Winter weekends away
Photography: Courtesy Spicers & Alistair Guthrie (DeBretts)
With the first half of the year's public holidays consigned to
memory, it's a long haul (and a lot of chilly mornings) until
October's extended break comes around. So there's nothing for it
but to dip into your annual leave and recharge with a compact
winter break, be it sun-filled or a trans-Tasman hop.
Spicers Tamarind Retreat and Spa, via Maleny, Queensland
Down on the beaches of the Sunshine Coast, beautiful bodies and fitness fanatics are a common enough occurrence. But Spicers Tamarind Retreat and Spa, hidden behind Maleny in the Glasshouse Mountains, jump-starts winter by bringing some of that adrenalin to its secluded hinterland home.
The retreat's new health and fitness packages make the most of the subtropical countryside within which Tamarind resides. Sign up for a Super Bootcamp Getaway or one of the Fitness Escapes and you'll work up a sweat while taking in the stunning surrounds on a hike-meets-training session (sprints, squats and burpees included) on the way to Gardner's Falls.
Post-workout, head to Spa Anise (also open to the public) where the hydrotherapy room and lengthy treatment menu (including the new Hahana hot-stone massage) provide the ideal counterbalance to all the activity.
The spacious digs are also just what the massage therapist ordered, with wood-burning fireplaces for all rooms and either a cedar hot tub or spa bath in the new two-bedroom villas.
Fitness not high on your holiday agenda? Head chef Daniel Jarrett and his team hold Asian cooking classes at The Tamarind restaurant, while the artistic communities of Maleny and Montville are just a short drive away.
Rooms from $359 per night. Fitness packages from $539 per couple for the one-night Fitness Escape. Spicers Tamarind Retreat and Spa, 88 Obi Lane South, Maleny, Queensland, 1300 311 429. CARLI FAINSINGER
Hotel Frangos, Daylesford, Victoria
This grand hotel in the Victorian spa capital of Daylesford has been a labour of love for artist and philosopher Jim Frangos for more than 30 years.
He has successfully diversified a former pub, the Belvedere Hotel, into a café, restaurant and bar, clothing boutique, and now an unexpectedly glamorous boutique hotel.
Its 12 rooms are all different, all sumptuous and all borne of Frangos's creativity. There's the romantic Rose suite's saucy circular bed beneath two chandeliers and a mirrored ceiling. The clerestoried Terrace room captures sunset views over the Central Highlands, the Retro suite embraces a funky '70s design and Alpha is a masculine space with a checked floor-to-ceiling bedhead and sexy monochromatic bathroom.
When winter settles in, guests can too. Within the Frangos compound there's the buzzy Café Koukla, Jimmy's Bar with its rustic seasonal fare and a seven-room Endota spa to soothe city stresses.
Rooms from $240 per night. Hotel Frangos, 82 Vincent Street, Daylesford, Victoria, (03) 5348 2363. KENDALL HILL
Oswego Port Douglas, Queensland
Sharp design and smart, urban-style interiors make Oswego a clever, under-the-radar beachside choice for those craving a break, without leaving the city too far behind. That's not to say you won't relax here - the entrance itself strikes a calming note via its tinkling water feature and water lily-strewn fish pond. But while you'll soon feel those metropolitan worries melting away, luxe versions of home comforts - a generous walk-in pantry, a kitchen kitted out with Euro appliances and an impressive saltwater pool - are all present and accounted for.
Oswego is one of two matching townhouses in Port Douglas's popular Four Mile Beach neighbourhood, just a few minutes' stroll from the coconut palm-fringed coastline. The house is well set up for a group weekend away - its four bedrooms all have en suites. Nab the main to enjoy the two-person bath and waterfall shower or place dibs on the central bedroom for access rights to a discreet rooftop deck. Poolside there's a decent-sized outdoor setting and hibachi barbecue.
If you don't fancy cooking, Otz Food at the top of the street in Four Mile Plaza is a city-style deli café. They offer pre-prepared meal options, too, and serve dinner Wednesday to Saturday at Otz at Niramaya, located at the nearby Niramaya Villas & Spa.
From $695 per night for six people. Oswego, Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, Queensland. Bookings through Executive Retreats, (07) 4098 1418. FIONA DONNELLY
McLaren Eye, Kangarilla, South Australia
Beaches, vines, rural outlooks, and all within a short drive from Adelaide. There's precious little secret to the appeal of McLaren Vale, although its latest addition - the eco-minded, self-contained retreat McLaren Eye - manages to make the most of these assets, while still offering a point of difference in one of South Australia's most visited and celebrated regions.
McLaren Eye sits atop a hill in the locality of Kangarilla and, as the name suggests, views are of the 180-degree variety. The solar-powered, two-bedroom, four-person stilted retreat uses a combination of natural light, aspect and floor-to-ceiling windows to not only invite the outside in as such, but also to minimise the need for artificial heating and cooling.
A central dining and living pavilion separates the Eye's two guest "pods", making it a good fit for two couples or a family that craves privacy as much as conversation. Be prepared to arm-wrestle for the master suite - its round bathtub has wraparound views of the open plains.
You're perfectly placed to explore the wineries on which the Vale has built its reputation (Woodstock Wines and Yangarra Estate are both on your doorstep) and some of the accompanying excellent restaurants. But the Eye is as enjoyable as an end point in itself. Check in, check out, as they say.
