Motels, traditionally the least beloved member of the accommodation family, are having a moment. Design-minded, nostalgia-loving operators have been snapping up old east coast surf motels and giving them retro spruce ups. Some hark back to the ’60s, with bold patterns, textures and splashes of colour. Some take their cues from the earthy tones of the ’70s. Others look to the neon lights and pastels of the ’80s. But these seven converted motels all deliver pure escapism, at an attractive pricepoint.

The Isla, Batemans Bay
A former Abel Tasman motel on the New South Wales South Coast has had a lick of bright-white paint, with terrazzo features dotted throughout the building. The 18-room motel strikes a balance between the barefoot, sand-everywhere breeziness of the motels of yesteryear and the subtle luxury of boutique hotels. Unlike classic motels, check-in is contactless so you can head straight from your car to your room when you arrive. All its rooms have rain showers, smart TVs and Nespresso machines with St Ali pods. Some have courtyards, but real draw of its suite room is the private courtyard with a plunge pool.

Kyah Boutique Hotel, Blue Mountains
Formerly the Redleaf Resort, this 1970s-built Blue Mountains motel is now a pastel-hued boutique accommodation with 46 rooms, each kitted out with locally produced snacks and drinks, including premixed Negronis by Karu Distillery and tinnies by Katoomba brewery Mountain Culture. It is in Blackheath and the two-acre property has a tennis court, a steam room, three fireplaces and a stunning 100-year-old cherry blossom tree. As it’s a classic motel set-up, meaning each room – whether that’s a king suite, a two-bedroom or a family room – has its own external entry, there’s no need to go through the lobby when you check in.

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Hillcrest Merimbula, South Coast
Caspar Tresidder breathed new life into Merimbula’s Hillcrest motel when he gave it a major face lift in 2021. The New South Wales South Coast building maintained the sun-tinged, vintage ’70s vibe of the original build, but the reno has lightened up the rooms and leisure spaces considerably. The Exhale suites feature abstract art from Melbourne painter Adela Kusur, and the private balconies overlook the ocean. And if the linen from In Bed and fresh croissants baked daily by Wild Rye’s fail to sate your holiday yearnings, head to the swimming pool (with a nearby firepit). Alternatively, have a hit on the original clay tennis court, which was unearthed during the works and has since been restored.

Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach
This is the original east coast conversion. Sisters Elisha and Siobhan Bickle purchased the Cabarita Beach Hideaway Motel and converted it in 2015, reopening it as Halcyon House. Located halfway between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, it soon became a destination for city folk looking for sophisticated, pretty-on-the-eye accommodation with a lush swimming pool. Another lure is its 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 tranquil refuge from the constant buzz of city life, but still close enough to big towns should you want a change of pace.

The Mysa Motel, Gold Coast
The Mysa Motel is a breezy 10-minute drive from Gold Coast Airport, and only a short stroll from the nearest cafes and shops at Palm Beach. Husband-and-wife team Jason and Eliza Raine bought the former Palm Trees Motel a few years ago and have since transformed it into a place with pink neon signage, restored vintage furniture and exposed breezeblock walls. Channelling the pastel hues of California, the seven light-filled rooms are painted in lavender, peach, mint and carnation, each one decorated with images of the surrounding area by photographer Trent Mitchell. Some rooms have private courtyards, and all have a smart TV. Plus, all guests have access to the kidney-shaped swimming pool that’s 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-coloured couches and upholstery, and there’s wood panelling throughout. Lots of wood panelling. The rooms (and set of bungalows) – on Bangalow Road in the heart of Byron Bay – come in three different sizes, ranging from options that fit solo travellers to rooms for families. The bungalows are lined up like a small village, and each one comes equipped with a barbeque, private deck, private garden and outdoor bath. Walk through a lush thicket of ferns to get to the jelly bean-shaped pool (poolside paint job: watermelon pink). The bar will sort you out with a lounge-appropriate cocktail.
The Sunseeker has its own blissed-out summery playlist on Spotify – curated by the same team that put together legendary LA hotel Chateau Marmont’s playlists. That’ll clue you in to the vibe it’s going for. Give it a listen here. Plus, renewable energy is a focus here: 82 solar panels power every facet of the motel, and parking spaces come with charging ports for electric cars.

Kyneton Springs Motel, Macedon Ranges

About an hour north-west of Melbourne, Kyneton is in the idyllic Macedon Ranges – and just off the Calder Highway, it acts as something of a gateway to the state’s north. Its namesake motel channels heyday California in a big way, with bright and bold colours completely blitzing the bleakness of the traditional roadside rest stop.

An old-school road sign – with “Springs” lit up in pink neon – is the first giveaway that there’s something special about this spot. But it continues inside with the nostalgic and slightly daring designs of each room, each of which has been individually curated.

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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