In a sleepy seaside village on Tasmania’s north coast, where the rhythms of daily life are dictated by the rising and setting of the sun, there sits a shack drenched in love and nostalgia.
Waiting to whisk you away to another time, Shack in the Dunes holds sentry on the undulating and ever-changing sand formations of Weymouth, just 45 minutes from the centre of Launceston.
At the convergence of the Bass Strait and Pipers River, the sheltered haven is a tranquility hunter’s dream where the permanent population of less than 200 swells seasonally as the town welcomes holidaymakers.
With placid waters for swimming and paddling, the quiet ocean and river beaches are strewn with glittering agate and chalcedony and made for long walks, fishing and beachcombing. (In fact, one section of the beach is a designated fossicking area by Mineral Resources Tasmania.)
Surrounded by wineries, walking trails and Tamar Valley attractions, Weymouth offers the choice to explore or settle in, leaving your keys in the same spot for your whole stay.
“It looks beautiful and very inviting. You could imagine sitting there with a glass of wine, watching the sun go down”
For owner Heidi McCabe, the shack is the continuation of a lifelong familial connection with the rural seaside town.
“My grandfather’s [shack] was one of the very first shacks to be built right on the river,” says Heidi.
That shack became Heidi’s parent’s and remained the shared family holiday house (“We had so many families under the one roof,” she recounts), until Heidi and her family outgrew the single room they all bunked in. Surrounded by memories of collecting beach treasures with her nana, long days in the dunes and the languid pace of shack life, Heidi was keen to continue these traditions with her own children in this special place.
Since her brood of four were no longer in need of full-time Mum attention, Heidi was also looking for a creative outlet and a project to get stuck into.
Heidi and her builder husband, Luke, put their feelers out to a local real estate agent, and what followed can only be described as serendipity.
“We were prepared for a long wait; they usually get passed through generations and inter family, so not a lot come on the market,” Heidi explains. “We were lucky enough to just have made a phone call at the right time.”
The shack in question was one familiar to Heidi. Tucked into the dunes backing onto the sheltered river beach and only minutes from her grandfather’s original shack (and her brother and sister’s current shacks), its original features were exactly what the couple were looking for.
While Heidi and Luke were intent on keeping the character of the two-bedroom house, she says their “gentle renovations” became quite thorough in the end.
“We kept the shell basically,” Heidi laughs. “We rewired, we replanted, we did everything because we didn’t know where to stop when you get hold of these old places.”
Over the space of 12 months, the duo transformed the essentially untouched 1960s shack – complete with sleep out and outdoor bathroom – from uncut gem to glittering jewel, creating a modern property taking cues from the days of old in the process.“We couldn’t really bring ourselves to extend it and knock it down or do a heap to it,” Heidi remembers.
Driven by Heidi’s strong sense of nostalgia, the name Shack in the Dunes is also a nod to Heidi’s childhood.
“We used to roll down the back of the sand dunes behind this place. There’s a, sort of, cluster of shacks that back onto the sand dunes. And so as kids, we used to call them the ‘shacks in the dunes’. Even the whole time through renovating and doing it [up], I just kept calling it that.”
While the dune looms large metaphorically, Heidi says that working in abutment to a somewhat transitory geological formation like a sand dune presents interesting obstacles.
“We had to stop and think a bit,” Heidi says. “We had to really work out what we were going to do with this huge, big sand dune.” Deciding to “go with the sand”, Heidi and Luke utilised the whole block taking it from grass-covered, relatively unusable space to showstopping backyard. Together with steps up to the top, a picnic table and two fire pits to choose from, Heidi says that – along with the shack’s wrap around deck – there’s no shortage of spots to stop and soak in the splendour.
“It looks beautiful and very inviting. You could imagine sitting there with a glass of wine, watching the sun go down,” she says, adding that the deck was originally built purely for her love of following the sun.
Channeling classic but contemporary coastal chic, the shack itself exists almost as a physical reminiscence of Heidi’s childhood – a living meditation to slow days by the beach with loved ones. Driftwood and foraged treasures sit alongside comfy furniture and considered, earthy decor creating a space that breathes with sentiment.
“[My kids] collect shells like they’re treasures on the beach, which probably what started with me with my nana in our [family] shack,” Heidi says. “She had a big pot of shells that she put at the front door and every beach walk we’d add a couple – that’s probably one of the first things I did when we bought the shack.”
Opening up a house that’s so personal to outside guests felt like a labour of love – and doing so during the height of COVID only added to the feeling of trepidation. But Heidi says they’ve been “blown away” by the response. “We never, really had a goal or an expectation, but it’s definitely turned into a job for me,” she says
Between dreams of making Shack in the Dunes even cosier by adding an indoor fireplace and opening another Tasmanian Slow Stay, Heidi says her main desire is for guests to be able to truly soak in the pace of Weymouth and the community feel of shack life during their stay.
“I hope that they can switch off and feel a world away from all the hustle and bustle of city life and busy.”