Mantra on Salt Beach – July 2016

We began our journey to the Gold Coast (GC) for the splendour in the grass festival in traditional parents on the loose style- crazy excited about bags filled with our own things rather than sultanas and books without pictures. It’s the little things. Oh plus booze. 

The easy flight was to be backed up by a quick drive to the resort. Despite several warnings about a bridge closure (“sure! Thanks for the tip! I will TOTALLY remember that”) we did not in fact remember that at all and then had to drive ALL the way around back through several towns to make it back into the village. 

So the short 20 min drive from the airport was anything but, however it gave us a better feel for the neighbouring suburbs and a promise to return for a house rental up in the hills of Cabarita. Or the ultimate in Instagram porn Halcyon House.

Leaning towards a a gated village feel, Mantra at Salt Beach is nuzzled in next to the Peppers resort, with a sweet selection of restaurants, cafes and shops in the middle to enable a swimsuit purchase with your flat white ( i may have indulged).

We were visiting for the Splendour festival but were mentally filing away the perks for small families so we could return . Everything about the village screams comfortable family holiday – good facilities, reasonably priced hotel rooms and cheap airfares. Tick, tick, tick. 


We booked a one bedroom apartment which was more than enough room for a couple. The sitting area was spacious and had a large wrap around balcony facing the manicured gardens and looking out to the ocean.

The decor is a little outdated but not overhelmingly so – more like a comforting 90s dream and a flashback to queensland family holidays. No complaints on the amenities apart from a weird positioning of light switches (which puzzles me – surely near the door is always the answer?).



The rest of the hotel feels like it has had a fairly recent refresh, with the pool and dining options clean and inviting, and a large lobby with colourful artworks and comfy couches. Beautiful lush gardens surround the pool and lead you out to Salt beach, a glorious stretch of white sands and crystal blue water. We spied an indoor playground and RSL style diner which i know would 100% have a terrible cover band that I would enjoy immensely. 


With the festival beckoning we did not maximise these facilities but will definitely return with the small person in tow. 

Mantra on Salt Beach

http://www.mantraonsaltbeach.com.au

NO MORE STAYZ

That was the title of the email I got from husband. I suggested a few properties for an upcoming trip, and was promptly rebuffed.Due to a last minute booking over the Easter weekend at a property that was quickly dubbed the drug dealers house with a sex dungeon thanks to a windowless basement room with a single sink and a fussball table, he is now scarred for life.

This is why i like to be organised and planned so that we get the pick of the bunch, rather than the dregs that are overpriced, weirdly designed and frankly a little bit odd. While hilarious, it is horrifying what owners of holiday house rentals think is still acceptable in 2016.

My no go list for holiday house rentals

– floral bedspreads (goes for hotels too)

– fantastic furniture couches

– cane furniture circa 1984

– red leather. It’s offensive

– bunk beds advertised as normal beds for adults. No. For children only. Do not tell me the property sleeps 10 when in reality it has two normal beds and the rest are bunk beds. 

– no linen. Listen, I WILL THROW MONEY at the problem so just tell me upfront how much it will be for you to make it all pretty. Or better yet just include it in the price as a given and be done with it. Who has time to bring linen?? I’m going on holiday so I DON’T need to do laundry. 

– no condiments – come on, just throw in a few of the basics you know i will forget and can go to the supermarket tomorrow but right now i need one thimble of oil.  

Sebel Hotel Kiama – January 2016

I am a fan of Hotel reviews (obviously) and my travel research can border on the obsessive. So it is nice to be pleasantly surprised and dismissive of other travelling folk by going against the grain and staying at a place with average reviews.
Travelling on the first weekend of January, in high summer, was perhaps not the smartest thing to do. Further to that, only deciding to go away on a whim does not help with the available hotel choice.

My research into the Sebel uncovered that it was outdated, a bit drab, not worth the coin. All in all, it didn’t paint a pretty picture. So when we arrived walking straight into the lobby, checked in early with a room upgrade all in a grand total of five minutes I was already impressed. Free parking, easy loading of our million and one things (standard for travelling for one night with a toddler), we made it to our room and were set up in under 15 minutes. Perfection.

IMG_6412

The room overlooked the park and railway line (not exactly scenic) but it enough light to entice us outside which is where you want to be in a seaside town. The room was spacious enough to ft a cot and not be tripping over ourselves, and the bed was large and comfortable. A little stark on the decorations but I much prefer that to an easily outdated room. I understand that there had been some recent renovations so perhaps we were lucky to have a newer room but honestly I don’t know what people were complaining about. It could be said it is on the tad pricey side, but being the only branded hotel in town that is expected. It was clean, easy and staff were friendly – all giant ticks in my view.

