Whether you’re seeking exploration, adventure, pampering or the perfect hideaway, it’s time to set sail to your very own utopia.
When the universe lands too much on your plate, even the normally joyful act of choosing a holiday destination can weigh you down. If only there was one place you needn’t think twice about. A year-round, protected paradise where worries are left at the door, service is intuitive and your every whim is swiftly and discreetly catered to. Well, get ready – whether you’re seeking exploration, adventure, pampering or the perfect hideaway, it’s time to set sail to your very own utopia. Secret passcode: The Anchorage Port Stephens.
The quiet approach
Turning east off the highway just two hours’ drive from Sydney, time starts to wind backwards. For the next 45 minutes, streetscapes featuring ’80s-built homes with freshly mown lawns and concrete pelicans gradually melt away into laneways lined with rustic beach shacks, palm trees and lush parkland expanses. You catch a glimpse of talc white sand and pale turquoise ripples through a veil of scrub and wonder how on earth this stunning stretch of land has existed for so long known as Port Stephens, so close to home, without your knowledge – and you do a little happy dance in your seat because developers don’t appear to have received the memo either. Slowly edging towards the seaside village of Nelson Bay, at a fingertip of jutting land you exit, stage left, passing Corlette Point Park’s brilliant patch of green that fronts an incredibly pristine beach. Your gaze comes to rest on a sign that reads ‘Resort Guests Only’. You’ve arrived at a luxury haven by the sea.
Checking in to check out
A glass of sparkling wine is placed in your hand as you drift into the stunning Hamptons dressed lounge area for the check in experience, the perfect indicator of what lies ahead. Plump sofas and oversized cocoon chairs in beige, cream, caramel and indigo offer plenty of soft landings, poised to soak up the natural light which floods the hexagonal room from almost every angle. The decor, although straight from a page of a luxury home magazine, feels as comfortable as a pair of well-loved jeans and cable-knitted cashmere. Looking across the main resort pool towards the marina adjacent, a collective of yacht masts wave a gentle hello. Your host offers to book dinner for you, of course allowing ample time to settle in to your room and take a romantic stroll along the boardwalk which connects you to all points of the resort and marina. You’re guided to your awaiting chambers and before your host slips away, they present you with a small cache of handcrafted chocolates honouring your special occasion. Sweet.
You’ve lashed out on one of the split-level lofts because you truly deserve it. The entire whitewashed space, ethereal and streamlined, bears nautical hints, botanical artworks and mirrors that bring the blissful outdoors even closer. A small but inviting sitting room with a balcony connects to the upper deck via a slender light-house stairwell. First impressions evoke instant calm, but the full impact only emerges upon locating the master bedroom. A king-size bed sits central in an observatory, like a giant pearl resting in its shell. Climbing aboard, you marvel at the windswept coastline you’ll be waking to each morning. Slung across the foot of the bed, a fishing net-inspired throw hints toward you being the catch of the day, and who could argue? You spy a message with a bottle. It’s your favourite Alsatian riesling, that sensational drop you first sipped on your European honeymoon and couldn’t forget. The note reads “ Chill me. Tomorrow a surprise awaits”. You dutifully follow instructions before sauntering, hand in hand, along the waterfront. The air is cooler than anticipated but a staff member appears with a knowing wink, handing you a light blanket to wrap around your shoulders.
Your table is waiting at The Wild Herring. Like most resort facilities, this restaurant is open only to guests. Although you know the resort is at capacity, you notice just a few other couples. Paying closer attention, they seem to know one another and the staff. It transpires that they are regular guests, and some have been making the pilgrimage for generations. Grown-up children who once built sandcastles on the shore now view the beautifully refurbished resort with fresh perspective, passing on the magic to new friends and lovers.
