Inside Australia’s Most Luxurious Lodges

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Jan 17, 2016

by TRAVEL INSIDER WRITERS

Australia’s luxury wilderness lodges rival the world’s best. They’re breathtakingly beautiful, utterly secluded and – with every fine detailed covered – take indulgence to the next level. The experience? Priceless. Go on, spoil yourself… 

Longitude 131°
Yulura, Northern Territory

Uluru has sat in the middle of Australia for hundreds of millions of years but the show it puts on changes constantly. Just before sunrise, “the rock” resembles a pale-purple hulk sleeping in the distance.

At midday, it’s a bright-red mound revealing weather-beaten gashes and caves. But it’s at sunset that Uluru really turns it on, burning orange like molten lava against a crisp blue sky and surrounded by flat red earth that stretches to the horizon.

The best venue to watch the spectacle unfold is from one of Longitude 131°’s 15 elevated luxury “tents” dotting the desert landscape. With a flowing white-fabric ceiling, king-size bed and spacious ensuite, it’s an indulgent outback oasis.

At the centre of the lodge is Dune House, the dining and lounge area featuring a canopied ceiling and glass walls that maximise the views. It’s where chef Seona Moss plates up dishes like wattleseed and cinnamon French toast and Hervey Bay scallop linguine.

As tempting as it is to hunker down here, venture beyond the lodge for excursions such as the Sunrise Walk, which takes you to the base of the 348-metre-high monolith and acquaints you with its backstory – not just the geology but also Uluru’s timeless connection to Anangu, the traditional owners.

By Akash Arora

El Questro Homestead

This vast savannah extends as far as the eye can see. Birds soar above native bushland, while steep gorges cut dramatic shapes through the landscape. Spanning some 4000 square kilometres, the expanse could be mistaken for a South African game reserve but it’s way closer to home. This is El Questro Wilderness Park in the Kimberley.

The most relaxing spot to enjoy the exquisite views across the Chamberlain River is from a private outdoor bath on the deck of a Cliff Side Retreat at El Questro Homestead. When the air is still, the boab trees and grevilleas across the river look as though they might be housing a May Gibbs bush fairy.

The lodge’s communal space has an open bar and a pool lined with comfortable sun beds overlooking the river, while in the restaurant, chef Alan Groom serves modern Australian dishes such as barramundi with chilli-crab risotto.

But there’s plenty to discover away from the Homestead. Hike the El Questro Gorge trail, where you’ll pass through gorges so richly hued they look lacquered; take a dip in Zebedee Springs; and watch the sunset at Buddy’s Point to see shades of gold, purple and rose saturate the Cockburn Range as wedge-tailed eagles take to the skies. Needless to say, don’t forget your camera.

By Genevieve Rosen

Southern Ocean Lodge
Kangaroo Island, SA

They loll on the sand like giant slugs: sea lions, exhausted after hunting at sea, snuggled up to each other. But while the adults rest – occasionally one will deign to lift its head before plonking it back down – the babies are up for fun. One five-month-old pup even blocks our path as we wander down the dunes to Seal Bay. “Stay perfectly still,” says Ben, our Southern Ocean Lodge guide. “She just wants to check you out.”

Kangaroo Island abounds with close encounters with nature. Yes, that is a koala in the tree in front of you. Yes, you will have to stop the car to let a Cape Barren goose and her chicks cross the road. And when you spy an echidna digging for ants, be sure to advance gingerly. 

It’s fitting, then, that Southern Ocean Lodge has been designed quietly, to complement the stunning landscape rather than brashly stand out. The owners, Hayley and James Baillie, determined there was no need to compete with the best of nature and instead made the most of it, with 21 suites facing the Southern Ocean for ever-changing views.

This is luxury at its finest, from the spacious suites to the dining experience, which champions Kangaroo Island produce and offers everything from fresh marron to South Australian grain-fed beef, as well as a largely local wine list. 

Although the Southern Spa is a wonderful respite and the open bar beckons, the beauty of the lodge lies in its location so do tear yourself away to see the local wildlife up close and discover the natural sculpture of the Remarkable Rocks. Then head back to your private terrace and loll like a sea lion, taking in those extraordinary views.

