Perched on the edge of a cliff in Otford – an hour’s drive south of Sydney – and skirted by the Pacific Ocean on one side and atmospheric national park on the other, there’s undoubtedly something special about Seacliff.
It’s partly the view: a mesmerising wall of blue that greets as you wind your way to the top of the hill. It’s also the house itself: a sun-drenched hideaway that conjures images of a wonderfully low-key weekend away with family and friends. The incomparable location, between beach and bush on a particularly beautiful stretch of Illawarra coastline, seals the deal.
“The Royal National Park is so close to the city but is very much an undisturbed part of the world,” says Ed McGuiness, the affable Host who lists his beloved holiday home on Airbnb. “We wanted to try to preserve that sense of tranquillity as much as possible, because the park is so integral to this area’s natural beauty.”
For Ed and his partner, Tim Janenko-Panaeff, that meant landscaping with indigenous plants to keep the local birdlife happy, while undertaking thoughtful renos to keep human visitors happy, too. Think: generous but cosy interiors and expansive outdoor spaces perfect for entertaining or simply doing nothing at all.
“What you’ll find is that you’ll get to the property and you won’t want to leave,” laughs Ed. “You’ll have grand plans of all the things you want to do, because there are so many things to do in the area, but you’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, I just don’t want to leave.’”
Here, Ed tells us why Seacliff is such an unforgettable home away from home and shares his best insider tips for exploring this stunning pocket of regional NSW…
“The style of the house is relaxed coastal but it’s not precious. We don’t want guests to feel like they’re in a museum and they can’t touch anything. Everything is there to be used and enjoyed – from the kids’ toys and sports equipment to the great coffee and bathroom products. We want our house to be lived in.
“When we were creating the space, we reclad it to make it more Hamptons-style, I guess; built new decking and just knocked out walls internally to open it right up and make the most of the location.
“Standing on the deck is like being on the bow of a ship. The thing you don’t get in the pictures is the panorama; to the north, you’re looking back into the national park and you can see the beautiful sandstone cliffs. Then to the south, you can see down to Wollongong and you see the lights of the city in the distance at night and down the coastline. While due east, you’ve got blue ocean as far as the eye can see.
“And because it’s right on the crest of the hill, the house gets light all day – from dawn until dusk – right throughout the year.
“We love entertaining so this is a real entertainer’s house. It has 10 of everything. Ten martini glasses – more than that, to be quite honest! The table will sit 10, with beautiful crockery and cutlery so you can really put on a show if you want.
“The kitchen has everything – from copper saucepans to crêpe pans and a pressure cooker – and if you need something special, you can always ask us to confirm that we’ve got what you need to cook with. But it’s like a chef’s kitchen: two ovens, gas, everything. It’s about that experience of creating a beautiful meal outside with the view.”
“Tim and I have been together for 15 years and we have two kids. We met, live and work in Sydney – Timothy has a design background and I’m in consulting. We bought the home as somewhere we could spend time with friends and family and also to rent out when we couldn’t be there to enjoy it ourselves. We’ve had some beautiful family moments here – for Christmas a couple of years ago, we popped a table out the front in the garden. The weather was delightful.
“I guess you could say we both share a love of nice things and beautiful spaces in particular. We really scoped out the whole coastline from Newcastle down to Kiama, trying to find the perfect spot. We were after somewhere that was private, near the beach and had views. So we combed the coast and found Otford.
“We feel like Otford is a hidden gem that few people know about, even though it’s only just outside Sydney. We want our guests to love it as much as we do so we’re driven to make the stay unforgettable for them.”
Just for you
“We tried to make it a house that you can just walk into, like it’s your own house. And we want it to be as sustainable as possible.
“We worked out very early on that people waste an incredible amount of food when they go away for a weekend; they buy one of everything and they don’t get through it.
“So we thought, ‘What can we do about this?’ We provide all the basics – oils and spices – and we give people a list of the stuff that we try to keep there so they don’t have to go and buy it.
“We’ve planted herbs in the garden – mint, thyme, rosemary – and we encourage guests to help themselves, like it’s their own home.
“We also have a compost system so if people have excess food, they can at least put it in the compost and we can use it on the garden to keep the waste levels down as much as possible.”
Where to eat and drink
“For coffee, I really like Loaf down at Stanwell Park. It’s probably my favourite. And there’s one nearby in Helensburgh: The Cupbearer. The Helensburgh Hotel has really good pub food but the best restaurant in the area is probably Tumbling Waters, a retreat in Stanwell Tops. They do an incredible three-course chef’s menu on Saturday nights.
“There are also some really hip cafés down in Austinmer, Coledale and Thirroul that are really good. It’s a beautiful drive down that coastal road. If you stay for the weekend, you’ll always do that drive and it’s a nice little outing to go down there. In Austinmer, Moore Street General is on a tree-lined street and there are these cute old shops there.”
Things to do nearby
“Otford is the beginning of the Grand Pacific Drive – the coastal road that goes down across the famous Sea Cliff Bridge, which is pretty spectacular.
“They’ve actually put in a new track – the Great Southern Walk – that passes through the Royal National Park and finishes in the Illawarra.
“There’s also an unofficial track that locals know through the Otford-Helensburgh tunnel – it’s sort of a ghostly experience. It’s 1.5 kilometres through this abandoned rail tunnel that takes you to Stanwell Park and then there’s a walkway and cycle track that goes all the way to Wollongong.
“You can also take a track at the front of the property and down the cliffside to Bulgo Beach. It’s a 10-minute walk down, 20 minutes back. You can see the rockpools there and the little shacks that were built after the First World War.
“If you like waves, all the points along the coast are surfing spots and they’re all really quiet. They’re the kind of breaks that can pump really well but only locals know.”
The Instagram moment
“If you’re putting a pic on the ’gram, you’ll probably take it looking across the pool out to the ocean. I think the most spectacular view is actually up the coast towards the cliffs, because you’ve got the forest connecting with the cliffs and the ocean. It’s pretty stunning and a view you can only see once you get to the house.
“My favourite spot is poolside – we wanted it to have everything you need for a perfect day by the pool. Really comfortable loungers and cushions and enough umbrellas and beach towels for everyone... plus those all-important plastic champagne glasses!”
For the family
“We love to get the kids out into nature – to investigate the quiet rock pools and shady creeks, and often we’ll have these places all to ourselves.
“The whole coastline has rock pools, and little kids love to wander along there and pick up shells and explore the sea life. It’s a really beautiful thing to do and then you can go for a swim in the ocean pools; the closest one is 10 minutes’ drive away in Coalcliff.
“Our son, Lachie, is sports mad so a game of backyard cricket or tennis is always very competitive. There’s lots of room to run around at the house and no reason to get bored.
“If we want to get out for the day, the kids love Symbio Wildlife Park in Helensburgh. It’s got a water park, which is a great place to go in summer. It’s really good for younger kids.”
Soundtrack to your stay
“We love putting a bit of Café del Mar or London Grammar on in the background. That lovely soft summer vibe of Café del Mar is pretty special.”
What guests say
“I love when it exceeds people’s expectations; when they say, ‘Oh my God, the photos just don’t do the view justice.’
“But for us, the real satisfaction comes from sharing experiences and from seeing others enjoy the same things we do. When our guests visit the secret spots in the Royal National Park we recommend to them, we just love it and feel like we’ve created something truly memorable for them.”