Daniel Scott returns to a favourite beach to find that despite its new A-list connection, its charm remains.
Arriving at the seaside hamlet of Seal Rocks, 275 kilometres north of Sydney, I wonder whether its population of less than 150 knew what hit them when the movie Adoration was filmed here two summers ago.
The film, which opened on Thursday, stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as lifelong friends who fall in love with each other's teenage sons.
Yet apparently the film, which used two local beach houses as principal locations, barely raised a ripple in this determinedly tranquil coastal settlement.
THE LAST FRONTIER
Images of the jade Tasman sea collecting in its bays and of young Aussie actors Xavier Samuel and James Frecheville surfing perfect waves off its beaches in Adoration will undoubtedly bring Seal Rocks more attention. But it's been famous among surfers for four decades and long been popular with Sydneysiders for family holidays, without losing its laid-back charm.
This is partly because it takes some effort to reach. It's a winding half-hour drive off the Pacific Highway, via the Lakes Way, and Seal Rocks road, which includes a short but symbolic stretch of rutted gravel.
Painted on the approach road's tarmac section is the slogan "Save Seal Rocks". It's a reminder of several David versus Goliath stoushes in which those who like the seaside settlement the way it is have resisted attempts to commercialise it. The latest protest is against developing the holiday park behind its main "Number One" beach.
I've been visiting Seal Rocks regularly for 15 years, usually pitching a tent at Treachery campground, tucked in behind the hamlet.
This weekend, with my family, I've upgraded to the holiday rental Nana's beach house.
Next door to Adoration's main location, high above Boat Beach, the smaller of its two beaches, staying here is like a being in a box at the Seal Rocks opera. Early on our first morning, breakfasting on the deck overlooking the ocean, we watch a dozen whales head out to sea, including a mother and calf 200 metres away. A pod of dolphins is skirting the rocky shore hunting for food. On the beach below, three fishermen are launching their boat and behind it, the first surfers arrive to assess the waves.
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
After breakfast we turn left out of the driveway and amble up the 660-metre track to Sugarloaf Point lighthouse. Built in 1875 and set above the cluster of rocks – where Australian fur seals once lolled – from which the area derives its name, the bright white lighthouse is another great whale-watching spot and at night throws out a beam visible 100 kilometres away. Below it are three renovated keepers' cottages that are now sought-after accommodation.
MYALL LAKES NATIONAL PARK
The lighthouse is located in a pocket of Myall Lakes National Park. Encompassing a large coastal lake system, on which we've previously spent a soothing weekend houseboating, and 40 kilometres of unspoilt beaches, the park is like the wild yin to the seaside haven's yang. To explore it more, we take a short dirt road to Yagon, beyond Treachery Camp, where we stroll from an almost empty campground to a deserted beach pounded by barrelling surf.
BACK AT THE BEACH
The beauty of Seal Rocks for families is that both its north-facing beaches, the 1.3 kilometre arc of Number One and the short slither of Boat, are largely protected. Waves are usually benign and the ocean translucent. In the late afternoon, we walk the length of Number One beach, then cool off by snorkelling around the rocks in its southern corner.
WHY EAT OUT?
That night I offer to take the family out for tapas at the Rolling Bean cafe in nearby Smiths Lake or a pizza at Blueys Beach, 20 minutes' drive north. But my offer is declined.
"Why eat out?" asks my partner, indicating our view.
"We want Daddy's seafood risotto," chorus my daughters.
Armed with fresh calamari, prawns and snapper from Pacific Palms Seafood up the road, I produce what the family pronounce is my finest risotto yet.
Up until now I've made do without one magic ingredient, the sun setting on Seal Rocks to reveal a twinkling night sky. While the filming of Adoration has conferred glamour on the reluctant haven, it's scenes like these, bristling with luminous stars, that will continue to draw visitors to Seal Rocks.
The writer was a guest of Nana's Beach House, Pacific Palms Holidays and Destination NSW.
Seal Rocks is three hours' drive north of Sydney.
Three-bedroom Nana's Beach House costs $850 for weekends ($3550 a week) from pacificpalmsholidays.com.au, which has a range of local holiday rentals. Other accommodation includes treacherycamp.com.au and lighthouse cottages – sealrockslighthouseaccommodation.com.au