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From its humble beginnings as a campground 137 years ago, Kims Beachside Retreat offers a tranquil respite for discerning couples seeking luxury within a few strides of the beach.

Mostly hidden beneath a canopy of a sub-tropical rainforest on the NSW Central Coast, this adults-only property has hosted notable guests over the years – the Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, and Sir Robert Helpmann, to name a few – and has built a reputation on such traditions as the ringing of a ship’s bell to herald “breakfast is served”.

Its beachside address – overlooking the waters of Toowoon Bay, south of The Entrance – is also shielded by a “stately avenue” of towering Norfolk Pines, many planted during the retreat’s pioneering days when the mode of transport for visitors was by cargo ship.

The biggest decision of the day for guests such as us is choosing the right pre-dinner cocktail and what to later dine on at the restaurant, fresh seafood included.

The retreat is five-star without being formal, where its mandatory to swap the business attire for swimmers, to sit back, relax and unwind, perhaps take a romantic walk along the beach to the next headland.

From the stretches of beach and the headlands that jut out over the Tasman to the pockets of national parks and the walking trails that cut through them, the Central Coast is dotted with holiday gems.

Family-owned Kims Beachside Retreat is one of them. And it only takes a one hour and 30-minute drive north of Sydney to reach such a blissful spot.

Spread across the 2.5ha grounds are 34 stand-alone luxury bungalows and villas, some right on the beach, others hidden among the ferns, tall cane and palm trees along hillside timber boardwalks and paths.

Some feature an outdoor heated Jacuzzi, indoor spa bath or private swimming pool.

The beachside villas are ideally positioned to watch the sun rise from the bedroom, the sound of the waves a far cry from the car horns of the city.

Reef view bungalow

The air-conditioned villas with their polished timber floors, ceiling fans, cane furnishing, and nautical décor are a welcome sight, so too the bedrooms with their king-sized bed and the spacious bathrooms naturally brightened by two skylights.

Centrepiece of the retreat is the raised restaurant where diners are seated inside or outdoors on the veranda, within earshot of the bar where multi-award-winning jazz musician and writer Dorian Mode tickles the ivories in entertaining guests on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.

Like many establishments, Kims Beachside Retreat was affected by the pandemic, ultimately leading to changes to the restaurant’s dining arrangements. The once much sought after evening seafood buffet was replaced by a more conventional a-la-carte menu which remains today.

To find out more about the retreat’s 137 years of history, you need to travel back to 1886 when a local seafaring merchant Captain Frans Charlson set up the initial camp on the beachfront after finding fresh water from a natural spring. It was he who planted over 100 Norfolk Pines in the area.

So appealing was Toowoon Bay (then known as Chinaman’s Bay), he began to bring in professional people to the camp while ferrying cargo to Norfolk Island, collecting them on his return voyage. He eventually built a slab-timber kitchen ringing a ship’s bell to summon the guests to meals, this the beginning of what remains a tradition today.

It wasn’t until 1920 when new owners. American brothers the McKimmins – they ran a popular ice creamery in Sydney – came up with the name Kims Camp.

Today’s Kims Beachside Retreat was built on the foundations created by immigrants Haldane and Marie Strachan and their son Andrew when the family bought the property in the late 1950s.

Understandably, as Andrew was a keen yachtie who once took line hours in one of the Sydney-Hobart classics, the retreat is bristling with nautical features.

Andrew sadly passed away recently but his wife Maryjane along with his niece Diana and Diana’s husband Peter Kershaw (both long-standing managers) continue his seafarer’s legacy as they have with many traditions before them.