not too surprisingly, we can see the massive Mantra across the water at both ends of our walk.

By the time we leave the Mantra, we haven't met any Love Boat-like characters, nor have we done any cruising on Broken Bay and beyond. But we're well rested and hope to be back on board again one day.

VISITORS' BOOK

Mantra Ettalong Beach

Address 53-54 The Esplanade, Ettalong Beach.

The verdict A peaceful and surprisingly stylish place to unwind.

Price From $152 a night for a studio spa suite with hinterland view to $284 a night for a two-bedroom terrace suite with ocean view.

Bookings Phone 4344 8888, see mantraettalongbeach.com.au.

Getting there Drive about 90 minutes north of Sydney, take a train or take a high-speed ferry from Palm Beach (they run six to 10 times a day, see palmbeachferry.com.au).

Wheelchair access Yes.

Perfect for Anyone who loves the reruns of The Love Boat on Channel 11.

While you're there Go bushwalking in the nearby national park, go kayaking (kayak-tours.com.au), see a movie at Ettalong's Cinema Paradiso.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.