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Is this romantic beachside retreat NSW’s best-kept secret?

Just a 90-minute drive north of the hustle and bustle of Sydney is a little slice of paradise perfect for remedying the woes of urban living, writes Mike Smith.

Sitting back on the comfy lounge in a villa befitting its five-star rating, we are greeted by the pleasant calls of the birdlife and the welcome sound of waves gently lapping the sands of Toowoon Bay.

To book a stay at the adults-only Kim’s Beachside Retreat on the NSW Central Coast seems a perfect remedy to all the stresses of city life, a chance to re-energise in tranquil surrounds and do as you please. The biggest concerns are when to take a swim and what cocktail to order in the bar before dinner. Little wonder discerning couples have been known to return year after year.

Traveller: Mike Smith
Room: Commodores Beach Villa
Address: 18 Charlton St, Toowoon Bay, NSW Central Coast
Date: November, 2023
Best for: Discerning couples wanting to get away from it all and relax and re-energise in a cushy yet informal beachside sanctuary within a 90-minute drive north of Sydney.

Fresh sunflowers in the Commodores Beach Villa. Photo by Mike Smith

The Concept

Luxurious without being formal is a perfect description for the family-owned retreat, which has been a feature on the coast since its humble beginnings as a men’s only campground 137 years ago. A nautical theme spreads across the retreat, understandable as the owner, the late Andrew Strachan, was a keen yachtie who loved the open waters and was once a line winner of the Sydney-to-Hobart classic. Andrew’s wife Mary-Jane, along with his niece Diana, and Diana’s husband Peter Kershaw (both long-standing managers), continue his seafarer’s legacy.

Charcuterie board and bottle of wine
Hampers available at Kim's Beachside Retreat

First impressions

Set on a 2.5ha site of sub-tropical rainforest south of The Entrance, Kim’s Beachside Retreat is shielded by towering Norfolk Pines, most planted during the retreat’s pioneering days when the mode of transport for visitors was cargo ship. The grounds are meticulously groomed, the 34 bungalows and villas in ship shape, and the beachfront and hillside bungalows, villas and spa suites blend in under a canopy of bamboo and palm trees, with a green cover of ferns surrounding each room.

Two beachside bungalows – North Beach and South Beach – feature an outdoor heated Jacuzzi and private swimming pool and spa on the deck. Most rooms have an indoor spa bath. There’s a villa and bungalow for all tastes and varying budgets.

Kim's Beachside Restaurant & bar
Kim's Beachside Restaurant & Bar. Photo by Mike Smith

The Signature factor

Over the years, the retreat has gained celebrity status by hosting such notable guests as members of the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and Sir Robert Helpmann, to name a few.

The room

We booked a two-night break in the Commodores Beach Villa within a few strides of the sand, and the setting couldn’t be more relaxed on a sun-drenched summer’s day. The air-conditioned villa features polished timber floors, ceiling fans, cane furnishing and nautical décor. The bedroom has a king-sized bed, and a spacious marble bathroom is lit by two skylights and boasts a couple’s bath, two large shower heads and heated towel rails. It’s an ideal perch for early birds to watch the sunrise. A vase of freshly cut sunflowers in the living area is a lovely finishing touch.

Spa life

Kim’s Beachside Retreat facilitates pampering therapies such as massage and Japanese Reiki.

The view from Commodores beach villa; the living room in the Nine Beach villa
The view from Commodores Beach Villa. Photo by Mike Smith; the living room of #9 Beach Villa

On My Plate

Kim’s Beachside Restaurant has served as the centrepiece of the retreat for decades. Diners are seated inside or outdoors on the veranda within earshot of the bar, where multi-award-winning jazz musician and writer, Dorian Mode, entertains guests on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

Kim’s Beachside Retreat was affected by the pandemic, leading to changes to the restaurant’s culinary offering. The once sought-after evening seafood buffet has been replaced by a conventional a la carte menu that features plenty of enticing – and delicious –  dishes. While the buffet may no longer feature in the evenings, diners can still order Kim’s signature chilled seafood platter for two – whole lobster, Moreton Bay bugs, Sydney rock oysters and Illuka king prawns.

In true traditional style, each morning the ringing of a ship’s bell signals breakfast, the ship’s mast fronting the restaurant adorned with the national and state flags of current guests. On the menu is Hunter Valley bacon and eggs, Tasmanian smoked salmon and eggs and even the popular smashed avocado.

Alfresco breakfast at the restaurant; a view of the flags from the restaurant
Alfresco breakfast at the Kim's Beachside Restaurant; a view of the flags from the restaurant

Stepping out

Water sports along the glistening coastline are the name of the game here. Windsurfing, kiteboarding, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling, deep sea and game-fishing charters are all possible here. On land, explore the lush surroundings by hiking or horseriding.

Before booking

Kim’s Beachside Retreat is now small dog-friendly in selected rooms and villas. Guests can bring along their four-legged friend when staying in South Beach, Treetops, Twenty Beach or Bungalow Eight, but direct booking is required to ensure a pet-friendly room. A charge of $25 per night applies, with a maximum of one dog under 10kg per room. Pet sitting services are also available.

The Signature verdict

Despite the post-pandemic changes, Kims Beachside Retreat retains the much-loved characteristics familiar to the loyal guests, many choosing to book extra nights than on previous holidays.

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