IMG_6411

Stock standard – nothing to see here

You cannot beat the location – right on the waterfront and close enough to the main drag but far away enough to feel peaceful. The building itself is a mixture of old and new – beautiful old sandstone preserved in recent renovations was a good move. A new(ish) cafe right next door – Penny whistlers – became our second home. Overall a pleasant stay in a seaside town – warrants another stay.

 

Shout outs to the impressive coffee trail to get us to Kiama:

Bread, espresso &

My new fave future holiday destination – Thirroul. We finally did the drive over the sea cliff bridge which I’ve been meaning to do for a long while, and were pleasantly surprised to drive through some of the southern Sydney suburbs and this gem Thirroul. The name of this little cafe stopped us (as well as the surrounding house porn) and is well worth a visit. Super tiny and cute, fresh pastries and a damn good coffee.

Bread, espresso & 

190 Lawrence Hargrave drive, Thirroul

Sifters Espresso

The scent of breakfast delights fill the air even before I have made it to the car park cafe. A sweet rustic set up with a great soundtrack, delicious treats and a very laid back atmosphere. It’s what I’d love to see in Sydney except it would be unheard of to get this kind of real estate in the Sydney CBD. Super charming staff in all black, school chairs, milk crates and faux grass stools give this cafe a super cute look. I preferred to grab a takeaway and bask in the sunshine while i waited. It was meant to be a coffee pit stop but after drooling over the kitchen I had to get a small treat to takeaway. Gutted a pork roast was about to begin as I left ….

Sifters Espresso  

82 Market St, Wollongong NSW

IMG_6477
Penny Whistlers

Who needs to suffer through disappointing hotel breakfasts when this is on your doorstep? Located right next door to the Sebel Hotel Kiama So good we went twice in 24 hours ( and contemplated a third but thought we would look strange). Great coffee with a delicious menu, we can attest to the beef brisket burger and breakfast bowls.

But the kicker is the view. Starting out over the park it’s just clear blue ocean for days. A cold glass of rose, a full belly and a quiet toddler made for some pretty fine daydreaming.

Penny Whistlers

5/31 Shoalhaven St,  Kiama NSW

Ritzy Gritz

And an extra shout out to the local Mexican place Ritzy Gritz. A tradition of ours is to visit Mexican restaurants in completely inappropriate places ( started on a Sunday night in Paris where the only thing open was a local Mexican place). This place made no sense – it was a mexican AND a stone grill house. What? But it was a pleasant surprise – they accommodated a tired toddler, outdoor seating, fast service and a tasty meal. And my Margarita came in a carafe. Hello fun.

Ritzy Gritz

40 Collins St‎reet, Kiama, NSW 2533

 

Bvilla + spa, Seminyak – June 2015

The experience starts way before our arrival. Cute little sign offs from the welcome emails to prepare us for our stay ‘b ready’. One might say they are a bit cheesy, but every email reminds me that i am one step closer to villa heaven so i really don’t mind.

The experience gets better when the included transfer van picks up our group and weaves through the back streets of Seminyak – close enough to get to all the essential services, but far enough not to hear all the hustle and bustle of the main drag. The hotel is secluded and private – exactly what you want from your villa. We were led down a frangipani lined footpath, simple concrete walls with villas hidden on each side.  The giant wooden door at the entrance to our villa swing open to display the most beautifully simple villa, with the lap pool taking centre position and begging you to pop in for a dip.  The beautiful frangipani trees sheds its flowers and leaves around and into the pool which must be a bitch for the cleaners, but as a guest it is quite a lovely sight.

IMG_3968

The three bedrooms  are massive with high ceilings, complete with a small dressing room and large open bathroom. The dark marble concrete bath is so long that even the tall man can sit comfortably (a world first). Fresh flowers give it a homely touch, in actual fact the home i would love to live in rather than my own pokey one back home. Elegant leather boxes with all the amenities you need, and large refillable bottles of products which makes perfect sense. I love me a tiny bottle of shampoo, but how much better is it to have a quality product in the quantity that you desire? And much less wasteful and better for the environment. Yes hotels of the world, this is a “do the right thing for the environment” action i can get behind rather than the reuse the towels to save a polar bear. HINT: i will ALWAYS take a fresh towel because i don’t have to do laundry.

IMG_3961IMG_3960

IMG_3959

IMG_3955

The shared living space is open and airy, the only downfall being the beautifully designed furniture is not that comfortable to laze around on. But when you are so busy swimming, eating and lying on the sun beds, it is not that much of a drama to go to bed at 8pm and watch tv there. Each room has its on TV, and is air conditioned and mosquito free, an added bonus in the Bali climate. After staying in hotel rooms i wasn’t aware of how bad the mosquitos were at night, so out came the industrial strength mosquito repellant and less time in the open communal areas of the villa.

