Shacktastic! Great Aussie holiday homes


Getting away from it all? Not any more — we want holiday homes that have it all... (or, as I've subtitled this piece in my noisy head, how we traded the caravan for the castle.)

For generations of Aussies, summer holidays always started with a long, "I spy"-dominated drive to the beach.

The accommodation was either a caravan park, where kids ran rampant from dawn until dusk and the queue at the shower block was the essential meeting place, or the classic beach shack, built on a shoestring and furnished with the cast-offs from the family home.

We've always loved our beach shacks: hidden from view on the white-sand beaches of the NSW south coast or up in idyllic Byron Bay, you'll see them among the dunes along the South Australian coastline, tucked away down sandy lanes on the Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas, so laid-back they're almost horizontal.

Stayz, a division of Fairfax Media, recently held its annual awards for the best holiday rentals in seven categories including best for pets, romance, families and eco-friendliness, as well as a people's choice. Judged by a panel of travel industry experts with guest ratings and reviews in the mix, the results are an eye-opener.
These days the locations are different: we're not just running to the beach any more. Sure, there are winners in Noosa, Byron Bay and on Culburra Beach, just outside Nowra, but there are also winners in the Victorian foodie region around Kyneton, in the genteel NSW southern highlands and another on the sleepy east Gippsland coastline.

"The mix of holiday homes is changing," says Anton Stanish, general manager of Stayz. "We've also got more inner-city serviced apartments, especially on the Gold Coast. They're so convenient for fly-in holidaymakers. And we've got more unique properties."

Choose your dream: a tree-house? A castle? A lighthouse? Or a yurt? A train carriage or go underground to a subterranean B&B? You might need a jetty for your own boat, or helicopter access for a particularly dramatic arrival. While the shape of the holiday house has changed, so have our requirements.

Nowadays, remember to take your iPad and smartphones, Stanish says. Far from getting away from it all, a huge percentage of holiday homes now have Wi-Fi. We're holidaying differently: we expect great beds, pay-TV and internet access. We're out to "enjoy ourselves" and "we're no longer doing hardship", he says.


Indulgence winner: Toraja Luxury just outside Byron Bay.

With the rise in demand comes the rise in agents happy to supply, and not just traditional real estate agents. The last year has seen a rush of activity among the online players, which include behemoth Stayz, which has more than 40,000 properties on its books, HomeAway.com.au with 19,000 holiday listings, and wotif.com, which launched a dedicated holiday homes service in March 2012.

Newcomer Airbnb, which lets people advertise not only their homes but also rooms, launched in Australia late last year, and has gone public about its intention to take on Stayz in the holiday rentals market.

With such choice available, you need to choose carefully. Think about what you'd use the property for: obviously, a couple chasing romance doesn't need to pay for a two-bedroom house and if you're a large group, check that there are enough bathrooms for you all.

Groups also need to ensure they have enough transport, especially if you're booking a country house, such as a Victorian farmhouse B&B.

If you want to eat in a different restaurant every night, is a country retreat really for you, or would it be better basing yourself in a foodie town, such as the beloved spa town of Daylesford, Victoria, where you can totter home afterwards, bypassing the need for a designated driver? And while pool fences are compulsory in Australia, it also goes without saying that kids and cliff-top retreats don't mix.

Villa Vivante, Coffs Harbour, is perched 750 feet above the Pacific Ocean,
it's a vivid image of the beautiful villas on the Cote d'Azure
in the South of France.
If you're packing the pets, check that the local beaches or parks are leash-free: in summer, many beaches ban dogs in daylight hours. Hound-friendly holiday homes are on the increase and the advantage for holiday home owners is that dog owners are a sturdy bunch, with the market not so reliant on good weather.

"Many dog owners are happy to get a break from the city all year around to give their dogs a run, so dog-friendly holiday rentals are becoming increasingly popular," says Stephen Nicholls, Fairfax Media's national Domain editor and property trend-watcher.

However simple or complex your wishes, at the end of the day, it's still a holiday. We've come a long way for the best getaway. In many properties, you'll also find quality linen supplied, brand toiletries, top-brand coffee machines... all the lovely things we may not necessarily have at home.

You can tick off the five key factors that make a good holiday home: uniqueness, good value, the right space and size, exclusivity of use and that old real estate mantra, location, location, location.
Once upon a time, you just added water - think beaches, rivers or lakes - to make the perfect holiday home. Now, we expect dependable internet, luxury linen, professionally kitted-out kitchens and a plethora of entertainment options from restaurant strips to theme parks and, of course, a great beach.

The great Australian getaway definitely has changed as our households have changed, with more singles on the move, as well as couples young and old without kids. Holidaymakers, as Nicholls points out, want to travel with their pets, with a group of mates, or take a holiday that leaves a lighter footprint on the planet.

Families are also more adventurous - no staying at home just because we have young children, and thanks to rising petrol costs, lower airfares and more services to regional airports, many visitors will arrive at their destination by plane rather than a long road trip through countless country towns. Baby boomers are happily blowing their children's inheritance on holidays, while the core holiday home market - inter-generational travel, which sees grandparents holidaying with all their kids - has always been a key holiday rental market.

While villa rentals are on-trend in our favourite international destinations such as Bali and Thailand, Australia's stepping up to the plate; which is particularly timely as our obsession with overseas travel is set to wane as our dollar winds back recent gains.

Building on our existing love of a beach shack, those holiday homes are now a bit glossier, more polished, with matching linen and chic, gingham-checked breakfast baskets featuring sumptuous piles of regional produce.

Something that hasn't changed is that the most popular spots for holiday homes remain within 2½ hours' drive of our capital cities. "That's about as long as young families with two kids in the back seat can tolerate for a weekend break," Nicholls says.

For Sydneysiders, the south coast is a hot locale. Destination NSW says the most popular spot in the state for Sydney short-break holidaymakers is the south coast, with 23 per cent of us heading there, while the north coast gets 17 per cent of the traffic, and the Hunter Valley 15 per cent. The beach towns of Hyams Beach, Nowra and Huskisson remain popular as well as Nicholls' personal favourite, Jervis Bay, right on the 2½-hour mark.

While it's traditionally quiet in the middle of winter, Todd Gallant from Hyams Beach Real Estate says the beachside spot, which sells itself as having the whitest sand in the world, is increasingly popular with holidaymakers, though official tourism figures show its biggest rival is NSW's north coast, with tourist traffic to Byron Bay currently booming, and we're not even talking about across the border to the holiday mecca that is Noosa.

Not quite as far away from Sydney, Pacific Palms - specifically Blueys Beach - is just under three hours' drive north of Sydney on the appropriately named Holiday Coast, a strong lure for time-poor north shore holidaymakers.

As the six-week summer holiday fades into a nostalgic haze, the long weekender continues to rise in popularity: four-day mini-breaks are hot right now.

For a full-list of the winners of this year's Stayz Group Holiday Rental Awards, see stayz.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age

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