All the romance of a nostalgic old-school motel and the theatre of a luxury boutique with every comfort at your fingertips. Bannisters by the Sea – just three hours south of Sydney – is the perfect coastal getaway for peace and relaxation.
Mollymook in NSW’s Shoalhaven region is around three hours from Sydney and an easy two from Canberra. It’s a little country town that dips its toes in the waters of some of Australia’s finest beaches.
It’s also home to a rather special hotel.
Check out our video walk-through of Bannisters by the Sea:
Peering from its own clifftop pinnacle over the water is Bannisters by the Sea. Back in the day, this luxury retreat-style hotel was little more than a motel on the Bannisters Point Peninsula, a tiny headland that splits Mollymook Beach in two.
These days, it’s a haven for tired cityites to pause their busy lives and rest their weary eyes on sights of dolphins playing in the surf and eagles soaring overhead.
The romance and serenity of Bannisters by the Sea makes this the perfect place to escape life for a little while.
Bannisters by the Sea
Arriving at Bannisters for the first time, you get a glimpse of what this high-end hotel must have looked like originally.
That classic motel look with a carpark courtyard leading on to the ‘50s square build of rooms stacked in two and three storeys.
It doesn’t take long, however, to realise things have changed quite a bit, and the contemporary renovations have only left the best bits of mid-century modern.
Bannisters by the Sea – the rooms
There are several different room types available at Bannisters by the Sea. Ours – a Spa Retreat room – was perfect for our two-night stay.
As well as a large bathroom and king size bed, the Spa Retreat rooms have a whirlpool jet bath either in the bathroom or on the deck outside. Ours had one on the deck, so we could soak up the view as well as a ourselves!
The bathroom also has one wall that’s entirely glass. It means you can continue watching TV while you shower, but if you want more privacy for your ablutions, there is a roller blind you can lower.
There’s a well-priced minibar, free tea and cafetiere coffee, and of course room service. The wifi here is fast, free and reliable, and the aforementioned TV is smart enough for you to access your Netflix account.
The door to the veranda and our spa bath is basically the whole back wall. The sliding door windows retract back in thirds, and there are fly screens much to my relief. The room is air-conditioned, but with such big windows and the beautiful coastal air, it’s lovely to have the room open while you sleep.
Bannisters by the Sea – where to eat
Your room rate includes the continental buffet breakfast, which is in the Rick Stein restaurant. Ordinarily, when a hotel offers this kind of breakfast, I feel worried. It’s often done quite badly.
At Bannisters, it’s great.
There’s a wide selection of cereals, fruit and yoghurt, and there’s a bagel station with smoked salmon, tasty ham and all the trappings for what my dad calls a golfer’s sandwich. You know: there’s a hole in one.
If you feel like something more substantial, there is an a la carte option for cooked breakfast too, but you’ll have to pay extra for that.
Bannisters Pool Bar
Looking out north across the bay and out to sea, the Pool Bar is the perfect place for a sundowner. Cocktails here are superb (order a negroni and you’ll see what I mean) and the food is even better.
Stone-baked and generously topped, the pizzas here are an easy go-to. The pimento dusted calamari with aioli are absolutely delicious though, so save space for that. The salads all sound excellent, as do the dessert options.
But essentially, this bar is an amazing place to come and relax, enjoy the views and relish the moment. If you’re in the mood for a swim, the asymmetrical infinity pool is nothing short of splendid.
The Pool Bar is open to guests from 12pm and from 6pm, the public can also drink and dine here. You can book a table via the website here.
By the way, if you want to see those dolphins a bit clearer, ask at the bar for the binoculars.
Rick Stein at Bannisters by the Sea
Since 2009, celebrity chef and by all accounts thoroughly nice bloke Rick Stein has had his seafood restaurant here. In fact, Bannisters’ blinding rise to fame is in large part due to this remarkable eatery.
With a focus on fresh seafood, elegant flavours and simplicity, this restaurant deserves every accolade it receives.
We had dinner here on our first night and the food was impeccable. Often, servings in restaurants of this calibre can be lacking, but not here. In fact, the entrées were so generous we had no room for dessert, which we found hard enough to believe even at the time.
You can book your table online through the Bannisters website here or reception can help you when you check in. Be aware, it is a popular venue and it does book out in busy periods.
Bannisters by the Sea – other ways to relax
We’ve mentioned the pool by the bar, which is a beautiful place to come for a dip and watch the sun set over the water. This pool is only available to Bannisters guests.
This hotel also has a full day spa for guests to book treatments in.
There are four treatment rooms and a semi-outdoor cabana where you can enjoy a couples’ massage with the sounds of the sea rushing against the cliffs below. The spa also has a large steam room and rain shower that’ll sooth tired limbs and relax your mind.
Other Bannisters properties
The Bannisters brand is ever-growing. In Mollymook, there’s a second venue down on Mollymook Beach called Bannisters Pavilion.
This hotel doesn’t have as much of the nostalgic retro feel of the original premises with its cute motel vibe. Bannisters Pavilion is very much a modern hotel with lofted ceilings, a bright youthful look and beautiful artwork throughout.
The 33 ‘classic’ rooms and two penthouses are decorated in light beachy colours and fabrics with privacy and relaxation in mind.
Above it all, the Rooftop Pavilion, with its pool, bar and grill, is an all-year-round al fresco dining venue with a lean towards Mediterranean cuisine.
There are free shuttle buses that run between the two Mollymook hotels if you’re staying at one and wish to enjoy the facilities at the other. It’s very handy if you’re at the original Bannisters and want to get to the beach, as the Pavilion is only a short walk to the sand.
The latest property to open under the Bannisters banner. Much like Bannisters by the Sea, this hotel has transformed an old motel – the Salamander – into a beautiful four-star retreat.
There’s also a Rick Stein restaurant here, and an incredible infinity pool with ocean views.
We love Port Stephens and come here quite often, though we’re yet to visit the Bannisters here. But it’s only a matter of time!
Bannisters by the Sea
191 Mitchell Parade
Mollymook NSW 2539
Bannisters by the Sea – the original Bannisters – has something about it though. It’s certainly the unique location, high above crystal waters and white sands on its own cliff. It’s also certainly the quality of staff – you get the immediate feeling that you’ll be well-cared for here.
Perhaps it’s how this once simple motel transformed into what it is now.
Bannisters by the Sea was really ahead of its time considering the trend for renovated motels coursing through the holiday accommodation industry.
Think of The Ace Hotel and The Saguaro in Palm Springs, California and – closer to home – Halcyon House and Paper Daisy at Cabarita Beach at the northern tip of NSW.
They’ve all done amazing things with good bones, but Bannisters did it all first.