Tina-Louise Jackson checks in to Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in regional New South Wales and discovers a nature-based retreat where style and sustainability really do go hand in hand.
Aside from the early-evening call of birds as the sun begins to set – lighting up the surrounding escarpments in blazing shades of red and gold – the entire valley is silent.
While the scars of bushfires are still visible around us, there are also bristling green signs of new growth. Further demonstrating the resilience of the Australian outback, and its rush to regenerate. It’s urgent to return to the vast setting that Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley calls home to its floral glory.
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is set between the Wollemi and Gardens of Stone national parks in the Greater Blue Mountains. This wild-meets-wonderful retreat occupies 2,800 hectares of pristine bushland. The lodge, villas and facilities are just a tiny one percent of that, leaving the rest to grow untamed.
It’s a setting the resort doesn’t take for granted. Here it unites serious style in its offering, with a genuinely sustainable approach to overnight stays. Sustainability is so important to the retreat, it was crowned Australia’s first carbon-neutral resort.
Which means that while here, I always feel at one with my beautiful surrounds.
Just the tonic
Wind back the clock a few hours. My family and I are battling weekend traffic along the 200-kilometre route here northwest from Sydney.
As we lose phone reception nearing Wolgan Valley, those escarpments begin to loom. Wildlife begins to make its presence known. Not far from our destination, an enormous kangaroo bounds across the road just in front of our car.
Our jittery nerves are soothed upon arrival with the resort’s Wolgan Tonic. A concoction featuring the house-distilled 1832 Wolgan Gin made from botanicals sourced on-site, then muddled with Cointreau, Jack Rudy tonic, soda and bitters.
As we sip in the main homestead, we catch our first breathtaking glimpse of the valley splayed before us, the only sign of human presence the 40 standalone villas guests get to bed down in.
Our one-bedroom Heritage Villa has a spacious bedroom and living areas, which are separated by a double-sided fireplace. The four-poster bed comes with silky white linens. Further in, the enormous bathroom features a shower with a glass ceiling allowing us to marvel at the night sky above. There’s also a large bath next to a picture window, perfect for sharing should you so wish.
The amenities are Sodashi – Australian and infused with native botanicals. We make the most of the well-stocked mini-bar in the evenings, which includes complimentary drinks and snacks.
And in the morning, a Nespresso machine ensures we start the day, and our morning wildlife show, with a well-brewed coffee in hand.
The magic of magnesium
Another alluring amenity is the magnesium water in the private, heated swimming pools. Guests can expect a silkier swim that comes with its own myriad of health benefits. From muscle relaxation, soothing skin conditions, nerve-repairing qualities, improvement of energy levels and stress relief, the mineral-rich magnesium pools await you.
A work of art
There are few other places in the world where you’re granted the luxury of observing wild animals this close: from the comfort of your bed or the rocking chair on your screened terrace. Perhaps your private indoor pool, or even your bath. No artwork needs to adorn the walls – it’s the scenery from your window that will draw your eye.
Wolgan Valley’s general manager Tim Stanhope took over the reins in October 2019. Ever since – by his own admission – had “everything thrown at him”.
Throughout the fires that devastated much of the area, Stanhope and a skeleton team selflessly remained on property, their key goal to protect 1832, the original homestead, which has been converted into a museum telling the site’s story.
A taste of Wolgan Valley
Most food dished up is created using ingredients sourced within a 40-kilometre radius of where we sit. Sourced from specialty regional farmers, if not grown in the property’s own kitchen gardens or foraged from the reserve.
Both breakfast and dinner are served in the Wolgan Dining Room in the main homestead, with its high-beamed ceilings, several large fireplaces and stunning backdrop of the valley and escarpments beyond.
Dinner for us starts with oysters, followed by butter- soft steak. Nothing is too much trouble, as we soon discover when our meal runs into the start of the evening’s Spotlighting Tour.
Not wanting to rush, we concede dessert to join guides on the lookout for nocturnal animals. Our evening ends on a high, as we discover a tray of sweets has recently been delivered to our villa. Lunch, meanwhile, is served in the Country Kitchen, next to the infinity pool. Enormous barramundi wings are a firm favourite.
Pursuits of happiness
There is, as you would expect, a fully equipped gym, should you feel inclined to hit the treadmill. But the focus of exercise and activities at Wolgan is firmly of the outside variety.
Bikes are left on our verandah so we can explore the property on two wheels. There are also stables, where horses await for those longing for a riding expedition As well as a range of jeep tours, available to take you to explore the reserve.
We opt to try all three, enjoying a 90-minute trek on impeccably trained horses, suitable for even the most novice or nervous rider.
We then take bikes to explore the golden trails. While my daughter (the resort makes for a fabulous family break) and I meander and enjoy watching the mobs of kangaroos lazing under trees in the warm afternoon, my husband – a keen cyclist – opts for the trail much less travelled: the Outer Track, encircling the property.
Wolgan Valley wildlife
The Wildlife and Sundowners jeep tour we join showcases the very best of the region’s flora and fauna at its most active, in the early evening.
The bonus is a glass of wine and canapes enjoyed while gazing at the sunset. I see my very first wombat and learn more about the kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos that call Wolgan home. We visit the Wollemi pine, one of the oldest known tree species in Australia, dating back 200 million years. It’s this tree that gives the surrounding national park its name, and is the symbol of the resort.
More than 220,000 other native trees have been planted here since Emirates bought the property in 2006. During our stay, we join a conservation expedition to do our small part in helping the regeneration.
Despite a devastating year, and with the lands around us still in recovery mode, the heart still beats strong at Wolgan. I leave feeling that maybe I’ve just left a piece of mine there, too.
Wolgan Valley Conservation
The team at Wolgan Valley is actively working to restore habitat lost through 2020’s fires across the property, with several important areas being monitored to regenerate wildlife and ecosystems.
The recovery process also sees conservationists accessing the resort’s seed bank: more than one million seeds covering in excess of 25 native species, collected by guests to help re-populate areas of damage and to support wildlife habitat projects.
While much of the Wollemi pine grove was damaged by bushfires, one tree remains completely untouched. All trees in the grove are attempting to regenerate, and Wolgan Valley naturalists are dedicated to their ongoing care.