IMG_3962

The service is of course amazing when you have your own personal butler to assist us on every whim. From welcome drinks to breakfast cooked for us in the villa? Check. Too lazy to go out for dinner, but a craving for vietnamese rice paper rolls? check. In room massages…..daily….check. One could get used to this. This one could get very used to this, so much so that it is a great disappointment to leave and get back to our normal non villa, non bali lifestyle. Until i can book my next holiday that is…..

IMG_3963
Stay here if you love
– your own butler.
– An oasis away from the action to just relaaaaaax
– value for money

Rimba Jimbaran Bali by Ayana – June 2015

Arriving late in the night, bleary eyed and confused after a short (but long flight due to first overseas flight for our toddler). Said overtired toddler is camped on my hip and i get an overwhelming feeling of being ripped off by cab drivers and ATMs from the moment we touched down. The taxi ride is thankfully short and as we weave through the darkness of the Rimba/Ayana grounds we can smell the luxury. The staff open our taxi door and present us (including bub) with frangipani lei’s and a fruit cocktail, resetting our impression of Bali in an instant. Arriving at night robs us of the opportunity of viewing our surroundings, but as it was a significant drive from the property entry to the hotel we know that this is one amazing resort.

Sister of the famous Ayana, Rimba is much more modern and fresh compared to the more traditional and old school luxury of Ayana. Staying at either hotel means you can take the shuttle every 10 mins and cover the whole property including six pools, waterfront spa, cocktails bars and a range of restaurants covering every cuisine. The property is massive and worth exploring – 90 hectares in total, running all the way down to Jimbaran Bay. The lush gardens and manicured lawns are a testament to the large contingent of gardening staff busy at work every day behind the scenes. High up in the mountains, Rimba is split over many levels, providing ample vantage points to take in the scenery or the people watching. And boy is that amusing – the amount of selfie sticks reached critical level on this holiday.

Taking the shuttle down to Ayana, it is all about old school luxury. Beautiful sandstone stairs lead down to a huge outdoor dining space and outdoor pool. Overlooking the Indian ocean, it is incredibly peaceful to stare out and get lost in your thoughts – kind of wishing you were swimming in it, but then happy to have a full service bar at your fingertips. Staff bring around your drink orders and constantly offer free snacks which i cannot refuse.

The time to be at Ayana however is at sunset. Drives of tourists flock to the clifftop bar and the more impressive Rock bar. With a toddler it was never going to happen for us, but a quick peek past the big line of eager drinkers displays an amazing bar with arguably one of the best drinking views you could ask for. A pretty special treat, and one i would be keen to return and try…..rather than just wistfully stare at.

pools pools pools

pools pools pools

IMG_3619

But let’s get to my main priority on a summer holiday – the pool. Oh the pools. Six in total, we managed to try at least four and no matter where you were they were so oversized that it never felt crowded. Beautiful daybeds and mini rooms in the shade means that you can be secluded from all the “stresses” of holiday life. Pool chairs IN THE POOL were blowing my mind, meaning i never had to chose between tanning and swimming as i was basically doing both at the same time. My only gripe was that the waterslide was only for kids. And that our kid was not big enough to enjoy it solo. As i am a giant child i was gutted i couldn’t have a go, but live and learn.

And my other main holiday squeeze – overeating. The breakfast buffet was not cheap, but beyond amazing. Understandlng their guests meant that what was on offer could satisfy even the most fussiest traveller, with traditional Indonesian, Japanese, Korean and American style breakfast dishes all displayed for the eyes bigger than your stomach breakfast diner. There was even a PASTRY ROOM. that was the end of me, a room with a never-ending supply of tasty treats, cakes, muffins, Indonesian sweets that all needed to be sampled and led to what i feel could be self-inflicted diabetes.

GIMG_3600etting to the rooms – the rooms are a little disco, and a lot of luxury. The decor is modern and a bit blingy which while it doesn’t really suit the beach atmosphere, i actually loved it. The standard rooms have a giant circular spa tub and a complicated shower with a rain shower head, normal shower head and not a very straight forward way of turning it all on.

IMG_3605IMG_3602The bed is comically oversized – the biggest king size bed since we first stayed in Claska Tokyo (the famed two large double beds pushed together in perfect harmony). It may require a loud-speaker to talk to my partner, but the space is heavenly.

