From chic beachside villas through the Aboriginal heartland and into the Outback, Mark Jones explores the Australian landscape, one luxury lodge at a time.
It must have hurt. In New Zealand, they’ve created a network of luxury lodges that stretch from the tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South. As we wrote about in Discovery, they are doing great business, and are a fine advertisement for the country.
But until recently, Aussie offerings of really beautiful, high-end resorts and hotels were scattered pretty thinly across the country.
That’s changing. Luxury Lodges of Australia is striving to emulate the success of its neighbours across the Tasman Sea. Together with our sister magazine, Silkroad, we’ve been visiting several of them to see how Australian designers and owners are interpreting the needs of a highly mobile and super-demanding audience.
Here are three very different lodges in three very different – but quintessentially Australian – landscapes. They’re more than places to stay: they all have a story to tell about the land, its people and its history.
Pretty Beach — New South Wales
Looking out from a steep, sandstone cliff in the Bouddi National Park, I can see the outer suburbs of Woy Woy, a town that had a racy reputation back in the 1920s and ’30s but has now become a thoroughly respectable, unflashy place popular with retirees.
Below are sparkling blue waters playing host to weekenders’ yachts and some very pretty beaches. Early European explorers were of a literal cast of mind: we are, in fact, above the settlement of Pretty Beach.
This is where John Singleton, a well-known adman and entrepreneur, built a retreat high in the hills. Built and then rebuilt: devastating bushfires are a recurring theme in these parts. There was another recently and the national park authorities won’t allow us to go hiking in the woods for fear of falling branches. But Pretty Beach House was spared.
This is a place infused with the spirit of affluent Australia as it began to emerge in the 1970s. There are polished sandstone floors, old telegraph poles for beams and pillars, and the instantly recognisable work of Australia’s most Australian 20th century artist, Sidney Nolan, on the bare stone and brick walls.
I’m staying in The Retreat: ‘zero-gravity’ (adjustable) bed, linen sheets, sheepskin rugs and a decked terrace with a plunge pool gazing down to the bay and a flotilla of cumulus clouds in a perfect blue sky.
Once you’re in, you don’t need to worry about outgoings – that’s the way with all three lodges I stayed in. And when ‘all-inclusive’ includes, say, a meal of kingfish followed by lamb, then apricot cheesecake with passion fruit, paired with Yarra Valley chardonnays and a Mudgee shiraz – then count me in.
That was just for lunch. There was an epic tasting dinner with chef Duncan Kemmis still to come. Exercise was required. I walked between the bays, trying to keep property investment thoughts from intruding as I passed covetably laidback hill villas. A row of white cockatoos messed around on a picket fence. Feathery trees looked over the milky beige and baby blue waters.
Of course, a few hundred thousand years before country mansions or, indeed, Sydney arrived, there were others roaming these lands. Tim, from the Guringai people, emerged from the bushes that night while we were sipping our champagne. He performed a traditional smoking ceremony and promised to show us rock carvings in the hills the next day.
We walked through shaded, sandy paths and winced as we saw mountain bike tracks intersecting with ancient carvings of whales and sharks.
We tasted mouth-numbing gum resin from Grandmother Trees and pumped Tim for information. There were things he’s allowed pass on, and things he can’t. Sharing remains a precious gift in a dry land scarce of resources. For Tim’s forebears, information was power – and survival.