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Play time

Justine Tyerman watches a seaside play from an ‘opera box’ at Palm Beach, north of Sydney . . .

Sunshine creeps across the sand at the sheltered little cove at Palm Beach, transforming it from dark sable to glowing gold. I’ve been awake since dawn, impatient to greet the new day and explore the surroundings at Katya and Barry’s beautiful home overlooking a perfect horseshoe bay.

I’m mesmerised by the relentless forward momentum of the incoming tide as its long tongues nibble away at the beach.

Within a few hours, high tide will completely cover the golden sands below but for now, it’s a sheltered, private front ‘lawn’ for the cluster of homeowners in Careel Bay. From my opera box seat high above the bay, it’s like an open-air stage where many acts of a seaside play are performed throughout the day.

A paddle-boarder lopes across the sand (above), returning from an early morning ride on this eye-wateringly clear spring morning.

A father and son appear from a neighbouring house equipped with strange apparatus. The dad plunges a long pipe into small craters in the sand and discharges the contents into a bucket while the little boy hops around, shouting with excitement.

My Aussie son-in-law explains they’re gathering saltwater ‘yabbies’, a type of crustacean.

Next up, a pair of doting grandparents arrive with three little ones who splash and play in the shallow water, warmed by the sun.

The voices of yachties and fishermen carry across the still waters as they row out to vessels anchored in the deeper part of the sheltered Pittwater estuary.

Later in the day, as the tide retreats, the bay becomes a playground paradise for children, a dog-exercise park, a footie and frisbee field for teenagers, a flat walkway to the next bay, and a haven for artists and photographers.

At sunset, I walk across the sand with my Sydney-based daughters, rebonding after too long apart. The long shadows of the fading light make small mountain ranges out of the ripples in the sand.

Lured by the unmistakable sound of champagne corks popping, we scramble up the steep pathway to celebrate a cluster of significant birthdays, an engagement, a belated Father’s Day and just being together, a family of six now that our daughters have brought two young men into the fold.

As we stand on the decking, clinking glasses, I marvel at our good fortune in finding such an idyllic house and location so close to Sydney for our family reunion. Katya and Barry’s property is one of thousands listed on Love Home Swap, one of the world’s leading home swap clubs. Since joining in 2013, we’ve been privileged to stay in many magnificent private homes around the world.

Each home has been wonderfully unique but this place has a special quality — a serenity, peacefulness and tranquillity infused by Katya who is a landscape architect-designer, yoga and meditation teacher, and potter extraordinaire. Born in Russia and raised in China, Katya has filled her home with exotic artworks and furniture from her former lives and travels. I felt as though I had stepped into an art gallery.

Apart from the myriad of stunning paintings and Chinese and Balinese-inspired furniture, my favourite pieces were those created by Katya herself — giant vases made with many layers of porcelain, and the centrepiece on the lounge coffee table which looked like someone had left a remnant of folded fabric there. I loved its lack of symmetry, the texture and colour of the grey-green clay and the fact it was purely decorative. A prolific potter, Katya has filled the house with handmade bowls, plates and platters, each one a masterpiece.

The spaciousness of the two-storey, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home made it a dream location for our expanded family. Plenty of room to spread out — a conversational galley kitchen for meal preparations, a long, slim table for chatty dining, an elegant lounge for socialising, generous bedrooms with sumptuous, super-comfy king beds in which to slumber, and large deckings where we could absorb the natural surroundings. The bird life was astonishing, especially the colourful parrots who called by each day to feast on our breakfast crumbs.

The Balinese day bed right on the waterfront was an ideal place to relax, read and day-dream. And the outside couch on the upper decking was a delicious early-morning suntrap and coffee spot.

In the days that followed, we cooked meals in the well-equipped kitchen with its long granite bench and island, dined out at the nearby Boat House restaurant, strolled along Palm Beach (made famous as ‘Summer Bay’ on the Australian TV series ‘Home and Away’), and hiked the fabulous Barrenjoey Lighthouse and Bangalley Headland tracks. On our last day, we were treated to a thrilling display of breaching and tail-splashing by a couple of whales, possibly a mother and calf, heading south on their annual migration.

Points system offers freedom and flexibilityAbout Love Home Swap

Our Palm Beach stay was managed by way of Love Home Swap points which I had accumulated over the years. It often doesn’t suit members to swap houses simultaneously so the points system, a form of ‘currency’, provides the flexibility and freedom to explore the world and stay wherever and whenever you choose within the club’s member properties.

By having us to stay for three nights, Katya and Barry earned points which they can ‘spend’ at a time that suits them. There’s no need to negotiate an actual house swap although that option is always available.

According to Love Home Swap managing director Ben Wosskow, the points system is exceptionally popular with the club’s global member base and has quickly overtaken traditional home swapping.

Finding a Love Home Swap property may take a little longer than just booking a hotel or apartment but the savings are phenomenal and the privilege of living like a local in a spacious, fully-equipped private home is worth the time and effort.

Another wonderfully refreshing aspect about Love Home Swap is how relaxed and stress-free the lead-up to a holiday is — no demands for a massive deposit months in advance or terrifying cancellation policies that make you shudder. Just friendly emails offering travel advice and local knowledge about things to do and see.

As we drove back to Sydney, the chat in the car was all about our next Love Home Swap adventure.

The young ones got busy on their iPhones and came up with a chateau in France, a ski chalet in Switzerland and a tropical villa in Bali. They also found some quirky places to stay like a 747-wing-topped home in Malibu, California, a houseboat in London and a yurt in Yorkshire.

And they discovered all sorts of extra perks for Love Home Swap members like free airport lounge passes, and discounts on Uber, ZipCar, La Belle Assiette private chef services, GetMyBoat boat hire, TourioCity tours, WeSwap currency exchanger and Truly experiences which include everything from chocolate tastings, cooking masterclasses and helicopter rides, to dinner for two on the London Eye.

So what next, I wonder? A space-capsule on the Moon maybe?

Love Home Swap membership starts from the equivalent of $20 a month. You can sign up for a free two-week trial to see how you like it.FACTBOX:

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Katya and Barry’s home:


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My ‘opera box’ view from our Love Home Swap abode. Pictures by Justine Tyerman
Colourful birds visited us every day.
Our Love Home Swap abode overlooking Careel Bay.
Walking along the sand below the house at sunset.
Katya and Barry’s home is like an art gallery.
The stunning view from the kitchen-dining area.
A watercolour painting — the twilight view from the upper decking at our Love Home Swap house.
Porcelain vases made by Katya.
A decorative piece on the lounge coffee table created by Katya.
The long tongues of the incoming tide with the yachts moored in the estuary in the background.