Sue Wallace and Helen Hayes have been travel writers for decades, and have been lucky enough to stay in many stunning properties around Australia. Here, they name some of their favourite luxury resorts. While many are five star, some have that X factor that turn a lovely stay into an unforgettable one, and for some it is the location that truly makes it special. Read on and you might find a place that jumps out at you, for a special occasion, a lovely break or to just experience more of our beautiful country.
NEW SOUTH WALES
One&Only Emirates Wolgan Valley
Driving to Wolgan Valley for the first time it feels like you are going to a mountain Narnia; a Harry Potter platform 9 3/4. Some place other worldly. Heading down the windy road to the valley there is no sign of a resort. It only reveals itself once you drive up to the gate. Once inside, eyes are drawn to the orange glow of the afternoon light on the canyon walls in the distance, a natural boundary to this beautiful place.
The resort consists of a beautiful large building which is home to reception, the outstanding restaurant, and an enormous pool, the Valley Bar, and a boutique, as well as 40 freestanding villas.
For a few days at least, guests can feel as if they are escaping the real world into one where time really does stand still. Wolgan Valley is a luxurious retreat of the highest order, effortlessly combining the beauty of the landscape with the accoutrements of a five-star resort.
Guests stay in immaculate stand-alone suites tastefully and thoughtfully fitted out. A feature is a swimming pool that can be indoors in winter, and opened up to the outdoors in summer. There are 36 one-bedroom suites, three Wollemi Suites with two bedrooms and one Wolgan Suite, which has three bedrooms as well as accommodation for a nanny or butler.
There is something therapeutic about the landscape at Wolgan, and stress levels fall away in no time. Guests can be active and explore some of the 1620-hectare private conservation reserve on horseback, bicycle, on foot or on a guided 4WD tour on which you’ll see the famous Wollemi pine, the dinosaur of the plant world. Or guests can tuck themselves away in the homely suites, hibernating.
The Timeless Spa is a must for active or inactive guests with a spa menu that offers a wide range of wellness, rejuvenation and beauty therapies. After an invigorating horse ride, I chose the Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, the long, smooth stroke of the therapist relieving my aching muscles and sending me into a stupor of tranquillity. To really pamper myself, I also enjoyed an hour of reflexology but missed some of it because I fell asleep. But that is the hallmark of a good massage in my book. Guests can also choose to have a massage on a private deck in a scenic corner to really get back to nature.
Local Aboriginal teachings say: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love … And then we return home.”
I can only hope I return to Wolgan another day, in another time …
Pinetrees Lodge, Lord Howe Island
I absolutely love Lord Howe Island. Every time I go it is like a balm for the soul. I love that there are very few cars and that visitors go everywhere on a bike. I love that the tranquil lagoon is home to the southern-most coral reef in the world. It is magnificent for snorkelling, swimming or kayaking. Or jump on the glass bottom boat tours and see the spectacular corals and fish from above.
I love the many walks you can do, with the walk to Kims Lookout and the Little Island walks my favourites. If I was not such a chicken I would love to do the Goat House and Mt Gower walks, but I can live vicariously through the many people who do them. I also love the birdlife on the island, especially the woodhens that are flightless. They are very curious and you come upon them everywhere. Then there are the little balls of white fluff that are baby white terns.
I have stayed at a few places on Lord Howe and love them all, but Pinetrees Lodge has that special something. It has been in the same family for six generations, with the sixth being Dani Hanson – nee Rouke – who truly has Pinetrees in her blood. Dani and her husband Luke are incredibly warm and welcoming, and that is why it feels like home to all the guests who visit. And why there is such a high rate of repeat visitors.
There are several options of accommodation at Pinetrees, with rooms and suites dotted around under the palms, Garden Cottages, a three-bedroom Chef’s Cottage and a four-bedroom Banyan Cottage. I had a Transit Hill Room and loved it. It was bright and airy, really comfortable bed and I loved the little covered deck outside my room. It opened onto a grassy area and a truly magnificent Chinese Elm tree – perfect to sit under and read a book.
One of the highlights of Pinetrees is the food. Nothing disappoints, and while afternoon tea was not on our agendas when we arrived, we made sure we were back in time for this culinary treat every day. As for dinner, you most certainly will never go hungry. Just as well there is so much exercise to be enjoyed during the day.
Legging it around Lord Howe
Lord Howe Island is small – 11 kilometres long by (a maximum of) two kilometres wide – and there are very few cars. Most people ride bikes everywhere, so we pick ours up from Wilson’s Bike Hire, and clock up many /kilometres on our trusty steeds, riding to and from swimming, over to Ned’s Beach, up to the Anchorage Café for the Wi-Fi and ice cream, and down to Blinky’s Beach for a morning swim and to watch the sunrise.
