SHOAL Bay is stunning. There is no other word to describe it, except perhaps convenient. It's only an hour's drive north of Newcastle.
When you're stuck in the nine to five grind it is easy to forget the natural wonders of our very own backyard and dream instead about lavish overseas holidays.
While you're busy dreaming, take the time to visit Shoal Bay Country Club. Whether it's a day trip or a weekend away, just get there. It really is worth it. We visited in the middle of winter but the sun was shining and the ocean sparkling and it felt like summer.
The country club was built in the 1930s and looked it. Then The Eastern Hotels Group stepped in and spent $6 million refurbishing it - and the rest is history. The cafe, bar, pub and restaurant boasts stunning ocean views and has become a community hub as well as a tourist attraction.
The look is (unsurprisingly) coastal but with Mediterranean influences and a 1950s vibe. The palette is predominately white with pops of pastel and plenty of greenery, cane and timber.
On ground level, Mermaids Cafe looks nothing like its name suggests. This is a funky 1950s-style diner with an industrial edge, booth seating and one of the better breakfast offerings I have seen in recent times. Made to order from a menu with a balance of naughty and nice, the poached eggs with avocado, roasted tomatoes, goats' cheese, red beet labneh and pepitas on soy and linseed toast ($20) was a standout.
There are lots of smoothies and milkshakes to keep the kids happy. And waffles.
Also on the ground floor is the Beach Bar, which had games and even a disco for children enjoying the school holidays, as well as a beer garden that was hosting a reptile show, and the "ladies" Cane Lounge.
Head upstairs and the views across the bay will take your breath away. Settle in with a cocktail jug while soaking up the sun and with just a little imagination you could be on a Greek island. Lunch and dinner dining is casual and friendly but you are spoilt for choice, with huge menus catering for all palates. The wood-fired pizza oven is getting a good workout when we visit, and staff are quick to recommend the seafood.
Chatting to two women while waiting for our meals, one tells me the club is a hit with locals as well as tourists. She lives in Nelson Bay and is a regular.
We stayed overnight in a two-bedroom apartment at the adjoining Ramada Resort. It's difficult to tell where the country club finishes and the resort begins. The two are separate entities but work closely together. Our apartment is surprisingly large (and affordable: $250) with a full-equipped kitchen, dining and lounge area as well as a large balcony. There's no Foxtel or other form of pay per view so bring a board game, some DVDs or a USB if you aren't a fan of free-to-air viewing. Parking is available on-site.
The resort's pool was a hit with the kids and adults flocked to the indoor mineral spas and lap pool.
Shoal Bay Country Club is close to home but feels like a proper holiday. The Port Stephens coastline is quite different to Newcastle's. The water is turquoise, the sand white, the seas calm and the landscape flat with tree-topped hills instead of craggy cliffs. And then there's Shoal Bay Country Club, which is largely self-contained and feels like a 1950s holiday resort with its family activities, decor and laid-back retro vibe. It's a throwback to a simpler time, and a welcome one at that.
There are thousands of accommodation options in Port Stephens and a growing number of destination restaurants, so Shoal Bay Country Club had to try something different to attract guests. They've succeeded. I'm looking forward to visiting the country club's very own penthouse apartment, which is still under construction, and the new restaurant due to open later this year.
The writer was a guest of Shoal Bay Country Club.