Family favourite ... Marty's at Little Beach.

Family favourite ... Marty's at Little Beach.

Sarah Maguire does a family getaway in PORT STEPHENS.

THE SETTING

Marty's at Little Beach at Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, on the NSW Mid North Coast, is a 1970s-era apartment block set on a busy strip of self-contained holiday accommodation. It has a path running alongside it from one piece of coastline to the other with a beach at either end - the west-facing Little Beach for sunsets and the east-facing Shoal Bay for sunrises. Another bonus: whether an easterly or a westerly is blowing, there's a protected swimming spot nearby.

THE SPACE

Refurbished after new owners bought the block two years ago (it was formerly known as Casablanca), Marty's has had the sort of going over - $800,000 worth - that countless Australian holiday apartments would benefit from. Synthetic wood flooring throughout invites you to walk around in bare feet. The sand-coloured walls feature artful black and white beach-scene photographs, taken by the owners, while the furniture in the open-plan kitchen, dining and living area is modern and smart. Wrought-iron balconies, very much of their 1970s era, overlook Marty's lovely, heated, palm-tree-flanked pool, unsurprisingly a hit with kids.

THE KIT

Our two-bedroom apartment has TV in the main bedroom and living room where there is also a DVD player, free Wi-Fi with the password helpfully provided in an obvious place on the TV set, and a dishwasher in the kitchen which is equipped for a self-contained stay, although there is no oven, only a two-ring stove top and a microwave. Tea and coffee is provided.

COMFORT FACTOR

While Marty's exterior retains its retro look, the interiors are fresh and up to the minute with white bed linen, blonde-wood furniture and beachy blue couches. The kitchens and bathrooms are also brand new. It's an inviting place to kick back in between beach adventures. Be warned: self-contained apartments are not serviced during anything shorter than a week-long stay, so you'll be sweeping up the sand yourself. Fresh towels are provided every second day.

FOOD

There's nothing in the way of food on site - it's self-catering all the way. Marty's manager Jann can point you in the direction of your fancy. On her recommendation we have breakfast at the kiosk on Little Beach, a traditional-style takeaway that serves a great egg and bacon roll. For lunch, we hop in the car and head to Cookabarra Restaurant and Function Centre at Bobs Farm. The restaurant is at the centre of a barramundi farm, some of whose denizens end up on your plate (Cookabarra, geddit?), in my case as salt and pepper barramundi, picked from an extensive menu. The six-year-old has the kids' barra bites with chips, and a fruit ice block for dessert. You can take a tour of the farm if you like; Graham tells us a thing or two about the wily fish as he takes us through the enormous shed where the barramundi are raised.

WORTH STEPPING OUT FOR

As a busy holiday spot, there is no shortage of activities and attractions around Port Stephens, from shark feeding and dolphin watching to quad biking on sand dunes and horseriding. We take a camel ride on Anna Bay - the ride featured in the notorious "Where The Bloody Hell Are You" tourism campaign. It's a short (20 minutes) but fun diversion.

THE VERDICT

Well priced and good-looking digs where family beach holiday memories are made.

HOW TO GET THERE

Take the F3 out of Sydney towards Newcastle and drive to the end of the freeway before turning right towards Hexham; cross Hunter River on the Pacific Highway then follow the signposts to Nelson Bay.

ESSENTIALS

Marty's at Little Beach, corner Gowrie Avenue and Intrepid Close, Nelson Bay. Two-bedroom apartments $185 a night midweek, $200 on weekends. There are also one-bedroom apartments and two motel-style studios. Ph 02 4984 9100, see martys.net.au.

The writer was a guest of Port Stephens Tourism and Marty's at Little Beach