The island is also a hikers’ paradise and we can take our pick of the many excellent walks available. They range from relatively easy and short, to the extremely difficult Mt Gower climb, which can only the done with an authorised guide. We are astounded by the views over the island from Kim’s Lookout and Malabar Hill, and also love the Little Island Walk, down the southern end past the airport. We ride the bikes as far as possible, then walk on a grassy path by the water, and through beautiful, lush forest with banyan trees and kentia palms to the start of the Gower climb, its track disappearing into a tangle of vegetation.
As we ride back, we wave cheerily at the barefoot school kids spilling out of the school gates (being barefoot is part of the school uniform), and when we see the iridescent blue of the lagoon, make a sudden decision to have a lazy dip before heading back to Pinetrees.
As long as we don’t miss afternoon tea.
Mount Mulligan Lodge
Mount Mulligan Lodge in remote Far North Queensland is a place that gets under your skin. The type of place you just want to savour the memories forever and don’t want to leave.
Just a 35-minute helicopter trip north-west of Cairns or a 2.5-hour 4WD drive, the lodge is on a 28,000-hectare cattle property and sits in the shadow of majestic Mount Mulligan.
From the moment we arrive, it’s clear the grandeur of the luxury lodge and surrounds matches the splendour of the landscape.
The pavilion, where you will find the bar, dining area and lounge, showcases timber and stone with huge pylons that were part of a Sydney Pyrmont pier. Smooth river rock has been used for the fireplace, Queensland red gum – charred black by the Japanese yakisugi technique – for the walls and spotted gum for the flooring.
Outside the black-tiled infinity pool and eight suites overlook a small weir where lily pads play springboard for frogs and paperbarks and river gums fringe the surrounds. Paddleboards and kayaks are at the ready to explore the still waters where elusive barramundi are hiding. Or you can just settle back on a sun lounge and watch nature at play. But as tempting as it is to just chill here, there’s much to see.
This is a property that made headlines – it was the site of a coal mine where 75 miners perished after a monster explosion in 1921. A plaque with their names pays tribute to so many lives cut short. Nearby the old township of Mount Mulligan where more than 300 people lived, is now a ghost town. It was disbanded when the mine closed in 1957 but the bones of a railway station, picture theatre, bathhouse, post office and two pubs, remain.
Go for gold
We also visit Tyrconnell gold mine, home of Australia’s oldest operating gold crusher, which at its peak employed 2000 men. There’s an eerie feeling wandering around these haunts that are part of the country’s rich heritage.
The property is named after Irish born James Mulligan who discovered gold in 1876 on the nearby Hodgkinson River. It is now part of the Morris Group’s Northern Escape Collection, joining Orpheus Island and the Daintree Eco Lodge.
As we return to the lodge, we spot rainbow lorikeets, kookaburras and Noisy Friar birds, passing some of the Brahman cattle roaming the property. After a refreshing dip in the pool, it’s back to my Outback Room that blends luxury with rural touches. An outdoor corrugated iron bathtub is a nod to the past – abandoned water tanks were cut in half for baths in the old township.
I take my electric buggy for a spin to evening drinks up the hill at the rustic Sunset Bar. Sundowner in hand, it’s the perfect place to watch the blood red sunset creep across the sky.
Dining is a culinary adventure with executive chef Amanda Healey creating fabulous tastes using produce from the rich Atherton Tablelands. Locally sourced, caught and foraged produce star in seasonal dishes accented with native and bush foods. We dine under thousands of stars on degustation taste sensations including Cairns exotic mushrooms, Mulligan red claw dumplings, Bushy Creek ribeye and wattle seed and wild rosella flower flavoured treats plus Australian wines.
It’s all part of the Mount Mulligan magic.
Spicers Tamarind Retreat, Maleny
Spicers Tamarind Retreat is a little pocket of perfection tucked away in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast. Glorious, green, tranquil and soothing, it welcomes you from the moment you arrive.
Birds are tweeting in the web of trees as I am shown to my villa. I am in a Luxury Falls Villa at one end of the property. We are not talking huge here. You don’t need a golf cart to get from one end to the other. Spicers Tamarind Retreat has 14 one- and two-bedroom villas so it feels really private.
In fact so private that when I sit in my outdoor cedar hot tub on the deck I feel as if it is a private resort just for me. I soak and sit and soak some more, looking out at the rainforest and listening to the tinkling sounds of the creek on a mission to get to Gardner’s Falls.
My Luxury Falls Villa is beautifully furnished. The separate lounge room has a wood-burning fireplace, which I always love. I am not sure if there is a better place to sit and read than in a comfy lounge in front of a crackling fireplace. There is a small kitchenette with a Nespresso coffee machine. Another tick. At the other end, there is a bedroom with a king-sized bed and a gorgeous bathroom with a double shower and heated towel rail. The bed has a feather topper that envelops you in a warm hug making it tough to get out of in the morning.
