Eight great Australian breaks
HAMILTON ISLAND, QLD: HAMILTON ISLAND YACHT CLUB
Fancy a luxury Whitsunday getaway? Budget doesn't quite extend to Hamilton Island's glamorous Qualia? The recently opened Yacht Club Villas may fit the bill. Ideal for groups, these swish digs have been designed by architect Walter Barda - the man also responsible for the island's dramatic new yacht club - and furnished with Coco Republic goodies. Each has four bedrooms and four bathrooms (you read that correctly), full kitchen facilities, a sumptuous living area and an expansive balcony with views over the impossibly turquoise Dent Passage.
The concierge will, if you so desire, book you into the
award-winning Qualia spa, or perhaps a round of golf at the Peter
Thomson-designed course. (Even if you don't give a birdie about
golf, the island setting and the Whitsundays views make this one of
the most spectacular courses in the world).
Our tip? Round up a group of mates or the family for a food-focused weekend. The kitchen is truly fabulous and the setting so comfortable you won't want to leave for meals; the balcony just screams long lunch or dinner. If cabin fever kicks in, take yourself off for lunch at the golf course. The clubhouse dining room is just the spot to settle in for a long, relaxed afternoon drinking in the views of Passage Peak and the Coral Sea; a $65 lunch special includes ferry transfers, two courses, a glass of wine or beer, and a quick buggy tour around the back nine. ANTHEA LOUCAS
Four-bedroom villas from $1350. 13 7333, www.hamiltonislandyachtclubvillas.com.au
SCENIC RIM, QLD: SPICERS PEAK LODGE
Guests of Spicers Peak Lodge have been known to arrive feeling disgruntled. We couldn't find the driveway, they say. We drove here along some kind of cattle-track instead. So here's our tip: if you wind up on a narrow road, mainly gravel, punctuated by 11 cattle grids and a hubcap-deep ford, you're on the right track - it is the driveway. The lodge is just 90 minutes south-west of central Brisbane, but, perched on a plateau 1180 metres above sea level, it feels much further away.
On arrival, the only question is where to relax first. An open fireplace is the obvious choice in this cool climate, and the lodge has 10: one in the dining room, one in the lounge, and one in each of the eight downstairs bedrooms. The stones surrounding each fireplace are from Scotland and arrived in Australia as ship ballast. Their texture and the soaring clean lines of the timber-clad steel roof beams contrast with the suede and wool soft-furnishings that give Spicers Peak a cosseting air.
Late in the afternoon, manager Kurt Bailey escorts guests a short distance by four-wheel-drive to a viewpoint on Ryans Ridge. We walk the last hundred metres through the bush, Bailey bringing up the rear with an ice bucket and a bottle of sparkling wine. These are lovely touches, yet they take supporting roles. The main event is the bush. Graceful grass trees form spiky silhouettes against the setting sun. Sculptural, lichen-covered fallen timber glows green-gold in the last light. "That tree there is the one where I've seen koalas a few times," says Bailey, pointing to a forest red gum. On this 3000-hectare working cattle station, 2000 hectares is protected forever as Spicers Peak Nature Reserve.
Back at the lodge, chef Mark Jensen (ex Lure and Marco Polo in Brisbane) is busy roulading the oxtail and frothing the cauliflower for the evening's beautifully executed seven-course dégustation. Jensen uses local produce as much as he can (the finger-length carrots served alongside the Moreton Bay bug raviolo are grown just down the road in Aratula) and his menus change every day. This evening's cauliflower froth surrounds foie gras custard, Manjimup truffle and morels.
Some guests, it must be said, work harder for their meals than
others. The property's bushwalks range from short strolls to
multi-day guided adventures, the most popular of which combines one
or two nights at the property's permanent luxury campsite, Spicers
Canopy, with a night at the lodge.
Many guests, though, are here for the rare opportunity to do as little as possible in this deeply relaxing environment. The seclusion here is the ultimate luxury - the kind that only 11 cattle grids can provide. KERRYN BURGESS
Rooms from $1190, including all meals and drinks. 1300 197 660, www.spicerspeaklodge.com.au
MARGARET RIVER, WA: CAPE LODGE
While many elect to make this plot of Yallingup their base for exploring Margaret River's wealth of wineries, restaurants and camera-defeating panoramas, just as many come to surrender unconditionally to life on the estate, so access to a set of car keys during your stay is entirely optional. Besides, it's better to get the lodge to organise a Bentley-driven tour of the local cellar doors.
Relaxation and tranquillity come easy at this delightfully soignée property, whether the view from your room is of the lake, the bush or the gardens. Nonetheless, a free-form swimming pool and a tennis court are available for those with energy to spare as well as the desire to leave the surrounds of their princely, chateau-like residences.
