Queenslander, once removed
Together again ... the Kingscliff Seaside Guesthouse was divided, relocated and rebuilt.
Bruce Elder finds an intriguing combination of old France and tropical languor in a coastal guesthouse.
At 6am, the sound of the birds in the trees is broken by the first jet of the day taking off from the Gold Coast Airport. That's the problem. You can build a house that looks like a cross between a classic Queenslander and something from Gone With the Wind, you can celebrate the glories of timber with French antique furniture in a timber house with polished timber floors and you can place that house in a rainforest where kookaburras and brush turkeys abound - but if some clown in a plane decides to head south at 6am, the whole effect is rather dramatically diluted.
The Kingscliff Seaside Guesthouse is about as exotic as guesthouse accommodation gets. In 1999, Julie and Ian Macintosh bought a large timber Queenslander in the Brisbane suburb of St Lucia; at the time it was a house built around a quadrangle. They broke the house into three ''boxes'', as Julie calls them, trucked them south to a quiet, rural area west of Kingscliff and within four years, with the help of their two sons, they had put the old house back together.
The result is an elongated family home with four substantial rooms at one end, which became a guest house. Photos of the work in progress are on the walls of the breakfast room, where guests enjoy freshly squeezed orange juice, fine coffee and luxuries such as home-made goat's cheese tarts with tomato, basil and prosciutto.
After surmounting some complexities in paying a deposit to secure a room (they don't have credit card facilities, so we transfer funds to a Brisbane account), we arrive after a coastal drive from Byron Bay.
Our room - we are given two options - is adjacent to a breezeway that runs the width of the huge house and opens to a narrow verandah spanning the length of the building. Outside our room are a table and two chairs overlooking a swimming pool with a bubbling water feature, deck chairs and well-maintained lawn. The ambience might be described as ''Tweed Coast idyllic''.
The accommodation is a sitting room, a large bathroom and bedroom. The sitting room has shuttered windows (fitting the timber motif), a leather couch, a microwave, fridge and television. The bedroom has a well-dressed and comfortable king-size bed, a large set of drawers and elegant antique bed lamps but no cupboard or table - it is the small table on the verandah or nothing. The bathroom has ''his'' and ''hers'' showers and is modern, spacious and comfortable.
The Macintoshes have managed to imbue the house with a sense of graciousness and elegance. The house is surrounded by substantial gardens with water features and the attention to detail, including upmarket bedlinen, crockery and cutlery, makes this a special experience.
It is common for visitors to spend most of their time relaxing around the pool reading and sleeping but for those wanting to explore the area there are some compelling attractions. A few kilometres along Chinderah Bay Drive (which becomes Fingal Road) is Fingal Head, so named because the stepping-stone volcanic formations below the Fingal lighthouse look like a local version of the hexagonal basalt columns at Fingal's Cave in Scotland.
It is easy to spend a day at Fingal Head. The views from the headland are spectacular. If the surf is running, it's a joy to watch surfers (is everyone in this area a champion surfer?) riding the break around the headland. Fingal Head is a good place for some whale watching during their migration. To the south of the headland is Daydream Beach, which is ideal for a long and leisurely stroll.
The highlight of the area is the sublime Fins Restaurant, at the Salt development, known to the local council simply as South Kingscliff. Only 10 minutes' drive from Kingscliff Seaside Guesthouse, this one-time winner of the Herald Good Food Guide's regional restaurant of the year endures as one of the culinary wonders of rural NSW. It started life in Brunswick Heads, moved to Byron Bay and three years ago moved to Salt.
Steve Snow, one of the best chefs in rural Australia, serves such treats as a Moroccan tagine of line-caught fish (an impressive interplay of tastes and textures of fish, chermoula, sweet potato, fresh dates and preserved lemon) and his justly famous and seductive lemon myrtle and finger-lime panna cotta. It matches any upmarket restaurant in Sydney and, with a six-course degustation menu for $95 ($140 with matching wines), it is far cheaper than its city cousins.
Kingscliff Seaside Guesthouse is a place for a real break. Only the Spanish moss is missing from what you might otherwise imagine to be a steamy setting in the American deep south, yet only minutes from fine dining and quiet beaches.
Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.
The Kingscliff Seaside Guesthouse
Address Walsh Street, Chinderah.
The verdict An unusual and luxurious combination of French furniture and a huge timber Queenslander.
Price Rates range from $230 to $365 a suite a night, including breakfast; no credit cards.
Bookings Phone 0401 920 745 or 6674 1917 or see www.thekingscliffseasideguesthouse.com.au.
Getting there Chinderah is 816 kilometres north of Sydney near Kingscliff, and eight kilometres south of Tweed Heads.
Perfect for A relaxing alternative to a break on the Gold Coast and great for swimming, cycling, walking, fishing and playing golf.
Wheelchair access No.
While you're there Walk to Fingal Head, drive to Lamington National Park, watch the surfers and whales from Fingal headland.