Motels, traditionally the least beloved member of the lodging family, are having a time. Design-conscious, nostalgia-loving operators have taken over old East Coast surf motels and given them retro refreshes. Some are reminiscent of the 60s, with bold patterns, textures and pops of color. Some are inspired by the earthy tones of the ’70s. Others lean towards the neon and pastels of the ’80s. But these six converted motels all offer pure escapism, at an attractive price.
The island, the bay of Batemans
A former Abel Tasman motel on the New South Wales south coast has been given a crisp white coat of paint, with terrazzo elements dotted throughout the building. The 18-room motel strikes a balance between the barefoot breeze and sand everywhere of yesteryear motels and the subtle luxury of boutique hotels. Unlike traditional motels, check-in is contactless, so you can go straight from your car to your room as soon as you arrive. All of its rooms have rain showers, smart TVs and Nespresso machines with St Ali pods. Some have courtyards, but her suite’s real draw is the private courtyard with a plunge pool.
Kyah Boutique Hotel, Blue Mountains
Formerly the Redleaf Resort, this Blue Mountains motel built in the 1970s is now a pastel-hued boutique accommodation with 46 rooms, each stocked with locally produced snacks and beverages, including pre-mixed Negronis from Karu Distillery and tinnies from Katoomba Mountain Culture Brewery. It’s in Blackheath and the two-acre property boasts a tennis court, steam room, three fireplaces and a magnificent century-old cherry blossom tree. As this is a classic motel, which means each room – whether it’s a king suite, two-bedroom, or family room – has its own exterior entrance, there is no need to go through the lobby when checking in.
Hillcrest Merimbula, South Coast
Caspar Tresidder breathed new life into the Hillcrest Motel in Merimbula when he gave it a major facelift in 2021. The NSW south coast building retained the sunny, vintage 70s vibe of the original construction, but the renovation has lightened the rooms and leisure areas considerably. Exhale Suites feature abstract artwork by Melbourne painter Adela Kusur, and private balconies overlook the ocean. And if linens from In Bed and fresh croissants baked daily by Wild Rye’s don’t satisfy your vacation cravings, head to the pool (with a fire pit nearby). Alternatively, try the original clay tennis court, which was uncovered during the works and has since been restored.
Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach
This is the original East Coast conversion. Sisters Elisha and Siobhan Bickle bought the Cabarita Beach Hideaway Motel and converted it in 2015, reopening it as Halcyon House. Located midway between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, it has quickly become a destination for city dwellers looking for sophisticated, eye-pleasing accommodation with a lush swimming pool. Another lure is her restaurant, Paper Daisy, where chef Jason Barratt (Raes at Wategos, Attica, Stokehouse) keeps the confident coastal menu simple. The main draw, of course, is Cabarita Beach itself. It’s a quiet refuge from the constant hustle and bustle of city life, but still close enough to the big cities if you want a change of pace.
The Mysa Motel, Gold Coast
Mysa Motel is a 10-minute drive from Gold Coast Airport and within walking distance of the nearest cafes and shops in Palm Beach. Husband and wife team Jason and Eliza Raine bought the old Palm Trees Motel a few years ago and have since transformed it into a place with pink neon signage, restored vintage furniture and exposed cinder block walls . Channeling the pastel hues of California, the seven light-filled bedrooms are painted in lavender, peach, mint, and carnation, each decorated with images of the surrounding area by photographer Trent Mitchell. Some rooms have a private courtyard and all have a smart TV. Additionally, all guests have access to the kidney-shaped swimming pool which has been converted into a magnesium mineral pool.
The Sunseeker, Byron Bay
Every inch of The Sunseeker is inspired by ’80s California. It’s heavy on copper fittings and fixtures, with coffee-and-cinnamon-hued sofas and upholstery, and there’s wood paneling throughout. Lots of woodwork. The rooms (and the set of bungalows) — on Bangalow Road in the heart of Byron Bay — come in three different sizes, ranging from options suited to solo travelers to rooms for families. The bungalows are lined up like a small village and each one is equipped with a barbecue, a private terrace, a private garden and an outdoor bathtub. Stroll through a grove of lush ferns to get to the kidney-shaped pool (poolside paint: watermelon pink). The bar will suit you with a cocktail worthy of a lounge. The Sunseeker has its own summer playlist on Spotify – curated by the same team that created the playlists at the legendary LA Château Marmont hotel. This will give you an idea of the atmosphere involved. Listen to it here. Plus, renewable energy is front and center here: 82 solar panels power every facet of the motel, and parking spaces are equipped with charging ports for electric cars.
This article was originally published on November 18, 2021. New openings have been added. Additional reporting by Aimee Chanthadavong, Che-Marie Trigg, Astrid Watt, Georgina Safe and Sarah Norris.
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