If the vineyards lining the driveway on the way in didn't give the game away, gastronomy is a big deal here. Grapes aren't the only crop harvested on the property, with estate-grown herbs and vegetables supplementing the produce chosen by executive chef Tony Howell for use in the restaurant's daily-changing menus.
Come mealtime - guests get dibs on dinner bookings as well as
breakfast the next morning - Howell is content to leave the
cutting-edge cooking to others, adopting a produce-centric,
less-is-more philosophy, so expect to dine on the likes of
char-grilled Pemberton marron and baked king prawns.
The wine list, however, flies the other way, its more-is-more approach translating to international names sharing billing with multiple vintages of local icons Leeuwin Estate Art Series and Cullen Diana Madeline.
While any meal at Cape Lodge is excuse enough to turn to the Champagne section, regular cooking classes and winemaker dinners offer iron-clad reasons for that long overdue trip down south. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Garden-view rooms from $475; superior spa suites from $575. (08) 9755 6311, www.capelodge.com.au
PALM COVE, QLD: ANGSANA GREAT BARRIER REEF
Palm trees. Absolute beachfront. Award-winning spa. Tick, tick, tick. And did we mention the alfresco treatment rooms looking out over the ocean? A body scrub here while you listen to the sound of the waves and the birds overhead brings new insight into the art of relaxation. After being thoroughly rubbed with warm honey and sesame, polished, wrapped, rubbed and wrapped again, you'll be fit only to stumble between the outdoor shower and your private plunge pool. Bliss.
On a short break, a total de-stress can be hard to achieve. But at Angsana it's as if everything conspires to lull you into that state. Even if you eschew the spa - and you shouldn't - a stroll down the coconut palm-fringed beach is the best way to access local restaurants. You don't need wheels. Three-quarters of the way to the pier turn-off you'll uncover Nu Nu and its laidback charms. Here, sample anything from fluffy coconut hotcakes and sorbet for breakfast to a blow-out dégustation while you lounge about in the cool indoor-outdoor surrounds - all billowy gauze curtains, wide banquettes and filtered ocean views.
Angsana is the only hotel in Palm Cove that fronts the sand. Suites here channel an understated glamour that's mirrored in the rest of the resort. Far Horizons, the on-site bar and restaurant, has one of the best views in Australia and is a no-fuss stroll from your choice of hammock slung between palms. A fruit platter here - dragon fruit, mangosteen, custard apple, to remind you where you are - is a fine way to kickstart your day. Or go for broke with fluffy French raisin toast, grilled banana and thick King Island cream. A dip in one of the three pools will temper any feelings of guilt and leave you nicely chilled for an afternoon snooze. FIONA DONNELLY
One-bedroom suites from $310; stay four nights and pay for three. (07) 4055 3000, www.angsana.com
BYRON BAY, NSW: THE VILLAS OF BYRON
Finding sanctuary and elusive inner calm in our ever-busy lives lures some of us to Indian ashrams, others to Bedouin tents, remote palm-fringed coral islands, or indulgent hotel suites in the world's major capitals. Yet sometimes the answer lies closer to home.
Discreetly tucked away in downtown Byron Bay are six high-walled luxury Bali-esque villas completely configured to instil rejuvenation. Step through the ornately carved double wooden doors and be welcomed by the standing Buddha into your hideaway world surrounded by Bali-meets-Japan landscaped tropical gardens, complete with outdoor rain showers and a pebble rake for Zen moments.
Generously proportioned, the airy villas feature kitchens with absolutely mod cons, right down to the chefs' knife set and the eco-friendly compost container; bells-and-whistles AV toys including a preloaded iPod; and seductive mood lighting that fades as you drift to sleep. The more compact one-bedroom villas include a meditation room complete with cushions and incense, and each villa has a day-bed, a plunge pool and a spa.
But The Villas of Byron's true appeal comes from attention to exquisite detail - "your wish is our command" concierge service, batik bathrobes, freshly roasted local Green Cauldron coffee, Byron Bay Tea Company tea, fragrant floral displays, Sensi reflexology thongs and body-wrap beach towels. The bliss butler can arrange in-villa massages, yoga sessions, Afro-beat drumming classes, romantic baths and turn-downs, and - if you ever want to leave - low-carbon-footprint rickshaw rides to the beach. Soul food never tasted so good. JANE ADAMS
One-bedroom villas from $560; two-bedroom villas from $825. (02) 6685 6746, www.thevillasofbyron.com.au
BROOME, WA: CABLE BEACH CLUB RESORT &
Once upon a time, this colonially inspired getaway was the only option for seasoned travellers seeking upmarket digs in Broome. One tourism boom and 22 years later, one can still guesstimate airline departure and arrival times from the level of activity at Cable Beach Club's reception area. Get past the merry-go-round of bags and bodies at the front door, however, and the chaos is quickly replaced by calm, the resort's spacious grounds and facilities seemingly swallowing whole your fellow guests.