In the afternoon, I wander over to the outdoor fire pit for canapes, accompanied to the sounds of the bush orchestra. I spy gorgeous hanging egg chairs underneath a stunning fig tree, and enjoy a tranquil minute or two swinging in the breeze. These chairs are part of the reason that Spicers Tamarind is in demand as a wedding venue.
Another reason it is popular for everyone is the Tamarind Restaurant. While the restaurant is set in an airy outdoor pavilion with beautiful views over the grounds, I find it hard to take my eyes off the array of dishes that appear before us.
The perfect blend of flavours sing on the tongue, and I wish we were staying longer, to allow us to try more dishes – and more desserts – and even a cooking class. Chef Rory Thorpe hosts intimate classes of up to 12 people with five hours of cooking, lunch, wine, signature apron and full recipes included.
The Anise Spa is also on the grounds and has a rainforest setting. Soak in the mineralised spa, enjoy hydrotherapy treatment, sweat it out in the steam room or just lay back and enjoy a massage or a facial from the tailored spa menu.
As Spicers Tamarind Retreat is located in pretty Maleny, there is much to do away from the property. Maleny is known for its eclectic array of art and craft shops, boutiques and cafes, as well as Maleny Mountain Wines and Brouhaha Brewery. One place not to be missed is the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, a subtropical rainforest overlooking the Glass House Mountains. The walk through tangled almost prehistoric-looking trees is spectacular.
After a day spent exploring, it was back to my rainforest home, and straight into that outdoor tub, singing along with the chorus of birds fluttering about the tangle of trees.
InterContinental Hayman Island, The Whitsundays
The luxuries of a stay at the InterContinenal Hayman Island Resort start before you even reach the island. Flying into Hamilton Island, we are met and shown to our transport across the sea. The gleaming Hayman Sun Harmony is a beautiful cruise vessel and we are treated to canapes and a glass of bubbles in the lavish, comfortable interior.
Once we are safely tied off at the Hayman Marina, we are taken in golf carts to the airy reception area, swiftly checked in, and shown to our room. We are in the Beach Wing, which has private access, and while I have seen a lot of glamorous rooms in my day, the Beach Pool Villa is quite exceptional. I almost squeak with delight when I see the gorgeous plunge pool in the centre of the villa, with a huge bathroom on one side and a separate bedroom on the other. In the bathroom, you can sit in the large bath and look out over the pool through the villa to the azure blue of the Coral Sea. It also has a shower and an open-plan dressing room. There is even an outdoor shower.
The bedroom opens onto the sand, and you can lay in the lavish super king bed and look out over the sea. Then when it is time to sleep, you can shut the blinds with the simple push of a button on the high tech controller. Or leave them open.
The Resort also has the Pool Wing and the Lagoon Wing, which looks over the piece de resistance of Hayman – its absolutely enormous Hayman lagoon pool. It is the equivalent size of seven Olympic pools. I dropped by for lunch at Aqua, snagging a private cabana poolside that looked over the sea. The pool is glorious. I also tried out the smaller but stunning Infinity Pool at the Pool Wing, which is where I found the fun Bam Bam Bar. It is the place for cocktails, lunch or a lovely dinner from the Pan-Asian inspired menu, and were joined by two stone curlews, long-legged birds that are quite beautiful.
The Pacific Restaurant is the go-to for breakfast – again featuring beautiful views to the Coral Sea. It is also open for dinner with the sunsets quite something. It is also open for dinner.
Things to do
Hayman offers a wealth of activities, apart from the plethora of things to do on or by the water both in the resort and out on the Great Barrier Reef. There are several hikes on the island – the locals say the walk to Blue Pearl Bay is fantastic – or walk up to Hayman’s peak for sunset. We experienced sunset drinks on nearby Langford Island, such a relaxing experience to sit on the beach, toes wiggling in sand and watching as the brilliant orange orb dipped down behind the iridescent blue. All while drinking champagne. If we had more time, we could have signed up for a helicopter or seaplane flight out to the Reef with Helireef to marvel at the wondrous views of Whitehaven and Heart Reef, or to touch down at Reefworld – home of Australia’s first underwater suites – Reef Suites.
I don’t know about you, but a great resort stay has to include a delicious massage at a spa. And that box is ticked with a treatment at the Hayman Spa.
If first impressions count, I’m also hooked on Lizard Island and just getting there is an adventure.
The 60-minute flight from Cairns swoops over hundreds of tiny islands that resemble mushroom caps floating in turquoise seas, ringed by fringed reefs. Yachts bob around and sleek boats leave a bubbly white wake.
But nothing quite prepares you for the stunning bird’s eye view of Lizard Island and its outlying isles of Palfrey, South Island and Seabird Islet.
