Travel News

Life's a beach

Architectural splendour, isolated locations, islands you’ll wish were yours: Kendall Hill goes in search of Australia’s best beach houses.

There's something uniquely Australian about a beach house. Sure, the rest of the world has beaches with houses on them, but they don't have our beaches, or our houses. We seem to have elevated the coastal retreat to a fine art, an architectural idiom and a celebration of nature, all wrapped up in glass and plonked on a gorgeous sweep of shoreline.
Australia has myriad stunning coastal stretches, so how do you choose where to kick back and slip on your thongs? How do you compare Western Australia's wonderful Kimberley coast to the natural grace of the Great Ocean Road or the otherworldly wonder of Lizard Island? Easy. You work out which has the most irresistible accommodation. Here's our pick of the country's most inspirational seaside escapes.
Johanna, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Don't be deterred by the name. Johanna is a jewel on the 263km Great Ocean Road and Rotten Point House is a not-so-rotten modern acropolis of rammed earth, concrete, glass and steel set on more than 40 hectares of virgin bush. Its basic specs include four bedrooms (maximum six guests), two bathrooms, kitchen, outdoor shower and sheltered courtyard with barbecue. Its not-so-basic specs include designer seating from the likes of Saarinen, Eames and Verner Panton, all perfectly positioned for viewing the wild Southern Ocean weather. With only echidnas, wallabies and bandicoots for company, the vibe is one of glorious isolation, but the house is just five minutes' drive from Johanna Beach, famous for its fishing and surfing (it's the back-up beach for the Bells Classic). To the south lie the Twelve Apostles, north are Apollo Bay and Lorne. But with the option of an in-house chef and massage therapist, and the lure of those dramatic-hypnotic views, there's really no reason to leave. From $670 per night for two, plus $80 per extra person per night (minimum two-night stay). For bookings contact Holiday Great Ocean Road, (03) 5237 1098.
Palm Beach, Sydney, NSW
With its enviable mix of location, design, function, and a rock-star pool perched above the Pacific Ocean, Palm Beach Villa epitomises the laid-back glamour of Sydney's northern peninsula. Its cool white interiors have a polished European feel but the setting is pure, sun-drenched Australia with shimmering Tasman Sea outlooks to Barrenjoey lighthouse and beyond. Accommodation is in four double bedrooms (two upstairs, two down, all with ensuites) split between two pavilions. An airy retreat of day-beds and trundle beds sleeps up to four children and, like most of the property, it captures stunning views. If it's wow factor you want, it's here in spades. From $1500 per night (minimum two-night stay). For bookings contact Contemporary Hotels, (02) 9331 2881.
North Queensland
New owners have breathed new life into Lizard Island resort's interiors and operations, but the setting remains gloriously untouched. This island national park surrounded by the world's largest coral reef is spectacular in so many ways - the breezy, beachy chic of its refurbished suites and the fresh and fabulous cuisine of executive chef Mark Jensen (he of Red Lantern fame) - but its most compelling asset is that reef on the doorstep. Guests can stumble from king bed to seabed in seconds and while away hours engrossed in the submarine psychedelia of giant clam gardens and fish of every shape and shimmer. Days unfold in a dreamy routine of snorkelling and diving excursions to the outer reef, beach picnics, private dinners on the sand and barefoot decadence. Okay, so it's not strictly a beach house - more of a resort, wouldn't you say? - but Lizard is unique in Australia and envied around the world. Rooms for two from $1444 per night; The Pavilion suite for two from $3186 per night (prices include all meals and drinks). For bookings contact Resort Reservations, (03) 9426 7550.
Marion Bay, East Coast, Tasmania
On a grassy knoll about an hour's drive from Hobart an extraordinary home commands 60 hectares of coastal pastureland with views to Maria Island and the Dunalley Canal. The exterior of Marion Bay House is a triumph of Australian minimalism, and the interiors channel Danish modernism. On arrival, guests are confronted by a 58-metre wall of weathered macrocarpa and a wooden walkway (the "sheep chute") leading to a stark entrance. Interiors are lucid and smart and furnished with Eilersen leather sofas, a Rübner dining table and Eames chairs - even the wall clock is Georg Jensen. Three bedrooms (they sleep six), two bathrooms and living areas that trap stunning Tasmanian ocean views make for blissful living. Local wineries and Maria Island National Park offer compelling outings, but there's plenty to encourage indolence, including a Focus fireplace that rotates to warm wherever you are. $600 per night (minimum three-night stay).
Swansea, East Coast, Tasmania
Walls of glass roll back to create an incredible viewing platform high above Great Oyster Bay. A vast and seductive sweep of north-east Tasmanian coastline opens up from The Hazards and Freycinet Peninsula dead ahead to Schouten Island and Maria Island in the south. It's the sort of cinematic moment that goes perfectly with a glass of Champagne and a menu of gourmet delights showcasing Tasmania's bounty, which The Lair's owner - architect-hotelier Rick Bzowy - is only too happy to provide. He'll also whip up dinner if you wish (his risotto rocks) or leave visitors to DIY in the designer kitchen. Bzowy wants guests to have "an uncompromised experience" and has spared no expense ($2 million-plus) in realising that goal. Interiors are adorned with urbane furnishings - Artemide lighting, Cassina and B&B Italia - and vivacious modern artworks. The home sleeps four in two double bedrooms, each equally gorgeous and thoughtfully spaced at opposite ends of the building. A sheltered rear "play space" below a peppermint forest combines outdoor kitchen, shower, even a spa with underwater speakers. It's almost enough to tear you away from the view. From $1290 per night (minimum two-night stay), (03) 6257 8999.

Kuri Bay, Kimberley, WA
Its backyard is the Kimberley; its front yard is the largest humpback whale nursery in the southern hemisphere. Access is by seaplane or helicopter only. Accommodation is on an old pearling farm that once supplied 60 per cent of the world's South Sea beauties. Staff attend to your every need. What more could you want in a beach house? Kuri Bay, some 360 kilometres north of Broome, is named after Tokuichi Kuribayashi, the pioneer who helped establish Australia's first cultured pearl farm here in 1956. Until now it has been off-limits to all but company executives and their cashed-up customers. But owner Paspaley Pearls has joined forces with Wild Bush Luxury (Bamurru Plains, Sal Salis) and, from April, guests will be able to fly here from Broome along the epic Kimberley coastline, bed down in rooms originally built for VIP pearl buyers and toast their good fortune with sundowners in the Pearlers' Bar. The area is rich in Aboriginal, colonial and pearling history, but the standout experience for many is likely to be visiting Camden Sound, where between July and October more than a thousand humpback whales transform the surrounding waters into a giants' maternity ward. From $4799 for four-night all-inclusive packages (available April-October). For bookings contact Wild Bush Luxury, 1300 790 561.