Why the best beach houses are not where you think

Further north, there’s little doubt that the likes of Blueys Beach and Boomerang Beach, almost halfway between Newcastle and Port Macquarie and a three-hour and 30-minute drive from Sydney’s social epicentre (Double Bay), are wonderfully tranquil locations replete with fine accommodation.

Yet this is 3.3 times longer than it takes to get to Palm Beach for a marginally superior experience, encompassing better beaches, fewer toffs and a sense that you have removed yourself from the rat race.

Southern retreats

In my opinion, Australia’s two best beach houses are found south. The first is the extraordinary Dovecote estate in Gerringong, less than two hours from Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Perfectly perched on 150 acres of rolling oceanfront farmland overlooking Gerringong’s magnificent Werri Beach, Dovecote offers a rare fusion of “rustic seaside”.

Built by philanthropists Beau Neilson and Jeffrey Simpson, the absolute beachfront property comprises two highly contemporary designs by architect Atelier Andy Carson.

Headland House, which in 2018 won a Master Builders award, is the main 400-square-metre dwelling with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a stunning infinity edge pool protected from the southerly winds. The internal and external attention to detail is exquisite, with interiors that put a six-star hotel to shame.

Here the most striking feature is the enormous, frameless windows offering unique landscape portraits of the golden seam of Werri Beach, undulating hills that appear to have been imported from Wales and brooding volcanic cliffs that plunge into an endless ocean vista.

Around 50 metres away sits the more modest, but still ultra-luxe, Escarpment House, with two bedrooms, one bathroom and a smaller plunge pool. The entire project was described by UK design publication OPUMO Magazine as “the best farm buildings you’re likely ever to see”, and it is hard to disagree. While you can certainly rent both, buying is a matter for the owners.

A short 12-minute hop inland from Gerringong, with its own train station, is the gorgeous countryside village of Berry, famous for its award-winning cafes and restaurants.

Headland House offers striking views of Werri Beach. Michael Nicholson

Smart money has been shunning Sydney’s Northern Beaches for Gerringong and its heterodox surrounds for some time. This makes economic sense: while real estate is much cheaper than its northern counterparts, it’s easier for Sydney’s booming population to sprawl south given the geographic impediments posed by the harbour. Demand is being further fuelled by the wealth burgeoning out of the Shire, Wollongong and Canberra.

Canny Bondi resident Robby Ingham has bought up an enormous slab of coastline between Werri Beach and the spectacular Seven Mile Beach,an eight-minute drive south of Dovecote. (Over 40 hectares of his landbank is for sale.)

For those who are more adventurous, my other top beachside pick is Horizons in Jervis Bay’s Hyams Beach, said to have the whitest sand in the world. South of Gerringong and around two hours and f 45 minutes from Sydney (travel time was recently truncated by massive infrastructure upgrades), Horizons affords another unambiguously world-class experience for those who want to disengage.

The absolute beachfront property was built in 2013, winning the HIA award the for best new home over $5 million, and has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and an infinity edge pool overlooking Hyams. The sympathetic Hamptons-style design flows along its long, 1,154 square metre block right through to the sands of Jervis Bay. It can be rented and in theory acquired at the right price.

One of the distinctive attributes of this 102-square-kilometre bay, which is protected by a larger marine park, is its calm, relatively surf-free waters that are amenable to snorkelling, paddle boarding, kayaking and swimming for kids.

Anyone who follows my Linkedin page will know that the wildlife here needs to be seen to be believed. In spring humpback, southern right and minke whales play in the bay during their annual migration. They are sometimes joined by marauding killer whales looking to prey on calves.

Two of NSW’s biggest fur seal colonies are situated around the entrance to Jervis Bay, and serve as food for a non-trivial great white shark population. In the last week I have captured more than 50 sharks on my drone, most of which have been great whites – mature adults and, more commonly, younger juveniles – cruising calmly off the beach. They probably also feast on the hundreds of bottlenose dolphins and fairy penguins that live in the bay.

Bronze whalers, hammerheads and Port Jackson sharks are likewise commonly sighted. While it is often claimed that there have been no shark attacks, there have been three I can identify. A local was killed in 1871, followed by a mauling in 1966 that claimed a navy crewman’s life. And a scuba-diver was bitten in 1998.

Distance provides powerful perspective. It allows one to abstract away from the suffocating pressures of our day-to-day lives to liberate fresh ideas and reflections on why we are here and how we can improve our collective existence.

Our time is fleeting, and it is incumbent upon us all to make it count, vocationally and when sitting back and enjoying our innate humanity. That includes appreciating our infinitesimally small role in the unfolding majesty of this world in which we temporarily reside by engaging with nature.

The author is a portfolio manager with Coolabah Capital Investments, which invests in fixed-income securities including those discussed by this column.

Staying in Palm Beach is a little like living in Point Piper with its notoriously intense residents engaged in the inevitable rivalry regarding who has the most luxurious abode Peter Braig

The Dovecote estate, featuring Headland House, is described by UK design publication OPUMO Magazine as “the best farm buildings you’re likely ever to see”. Michael Nicholson

Hyams Beach offers a world-class experience for those who want to disengage. Alamy

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