The chic resort features 40 villas and suites with the cliff-hugging luxury two-bedroom apartment known as The Villa, starring.
My understated light-filled beachside suite on Anchor Bay is perfect and only a few steps from a sandy beach lapped by turquoise waters. Its white decor contrasts with the bright blues of the sea and sky.
It’s a toss-up whether to throw down a towel and lay on the beach or spread out on the day bed on the deck.
Snorkel and spa
But there’s much more to the island than just lazing around. Yoga starts at 7 am, followed by a guided snorkel with the resident naturalist to the Clam Gardens, home to giant clams or you can see them from glass-bottom kayaks.
Want to learn how to paddleboard or scuba dive? Beginner courses are offered.
The Essentia Day Spa offers indulgent treatments and massages and there’s a pool for lounging by.
A highlight is being dropped off with a gourmet picnic to a secluded beach – there’s a choice of 24, where you will be the first to leave footprints in the sand.
Lizard Island also has a rich history, the traditional owners, the Dingaal, know it as Jiigurru and they have used its resources for thousands of years. Captain James Cook climbed to its peak in 1770 to find a way out of the reefs that were impeding his progress. He gave the island its European name for the yellow-spotted goannas that also call it home.
Energetic guests can do the 3.5-hour climb to Cook’s Look or for a less vigorous walk try the 30-minute trek to Chinaman’s Ridge. No matter where you look the views are breathtaking.
The resort also organises weekly visits to the world-renowned Lizard Island Research Station that was established by the Australian Museum in 1973. It attracts up to 300 of the best international and national scientists and researchers annually. The tour provides a great insight into the reef research.
Back in the lodge, I settle in the lounge with a Drunken Lizard cocktail from the Drifters Bar and watch a video of myself and my marine encounters.
It’s followed by a fine dinner at the ocean view Saltwater restaurant with seafood and a decadent dessert while a gentle breeze blows across the deck on a star-studded night.
For a change of pace, the next evening, I wander over to the rustic Marlin Bar on the beach where dress code is no shoes and hear tall tales from local yachties about fishing and boating escapades.
It’s been a favourite haunt of deep-sea fishermen since the 1970s and as the night goes on the stories get more impressive.
But nothing beats the blood red sunset that streaks the sky on this picturesque island that just like Jim, I don’t want to leave.
Jackalope Hotel, Mornington Peninsula
The first thing you come face to face in the carpark is a giant jackalope statue.
What’s a jackalope you may well ask – it’s a mythical horned jackrabbit and it’s that sense of fun that sets you in the mood for a fun stay.
Nestled among manicured grapevines in the heart of some of Victoria’s finest wine country, the luxurious Jackalope offers sophisticated accommodation on the Mornington Peninsula.
Located an hour’s drive from the heart of Melbourne, the boutique hotel is the brainchild of entrepreneur and filmmaker Louis Li, who created the property with an eye toward generating memories—rather than just a place to stay.
It’s an adventure – sip on alchemy-themed cocktails at Flaggerdoot (the term for a group of jackalopes), a bar adorned with a giant wall of chemistry-style glass vessels, two gold leather chairs, and a Rick Owens Stag Bench.
For a culinary treat try the four- and eight-course degustation menus at Doot Doot Doot (the term for a jackalope leader). A mesmerizing 10,000-light chandelier that resembles bubbling wine takes centre stage in the handsome restaurant, which is home to a 1,200-bottle wine cellar that features international brands and local labels sourced from boutique vineyards.
The hotel offers 46 rooms, all spacious and lavish with deep black stone tubs and/or double-head showers, exclusive Hunter Lab bath products, and striking decor.
Guests can take a dip in the black infinity-edge pool, indulge in a spa treatment, or visit some of the region’s 50 cellar doors. Closer to home, there’s also the on-site cellar door, Rare Hare—another furry reference, of course—which offers casual dining and wine tastings.
Dairy Flat Farm, Daylesford
The Lake House Daylesford has always been one of Australia’s best gourmet destinations.
Then, gourmet food and tourism dynamo Alla Wolf-Tasker and her team went one step further and opened the beautiful Dairy Flat Farm.
It’s just 6kms away from Daylesford in the tiny hamlet of Musk.
The luxe retreat that sleeps 12, is set on 15 hectares with a vineyard, new orchard, herb and vegetable garden, and bake house where former Melbourne baker, Michael James creates fabulous bread.
The concierge- serviced lodge features king-sized rooms and ensuites with all the luxe touches.
Four suites are located in the main lodge along with dining, lounging areas and a reading room.
Another two Vineyard suites with beautiful views across the landscape are accessed a few steps across the garden courtyard and have the use of the main Lodge areas.
The bakehouse supplies Lake House guests with daily items and supplies are sourced from the garden.