Our room had a great daybed and balcony – not much of a view as we were in one of the cheaper rooms, but i was happy with the greenery and the local friendly cows outside. IMG_3611

lobby

The lobby is a must see, sunset is best where they roll out a violinist to play out on the edge of the pool. No joke.

sunset in the lobby

sunset in the lobby

And lastly, a big shout out to the staff. So kind and considerate to us with a toddler in tow, but nowi really get why so many Aussies bring their families here. The kids are treated like royalty, everyone stops to say hello and ask their name. And getting a signed farewell card on our last day at breakfast was just too much.

Stay here if you like

– insane luxury
– express entry to the rock bar
– incredibly friendly and organised staff

Crowne Plaza Terrigal – April 2014

First trip away with the small person. It was always going to be a big deal, but what i was not ready for was her first 8 hour straight sleep the night before resulting in feeling like i had more energy than a million cans of red bull. I could have probably run all the way to Terrigal. So in other words, things were off to a good start.

The Central Coast is always a convenient Sydney weekend break, and the Anzac day long weekend was the perfect trial of first family getaway. The drive was easy, the hotel large and family friendly. Those last words still make me shudder, the boutique hotel lady inside me cringing at the thought that i will need to change my travel patterns and preferences. But fear not, it will only be for a short time and i will sure as hell find the most beautiful and luxurious family places if that’s what i have to do.

The Crowne Plaza is on the main street along the waterfront and is realistically the only big hotel in town. It was busy with families seeking the last of the summer sun, so the pool area was packed but manageable. The rooms come with king size beds and are spacious enough for the additional furniture now required in our room in the form of a travel cot. There were some issues setting it up, with a few different hotel staff needed to be called to figure it out (first time parents / first holiday = don’t look at us, we have no idea), but with perseverance we got there in the end. The hotel has had a refresh fairly recently so the rooms felt fresh and clean, even if the hotel corridors exposed what was previously hiding beneath.

In terms of dining, there are plenty of great options nearby, relieving us of having to ear at the hotel. In saying that, the beer garden was pumping being the Anzac Day long weekend, with cover bands ( cringe) and a fairly standard pub menu which would have suited us fine (except for the said covers bands that was just too much to bear). Local picks are Bellyfish cafe for breakfast, N Thai Sing (best name ever) for a quick thai lunch or dinner, and Rojo Rocket for the best mexican a short drive away.

Stay here if you like

– a quick drive from Sydney

– big hotel experience – i.e you have a family

http://www.crowneplazaterrigal.com.au/

The Atlantic, Byron Bay – September 2013

Babymoon

The last hurrah. Child free hotel. Sleep ins. Small suitcase. Reading magazines. The scene was set for our time in Byron – enjoying a bit of peace and quiet before the arrival of a small person who was likely to turn our life upside down.

IMG_6673Booking the Atlantic while the owners were on their annual European pilgrimage gave us almost exclusive use of their beautiful home – a massive kitchen and living space, spacious backyard with lap a pool. I.e. my dream house.

The other guests kept a low profile so we essentially had the space to ourselves, to daydream and plan our move to Byron Bay to run our successful [enter business idea here]. The house is beautiful, the stuff that home magazines are based on (and it actually has been featured in magazines here and blogs here). A more energetic and less pregnant person may have utalised the kitchen space to make a feast but we used it to warm up pizza from down the road and it was equally as glorious.

IMG_6688The rooms are simple and chic – think white linen, big windows and a walk through wardrobe to the light filled shower/bathroom. It is comfortable, simple and perfect for a weekend in Byron, to relax, unwind and realise that you will most probably never have this level of quiet for quite a few years (small person). The staff are friendly and eager to help with advice on local eateries and things to do. But you won’t find that hard as the Atlantic is smack bang in the middle of town, with everything you need on your doorstep.IMG_6657

Sydneysiders can always judge a holiday location by the quality of coffee – i.e. if you serve good coffee we will be pleasantly surprised. That’s why a great perk of the Atlantic was that the best coffee in town was only a short stroll down the street at the Bayleaf cafe. It made for great lazy breakfasts for this very pregnant lady. Lots of locals with their dogs which made me particularly happy. We also tried the burgers at Topshop – the burgers were ok, nothing too special in my book but the hipster watching was pretty amusing. Also almost on our street, except up a giant hill so walk if you want to work off that burger. Always worth a mention is Fishmongers – as a bondi girl i know i frequent our local one WAY too often, but i still love the Byron one as it was the one i tried first. Only place in the world that i will give up my CHIPS in my fish and chips to trade for salad. WHICH NEVER HAPPENS.

IMG_6664IMG_1708

Atlantic Byron Bay