At a time when the travel world’s real luxuries are reduced crowds, exclusive experiences and secluded accommodation, we look at the ultimate places to stay across Australia. Style and social distancing can go hand in hand, it turns out.
Discover true wilderness in the Blue Mountains
New South Wales
If wilderness drives to spot rare albino kangaroos and horse riding expeditions through native bushland sound like your kind of diversions, look no further than Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley. This 2,800-hectare retreat in the Greater Blue Mountains is designed to give you space. Reconnect with nature, breathe in unpolluted air, discover valleys and gorges few others have ever been… and then retire to sandstone villas that frame this wilderness bounty through enormous picture windows. Each accommodation comes with its own indoor pool and fireplace, the décor an earthy union of stone, wood and leather. The main lodge enjoys a similar design theme, and it’s here where you’ll gather for meals. Meals are prepared by executive chef James Viles – the ex-owner of Bowral’s three-hatted Biota.
Hermes Estate Luxury Retreat
New South Wales, Australia
One of Australia’s newest hotels, Hermes sits on a leafy two-hectare estate adjoining the Never Never River in New South Wales’ sleepy town of Gleniffer. The opulent property is available for exclusive rental only: just four guests, a butler, chef and spa therapist. It’s a 45-minute drive here from Coffs Harbour, but we highly recommend making the most of the private helipad to chopper in.
El Questro, The Kimberley
Reopening 1 April 2021, El Questro is the gateway to the Kimberley, one of the world’s last wilderness frontiers. The property’s homestead sits on almost 300,000 hectares of outback. The space provides opportunities for humbling nature excursions through rugged sandstone ranges and gorges, across tangles of rainforest and past waterfalls, before retiring to stylish lodges, tented cabins and the homestead.
The latter has space for just 18 guests, who sleep in secluded accommodation over the Chamberlain River, rooms delicately perfumed by the frangipani trees outside. It’s not easy to get to, which is part of the appeal, but when you arrive you’ll have this vast wilderness to yourself, whether you explore via helicopter, by 4WD or on guided hikes.
Secluded accommodation on Lord Howe Island
With a permanent population of around 350 people and visitor numbers capped at 400, Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales is exclusive by nature. When you touch down in the twin-propeller plane (or your private jet), follow the lead of the Hemsworth family toward new Island House, which is actually two pavilions with space to sleep just eight guests, each building ringed by Jurassic kentia palms and ancient banyan trees. The island has no mobile phone reception and limited Wi-Fi, which means guests are ‘forced’ to switch off and reconnect with nature, whether that’s snorkelling with green turtles, hiking to the jagged peak of Mount Gower, cycling to deserted beaches for a seafood barbecue, or touring the waters by boat. Afterwards, return to your lodge and lie back on the deck, listen to birdsong and forget the rest of the world exists.
Ignite your soul at Longitude 131, Uluru
There’s something about the big-ness of nature at Uluru that makes you feel small, in the best possible way. This is the spiritual heart of Australia, a place of immense Aboriginal significance and equally immense landscapes. Your desert base is Longitude 131°, a luxurious glamping retreat designed to fit right in with the nature that surrounds – and to celebrate it, with views of the rock from almost every angle, whether you’re in the pool, blissing out at the spa, savouring native produce at the Dune Top’s private dining pods, or in your tent, replete with a balcony swag so you can sleep under the stars. And with no light pollution – no towns, streetlights, cars – this might be the most dazzling night’s sleep you’ll ever have.
Safari in Kakadu National Park
Hop into an open-air jeep and explore 300-square-metres of wilderness at Bamurru Plains, a private property on the edge of Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory. Home to the largest crocodile population in the world, and the great migration of thousands of magpie geese, this eco-conscious retreat allows you to take a walk on the wild side – one filled with brumbies, wallabies, dingoes and buffalo. Learn about the birdlife and insects in this blissful pocket of the Top End, then bed town in tented bungalows looking over a pristine environment. Wake to the sounds of nature and feast on ‘bush tucker’ or fastidiously presented outback cuisine. This is indeed a special Australian bush experience.
