The rebirth of cool: Bannisters Port Stephens

The rebirth of cool: Bannisters Port Stephens

Bannisters Port Stephens continues its older sister’s theme of cleverly reimagining a classic 1960s Aussie beachside motel, writes Elizabeth Meryment

Of all the architectural eras to have wrought havoc along the coastline of New South Wales since colonial settlement, it’s hard to think of a more demented aesthetic than the one defining the hippie-dippie years from the late ’60s to the early ’70s (although the ’80s also has a case to answer). Drive anywhere from Batemans Bay to Ballina and it won’t take long to notice the shadow cast by the hulking body of some blond brick motel or another.

You have to wonder what builders were thinking, let alone councils, back in the day. Anything went, apparently, and the uglier the better. And half a century later, the coast road remains littered with said soulless monoliths, usually with monikers such as The Shores, The Sands and The Surf and myriad other S themes.

The idyllic inlet of Soldiers Point — just around the corner from Port Stephens, three-and-a-half hours north of Sydney — had its own version of this ’60s bad dream: the Salamander Shores Hotel (the S game was strong in Soldiers Point).

The motel, which opened in 1968 as simply The Salamander, was a riot of pale brick staring with Soviet-Era severity to sea. And what a view. At sunset, pink skies settle over a serene bay fringed with wispy gums. From the hotel’s shores, there’s a long jetty you can walk down to have a good think about life, should you desire, and a tiny beach near to which, these days, sail boats are tethered in case a day of dolphin watching in the bay strikes your fancy.

The hotel reopened in September, restored and refashioned under the Bannisters banner, a sister operation to the deeply loved Bannisters By The Sea at Mollymook, on the South Coast. Here, as there, there’s a seafood-focused Rick Stein restaurant, the only international outposts of the much-admired British chef.

And happily now the past has been swept away with the tides of time: the same monolithic motel structure exists, only The Salamander’s blond bricks have been whitewashed and $7 million worth of love has resulted in 80 rooms with tasteful carpets, quality white linen and minimalist art. The overhaul is a triumphant melding of past and present. Bannisters Port Stephens joins the ranks of other coastal motels (think Cabarita’s Halcyon House) to be propelled into the 21st century; the old repurposed and cool once again.

There’s not a lot to do at Soldiers Point, which suits most guests. This is a retreat for exhausted Sydneysiders to get away for a weekend, or longer, stare at the sea, eat seafood, drink wine and sleep.

There’s a glamorous infinity pool, with a deck bar serving burgers and more, but if you avoid the (unheated) water, you won’t be the first. It’s enough to sit poolside until the winds bluster in across the bay, then return to your room to slip between luxury sheets and go back to sleep.

Elizabeth Meryment was a guest of Bannisters

BANNISTERS PORT STEPHENS

147 Soldiers Point Rd, Soldiers Point

(02) 4919 3800; bannisters.com.au/port-stephens/

Rooms start from $290 per night

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