The best lodges and resorts in Australia
For years Australia had an inferiority complex (to New Zealand, of all places) when it came to world-renowned luxury lodges and resorts. Fret no longer. We now have a score or more of singular and ultra-luxurious lodge experiences in remarkable landscapes.
The picturesque Blue Mountains has accommodation worthy of its World Heritage status in Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley, a remote and exclusive 40-suite property built around an 1832 homestead that once hosted Charles Darwin and, in its current guise, Cate Blanchett.
Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley.
On the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park stands newcomer Spicers Sangoma Retreat, a takeover-makeover of an existing African-themed lodge. Its six expansive suites and a platform tent have been pared back to Australian bush-luxury standards, with Spicers' customary flair for fine dining and indulgence.
The pin-up property among élite lodges is still, arguably, Southern Ocean Lodge. Its 21 suites unfurl along a ridgetop above the dramatic south-west coast of Kangaroo Island, the moody views accentuated from every angle whether you're resting in your room or dining in the Great Room on sophisticated dishes of Kangaroo Island produce prepared by new executive chef Alastair Waddell.
Ravishing coastlines are also the big drawcards at privileged Coral Sea hideaway Qualia, where 60 pavilions with sundecks, some with pools, are positioned in bushland to capture incredible views of the Whitsundays. Further north, Lizard Island has brushed itself off after two cyclones to become, once again, the dress-circle address on the Great Barrier Reef - complete with 24 private beaches.
Visitors to the wild west are spoiled for choice. On the vast 283,000-hectare El Questro station in Western Australia's east Kimberley accommodation ranges from campsite tents to an 18-guest homestead atop the pink cliffs of the Chamberlain River Gorge. Personal guides decipher the ancient landscape on daytrips on foot, horseback, 4WD, helicopter or boat. And on the north Kimberley coast, the Berkeley River Lodge's 20 air-conditioned villas straddle dunes above the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, home to dolphins and dugongs. By day the Berkeley offers hiking and helicopter safaris; by night it's convivial dinners and starlit cinema screenings.
The aesthetic at Bamurru Plains is similarly elevated - 10 bungalows on stilts at Swim Creek Station on the Mary River floodplain - but the wildlife at this remote Northern Territory sanctuary is something else. Prepare for encounters with buffalo, saltwater crocs and a million magpie geese. Unplugged and unforgettable.
Spicers Sangoma Retreat.
More profound outback magic awaits at Arkaba, a former sheep station in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia, its 1850s homestead transformed into a five-room haven within a 24,000-hectare private conservation reserve. Combine a stay at the station with a four- day guided hike into Wilpena Pound, staying at Australia's swankiest campsites.
In the centre of the continent, Longitude 131° has never offered more comfort than in its current incarnation under the stewardship of Baillie Lodges (Cappella, Southern Ocean). Longitude's 16 elaborate tents now feature balconies with ethanol fires for toasty-warm swag nights beneath the Milky Way, while days are spent exploring the cultural and natural landscapes of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Set in 18 hectares of rainforest yet only five kilometres from the bustle of Byron Bay, The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa is a serene sanctuary tucked behind Tallow Beach. Daily yoga by the pool is de rigueur, as are sessions in the expanded day spa, long beach walks and leisurely market-to-plate meals by chef Gavin Hughes. Its 92 suites - each with shuttered verandas and kitchens, most with walk-in robes and bathtubs - are largely hidden among trees and linked by two kilometres of winding boardwalk.
The Byron at Byron Resort & Spa.
On Australia's favourite holiday isle, Saffire is Tasmania's most aspirational address. Its 20 suites sit in peppermint scrub with custom furnishings and views of the Hazards. There's no finer way to do Freycinet, whether hiking into Wineglass Bay, donning waders for a thigh-deep oyster-shucking experience or enjoying uniquely Tasmanian dégustations by new executive chef Todd Adams.