Go off-grid at Sal Salis, Ningaloo Coast,
There’s perhaps no better salve for the soul that disconnecting every piece of technology you own – because they won’t work where you’re going – and reconnecting with the land. And that’s exactly what you can look forward to at Sal Salis, a necklace of low-impact, high-style tents amid sand dunes of the Cape Range National Park on Western Australia’s World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast. Sunsets here blaze across the horizon, signifying that it’s time to retreat to the dining pavilion, where meals hero local and native produce. When you wake, indulge in a wilderness you’ll likely have to yourself: wander the beach with kangaroos, snorkel with whale sharks and humpback whales, or kayak the reef on the lookout for turtles and dolphins. salsalis.com.au
Get a lofty perspective at Sequoia, Adelaide Hills
Another reason to linger in the Adelaide Hills, newcomer Sequoia enjoys a private enclave on the leafy Mount Lofty House estate, replete with a hatted restaurant and applauded spa. There are just 14 villas here, sharing a pool and with a concierge on call to arrange a host of exclusive experiences, from heli jaunts to some of the region’s most applauded wineries, to vintage car tours. The accommodations are sleek and earthy, designed to let the natural drama outside shine – think sandstone fireplaces, wooden floors and sunken lounges overlooking grape vines lining the Piccadilly Valley.
Experience Tasmania’s gem: Saffire Freycinet
Saffire Freycinet is not easy to get to – but that’s part of the charm of this remote retreat, a 2.5-hour drive north of Hobart tucked amid the native forest of Coles Bay. Your outlook is jaw-droppingly beautiful, the pink granite Hazards mountains casting a ruby glow over Great Oyster Bay and the peninsula. The 20 individual suites are set apart for privacy, each fitted with design-driven interiors crafted from celery-top pine and Tasmanian oak, plus floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the natural surroundings. The secluded accommodation’s experiences are as immersive as they are educational, varying from hikes to fabled Wineglass Bay with an Aboriginal guide, to oyster shucking sessions that see you wading out into the water to pluck your own.
Want absolute seclusion in one of the most beautiful parts of Tasmania – indeed, Australia? Picnic Island sleeps just one group of 10 guests on a slip of windswept land off Tassie’s east coast Freycinet National Park. There are luxe eco-lodges, dramatic views, wilderness aplenty – and the rest is up to you. The retreat is totally unstaffed, so this is exclusivity at its finest.
Sleep like royalty at Thorngrove Manor, Adelaide Hills
A baroque castle may not be the first thing you expect to encounter in the South Australian countryside. But the rolling green hills of the Adelaide Hills – the state’s oldest wine region – prove the perfect perch for the fairytale towers and fantasy turrets of Thorngrove Manor. This grand estate is an escapist’s dream, transporting you straight to Europe with its elaborate battlements amid gardens manicured down to the last rose: inside, the flamboyant interiors are all antiques and artwork, with sweeping staircases and gleaming chandeliers. Every room is as individually designed as the activities roster – high tea with all the trimmings (and we mean $580 worth of trimmings), anyone?
Sit pretty in Bouddi National Park,
New South Wales
A 90-minute drive – or a 20-minute seaplane ride – north of Sydney, Pretty Beach House celebrates its location in Bouddi National Park with a sensitive design that nods to nature throughout; think local sandstone and mudbricks, upcycled timber and muted fabrics. All four pavilions enjoy beautiful views of ancient angophoras stepped down a hill to Pretty Beach, and it’s an easy stroll to the water, where private boat charters depart on half-day excursions to remote beaches and coves, with seasonal dolphin and whale spotting included. Meals can be enjoyed alfresco, in-room or in the dining area of the main house, where you’ll also find a bar, expansive cellar and infinity pool.
Got a group of friends? Book out the four pavilion suites, which configure into one communal house – with private pools to take in the laid-back atmosphere.
Reconnect amid nature at Samphire Rottnest, Rottnest Island
A protected nature reserve just off the coast from Perth, Rottnest Island is known for its friendly resident quokkas, blissful beaches and long stretches of ocean. This is your backdrop when you check in to the freshly minted Samphire Rottnest, celebrating this West Australian landscape from the moment you arrive. Overlooking Thomson Bay, the retreat’s 80 rooms are barefoot-luxe in design – think pale wood-panelled walls, breezy linen curtains and sisal matting giving way to stone bathrooms. Classy, yet pared-back, to let the coastal drama outside your floor-to-ceiling windows steal the show. All accommodations come with private balconies, but the outlook is just as dreamy from beside the lagoon-style pools, crafted by leading Perth architects Christou Design Group to embrace the setting, as well as the island’s Mediterranean climate. Experiences on offer are all about rediscovering the great outdoors – call on your ‘activities coordinator’ for a personalised itinerary.
