The Oaks Boathouse, Tea Gardens review: Where the slow life's a seasonal pursuit

Read our writer's views on this property below

The crab racing is off, the rain has settled in but the views are stunning, writes Caroline Marcus.

Thumbing through a guide to Tea Gardens, I was sure I'd found my answer to the perfect night out. What this sleepy seaside destination lacked in conventional nightlife, it seemed to make up for in quirky nocturnal activities. Namely, crab racing.

But my hopes of raking in the big bucks were soon crushed.

As it turns out, crustacean athletics is a seasonal sport.

"They only race in summer," said the bloke on the other end of the line at the Tea Gardens Hotel. "They need the time off to rest their legs."

Sadly, upon checking in at the Oaks Boathouse, on the waterfront at Tea Gardens, the rain clouds delivered. The incessant patter meant dreams of spending the weekend lounging by one of the hotel's two pools were dashed and we would have to find other ways to pass the time.

Thankfully, our accommodation was a stone's throw from almost anywhere you would want to get to in this Port Stephens town.

Grabbing an umbrella, we ventured out to sample some of the region's famed oysters at the Boatshed Restaurant. We were not disappointed. Our seafood platter included delicious battered fish, salt-and-pepper prawns and crunchy, thick-cut chips at a reasonable price.

After satisfying our taste buds and appetites, we headed back to the hotel for some time out in the "Japanese steamroom". Its description had conjured up images of an ultra-modern sauna, with a communal spa bath or two and perhaps even some bonsai and green tea.

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OK, I've got a pretty creative imagination but I was still miffed to find a small, rather sorry-looking sauna, with a used towel crumpled in the corner. We were equally disappointed to find the gym was small and had ancient equipment that could tempt only the most diehard fitness nut.

We did not need any more justification - physical exercise was shunted in favour of a lazy afternoon nap in our far more generously sized, self-contained, three-bedroom apartment. Boathouse apartments have fully equipped kitchens, ensuites with spas, great, north-east facing balconies with views across Myall Lakes and internet access. The living room has several lounges but I chose to kip in the king-size bed of my air-conditioned suite.

When I woke up, it required considerable restraint to resist tucking into the brimming breakfast basket - filled with supersized muffins, danishes, cereal, granola, porridge, coffee and fruit cups - that had kindly been left on the benchtop of our kitchen.

To divert us, we borrowed a DVD from reception's selection of new-release titles to watch on our living-room television. There's also another television in the main bedroom. Other than acting as a mini Blockbuster, the friendly reception staff can also book tours and other activities for guests.

Later, we headed down the road to see what food we could forage.

The local pub was thumping - or at least, there was a small crowd gathered outside (didn't they hear the crab racing was off?), watching the town go by. We found a Chinese restaurant and ate local crayfish cooked with ginger and shallots.

To finish off a pleasant evening, we decided to take a soak in the spa tub in our ensuite.

I convinced my companion not to be put off by the brownish-coloured water that ran from the taps and we relaxed into the jacuzzi jet bubbles.

The next morning, we settled onto our enormous balcony, with its sweeping view of Myall Lakes, to attack the generous breakfast basket.

We stuffed some of the leftover food - there was a lot! - into our bags for later and headed to the nearby jetty. The 60-minute ferry ride to Nelson Bay offered the hope of spotting dolphins, with the Myall River and Port Stephens waterways home to more than 100 of the bottle-nose variety. We were thrilled to witness a mother dolphin teaching her calf to fish near the wharf.

Later, back at Tea Gardens, we had time for one more leisurely seafood lunch at the cheap and cheerful Oyster Hut before making the trip back to Sydney. Hitting peak-hour traffic on our return, we couldn't help but think life is best lived at a crab-paced crawl.

The writer was a guest of NSW Tourism and The Oaks Boathouse.

TRIP NOTES

Address The Oaks Boathouse, 21-23 Marine Drive, Tea Gardens.

Bookings Phone 1800 336 922, see theoaksgroup.com.au/teagardens.

Rates One-bedroom apartments from $139 a night; two-bedroom from $199 a night; one-bed for seven nights from $99 a night.

VERDICT

Waterfront apartments within walking distance of the best that Tea Gardens has to offer.

Why you'd go You like water, dolphins, seafood.

Why you wouldn't Your idea of a fun break is dancing on tabletops until dawn.

FIND TIME TO

* Catch a ferry to Nelson Bay for dolphin spotting.

* Go fishing in Myall Lakes.

* Explore the beautiful beaches of Port Stephens.