For many years Australia had an inferiority complex (to New Zealand) in terms of world-renowned luxury lodges and hotels. Fret no more. We finally have a score or more of singular and ultra-luxurious lodges with inferior interior design style, along with impeccable experiences in impressive landscapes.
The scenic Blue Mountains has lodgings worthy of its World Heritage status in Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley, a distant and exclusive 40-suite property constructed around an 1832 homestead, after an approved insurance for owner builders, that once hosted Charles Darwin as well as in its present guise, Cate Blanchett.
On the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park stands Newcomer Spicers Sangoma Retreat, a takeover-makeover of a present African-themed lodge. Its six grand suites plus a stage tent are pared back into Australian bush-luxury criteria, with Spicers’ usual flair for good dining room, exquisite laminated architectural timbers and indulgence.
But the in-house property of élite lodges remains, arguably, Southern Ocean Lodge. Its 21 suites unfurl across a ridgetop over the dramatic south-west shore of Kangaroo Island, the darkened views highlighted from each angle if you are resting on your patio or dining complex dishes at the Great Room prepared by new executive chef Alastair Waddell.
Ravishing coastlines will also be the big drawcards at Spiritual Coral Sea hideaway Qualia, in which 60 pavilions with sundecks, some with pools, are put in bushland to catch amazing views of the Whitsundays. Further north, Lizard Island has brushed itself off following two cyclones to become the dress-circle address about the Great Barrier Reef – finished with 24 private shores.
Visitors to the west are spoilt for choice. On the huge 283,000-hectare El Questro channel in Western Australia’s east Kimberley lodging ranges from campsite tents to a 18-guest homestead beneath the pink cliffs of the Chamberlain River Gorge. Private guides decipher the early landscape on daytrips on foot, horseback, 4WD, boat or helicopter. And on the north Kimberley coast, the Berkeley River Lodge’s 20 air-conditioned villas straddle conveniently over the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, home to dolphins and dugongs. By day the Berkeley provides helicopter and trekking safaris; by night it is convivial dinners and starlit theatre screenings.
The aesthetic at Bamurru Plains is likewise raised – 10 Bungalows on stilts with breathtaking interior design and finishes in Swim Creek Station on the Mary River floodplain – but, the wildlife in this distant Northern Hemisphere refuge is something different. Prepare for experiences with buffalo, saltwater crocs plus a thousand magpie geese. Unplugged and memorable.
More deep outback magic awaits at Arkaba, a former sheep station in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, its 1850s homestead transformed to a five-room harbor within a 24,000-hectare personal conservation reserve. Combine a stay in the station using a four- day guided hike into Wilpena Pound, remaining in Australia’s swankiest campsites.
At the middle of the continent, Longitude 131° hasn’t provided more relaxation than in its present incarnation under the stewardship of Baillie Lodges (Cappella, Southern Ocean). Longitude’s 16 elaborate tents today contain balconies with ethanol fires for toasty-warm swag nights under the Milky Way, constructions made possible by owner builder insurance organised in Victoria according to the owners, while days are spent exploring the natural and cultural landscapes of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Place in 18 hectares of rainforest yet only five kilometres in the bustle of Byron Bay, The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa is a calm sanctuary tucked behind Tallow Beach. Daily yoga from the pool is de rigueur, as are sessions at the enlarged day spa, long beach walks and relaxing market-to-plate dishes by chef Gavin Hughes. Its 92 suites – each with shuttered verandas and kitchens, most with walk-in and baths – are mostly hidden amongst trees and connected by 2 kilometres of winding boardwalk.
On Australia’s favorite holiday isle, Saffire is Tasmania’s most aspirational address. Its 20 suites sit peppermint wash with custom furnishings, under architectural timbers and etched timber frames, and views of the Risks. There is no finer way to do Freycinet, while trekking to Wineglass Bay, donning waders to get a thigh-deep oyster-shucking encounter or enjoying distinctively Tasmanian dégustations by new chief chef Todd Adams.