There’s a great cooking school at the Lake House with masterclasses presented by some of Australia’s top chefs.
Resident artist Allan Wolf-Tasker often has exhibitions showcasing his vibrant work.
But the award-winning restaurant stars here providing memorable culinary adventures.
Each seasonal menu takes you on a trip down country lanes, through the orchards and across the farm paddocks of the region.
It’s also spa heaven in this trendy country area where folk have been dipping into the famous mineral waters since the late 1800s.
Tensions float away as you indulge in pampering at The Spa at Lake House.
Stride out around Wombat Hill and Lake Daylesford where inquisitive ducks and swans parade and check you out.
There are some resorts that have the perfect marriage of beauty in design and location, and Saffire Freycinet is one of the finest examples. This intimate property is located on the east coast of Tasmania, about two hours’ drive from Launceston and a touch more from Hobart. When you get there, time truly stands still, and any stress from the routine of everyday life melts away, leaving in its place an inner harmony and peace.
The Saffire experience begins with service that is second to none, unbelievable views over the bay and the mountains and accommodation that is blissfully elegant. Saffire is at one with the environment – thanks to very clever architecture and award-winning design. The property reflects the Freycinet peninsula – the pink granite of the Hazards mountains, the turquoise waters, pristine white beaches and the green of the bush – a perfect integration of the outside beauty with inside comforts.
There are only 20 villas, comprising Luxury Suites, Signature Suites and Private Pavilions, with the suites offering a combined bedroom/living area, large bathroom and mesmerising panoramas out the windows, while The Pavilions have a separate bedroom, living room and full kitchen.
Wine Glass Bay
The food here has guests running out of superlatives, with Chef Hugh Whitehouse treating guests to his inspiring ‘farm to plate’ cuisine; an explosion of flavours titillating taste buds in Palate Restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all divine creations, are all included with the rate and guests can choose when they want to dine, and where. The wine list is equally as impressive.
With such natural beauty outside, guests can take advantage of a number of activities that are also included in the rate, ranging from a guided walk to spectacular Wine Glass Bay, wine and dine adventures, visits to an oyster farm to kayaking, fishing, mountain biking or beach volleyball. Or you can just relax and drink in the beauty of your surrounds, lazing in a hammock, reading a book in your suite or sipping on a hot chocolate or a red wine by the fireplace.
No visit to Saffire is complete without a treatment in The Spa, with all guests receiving a spa credit to spend. The therapists are all first class, so don’t miss out – book your treatments before you go.
Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair
Pumphouse Point is the type of place that takes your breath away.
In another life, the lodge was a hydro pump station, which was refurbished and brought back to life with a new purpose.
The retreat first opened its doors in January 2015 and was immediately embraced by visitors wanting to enjoy the unique destination.
The intimate wilderness retreat is located on Lake St Clair within Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area and sits at the end of a 250m flume or narrow jetty that projects into the majestic lake.
Guests can stay in the Pump House on the lake or Shore House beside the lake.
The intimate property offers 18 rooms with 12 located in the Pumphouse building out on the lake and six in the Shorehouse building on the water’s edge.
If you stay at the Pump House, guests can walk or be ferried on a golf buggy to the renovated art deco Shore House for meals and activities.
The Pump House has 12-suites spread over three floors with two lounge areas that have been designed sympathetically with its history with modern-day comforts including heated bathroom floors and IPAD compendiums.
In a nod to its history, you can still see one of the four large water pumping turbines through a glass panel in the lounge floor.
The ground floor of the Pump House has four comfortable rooms, each different but close to the lounge and bar.
The four rooms located on the middle floor have floor to ceilings windows while the top floor has two spacious rooms with distinct architectural styling, a split level layout, with a sunken lounge and elevated bed level. The lounge area has bay windows, a flickering fire, deep seats, and a mezzanine level- perfect for watching the ever-changing lake vistas.
The Shore House located on the lake’s edge, has six rooms.
The original Hydro substation is classic art-deco style, complete with original exterior and magnificent foyer stairwell. It features a spacious dining room and lounge.
The rooms offer both bushland and lake vistas.
There’s a variety of activities on offer including complimentary bikes and row boats.
We borrow bikes and bounce over rocky roads stopping to enjoy the views along the way, then pick up a picnic hamper, borrow a rod and take a rowboat into the bay. Sadly there’s no fish for dinner but it’s fun trying.
If you feel like striding out there are scenic walks around Pumphouse Point and from the nearby Lake St Clair Visitors Centre and the famous 65km Overland Walk finishes right on the doorstep of Pumphouse Point.
Drop into the Wall in the Wilderness at nearby Derwent Bridge where artist Greg Duncan is creating a stunning sculpture that captures the history of Tasmania’s pioneers.