From $300 per couple per night (based on two couples sharing, minimum two nights). McLaren Eye, 36a Peters Creek Road, Kangarilla, South Australia, (08) 8383 7122. FRANCES HIBBARD
Eco Beach, Broome, Western Australia
It takes more than a cyclone to derail Eco Beach's mission to provide environmentally responsible luxury. Since reopening in 2009 post-Rosita, Karl Plunkett's remote coastal resort has continued to push the "treat 'em green, keep 'em clean" barrow with great success.
The entire site is powered by solar technology and the Eco Villas have been constructed to take advantage of the area's afternoon breezes. Commanding porch views of the surrounding bushland and Indian Ocean supply the entertainment. Adventurous travellers, may like to get back to basics by booking a stay in one of the rugged yet glam safari-style Eco Tents.
But one does not simply camp at Eco Beach. A four-wheel drive tour of nearby Jack's Creek offers a great primer on local indigenous Yardoogarra culture, while new chef Bradley Smith supplies the thrills at Jack's Bar & Grill come mealtime using organic produce grown on-site.
And now that the resort's new airstrip is open, travellers can arrive beachside within 15 minutes of landing in the Kimberley, instead of making the 90-minute trip by car. You'll enjoy a bird's eye view
of the mangrove-dotted coastline and striking turquoise waters along the way.
Eco Tents from $225 per night; Eco Villas from $345 per night; air transfers, $120 per person. Eco Beach, 323 Thangoo Station, Great Northern Highway, Broome, Western Australia, (08) 9193 8015. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Hotel DeBrett, Auckland, New Zealand
It's not as ridiculous as it sounds: a user-friendly time difference and easy direct flights mean a weekend in Auckland is a breeze for travellers wanting a twirl through duty free and a passport stamp along with their quick getaway. And your base for a few days exploring the city should be Hotel DeBrett, a genuinely individual blend of history and New Zealand quirk at the junction of the city's business, art and fashion districts.
The intimate bolthole - just 25 rooms, 15 of which are suites - occupies a revived Deco-era building, one of Auckland's first hotels. Owners Michelle Deery and John Courtney have created a dynamic homage to all of the above, retaining many of the touches that cemented the reputation of DeBretts, albeit updating them for a new era. The first floor remains a focal point, with the beloved Housebar - long a drawcard for locals - and the DeBrett's Kitchen restaurant, which sits beneath the glass atrium. Generously proportioned guest rooms, meanwhile, crackle with colour courtesy of poptastic furniture, boldly striped bespoke carpets and New Zealand artworks, with the circular staircase in two of the loft suites particularly charming.
You're within easy striking distance of the buzzy Britomart precinct and the Skycity complex, where chef Al Brown's Depot Eatery and Oyster Bar is an all-day feast that might begin with beignets and end with snapper sliders and smoked brisket tortillas.
All this presumes you'll want to leave DeBrett and the area surrounding it. You might well not. Fashion fans are spoilt for choice, with Fabric's stellar international edit right across the street, and flagships of local heavy-hitters World and Zambesi also dangerously close. And you're right in the thick of the city's small-bar circuit. What more could you want?
Rooms from $250 per night. Hotel DeBrett, 2 High Street, Auckland, New Zealand, +64 9 925 9000. FRANCES HIBBARD
Tower Lodge, Pokolbin, New South Wales
Tower Lodge, set among the vineyards of Tower Estate Winery, which Len Evans founded back in 1998, remains your only serious go-to for luxury lodging in the Hunter Valley.
The Spanish mission-style resort is made up of 12 rooms, each one individually outfitted with antiques, fireplaces and uninterrupted views of the surrounding vineyards. Steering clear of the cold is easy here - a dip in the heated swimming pool, perhaps a private spa or a trip to the sauna are all solid options.
Culinary contentment is assured with daily wine and cheese tastings at the winery, while Roberts Restaurant is just a short walk through the estate grounds. Chef George Francisco's menu changes to the tune of the seasonal local produce available in the region and his recently established organic garden, which he encourages guests to explore for themselves. A dish of seared yellowfin tuna with a cucumber sorbet and tomato salsa features ingredients grown at the resort. Ditto the sides of sautéed snakebeans, roast pumpkin and a baby-vegetable salad.
Accommodation choices range from vineyard and pool-facing lodge rooms to the exclusive Chairman's Suite, which comes with all the frills (hello, private viewing tower). With comforts this good, it's no wonder Tower Lodge is regarded as the region's number-one resort experience.
Rooms from $450 per night. Tower Lodge, Tower Estate, 6 Halls Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales, (02) 4998 4900. MAYA KERTHYASA
The fine print
Spicers Tamarind Retreat and
88 Obi Lane South, Maleny, Queensland, 1300 311 429.
82 Vincent Street, Daylesford, Victoria, (03) 5348 2363.
Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, Queensland. Bookings through Executive Retreats, (07) 4098 1418.
36a Peters Creek Road, Kangarilla, South Australia, (08) 8383 7122.
323 Thangoo Station, Great Northern Highway, Broome, Western Australia, (08) 9193 8015.
2 High Street, Auckland, New Zealand, +64 9 925 9000.
Tower Estate, 6 Halls Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales, (02) 4998 4900.