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Hillcrest Motel Merimbula exterior
Photograph: Supplied

The coolest retro motels in NSW

Plan your next getaway around these roadside stays combining old fashioned style with thoroughly modern ameneties

Maxim Boon
Written by
Maxim Boon
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What goes around, comes around, so the saying goes, and just as fashion sensibilities look back to look forward, so too, it seems, do the tastes of travellers in search of their next holiday accommodations.

Motels were once the cheap and cheerful mainstays of the Aussie road trip, and now, following a few daggy decades out of favour, they are once again enjoying a retro renaissance, thanks to some stylish renovations heroing the design cues of yesteryear but with added 21st-century sophistication. We’ve picked out seven of the coolest motels the state has to offer, so isn't it about time you planned your next getaway?

Looking for a more off-road stay? Check out the best glamping retreats in NSW.

NSW's best motels

Albury might not immediately spring to mind when you say the words Las Vegas, but this quintessential ‘60s American motel in the heart of country NSW would feel right at home in Sin City. With its perfectly jarring paint job of bubblegum pink, teal and terracotta, decorative breezeblocks, palm trees and eye-popping neon sign, the Astor is a masterclass in mid-century retro done right. And with its 40 drive-up rooms costing a mere $99 a night, it’s also a great option for style-seeking travellers in search of a budget overnighter with character to spare.

Pastel hues and coastal vibes deliver the epitome of mid-century chic at this revived ‘60s motel in Kingscliff. Rather than piling on the period winks, the Blue Water’s rooms are as restrained as they are refined. The result is a relaxed comfort that feels totally in keeping with its beachside locale. It’s the vision of creative director Jason Grant, who has retained some fun winks to the kitsch – keep your eyes peeled for some pelican pals near reception – but done without compromising the motel’s seaside style. Guests can also enjoy a saltwater swimming pool and bike hire.

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From its perch overlooking the Nambucca River, with the ocean lagoons beckoning just down the road, the location of these once rundown guestrooms made the decision to renovate them a no-brainer for owners Paul and Shannon Scott. Formerly the Blue Dolphin, this motel has both a new name and a new lease on life, thanks to a refreshing update with clean, crisp finishes, inviting communal spaces and that most quintessential of motel amenities, a central swimming pool.

Located on the fringes of Batemans Bay, in the sleepy holiday town of Batehaven, the former Abel Tasman motel has had a dramatic glow-up that celebrates the very best of ‘80s aesthetics while replete with 21st-century mod cons. Sunset orange doors, decorative breezeblocks, avocado sun loungers and kitsch curvy lines meet luxury finishes, superb attention to detail and top-of-class amenities that give you the yesteryear motel experience for an Instagram age. This perfect balance between vibe and experience is captured in the Isla’s vending machines: a motel staple, stocked with unexpectedly sophisticated brands like Poor Toms Negroni Spritzes and St Ali bottled cocktails.

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Nestled on the stunning shores of the Sapphire Coast in the town of Merimbula, the Hillcrest Motel boasts jaw-dropping views of the rust-red rocks distinct to this corner NSW’s southern shores, just a hop, skip and jump from the most fertile oyster estuaries in the state. But that’s not the only reason to book into this classic roadside retreat. While its bones are very much of the ‘70s – think exposed bricks and built-in headboards – the furnishing and finishes have a softer edge with natural wood accents, polished concrete and linen upholstery, with abstract artworks by Melbourne artist Adela Kusur throughout. Its crown jewel is undoubtedly the roomy pool area and sun deck, complete with fire pit for toasting marshmallows, and if you’re keen on a spot of tennis, there’s even a clay court on site, discovered during renovations and restored to its former glory.

Step into ‘60s Los Angeles without ever setting foot on a plane at this lovingly restored Brunswick Heads venue inspired by the classic American motel. Owner Ryan Bowman wanted to summon the spirit of those quintessential roadside stays at his small but perfectly formed guest house, which comes complete with a saltwater swimming pool and cabana fringed with palm trees. All 12 rooms come kitted out with Malin + Goetz toiletries, air-conditioning, tea and coffee making facilities, and smart TV.

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Channelling the Palms Springs spirit, this 22-room motel in Brunswick Heads offers more than just a place to lay your head. With its clean, easy elegance and pristine aesthetics, it’s the perfect road trip pitstop for a few relaxing days, where you can chill out poolside with one of its signature cocktails by day, before settling in for a meal at the in-house pizzeria and wine bar, Saint Maries, after dark. It’s also just a short walk from the Brunswick Heads Harbour, where you can enjoy a number of aquatic day trips including fishing, kayaking, diving and whale watching.

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