The Oaks Waterfront, The Entrance review: Surf's off but the prawns are sweet

Read our writer's views on this property below

Daniel Dasey is charmed by an old-style seaside town.

It's about 9pm and a fascinating summer ritual is getting under way. Locals and visitors are pulling on old sandshoes and stepping into the shallow waters where the Tasman Sea meets Tuggerah Lakes. Armed with torches and nets they wade out, watching for the orange catseye glimmer of thousands of school prawns.

Catching the local prawns (the delicious Metapenaeus macleayi) is one of the simple pleasures on offer at The Entrance on the Central Coast. With practice it's easy to spot and scoop up the pale, fast-moving crustaceans, which live and breed in the area.

Freshly cooked, they taste delightful - sweeter and softer than the overhyped king and tiger prawns found in Sydney fish shops.

From the window of our fifth-floor apartment at The Oaks Waterfront Resort, my girlfriend and I can see more than a dozen prawners at work. They make a great sight, their torch beams sweeping through the dark like tiny lighthouses.

While local prawns are a drawcard, they're a secondary attraction to us. Both passionate surfers, we're spending a weekend at The Entrance to try the surf at a couple of the local breaks. Shelly and Forresters Beach have been recommended by John, a friend and 40-year surfing veteran who knows the best spots on the NSW coast. If the wind's blowing hard from the south, he suggests going up to Norah Head.

The Oaks Waterfront lives up to its name - it's an easy, few steps from the resort's grounds to the water. The resort is near a long, dramatic bridge that connects The Entrance with The Entrance North and is close to the main shopping centre; restaurants and cafes are at the door.

When we wake on Saturday we look from the balcony to waves breaking on the distant surf beach. It's a little windy, which is a worry for the surfing, but for guests who don't want surf waves, The Oaks has a huge, inviting swimming pool stretching out towards the bay. It's thoughtfully designed and lined with multiple sets of wide steps so groups can sit, wade and swim together without crowding others. The built-in wet bar looks like the place to go for a casual sundowner; children have their own wading pool.

Guest facilities include spa and gym, undercover parking, laundry and internet access. Our apartment is stylish, comfortable and modern. The balcony has an outdoor dining setting and there's plenty of room for lounging around.

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Below a couple of carousels are starting up and their 1970s and 1980s pop hits give the town a bit of an English seaside feel. Traditionally a working-class getaway, The Entrance has been moving its image upmarket in recent years. There's still a way to go but there are decent cafes, ice-cream parlours and a good supermarket. The holidaymakers are mostly mums and dads taking their broods on holidays.

But back to the surfing. After loading up the Holden we drive to Shelly Beach. The wind is blowing with gusto from the south-west but we're hungry for a surf and hop in anyway. It's fun for 45 minutes or so but eventually the wind really picks up and it becomes unsurfable.

In the car park the wind catches my girlfriend's Malibu board as I'm loading it on top of the car, sending it hurtling through the air and crashing on the asphalt. Had it been mine, I would have been ropeable but after a tense few seconds all is forgiven.

On the way back we grab a kilo of school prawns, make for the balcony apartment and fall upon them. They're fiddly but sweet.

Next on the attraction list is the pelican show at The Entrance. It happens at 3.30pm every day of the year and is a delight.

The dialogue is a little corny, but it's surprisingly heart-warming. Perhaps 40 or 50 of the big birds converge on an amphitheatre by the water and wait for feeders to toss fish.

I defy anyone not to be moved by One Wing, a 30-year-old pelican who lost a wing in a boating accident 25 years ago and is still pottering around the lakes. He's learned to recognise his name and responds to the beseeching cries of the kids: "One W ng! One Wiiiing!"

That night we forgo the thriving nightlife in nearby Terrigal for dinner with friends near Avoca.

The next morning the wind is still up and Norah Head is protected but flat. Surfing is off.

After breakfast at The Entrance we take a punt and drive to the Australian Reptile Park near Gosford. I've driven past this place dozens of times but never gone in.

Maybe it's just the benefit of being here with a new Australian (my girlfriend is from Sweden) but the reptile park is fun.

The Central Coast has been a pleasant surprise. And I would have been happy with just the prawns.

The writer was a guest of The Oaks Waterfront, The Entrance.

TRIP NOTES

Address: The Oaks Waterfront, 89 The Entrance Road, The Entrance, NSW, 2261.

Bookings: Phone (02) 4334 8000; see theoaksgroup.com.au and select "The Entrance".

Rates: One-bedroom apartments start at $119 a night. Studio and two-bedroom apartments are also available.

VERDICT

Clean, modern apartment-style accommodation close to beaches and other holiday activities.

Why you'd go: For an unpretentious holiday close to Sydney.

Why you wouldn't: You want personal B&B-style service.

FIND TIME TO

· Explore the beaches.

· See a film at The Entrance's cute movie theatre.

· Give a gold coin to the pelican show's operators. Donations keep the operation running.