It certainly doesn’t take long to fall under the magic of Pumphouse Point- it is the type of place Mother Nature takes centre stage in all her glory.
Berkeley River Lodge
It’s that first bird’s eye view of Berkeley River Lodge that takes your breath away.
Accessible only by air in a small plane from Darwin and Kununurra, that view of the Berkeley River and its stunning landscape, leaves you in awe.
Opened in 2012, the lodge built on 105-metre high sand dune in the middle of nowhere, is still considered a feat of engineering and perseverance.
All materials for the lodge, 20 villas and 20m lap pool were shipped by barge. Eight years later it is still providing a rare opportunity for guests to experience the treasures of Western Australia’s remote northeast Kimberley Coast.
Activities, apart from the helicopter adventures are inclusive, and the river cruise is a highlight.
It’s the raw beauty of this majestic landscape that takes centre stage.
We cruise by deep sandstone gorges with pleated walls displaying colours from ruby red to dark brown.
Dempsey, who is a crack crocodile spotter and knows the area well, says the Berkeley is one of Australia’s most unique places – minus the crowds.
“It has an effect on people- some arrive stressed, checking their internet all the time and you see them slow down, chill and soak up the beauty of these parts,” he says.
Other activities include bush and beach drives where you discover the unique flora and fauna, a clifftop hike and fishing which is an adventure.
But the biggest thrill is rock hopping on a half-day helicopter Ultimate Kimberley Sunset Adventure where you are whisked from one amazing sight to another.
First up we land on the rocks for a refreshing swim in a crystal-clear freshwater rock pool – where crocs can’t venture.
Twenty minutes later we hover and then land on the top of King George Falls where the rocks are polished by raging waters in the wet. It’s here you feel dwarfed by the magnificent scenery and experience that Kimberley solitude. It’s just you and the landscape.
Seats appear and drinks are served- you won’t find a better rock bar.
Our next stop is to visit one of the many ancient rock art galleries in the area where the walls and ceilings are decorated with spotted dugong, stick-figure Bradshaws, emu footprints and other animals.
Finally, it’s that blood red sunset atop Mt Casuarina that leaves us speechless as we soak in the magnificence of the landscape with its deep gorges carved over millions of years.
Rock star moment over, it’s time for pre-dinner drinks and canapes where guests mingle and recount their daily adventures.
Croc sightings are discussed and fish tallies compared as guests dine indoors or outdoors at communal tables.
Dining is also an adventure with delicious set four-course degustation menus that vary each night. Menu highlights include salmon fillets with Pommes Anna and saffron beurre blanc, lemon myrtle spiced kangaroo fillet with pumpkin coulis and bush apple sauce and spiced lamb fillets with carrot puree and marmalade.
A refreshing sorbet appears in between courses to freshen the palate and a grand sweet finale such as panna cotta or a berry tasting plate. Wines are matched and inclusive.
Breakfasts are hearty with lots of choice including the Big Berkeley with the lot and healthier options. Picnic lunches are supplied on activities or if you want a morning off, laze by the pool and select from the lunch menu.
Our comfortable air-conditioned villa has knock-out seaside views with a daybed on the deck. There’s no television and Wi-Fi is only accessed at the lodge. Room service is available and there’s a coffee machine and a thermos of refreshing cold water regularly topped up.
It may not be your conventional luxury accommodation – someone once complained about the red dust – but it’s the unique wilderness location that make this eco-friendly retreat so special.
As for one of the best memories – it’s moonlight lazing in the warm waters of the stone bath in the outdoor ensuite under a vast blanket of twinkling Kimberley stars.
What’s a little red dust anyway – as they say, there’s nowhere quite like the Kimberley.
Cape Lodge, Yallingup
Located in Western Australia’s beautiful Margaret River, known as Margs for short by the locals, Cape Lodge is a treat to stay at.
The much-awarded picturesque lodge sits elegantly on 20 hectares of manicured grounds amid roses and lavender.
A shimmering lake takes centre stage.
Its Cape Dutch style architecture reflects the first owner’s origins and the landscape similarities between Western Australia and the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.
There are 22 secluded rooms, a vineyard cottage and a five-bedroom luxury private residence – a favourite haint of singer, Sting.
The famed Cape Lodge restaurant showcases the best produce in the area and has a wide choice of wines.
There’s a choice of more than 14,000 bottles in the cellar and it’s hard to make a selection.
It’s a great base for a stay in this stunning region of Western Australia that’s perfect for a winery hop.
Find time for a dip at some of the best beaches in the state.
The region stretches for 100kms from north to south and chances are you will wish you could stay longer.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Jamala Wildlife Lodge
I am on the exceedingly comfortable day bed in my treehouse trying to read my book, but a giraffe keeps striding up to my verandah to snack on the hay conveniently placed there. It is quite something, and I put the book down to really soak up the experience.