Yet if it's the search for privacy that brings you north-west, best inquire about making one of the property's villas your home away from home. Constructed from corrugated iron and polished jarrah, these adults-only residences sized for couples - or solo-travelling bons vivants - give the nod to the area's pearler and Asian past while ticking all the boxes for understated elegance and luxury.
Think separate living areas, original artworks and a personal valet service, with luxe touches extending beyond the back door and into private courtyards where gazebos and heated plunge pools (just in case you get bored with the vista from the spa in your bathroom) help bodies slip effortlessly into Broome-time. (Bungalow, studio and suite options are also available.)
Although the temptation to while away an entire vacation in your
room will be great, fight it you must. The resort's Chahoya spa is
a shrine to body wellness with a range of treatments including
Vichy showers, chakra massages and facials available for men and
women, singles and couples.
Alternatively, three-phase treatments of the entrée-main-dessert persuasion are available at Cable Beach Club's myriad dining options, which range from the majesty of the Club Restaurant through to the casual dining of Sunset Bar & Grill, one of the area's best vantage points for sunset viewing. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Rates applicable 11 October to 31 March for a minimum four-night stay: garden view studios from $297; classic bungalows from $466; villas from $872. Stay five nights and pay for four with complimentary breakfast daily. (08) 9192 0400, www.cablebeachclub.com
MELBOURNE, VIC: THE WESTIN
On the surface it's all poise and polish, but the Westin Melbourne has a rock 'n' roll heart. Commissionaire Ian Morrison is the always-smiling face of this CBD five-star but few guests realise he once sang chart-topping protest songs as a member of '80s band Goanna. Remember "Solid Rock"? He certainly does.
Now, as then, Morrison's talents are geared towards audience satisfaction - directing guests to the city's best cobbler, coolest bar, most happening new restaurant. He's a terrific asset to the Westin, which has just celebrated its 10th birthday by lavishing $5.5 million on a facelift of its 262 rooms. Contemporary furnishings from Malaysia, carpets from Tasmania and all-new king-sized "Heavenly Beds" amp up the comfort levels, while flat-screen TVs and iPod docks represent modern convenience. Aside from Morrison, the Westin's big drawcard is its location, midway between the retail raptures of Collins Street and Flinders Lane and within easy walking distance of Melbourne's more exciting dining spots (MoVida, Coda, Maha) and louche laneway and rooftop bars (Siglo, Double Happiness, Madame Brussels). It's the ultimate pied-à-terre for indulgent city escapes, but choose your accommodation carefully to make the most of the Westin's elevated views. East-facing rooms above the gothic Chapter House and the offices of St Paul's Cathedral are prime real estate, capturing views across Federation Square to the King's Domain and the Shrine of Remembrance, with cameos by the Arts Centre spire and Eureka Tower. KENDALL HILL
(03) 9635 2222, www.westin.com.au/melbourne
BATEMANS BAY, NSW: LOCHANI AT THE BEACH
There's no denying that the coastal road leading south from Sydney takes you through some of the state's best and (still) least heralded assets. There are bush-clad cliffs, uncluttered surf breaks, wineries and woodfired bread, even a Rick Stein restaurant. But what is lacking, by and large, are chintz-free places to lay your head.
How refreshing, then, to pull up in the archetypal fishing town of Batemans Bay and push open the door at Lochani, a new beach house in the sleepy suburb of Long Beach. Smart, contemporary and designed with the environment in mind, Lochani's three-bedroomed homes (there are two houses side by side) can happily accommodate a small group of friends and the space is cosy enough for a couple holidaying on their own.
The house is all clean lines, polished timber floors and
flow-through spaces, from the open-plan living area fronted by
folding timber windows and featuring an Eco Smart fireplace,
through to the media room with surround sound and iPod docking
station, to the spacious barbecue area just outside.
The décor is no frills: plump, beachy sofas and practical matting to deal with sand from the adjacent beach, crisp sheets on king beds, abundant natural light and two bathrooms - one with a neck-deep spa bath. The kitchen, with its Westinghouse cooking range, Omega wine fridge and stone benchtops, is seriously well-equipped - which is a good thing because the eight-seater dining setting is begging to be laden with food and friends. EMMA VENTURA
Nightly rates from $450, weekly rates from $2850. 0438 633 904, www.lochani.com.au