Long before she found her new love, Sophie Monk chose to escape the spotlight for a bit of R&R on the beachfront of NSW’s Toowoon Bay, on the Central Coast. The Bachelorette star checked into Kims Beachside Retreat for a couple of nights to experience what other TV and radio personalities have enjoyed (and continute to enjoy) – sheer bliss.
For decades the luxury yet laid-back retreat has been wooing A-listers for that slice of tranquillity with all the warmth expected at such a highly popular beachside address. Tucked away behind a screen of towering Norfolk Pines with a garden filled with tropical palms, Kims (90 minutes' north of Sydney) has long been a magnet for celebrities and regular visitors. The retreat's focus centres on rest and relaxation coupled with a dining experience that is difficult to resist.
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Seeds have been sown
To trace the beginnings of Kims you need to go back more than 130 years. It was then that local seafaring merchant Captain Frans Charlson established what was simply known as The Camp. Initially, he built a slab-timbered kitchen that doubled as a dining room. And, unlike today's guests on a weekend getaway NSW style, holiday seekers in those early years were accommodated in tents which were to be later replaced by simple timber cottages.
It was in those pioneering days that the seeds were sown for what remains the avenue of Norfolk Pines which famously front the bay’s sands. While the beach was popular for swimming and digging toes into the white sand, to venture there was still a “dress-up” occasion, and to bare flesh during those Victorian years was strictly prohibited.
About 18 years later, two American brothers – the McKimmins – who opened Sydney's first ice cream parlours, bought the retreat and importantly improved accommodation, albeit rustic with walls made of bare timber and the furnishings consisting of no more than an iron bed with Kapock mattresses, a night chamber pot, a broom and a towel. It was the McKimmins who used their surname to create the name Kims Camp. A retired army colonel Clive Loc Hughes-Hallett took over the retreat after World War II and shortened the name to simply "Kims" which remains today under the ownership of Andrew and Mary-jane Stachan. It has remained in the family since 1954.
It's around 6pm each evening that guests make a beeline to the bar for a welcome pre-dinner cocktail, a tradition as famous as the colourful cocktails themselves.
And if you happen to be there on a Wednesday or Saturday evening, prepare to be entertained by resident multi-award-winning jazz pianist and composer Dorian Mode, who lives locally and has also written books – Cafe in Venice and Mozart Maulers – and dabbled in travel writing.
Among guests' favourite choices on the drinks list are the Gin Martini, Margarita, Caprioska, Mojito and Brandy Alexander, although recent trends have led to growing orders for Pimms No 1 Cup, Lychee Martini and concoctions that have been labelled Red Dragon and Ping Pong.
Stay in winter and the wood-burning open fire is a welcome warming sight. In the summer months, however, many guests on a short break in NSW choose to be seated on the outdoor landing, to be cooled by the north-easterly sea breeze.
Ringing in breakfast
Each morning at 8.30, the ship's bell is rung outside the dining room, alerting guests from as far away as Tree Tops that breakfast is ready. The sounding of the bell is a tradition which once also extended to other meal times and showcases the nautical theme which was introduced by Andrew Strachan a yachtsman of note himself having competed in the Sydney to Hobart classic on many occasions, among other yachting challenges.
On a grassed area fronting the raised dining room is a ship's anchor. Above flag poles are decorated with wavering flags signalling the nationalities of the current guests. The retreat's strong links with tradition are reflected in the breakfast menu - comfort food and turned it into an art form.
Breakfast often began with fresh juice, fruit (stewed or fresh), cereal or porridge and culminated into a hot meal of poached or fried eggs (sunny side up), grilled bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms, beef sausages and sometimes sauteéd chorizo or black pudding. And if you liked, there was a dish of Aberdeen kippers or fresh local fish cooked to order.
Dining under the stars
From the moment you are seated in Kims' restaurant you realise you are in for a dining experience that will test the notches on your belt. Dining is buffet-style, but this isn't any ordinary buffet. And you can choose to sit indoors or on the balcony under the stars.
Dinner's centrepiece is large silver iced filled bowls, one filled with fresh Iluka king prawns and Slipper lobsters, the other Sydney rock oysters. In keeping with a love for Japanese food, there's a selection of sashimi delicacies like salmon, kingfish, yellow fin tuna and octopus, along with accompaniments such as pickled ginger, radish and wasabi with soy sauce.
Once again there is a sense of tradition with the hot dishes – braised pork belly and slowly roasted ribeye fillet served with Yorkshire pudding sometimes sharing the same menu as Rogan Josh and pan-fried scallops with penne. Guests are encouraged to dine on as much as they like, but it's almost mandatory to save room for the mouth-watering desserts and, of course, the selection of Australian and international cheese for which Kims is famous.
From the beach of the treetops, Kims have as many as 34 private bungalows and villas, dotted across sub-tropical rainforest that spans 2.5 hectares. Some front the beach, others are found beneath the canopy of Norfolk Pines and palms, the perfect setting for a romantic weekend getaway. There are private pools, outdoor jacuzzis and outdoor saunas – the most notable villa being Ninth Beach, on the beachfront, and the Tree Tops at the “higher end” of the retreat.
The immaculately polished timber floors of each bungalow and villa are a perfect match for the cane furnishings and the brightly designed marble bathrooms – a far cry from those pioneering days as a mere camping ground.
For more information or to make a booking, visit the Kims website here.