Find reef respite at qualia, The Whitsundays
The question to consider at this Hamilton Island resort is not when to go swimming, but which pool to go swimming in? qualia’s 60 nature-inspired villas are hidden among tropical jungle, affording incredible privacy from individual plunge pools overlooking the Coral Sea. But there are also two climate-controlled, infinity-edge lap pools for guests to share. Whichever you choose, you’ll be guaranteed an irresistible window to the Whitsundays, not to mention a taste of the region with poolside drinks and a lazy lunch de rigueur. When you’re not blissing out with daylong wellness rituals, book a helicopter tour over Heart Reef.
Find your wave and stay at Halcyon House, Tweed Coast
New South Wales
The Tweed Coast in North NSW deserves its reputation as one of the most scenic in Australia, spanning more than 35 kilometres of sand and including Cabarita Beach, a 40-minute drive north of Byron Bay. This is the setting for Halcyon House, a former 1960s surfside motel transformed into a blissful beach retreat, uniting the colours of the Mediterranean – whitewashed walls beside overstuffed blue lounge chairs – with quintessential Australian charm. The 21 rooms are individual in design, from the handpicked artwork to the eclectic antiques, which also spill into restaurant Paper Daisy where chefs prepare dishes heroing native ingredients, like spring vegetables with finger lime and kelp cultured butter, while you gaze over pandanus palms to the pool. A magnet for surfers for decades – book a lesson with world-class pro Joel Parkinson – the long stretch of sea is also popular among divers and whale watchers.
Sleep among the wilds of Africa at Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra
Australian Capital Territory
Nestled among the grounds of the National Zoo and Aquarium, surrounded on all sides by plentiful wildlife, guests of Jamala Wildlife Lodge can choose between three African-styled accommodation options, each specifically designed to get you up close and personal with the unique residents. Spend the night metres away from bears, cheetahs, tigers and lions in a Jungle Bungalow, marvel at the world’s tallest mammals in the Giraffe Treehouse, or surround yourself with cheeky colobus monkeys and a 200,000-litre shark tank at the uShaka Lodge, all the while indulging in sunset canapes and drinks, gourmet meals inspired by the tastes of Africa and exclusive zoo tours.
Hit the southern coast at Dovecote
New South Wales
Adding high architectural drama to the rolling green countryside of NSW’s South Coast, Dovecote is a pair of awarded pavilions that ensure you social distance in style. Set on a working farm, The Headland and The Range are best accessed via helicopter from Sydney. Touch down to find dreamy light-filled spaces, with lofty ceilings and designer furnishings throughout, from the dramatic stone-clad bathrooms (replete with rain showers) to the hanging fireplace pods and fully-equipped kitchens. On-site activities range from private cinemas to infinity pools, while coastal clifftop walks promise to reveal the natural beauty of the region.
Fine dining with a side of luxury
It’s not just Australia’s big cities that are blessed with fine-dining restaurants – one of the country’s most applauded culinary establishments, Brae, sits in the postcard-perfect country town of Birregurra, around 130 kilometres southwest of Melbourne. The vast majority of produce on your dinner plate comes from the establishment’s own organic farm, which overnight guests are encouraged to explore at their leisure – making meals here a true reflection of provenance. When you’re finished eating, stroll the few steps back to your secluded accommodation, designed with sustainability in mind, from the recycled materials to the solar energy and zero-waste emissions.
This acclaimed Daylesford property is known as much for its setting – on a vast property in the heart of Victoria’s spa country – as its food. Book the Retreat, which offers private accommodation for up to four guests, and is set apart from the main lodge and restaurant, with private parking and extra luxuries to boot.
Gravitate to gardens, Southern Highlands
New South Wales
The Southern Highlands of NSW are known for their charming historic towns, rambling antiques stores and seasonal gardens, not in the least those that envelop Milton Park Country House Hotel & Spa. You can lose yourself for hours in these wondrous grounds, the only work undertaken outside of Europe by the English School of Landscape. A stroll here consumes all senses; then make your way back to your accommodations, set in a mansion with French and federation detailing and decorated with antiques and quirky objets. miltonpark.com.au
This article originally appeared in volume 37 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.
Main image: Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley © Luxury Lodges of Australia