A retreat from the rest of the world

Hardys Bay Writers Retreat
Hardys Bay Writers Retreat

Fiona Caulfield’s gorgeous Central Coast house, otherwise known as The Writers’ Retreat, is a reflection of the acclaimed travel writer’s personal knowledge for what makes a place truly special.

The 1920s cottage is nestled in greenery, amongst a spattering of other homes, in the small fishing village of Hardys Bay. Perched right on the water’s edge, it has a serenely beautiful and ever-changing view of the water.

“I spend a lot of time travelling and I try to come back to Hardys Bay whenever I can,” Fiona says. “I suppose you could call it my “soul” home, so while I’m not here very often I’m still very emotionally attached to it.”

It’s hard not to have romantic feelings about this picture perfect cottage. Fiona bought it 20 years ago “by accident” after lunch and a couple of wines with friends, and says she knew the house was special from the moment she walked in.

“We were actually looking at a warehouse in Sydney but we looked at this on a whim and it had such a great energy and feel to it – we bought it there and then!”

Over time, Fiona has lovingly enhanced the home in a way that makes the most of its original charm. The interiors are stylish and creative, yet understated so as not to take away from the heritage of the home itself.

“I think the charm of this house lies in its simplicity,” Fiona says. “All of the furniture really compliments the surroundings. I was living in New York in a Tribeca loft for five years and when I moved to India I had everything from Manhattan shipped here. It’s amazing that somehow it all works.”

Among other things, Fiona is the author and founder of the LOVE TRAVEL guides to India – essential reading for travellers that enjoy stepping off the beaten tourist track.She’s currently working on a volume for Sri Lanka so the nature of her work means Fiona is often travelling. She admits to not getting back to Hardys Bay as much as she’d like but when she’s not here her cottage is available for short-term stays.

“Yes, renting it out means other people can use it and enjoy it,” she says. “It would be a shame for it to sit empty when I’m not here.”

Fiona and others, including some of Australia’s leading journalists, novelists and screenplay writers have spent time working in the cottage – thus the name ‘The Writers’ Retreat’ – and there are a couple of well positioned desks set up for people to get creative.

“I do a lot of work in this house and I wrote some of my travel guides here,” she says. “It’s a very peaceful, calming place to be, there’s a serenity to this house that enables you to go inside yourself, really ponder and think – something we rarely get to do in today’s busy world.”

The house is split into two separate levels, with no internal staircase, so each level is private. The upstairs walls are littered with eclectic Australian art including a painting of the bay by local artist Debbie Mackinnon. There are rustic wooden floors, a fireplace and a small modern kitchen that keen cooks will love.

Each room flows onto the next but the layout provides enough nooks and crannies to make the space intimate and cosy if that’s what you desire. A large living area with comfy couches is the perfect place to unwind with a glass of wine and leads out onto a gorgeous undercover deck from which you can take in those amazing views.

“The water is literally lapping at the door, it’s so close you can hear it. It’s incredibly calming – almost meditative,” Fiona says. “And the view changes constantly, as the sun moves across the bay, so it’s very easy to just sit and watch.”

The second level of the cottage is more of a reflection of Fiona’s nomadic lifestyle, with a world map to gaze up at and a collection of colourful artworks and homewares from her worldly adventures.

“Downstairs is more of a traveller’s room,” she says. “There are pieces in there from places I’ve been and it has a bit of a different feel to the rest of the house.”

On both levels of the cottage there’s a bedroom, each lined with an entire wall of books. Upstairs there’s a grand old leather chair beckoning from the corner and sitting in it makes you feel like you’re in your own private library. In the downstairs sleeping quarters the wall of books is a destination-coded, curated collection.

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The Hardys Bay lifestyle is in complete contrast to Fiona’s working life, which is fast-paced, always moving, and often involves being around lots of people.So with a population of just a few hundred, she says Hardys Bay is the perfect place to retreat from the rest of the world.

“I think everyone needs to stop sometimes and I need that quiet for myself, to be able to work. This village is truly somewhere I can retreat to in that it’s a very quiet, private part of the world.”

Fiona’s travel guides are renowned for offering people a truly authentic experience abroad and she says locals are often the source of invaluable recommendations about what to do and where to go.

“I think if I was asked to do a Love Travel Guide for Hardys Bay I’d do a very good job!” she laughs, and although it would be easy to while away the days reading and writing, the surrounding area has so much to offer you’d be crazy not to explore.

“When I’m here I like to go for a walk every afternoon on the beach,” she says “I also like heading up to Bell’s at Killcare for a coffee, and for a real treat it is wonderful to spend a day on a yacht with Hardys Bay yacht charters. You should also visit the gorgeous Moochinside for work from emerging artists and unique homewares.”

From the cottage’s location it’s also an easy stroll into the quaint village of Hardys Bay where you can grab a coffee and something yummy to eat from the local bakery or one of the gorgeous cafes.

The Writers' Retreat is what it promises – a “retreat” from the rest of the world.

For more information about Hardys Bay Writers Retreat.