Peppers Anchorage Resort, Port Stephens review: Driven to fine distractions

Read our writer's views on this property below

Met by excellent food and massages after a nightmare drive, Lisa Carty can't stay cranky for long.

Here's the thing about Port Stephens - it doesn't really exist. To be accurate, it's a big body of water, a local government area and a state electorate but it's not a town. So there we were, my post-HSC 18-year-old daughter, Jess, and I, calmly driving along the Pacific Highway on a hot morning, happily expecting to arrive at our destination in plenty of time for our afternoon massages. Stupidly, knowing Port Stephens is a popular holiday spot but never having actually been there, I thought there would be lots of signs. Big signs.

It was only when we saw signs for Hawks Nest that I wondered whether we had gone too far.

"Have you seen a sign?" I asked with an edge of panic. "Yeah, I saw a little one ages ago," Jess replied. "WHY DIDN'T YOU SAY SOMETHING?" I screeched in a decidedly non-mini-break tone. "You always know where you're going, so I thought you knew how to get there," Jess said.

It's true. I know a lot of places and have a good sense of direction but Port Stephens - more precisely, Peppers Anchorage Resort, Corlette, eluded me. I rang for directions. It all got complicated and stressful. In the end, Jess had only 40 minutes of what was meant to be a one-hour massage. But it was a great massage and in the same way Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz awarded themselves bonus miles on the Appalachian Trail because it was hilly, she reckoned the 40 minutes was equal to an hour.

Then it was my turn. My crankiness faded as I sank into total relaxation. That's the thing with holiday massages - it's OK if they just feel fantastic. At home, you feel obliged to ensure it's painful because you know it's doing you good.

Fortunately, given the day's dramas, we were having dinner in-house at the Anchorage's Merretts Restaurant. The food and service were fantastic and certainly on par with many of Sydney's good dinner venues. We both had the seafood trio entree - seared scallop on potato with olive oil, caper and raisin emulsion; butter-poached baby calamari with chilli jam; and crab meat, avocado bavarois and mango with cumin crisp. Jess chose the duck breast main and I had a black Angus fillet. We were full but the strawberry macaroon with berries and strawberry ice-cream and the ravioli of lychee creme brulee with sweet ginger and lemongrass syrup were irresistible.

The next morning, scenes at Peppers' spa and in the restaurant at breakfast illustrated how worlds collide. At the spa, I met a woman from Sydney's northern beaches. She and her husband and their five-year-old son were spending their nights sleeping on their boat, moored at the marina next to Peppers. A pregnant woman and her husband arrived. Their baby was due in a month and it was their last hurrah.

My daughter walked in, all long legs and long hair, looking glam. It didn't seem long ago that I was anxiously awaiting her birth and suddenly she had finished school and was about to head overseas. For years.

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At breakfast, an engagingly energetic little girl could not contain her excitement. "Hey!" she yelled at her brother. "You know how you wanted Crunchy Nut? They've got Crunchy Nut!" Somehow, the little lever on the milk urn came off in my hand. A man tried to help but it eluded him, too. His son, about six, crossed his arms and gave us instructions. He was wearing a little miner's light - the camping variety - on his head. I suggested he turn his light on to help us. He nodded thoughtfully and flicked the switch, looking pleased to be so useful.

The children, the pregnant couple and the sailors were all a lot happier than the bride I overheard complaining to the front desk staff about her room and amenities. Promised treats - bubbles on arrival and same-time massages - had not materialised and the room was, frankly, a bit down at heel. She was calm and reasonable and her complaint was fair.

Anchorage is absolute waterfront. Furnishings are in cream and mushroom colours, combined with white walls and great natural light which makes for comfortable, airy rooms. All the rooms have balconies. It is in the most exquisite setting at Port Stephens, the staff are great and the food is sensational but the resort is probably due for a revamp. And now I know where Port Stephens is, I might even go back.

The writer was a guest of Peppers Anchorage Resort and Tourism NSW.

TRIP NOTES

WHERE Corlette Point Road, Corlette, Port Stephens.

HOW MUCH Rooms start at $225 a night. Phone 1300 987 600, see peppers.com.au/anchorage.

BEST THING The view of the lovely marina from your balcony.

WORST THING The pre-dinner caprioska was terrible. The usual practice of pouring the drink over a large number of quartered and squished limes was forgotten, with just two lousy lime strips lurking in the glass.

LOCAL SECRET A dolphin-watch cruise from Nelson Bay costs just $26 a person. See moonshadow.com.au.