Earlier, we had hand-fed carrots to our tall friend Hummer on our verandah, under the watchful eye of a guide. Giraffes really do have long tongues and beautiful eyes that make you melt.
Heading down the freeway from Sydney to Canberra I had high expectations of Jamala Wildlife Lodge but they were blown out of the water when we walked into the magnificent uShaka Lodge for a delicious high tea before our afternoon guided tour.
The lodge boasts fantastic artworks, carvings and African-centric everything. While sipping on my (very good) coffee, I saw sharks swimming in the part of the aquarium that I can see, and also marvel at the long tails of the Colobus monkeys just outside.
There are seven rooms in the lodge, five jungle bungalows with glass walls that separate you from a pride of lions, brown bears, sun bears, tigers or cheetahs, and six giraffe treehouses centred around our friend Hummer.
The way the rooms have been incorporated into the habitat of the animals is so, so clever, and when we come back to the lodge for what turns out to be an exceptional dinner at The Cave restaurant, we can watch the white lions and a pair of hyenas (they are bigger than expected up close!) as they come and go from their dens.
We thoroughly enjoy our afternoon and morning tours of the zoo, with the otters, meerkats and lemurs just some of my standouts among many. The whole experience was incredible. Giraffe tongue and all.
The Midnight Hotel
The stylish Midnight Hotel in Braddon, once a light industrial area, is now the epitome of Canberra cool.
It is home to award-winning eateries Italian and Sons and 86 and great boutique shopping.
Designed by the esteemed Fender Katsalidis (Tasmania’s MONA is among the firm’s many achievements), the 199-room hotel site is part of a $200 million residential and commercial development.
Modernistic angles and gleaming finishes wrap around a central garden atrium in this property that’s part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, though owned and operated by independent Australian company, Iconic Hotels.
It’s all about the arty and artisan.
Stepping out of the elevator on every floor, you’re greeted by one of upcoming Melbourne artist Tom Adair’s distinctive polymer and neon works.
Each room showcases a unique mixed media piece by New Yorker-turned-Melburnian and winner of many major sculptural prizes, Thomas Bucich.
Also inside the moody grey-hued rooms: cult brand Hunter Lab’s first-ever hotel-sized amenities and in the mini bar, beer from Braddon’s Bentspoke Brewery as well as drops by local winemakers Nick O’Leary and Richard Parker. Drink up – it’s replenished daily.
The “salumeria” selection at in-house deli-style eatery Braddon Merchant is a great place for dining.
Take your swimmers, there’s a fabulous indoor swimming pool.
Mayfair Hotel, Adelaide
Let me tell you a secret; I am very partial to lemon meringue tarts.
So imagine my delight when just after we check in to our beautiful room at the Mayfair Hotel in Adelaide, the doorbell rings and in strolls a plate with a magnificent lemon meringue tart drizzled with honey on it. Well, the plate was carried by someone but I only saw the tart. That sealed the sweetness of our too-short stay in this historic property right opposite the iconic Haighs Chocolate Shop at the entrance to Rundle Mall.
Even better, the honey comes directly from the hotel’s own bee hives on the roof.
The Mayfair was built inside the beautiful bones of the old Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd building with its distinctive Romanesque style on the State Heritage Register. Inside, the blend of the old and the very new fits perfectly with our gorgeous Deluxe King Rooms, one of 71 in the building.
That evening, we stroll down the stately staircase to the Mayflower Restaurant and Bar, which is open for breakfast, high tea and dinner. Our meals are exceptional, paired with wines selected by the Sommelier – South Australian of course. As for the dessert? Oh my goodness. The trolley almost creaks with calories as it appears by our table. I resist the temptation to have the lemon tart again, and choose another delectable morsel that also uses the hotel’s honey. I can’t tell you what I had because my brain disappeared in some kind of bliss overload.
As if that wasn’t enough for one day, we head up to the 13th floor to indulge in some after-dinner drinks at the Hennessy rooftop bar, which has plenty of nooks and crannies as well as an outdoor deck with views over the city in which to sit and sip. Absolutely splendid.
The Louise, The Barossa Valley
Situated in the heart of the Barossa, The Louise is the perfect place to sit and dream – and enjoy fine food and wine.
The Appellation at The Louise restaurant showcases the wonderful fresh produce of the region and the best wines.
There is a set menu from Thursday to Sunday with optional paired wines.
An extensive wine list featuring the region’s best drops also features.
Eighty-five per cent of the innovative menu comes from within the Barossa and South Australia.
Guests can also dine at the Three75 Bar and Kitchen for comfort food and a cocktail.
As you overlook the manicured vineyard it is a sight to behold – especially at sunrise and sunset.
You may well spot a kangaroo or two.
