Getting away from it all? Not any more — we want holiday homes that have it all… (or, as I’ve subtitled this piece in my noisy head, how we traded the caravan for the castle.)

For generations of Aussies, summer holidays always started with a
long, “I spy”-dominated drive to the beach.

The accommodation was either
a caravan park, where kids ran rampant from dawn until dusk and the
queue at the shower block was the essential meeting place, or the
classic beach shack, built on a shoestring and furnished with the
cast-offs from the family home.

We’ve always loved our beach
shacks: hidden from view on the white-sand beaches of the NSW south
coast or up in idyllic Byron Bay, you’ll see them among the dunes along
the South Australian coastline, tucked away down sandy lanes on the
Bellarine and Mornington peninsulas, so laid-back they’re almost
horizontal.

Stayz, a division of Fairfax Media, recently held its annual awards for
the best holiday rentals in seven categories including best for pets,
romance, families and eco-friendliness, as well as a people’s choice.
Judged by a panel of travel industry experts with guest ratings and
reviews in the mix, the results are an eye-opener.

These days the locations are different: we’re not just running to the
beach any more. Sure, there are winners in Noosa, Byron Bay and on
Culburra Beach, just outside Nowra, but there are also winners in the
Victorian foodie region around Kyneton, in the genteel NSW southern
highlands and another on the sleepy east Gippsland coastline.

“The
mix of holiday homes is changing,” says Anton Stanish, general manager
of Stayz. “We’ve also got more inner-city serviced apartments,
especially on the Gold Coast. They’re so convenient for fly-in
holidaymakers. And we’ve got more unique properties.”

Choose your dream: a tree-house? A castle? A lighthouse? Or a yurt? A
train carriage or go underground to a subterranean B&B? You might
need a jetty for your own boat, or helicopter access for a particularly
dramatic arrival. While the shape of the holiday house has changed, so
have our requirements.

Nowadays, remember to take your iPad and
smartphones, Stanish says. Far from getting away from it all, a huge
percentage of holiday homes now have Wi-Fi. We’re holidaying
differently: we expect great beds, pay-TV and internet access. We’re out
to “enjoy ourselves” and “we’re no longer doing hardship”, he says.

Indulgence winner: Toraja Luxury just outside Byron Bay.

With
the rise in demand comes the rise in agents happy to supply, and not
just traditional real estate agents. The last year has seen a rush of
activity among the online players, which include behemoth Stayz, which
has more than 40,000 properties on its books, HomeAway.com.au with
19,000 holiday listings, and wotif.com, which launched a dedicated
holiday homes service in March 2012.

Newcomer Airbnb, which lets people
advertise not only their homes but also rooms, launched in Australia
late last year, and has gone public about its intention to take on Stayz
in the holiday rentals market.

With such choice available, you need to choose carefully. Think about
what you’d use the property for: obviously, a couple chasing romance
doesn’t need to pay for a two-bedroom house and if you’re a large group,
check that there are enough bathrooms for you all.

Groups also
need to ensure they have enough transport, especially if you’re booking a
country house, such as a Victorian farmhouse B&B.

If you want
to eat in a different restaurant every night, is a country retreat
really for you, or would it be better basing yourself in a foodie town,
such as the beloved spa town of Daylesford, Victoria, where you can
totter home afterwards, bypassing the need for a designated driver? And
while pool fences are compulsory in Australia, it also goes without
saying that kids and cliff-top retreats don’t mix.

Villa Vivante, Coffs Harbour, is perched 750 feet above the Pacific
Ocean,
it’s a vivid image of the beautiful villas on the Cote d’Azure
in
the South of France.

If you’re
packing the pets, check that the local beaches or parks are leash-free:
in summer, many beaches ban dogs in daylight hours. Hound-friendly
holiday homes are on the increase and the advantage for holiday home
owners is that dog owners are a sturdy bunch, with the market not so
reliant on good weather.

“Many dog owners are happy to get a break
from the city all year around to give their dogs a run, so dog-friendly
holiday rentals are becoming increasingly popular,” says Stephen
Nicholls, Fairfax Media’s national Domain editor and property
trend-watcher.

However simple or complex your wishes, at the end
of the day, it’s still a holiday. We’ve come a long way for the best
getaway. In many properties, you’ll also find quality linen supplied,
brand toiletries, top-brand coffee machines… all the lovely things we
may not necessarily have at home.

You can tick off the five key
factors that make a good holiday home: uniqueness, good value, the right
space and size, exclusivity of use and that old real estate mantra,
location, location, location.
Once upon a time, you just added
water – think beaches, rivers or lakes – to make the perfect holiday
home. Now, we expect dependable internet, luxury linen, professionally
kitted-out kitchens and a plethora of entertainment options from
restaurant strips to theme parks and, of course, a great beach.

The
great Australian getaway definitely has changed as our households have
changed, with more singles on the move, as well as couples young and old
without kids. Holidaymakers, as Nicholls points out, want to travel
with their pets, with a group of mates, or take a holiday that leaves a
lighter footprint on the planet.

Families are also more
adventurous – no staying at home just because we have young children,
and thanks to rising petrol costs, lower airfares and more services to
regional airports, many visitors will arrive at their destination by
plane rather than a long road trip through countless country towns. Baby
boomers are happily blowing their children’s inheritance on holidays,
while the core holiday home market – inter-generational travel, which
sees grandparents holidaying with all their kids – has always been a key
holiday rental market.

While villa rentals are on-trend in our
favourite international destinations such as Bali and Thailand,
Australia’s stepping up to the plate; which is particularly timely as
our obsession with overseas travel is set to wane as our dollar winds
back recent gains.

Building on our existing love of a beach shack,
those holiday homes are now a bit glossier, more polished, with
matching linen and chic, gingham-checked breakfast baskets featuring
sumptuous piles of regional produce.

Something that hasn’t changed
is that the most popular spots for holiday homes remain within 2½
hours’ drive of our capital cities. “That’s about as long as young
families with two kids in the back seat can tolerate for a weekend
break,” Nicholls says.

For Sydneysiders, the south coast is a hot
locale. Destination NSW says the most popular spot in the state for
Sydney short-break holidaymakers is the south coast, with 23 per cent of
us heading there, while the north coast gets 17 per cent of the
traffic, and the Hunter Valley 15 per cent. The beach towns of Hyams
Beach, Nowra and Huskisson remain popular as well as Nicholls’ personal
favourite, Jervis Bay, right on the 2½-hour mark.

While it’s
traditionally quiet in the middle of winter, Todd Gallant from Hyams
Beach Real Estate says the beachside spot, which sells itself as having
the whitest sand in the world, is increasingly popular with
holidaymakers, though official tourism figures show its biggest rival is
NSW’s north coast, with tourist traffic to Byron Bay currently booming,
and we’re not even talking about across the border to the holiday mecca
that is Noosa.

Not quite as far away from Sydney, Pacific Palms –
specifically Blueys Beach – is just under three hours’ drive north of
Sydney on the appropriately named Holiday Coast, a strong lure for
time-poor north shore holidaymakers.

As the six-week summer
holiday fades into a nostalgic haze, the long weekender continues to
rise in popularity: four-day mini-breaks are hot right now.

For a full-list of the winners of this year’s Stayz Group Holiday Rental Awards, see stayz.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sydney Morning Herald/The Age