There is something quintessentially Australian about sitting on a balcony overlooking a sweep of gum trees and eating barbecued salmon from the local fishing co-op while being serenaded by the squawk of cockatoos. As the days grow warmer, an abundance of holiday homes along the Great Ocean Road lures visitors with just such a winning combination, as languid outdoor evenings follow surf-tossed days.
In Lorne, arguably the prettiest town along this famed stretch of coastline, the options range from down-at-heel beach shacks to luxurious architect-designed havens that wouldn't look out of place in Melbourne's swankiest suburbs. Crowding the middle market is a range of basic, family friendly dwellings that need do little to ensure a steady stream of visitors. In a town renowned for its glorious combination of beach, bush and cafes, visitors line up for a place to stay.
The Boulevard at No.2 Richardson Boulevard fits into this middle range (and is, confusingly, one of three similarly named rentals on the street - the newer Boulevard and Boulevard Retreat are a short stroll away). What this particular version lacks in sea views and sumptuous decor it makes up for in generous living areas that render it virtually two houses in one.
Perched on the side of a hill behind the camp grounds and supermarket, the house, which sleeps up to eight, has three bedrooms and two living areas on two levels.
Upstairs, there are two double bedrooms, the main with an ensuite, as well as a second bathroom, a small but well-equipped kitchen, a dining area and spacious living room with TV and wellstocked DVD cabinet.
A large balcony with barbecue is the natural focus during meal times.
A sliding door leads to the large balcony. A barbecue and outdoor setting make this the natural focus of the house during meal times.
Downstairs, in what seems to be the ideal teenagers' retreat, there are a twin bedroom, spacious living area with two fold-down futons, television and VCR, plus a separate bathroom, toilet and laundry with washing machine and dryer. A landing located off the living area opens out to a small rear garden.
As befits a place that accepts children and pets (though the unfenced yard is an issue if dogs are inclined to wander), the decor here is unfussy and the furniture practical. The beds and lounge suite are comfortable enough but there's a disappointing lack of lazy outdoor furniture (though, given that the balcony can be seen from the street below and several neighbouring houses, any lazing about would be a fairly public affair). The walls are painted cream throughout and dotted with the odd three-dimensional beach scene, while the office-style vertical blinds add to a general absence of charm.
Relaxed though it is, The Boulevard isn't the kind of place in which to while away the weekend hours. Instead, take a 10-minute stroll through the nearby camp ground and along the Cumberland River to the oldest and prettiest part of town, where bags and bellies can be filled with everything from organic greens to Asian artefacts and gourmet pizzas.
Across the road, a boardwalk takes beachgoers to an old but sturdy footbridge at the point where the river meets the sea. In the shadow of the bridge, a popular boat-shack-cum-cafe has simple but tasty fare and also hires out paddleboats. Wooden sets of noughts and crosses keep kids distracted until iced chocolates arrive, dripping with whipped cream and syrup.
Back in town, the art-deco movie house has a good mix of current releases and caters to kids and adults, who can sit back and revel in cinematic nostalgia.
Past the main strip of ubiquitous seaside takeaway and surf shops, a rocky stretch of beach leads to the popular fishing pier. The co-op here is a local institution, with well-priced seafood - including the plumpest of pre-cooked prawns - jovial fishermen and a seemingly endless supply of free lemons.
Back on the balcony, as wetsuits drip on to the ground and the exhausted dog lies napping, cockatoos make their evening retreat into the treelined hill behind us.
The sea has left its fine saltwater traces on young limbs and the lovely town of Lorne has once again seduced us with its many charms.
The Boulevard - Lorne
Address The Boulevard, 2 Richardson Boulevard, Lorne.
Bookings 5237 4201, holidaygor.com.au.
Getting there Lorne is 140 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, about two hours by car.
How much Two-night minimum stay on weekends, $685 for four people. To sum up A large, comfortable and well-located house within easy walking distance to beach, cafes and shops.
The verdict 14. The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable. All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.