By Kirsten Galliott

Qualia
Hamilton Island, Qld

Many of the Whitsundays’ 74 islands are rugged, uninhabited atolls blessed with natural beauty and abundant wildlife. That spirit is embodied in Qualia. Utterly at home in the picturesque Hamilton Island landscape, its bold architecture – pitched roofs, sprawling verandahs and infinity-edge pools – has one objective: to bring the outside in. And that’s evident from the get-go; check-in takes place over a glass of Champagne in the indoor-outdoor lounge of the Long Pavilion perched high atop a hill overlooking the pool, the ocean and Whitsundays beyond.

Set within 12 hectares of natural bushland and tropical gardens, each guest pavilion feels like a luxurious, secluded beach house. Interiors are in harmony with the environment, combining extensive use of timber with colours that reflect nature’s palette to achieve a muted elegance.

In the restaurant, executive chef Alastair Waddell’s tasting menu is as decadent as the surrounds, with the likes of Shiro Kin full-blood Wagyu and smoked bone marrow with charred Jerusalem artichoke.

A tranquil spa, a library, yoga and croquet overlooking the beach means there is plenty to do. There’s highly personalised, switched-on service from staff who can arrange anything from a sunset outing aboard Qualia’s 45-foot luxury cruiser to helicopter flights. Having a golf buggy at your disposal also allows you to step outside this oasis and experience the island paradise at your own pace.

By Morag Kobez

Saffire Freycinct
Coles Bay, Tasmania

Like the soaring ceiling of a medieval cathedral, the roof of Saffire Freycinet’s lobby curves and rises high, dwarfing everything around it... if you don’t count The Hazards, the knobbly mountain range across Coles Bay. Framed by three-storey-high windows, the pink-granite range is an awesome sight when it glows with the setting sun.

It would be easy to stay put in the lobby; there is much to do there aside from enjoying the view of Freycinet National Park, in which the lodge is situated. Relax with a book from the library next door, play a board game in the lounge area or have a cocktail by the fireplace. And when hunger pangs strike, Palate restaurant is just downstairs. Start with freshly shucked local oysters then indulge in a scallop pie enriched with celeriac velouté and black truffle. Or leave yourself in the hands of executive chef Hugh Whitehouse, renowned for his dégustation menus.

Glorious views and attention to detail carry through to the lodge’s 20 suites. Each has generous sitting areas and king-size beds along with thoughtful touches such as finely crafted Tasmanian timber furnishings and coveted local whiskies.

The lodge offers a range of experiences, from a visit to an oyster farm to an encounter with Tasmanian devils in an open-range enclosure. But our pick is the Wineglass Bay Lookout Walk in the national park for unbeatable views of sparkling sapphire-coloured water, dazzling white beaches and those mesmerising pink-granite mountains.

By Jo Bainbridge

Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley
Wolgan Valley, New South Wales

Wolgan Valley is all about dropping off the grid in the most indulgent way imaginable. As you wind down the road towards the resort, situated in one of the most beautiful valleys beyond the Blue Mountains, sandstone bluffs reveal their glory. Pay particular attention as the sun goes down and they glow in shades of gold and ruby.

For a city slicker, the most immediate sensation is tuning in to the silence. And then, as your ears become accustomed, you realise you are surrounded by birdsong, the wind in the gum trees and the quiet munching of kangaroos. Yes, kangaroos. Wolgan Valley has an extremely relaxed mob that frequents the area.

The ingredients of great resorts are so simple: peace, privacy, outstanding food and wine, and luxurious touches beyond the everyday. Wolgan Valley has it all covered. Every suite is extremely private, with a screened verandah and its own enclosed heated pool. 

Book a facial at Timeless Spa at the end of the day and float back to your room for a drink before dinner, where you can savour expertly prepared seasonal dishes and a wine list that rivals the best in the world.

The property is set on almost 3000 hectares of pristine bush and for the adventurous, there are mountain bikes for exploring a track that snakes its way down the floor of the valley. Canopied viewing platforms offer a break from the saddle and if you stay still long enough, kangaroos, wallaroos and wombats will come out of hiding. If a luxury escape from the real world is on your agenda, Wolgan Valley lets you recalibrate all your senses. 

By Margaret Merten