Caves Beachside Hotel, Caves Beach NSW
Tucked in the dunes on a long stretch of white sand beach, about 90 minutes from Sydney, Caves Beach is a sleepy seaside town on the Swansea peninsula between Lake Macquarie and the Pacific Ocean. It's best known for its namesake, a network of sea caves at the southern end of the beach which are fun to explore pirate-like at low tide.
There are 18 beach suites, 24 villas and 10 townhouses accessed by Hamptons-style, timber boardwalks designed by HBO+EMTB. The 4.5 star beach suites sit on a lily-studded pond (making them unsuitable for children) with the beach a mere 50 metres away. At the heart of the sprawling complex is the hotel itself, a large modern pub, a short stroll from the accommodation. The hotel has recently opened a new pool, which wasn't open when we stayed. The vibe is laidback seaside caravan park, yet with contemporary and stylish digs and not an annex or toilet block in sight.
We're staying in a three-bedroom townhouse with beach views. It's a two storey timber cabin with an upstairs and downstairs deck. It's spotlessly clean, albeit a little on the sterile side. The bedrooms have king-size beds and are snug and peaceful (bedrooms don't have sea views), while the bathrooms are sparkling white and stocked with Peter Morrissey amenities. Everything is here if you want to self-cater, and there's a comfy lounge to hang out on and watch DVD's. Our favourite thing was gathering on the upstairs deck with a cheese plate and glass of wine and watching the surfers. The views are magically soothing and you can fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.
There's no room service, however the hotel dining room is a short walk away. A highlight for families is the indoor playground, so after children have finished eating, parents can enjoy a relatively peaceful dinner while the kids play. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer wonderful ocean views and the expansive wrap-around timber deck is perfect for summer afternoons with a cold beer. The Caves Wagyu beef burger on the seasonal menu is wickedly delicious, or opt for something from the specials board. It's standard bistro fare but delivered with a smile by the bright young and efficient staff.
Have breakfast at the fabulous Café Mac (cafemacquarie.com) which delivers consistently good, locally roasted coffee. Try the avocado toast with feta, lemon thyme, black pepper and a poached egg on top. Afterwards take a stroll and admire cafe owner Ana Benson's successful Block to Block Street Art project, a community initiative to replace unsightly graffiti with vibrant colourful animal-themed art. Check out the grinning, sunglass-wearing crocodile by New Zealand street art duo BMD.
Take a leisurely horse ride through the rainforest in the Watagan Mountains at AAA Horse Riding (aaahorseriding.com.au), followed by a picnic lunch at the gorgeous Catherine Hill Bay. At sunset head for Lake Macquarie Yacht Club and watch as the boats come in from a day on the water, before strolling up the hill to Salinas (salina.com.au), a magical old school bistro named after the island of Salina surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Here, tucked off the busy main road, is one of the region's best-kept secrets (the locals guard this gem carefully). The place is typically packed and sprawls out to a charming courtyard garden with diners tucking into the predominantly Sicilian fare such as linguine with zucchini, prosciutto, garlic, white wine and parsley or a special of sardines coated in pistachio crumbs.
This is the ideal place for couples, families or groups of friends wanting a quick relaxing getaway from Sydney with all the essentials close at hand: beach, pool and pub. The coffee's nothing to write home about, however Black Treacle, a cute hole in the wall café, is a mere amble up the road. Pack your swimmers, the boogie boards and a beach bag and you're set for a fun weekend.
27 Mawson Close, Caves Beach NSW. A beach suite starts from $230 a night for two people; a villa from $249 and a townhouse from $309 in low season. Phone (02) 4980 9999. See cavesbeachsidehotel.com.au.
HIGHLIGHT Watching the full moon rise over the ocean with a glass of wine on the top deck.
LOWLIGHT The motel-style amenities cheapen what should be a five-star experience.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Lake Macquarie City Council visitlakemac.com.au.