Signature cocktails are sipped as a stream of sail boats return to their moorings. Hours pass without once looking at your phone, swept away with destination dining at its finest. The reimagined contemporary Australian menu features rock oysters from nearby waters, sublime scallops, line-caught local fish and expertly matched wines. You’ve finally found time to reconnect and now only have eyes for each other. Your waiter suggests a nightcap in the stylish Moby’s Bar, and you go because you’re not quite ready for this night to end. The sumptuous whiskey den is swathed in richly hued textures: moss green and eggshell blue velvet, tanned and chocolate leather, and tartan rugs which soften the expanse of dark wood parquetry flooring. Cut crystal-style light fittings mimic whiskey decanters, adding a warm glow to the room, and are enhanced by flickering lantern lights dancing a merry jig. The atmosphere hugs you tight and you order another dram.
Through enormous bay windows filtered with sea mist you spy a moody grey winter’s sky from your bed, and take it as a sign for a lie in. Your breathing syncs with the music of waves, lapping and shushing against the break wall. This is the peace you were seeking. Leisurely grazing on crisp pastries with a much-appreciated coffee fix, you’re presented with a hint of the day’s activities and are reminded to grab that special bottle. A pre-planned sailing adventure to mark your anniversary has you stepping onto a yacht deck just as the sun starts to peek through the clouds. You spend the day mesmerised by the drifting sea spray, seagulls gliding overhead and pods of frolicking dolphins so close you reach out in hope of an introduction. In the distance a whale breaches and life feels somehow more complete.
After pulling into a quiet cove, you saunter along the seemingly untouched beach barefoot, investigating rock pools and dusting off shells, looking for the perfect keepsake. While you snorkel in the crystal-clear bay a blanket is set on the sand, weighted down with a picnic basket of crisp crudites, a selection of charcuterie and your favourite cheese, and a crusty baguette. It’s time to dry off. The riesling’s uncorked and you toast each other’s cleverness in discovering this special haven.
Post-lunch, a languid nature hike brings the day almost to a close, and you return to The Anchorage as the sun sets and the temperature drops dramatically. A crackling fire beckons you to the lounge. A ‘welcome home’ glass of mulled wine arrives, its spicy aroma transporting you to anniversaries past, and you share a smile. Back in your room you snuggle up with a movie and order in a burger. The chef’s accompanying house-made pickled vegetables are so damn good you ask for the recipe. Simple things.
Ebb and flow
It’s your final full day and you find yourself humming Hotel California, refusing to believe you’ll ever leave. An early decision is made to explore further afield, so you rent two bikes from a nearby business and cycle along the coastal road, rewarding yourself with a wholesome breakfast at one of Nelson Bay’s laid-back cafes. After perusing a few elegant boutiques and homewares stores you top up with a mid-morning coffee to buoy your downhill ride. The breeze whips your hair away from your face and, squealing with delight, you remember the beach holidays of your childhood and less complicated, freer times. You land by the heated adults-only infinity pool, surrounded by immaculately groomed shrubbery for ultimate privacy, and read two pages of that book you’ve been yearning to dive into before falling asleep in the warmth of the sun. You awaken, shaded by an umbrella canopy you’re certain wasn’t there when you arrived. Complimentary seasonal fruit appears, followed by a range of bespoke popsicles. You could stay all afternoon but it’s time for a pampering salt scrub, full body massage and facial at in-house Spa Lucca. You float out some hours later to the strumming of live guitars timed for twilight cocktails on the deck. A small group enjoys a private mixology class and you make a mental note for next time, already knowing which friends you’ll have in tow. Tonight, you’re already committed; a specially themed chef’s table dinner has been arranged. Later in your room, a bath has been drawn, sprinkled with essential oils and freshly plucked petals. You linger, resisting sleep, but it’s futile – you’re already en route to the isle of dreams.
Same time next year
You wake to an expanse of blue and the scent of bacon wafting from The Galley Kitchen, a sprawling atrium-like space adjacent to the resort’s main pool. You relax a little longer, farewell new friends and stretch out the morning as long as you can. Navigation begins for a longer stay next winter, and perhaps a brief summer sojourn in between? You’re swayed to take one final meander around the area, soaking in the breathtaking scenery. Scrambling to a high point for a few more snapshots, you recall yesterday’s encounter with a deeply creviced fisherman. With a wry grin and a twinkle in his eye he maintained focus on the horizon as he carefully explained the technique of ‘catch and release’. Wise words for travellers. Abandon the helm and let The Anchorage steer your next escape.