As we zip along the coastal highway towards boutique hotel Halcyon House, just beyond the New South Wales border, I let the word ’halcyon’ roll off my tongue a few times. Halcyon. Hal-see-on. Halcyyooooon. It sounds good. It sounds sunshine-y. it has the opposite effect of saying ’moist’ – it’s skin-tingling, smile inducing… Saying it puts me in a halcyon mood.
I snap out of my linguistic daydream. Tuning in the car radio reminds me that we’re far from anywhere vaguely metropolitan. A station blaring Eighties and Nineties hits feels apt, harking back to our own childhood memories of coastal holidays when Richard Marx and Bananarama reigned supreme.
Shoreside ‘burb Cabarita bears the hallmarks of those bygone beachy days – pockets of local shops whose owners have thumbed their noses at updated signage since the early 1980s, and that quintessential chubby grass; glorious, thick ultra-green lawns, which are either the result of residents with gardening time to kill, or perhaps the delightful climate. We arrive in August, allegedly late winter, but the sun is well and truly present, and I’m wearing flip-flops – the truest measure of temperate weather.
With a backdrop of blue sky, Halcyon House hotel looks resplendently crisp and white as a stiffly starched shirt. It was once a surf motel, but you’d never know it looking at the groomed gardens and luscious flower beds framing its façade. Like a dorky teenager who disappeared for a stint in Europe, only to return tanned, svelte and head-turning, Halcyon House feels more like an exclusive members’ club than boutique hotel. Bravo to whoever had the foresight to kiss this surfer-hangout frog and turn it into Instagram bait.
Check-in is a breeze with the gorgeously Amalfi-accented Sylvia. She takes a shine to our toddler, and we briefly considered exchanging our first-born for room keys, but instead our threesome gets stuck in to lunch in on-site restaurant Paper Daisy. The menu has tasty poolside snacks, light meals from the grill and most importantly – the life force of all young mothers – fabulous, glorious wine.
For basking on the pool deck we switch our soundtrack from Bananarama to laid-back Balearic beats – the ideal accompaniment to a third glass of crisp, chilled chardonnay. We haven’t made it up to our room yet, but what’s the rush? So goes the whole weekend, as one by one we mentally strike off plans to venture into Byron and Bangalow for shopping, eating and meandering. As the sun grows warmer time slips into the ether, and nothing seems a higher priority than keeping ourselves as close to horizontal as possible.
Eventually, we peel ourselves off the pool deck’s day-beds to explore our suite. Halcyon House’s owner handed creative control to Australian queen of colour Anna Spiro – an inspired choice; we love her pick of prettily patterned curtains and bespoke headboards upholstered in suzani (traditional Uzbekistani embroidery). Nothing here screams ‘hotel’; the style is more cosy and chic beach house, where each room is a treasure trove of unique vintage finds, textural layers and colour. Anna’s keen eye ensures that a chaotic mix of styles looks quirky yet sophisticated, like the Hamptons by way of Sorrento.
Only a few hours had passed since lunch, but these days little else excites us parents more than an early dinner and maximum bed time; so, with our room’s over-stuffed, downy pillows in mind, we resumed vertical positions and returned to Paper Daisy for a four-course feast. Helmed by Ben Devlin (formerly of Noma), the eatery’s on-plate creativity is in step with the bold and bright surrounds. Our little one was rewarded for good behaviour with over-the-top attention from the wait staff; Halcyon House isn’t a family hotel per se, but little guests are well catered for here. As are big guests (growing bigger as every course rolls out) for that matter: our slightly delayed desserts were delivered to our room instead, so we could finish them off on our terrace.
The rest of the weekend was spent meandering along Cabarita Beach (a hop, skip and exactly three jumps from the hotel’s back gate), lazing on blue-striped day-beds by the pool or enacting our finest Free Willy impressions. Yes, it was winter, yet the pool clearly missed the memo; the initial shock of jumping into cool water quickly subsided. Service remained top notch throughout the weekend, from the front desk clerk through to the pool attendants. One lovely server happily entertained Mr Smith by discussing the nuances of Tweed Heads’ local brew versus the Stone & Wood Pacific Ale, offering tastes of this and that so we could wax lyrical on the virtues of a wheat beer.
We managed to remain on-site for our entire stay, giving Paper Daisy’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus a thorough run through, yet leaving enough untried dishes to warrant a return visit. A final farewell cocktail by the pool succinctly summed up our beach holiday. Balmy sunshine, a perfect playlist and a setting fit for a Slim Aarons portrait: some last-minute revelling in the ‘Halcyon effect’ before heading home.