Tails you win

Wobbly chairs, maybe, but Robert Upe and pets are happy with these basic waterside digs.

Barwon Heads is a seaside village with more stylish holiday houses for rent than seagulls hanging around the corner fish and chip shop.

There are houses to rent right opposite the picturesque Barwon River, within earshot of crashing waves at the beach and a mere five iron from the golf greens.

Some come with gleaming European kitchen appliances, outdoor spas, cosy fireplaces for winter and heated swimming pools.

So why are we checking in at a fibro-cement cottage with a rickety iron front gate, a ramshackle cubby house and some wobbly old timber chairs at the dining table?

Three reasons: it takes dogs, it has character, and the price (we pay $500 for the weekend, which includes a discount offered during April).

In the old part of central Barwon Heads, within walking distance from the town's cafes, rental property Workers Playtime doesn't masquerade as anything but a basic holiday house with a big backyard.

But it has the essentials. There's plenty of outdoor decking and a gas barbecue, a wood heater, ceiling fans, reverse-cycle heating and cooling, four bedrooms that sleep up to 12 and two TVs.

There's also an outdoor rain shower with piping-hot water that is a surfer's delight after a session in the waves. The kitchen doesn't have gleaming new appliances but is well decked out with drawers full of utensils, a good range of pots and pans, a pantry with some provisions, a dishwasher, and an old-fashioned milkshake maker that contributes to the retro vibe.

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There are old framed posters around the house, too, further highlighting a bygone era. One poster is for Bayer's aspirin.

The main living area is a pleasant, 12-metre-long space that contains a dining table with the wobbly chairs, sofas, and a television.

With two bathrooms (one with a large spa bath) and two refrigerators, the property's configuration is ideal for two families.

There are timber floors through most of the house, which is finished in blue and white, giving it a beachy feel.

The river is about 10 minutes' walk away. It's a pleasant jaunt with the dogs through the town's quiet streets, boasting neatly trimmed nature strips, to the water. But if you are heading for the beach a little further away and packing a surfboard and children with bodyboards, buckets and spades, you'll need the car.

And then we ate Annie's Provedore and Produce Store (anniesprovedore.com.au) is a rustic deli-cafe in central Barwon Heads that wows us, from the best latte in town ($3.80) to the gourmet pizzas served for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. The leg ham, mushroom, olive, artichoke and anchovy pizza ($19) is only eclipsed by the dessert pizza of mixed berries and white chocolate ($10).

Annie's is open daily for breakfast and lunch and has baskets and old-style soft drink boxes hanging from the ceiling, long communal tables and delicacies such as King Island cheeses, scrumptious sourdough loaves and Indian curry sauces.

Barwon Orange (barwonorange.com.au), a rival cafe just down the road with a good portion of outdoor tables, turns out its own delicious curry in a lunchtime lamb roti wrap ($20). A Moroccan chicken and couscous soup ($12) provides further proof that this little town has some good food choices.

But Barwon Heads' most recognised restaurant is At the Heads (attheheads.com.au), which juts out over the water near the town's iconic bridge. It has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to sea and across the river, and there's an outside verandah with tables, chairs and umbrellas where we find a lively Friday-night snacks-and-drinks crowd stoked by live guitar. But everything quietens down by about 7pm for the dinner set.

Portarlington mussels with chilli and smoked paprika ($19) and an heirloom tomato salad with vegetable gyoza ($17) are fine starters. There is a dramatic seafood platter for two ($118) that includes crab and tempura prawns, but the show-stopper is the location with views.

Stepping out It's all about the water here. There are good surf options at Thirteenth Beach and Ocean Grove, while kids love the river with its sandy beach near the iconic bridge.

The deal maker The house takes dogs but is cleaned and maintained well and there are no signs of previous canine tenants.

VISITORS' BOOK

Workers Playtime

Address 29 Noble Street, Barwon Heads.

The verdict A humble but comfortable getaway.

Price From $550 a weekend (June to August; prices vary at other times).

Bookings See workersplaytime.org.

Getting there About 100 kilometres from Melbourne via the M1 to Geelong.

Perfect for Families with pets.

Wheelchair access No.

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