Caspar Tresidder first visited Merimbula on the New South Wales Sapphire Coast when he was working for Woolworths in asset management. Three of the properties he oversaw were on the drive from Sydney to Merimbula (about six hours), which he enjoyed with Willie Nelson, Keith Urban and co.

“I would have the country music stations pre-set for when I got past Albion Park, as that’s when I truly felt [I was] out of Sydney,” says Tresidder. “It was just great to leave town and experience the countryside, and my memories of those trips was a real sense of freedom.”

As the proud new owner of the Hillcrest Motel Merimbula, he is now experiencing that freedom every day amidst sun, sand and surf in regional NSW (it’s about a seven hour drive from Melbourne).

Opened in 1974, one year after Nelson released his breakthrough album Shotgun Willie, the motel has all the wood cabinetry, exposed brick work and flat roofing you know and love from the ’70s, but thanks to Tresidder it’s now had a contemporary update. “We’ve kept the ’70s charm but upgraded it with all the creature comforts,” he says.

Check into one of the exposed brown brick and timber rooms for the full ’70s experience – this time around with In Bed linen, Mayde tea and a thoughtful selection of Slow Living reading material – or upgrade to one of the renovated Exhale suites.

Light and airy, their white walls have art by Melbourne abstract painter Adela Kusur above poured concrete banquettes, floral arrangements and textured throws and cushions as part of the renovation by architects Atelier Chardon with styling by Miranda O’Rourke and Harrison Balodis.

Private balconies overlook the ocean with uninterrupted sunrise and sunset views, which should be enjoyed in the morning with complimentary coffee and freshly baked croissants from Wild Rye’s bakery in nearby Pambula.

When you’re ready to leave your room, the original on-site swimming pool has also had an upgrade, with the addition of a fire pit nearby to take you from lazy days to cosy, marshmallow-fuelled evenings. Be sure to pack your tennis whites for some retro sports styling, as the motel’s original clay court was unearthed during renovations and has been restored to its former glory.

There’s plenty to do off-property too, from snorkelling, sailing and paddle boarding to golf, bushwalking and exploring the nearby hinterland on the many nature trails that criss-cross the area.

“Merimbula to me is unlike anything I have experienced. You have every sport at your doorstep with world-class mountain biking, surf for any wind direction and beautiful hikes into rainforests or to mind-blowing waterfalls,” says Tresidder.

No Merimbula experience is complete without exploring the cafes and restaurants. Begin with a morning espresso and pastry at Mitchie’s Jetty after hiring a kayak or paddleboard there, then paddle across the inlet to Bar Beach Kiosk for lunch. Go for the Sriracha tofu bowl or pumpkin toast with spiced hummus, or a classic bacon-and-egg roll, then kick back and enjoy the panoramic ocean views.

On the western edge of Merimbula Lake you’ll find Merimbula Gourmet Oysters, a family-owned oyster farm serving Sydney rock and Angasi oysters, as well as epic seafood tasting plates spanning Narooma crayfish, Crystal Bay prawns, scallops, oysters and more.

If you feel like pushing the boat out, dinner at Valentina is a must. Diane McDonald (ex-Pino’s Vino e Cucina in Sydney), sommelier Ryde Pennefather and Kirsty Pongratz (who is married to Swillhouse Group alumni Jason Scott, of Shady Pines, Baxter Inn and Frankie’s Pizza) are behind the project and the food reflects the pedigrees of the hospitality veterans. Expect grilled octopus with white bean and chorizo, barbeque split prawns with beurre noisette and a spectacular lobster cocktail.

Pongratz is also behind Dulcie’s Cottage, a bar in a white weatherboard cottage built in 1925 now serving cocktails and craft beer. There’s a 1950s carpark caravan in the beer garden serving a concise menu of burgers, oysters and fries, but arguably the best part of visiting Dulcie’s is mingling with the locals, some of the friendliest and happiest people you will meet. “I mean why wouldn’t they be?” says Tresidder. “They have it pretty good.”

Hillcrest Motel Merimbula
97 Merimbula Drive, Merimbula