The accommodation is top shelf with large suites, terraces, gas log fireplaces, spacious marbled ensuites, cosy sitting room and an outdoor rainwater shower.
The luxury culinary retreat is a perfect base for exploring the Barossa and its wineries.
But be prepared to wish you stayed longer in this magnificent part of South Australia.
Longitude 131, Uluru
Longitude 131’s newest addition, the super-luxe Dune Pavilion is the star at the Australian Outback retreat after a multi-million dollar refurbishment a few years back.
The premium two-bedroom pavilion complete with floor to ceiling glass walls has an extended deck with a small black mosaic-tiled plunge pool.
Vibrant indigenous artwork and bespoke décor is inspired by iconic Australian homesteads stars here.
What makes it unique however is that it overlooks two World Heritage-listed sites, Uluru, the 600-million-year-old red-hued monolith in front of the pavilion and the 36-domed Kata Tjuta in the distance to the right.
Another addition is the elevated Dune Top area where guests can take a dip or clink glasses watching red and golden sunsets streak the sky.
Later, you can feast under the stars in one of four intimate dining alcoves complete with overhead heaters.
The main lodge, the Dune House also has a new look with a chic bar where you can help yourself, a boutique and expanded dining and reception area.
It’s got floor to ceiling windows so when guests arrive and see Uluru in the distance that wow factor sets in.
The new Spa Kinara – that means moon, offers indulgent treatments such as a Sacred Earth massage, facials and body wraps in two spa retreats inspired by the shape of indigenous dwellings.
The main pool area now has a marble-topped bar that resembles the Outback’s salt plains and shaded areas.
Another popular outdoor dining option, Table 131 which is orchestrated below the retreat, has been remodelled with a campfire area added.
Indulge in a four-course dinner with paired wine and return to one of the 15 safari tent-style suites named after explorers to find a cosy swag on the outdoor daybed, a faux fire, popcorn and a night cap.
Stargazing complete, head inside and snuggle down in the stylish suite, the right mix of comfort and splendour and next morning get ready for another heady fix of Australia’s spectacular Red Centre.
It’s been called Australia’s answer to the Okavango Delta and as soon as you step foot onto Bamurru Plains you can see why.
Located at Swim Creek Station on the edge of the Mary River floodplains, it is just a short distance from the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory.
A dozen dusty buffalo and frisky calves are wandering by our safari-style bungalow and several inquisitive wallabies just hanging out under shady trees.
They have no idea they are being watched – that’s the beauty of these chic rustic lodgings with floor-to-ceiling fine mesh – it lets you see out but no one see in.
Ever-alert wallabies respond to the slightest noise and female buffalo call their straying young to stay put as we watch well-concealed in one of 10 upmarket bungalows.
This is a special place where nature takes centre stage and guests are immersed in a unique Top End experience and given an opportunity to watch the prolific wildlife and birds in all their glory.
The area is home to one of the largest crocodile populations in the world, and the annual migration of more than 100,000 magpie geese is a sight to be seen.
The focus here is on the environment and the longer you stay the more attune you become to nature.
During the wet season almost 100 square kilometres of the station is covered in water providing a great habitat for baitfish to breed in the shallow waters of the floodplains.
By road it’s a three-hour drive from Darwin and cars are left near the front gate with staff driving guests the last 20 minutes.
The bungalows offer a comfortable bed with fine linen and a choice of three pillows. Instead of a television screen you can watch nature at its best right gazing out to the spectacular views over the floodplains.
The timber-floored bungalow has corrugated iron finishes and an en-suite with a high-pressure shower and overhead fans for cooling – you can pay extra for airconditioning if required.
Step into the main lodge and there’s a long timber table, a lounge area with comfortable leather seats, lots of interesting artefacts and a library of reference books that reveal everything you could want to know about the Top End.
There’s an open bar where guests can help themselves to wines, beer and spirits and a tucked-away kitchen, where staff work their magic producing outback cuisine with a sophisticated edge.
Outdoors there is a huge verandah with fire pits, open-air pavilions with comfy couches for lounging on and an infinity pool perfect for gazing over the floodplains and watching the wildlife.
Two activities are offered each day with time to chill out in camp – it is a little like Africa but here buffalo replace elephants and wallabies replace impala.
Bamurru Plains is all about isolation and exclusivity and you won’t run into any other tourists apart from those staying at Bamurru Lodge.
It’s an amazing experience watching birds of all shapes and sizes taking flight.
We also lose count of how many crocs we spot lazing riverside and in the water.
The Top End is renowned for its great fishing in coastal floodplains, billabongs and mangrove-fringed tidal rivers that empty into the Arafura Sea.
The best time is during the run-off in February-April.
You pay for the unique experience in such a remote bush location and excellent guiding.
Three words – wild bush luxury – sums it up, providing memories that will last a lifetime.