In a land far, far away

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 51, Winter 2012

From Broome Jane O’sullivan took a two-hour flight to the Mitchell Plateau then a 15-minute helicopter transfer to reach the Kimberley Coastal Camp, the latest addition to Australia’s high-end travel experiences. The aching remoteness is of course part of the experience, the rest is all about what the camp’s expert guides showed her in this untouched, ancient part of our continent.

“We’re lucky it’s a cool day,” says Kev, striding on ahead. It was 39 degrees Celsius in the shade when we left, and it certainly isn’t any cooler in the full blast of the Kimberley sun. But Kev is one of those hardened country men with a battered akubra and sun-leathered skin, who clearly has a different definition of normal to us city slickers.

We’re bushwalking near the Lawley River, behind the Mitchell Plateau in far north Western Australia. It is without doubt the most remote place I’ve ever been. Most of the bushwalking I do is on nicely groomed trails in national parks, with tidy steps and handrails and trailmarkers, not bush-bashing through spinifex and hopping over boulders. I feel privileged to be out and about in such an untouched and breathtakingly beautiful corner of our country – but I do wish I had some gaiters. That spinifex is prickly stuff.

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Stillness, serenity & champagne

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 48, Spring 2011

Jane O’Sullivan goes for a gentle potter through the Queensland bush to find seclusion, peace and stillness.

Our first wildlife sighting comes quickly. We’ve only taken a few steps when a grey kangaroo skips across our path. The second is just as sudden; there’s a yell and we pull up sharply in front of a red-bellied black snake. He’s clearly a very sleepy chap but we give him a wide berth just the same. From there the walk into the Spicers Canopy campsite is a gentle meander along a creek bed. It’s quiet, cool and peaceful and thankfully we don’t meet anymore poisonous critters. We arrive to a spread of freshly baked pumpkin scones and blueberry muffins. Afternoon tea segues into pre-dinner drinks. We sip champagne as the sun sets behind us, casting our view of surrounding mountains Spicers Peak and Mount Mitchell in an intense orange glow. Pre-dinner drinks then segue into a three-course dinner with a main of Mooloolaba prawns on a bed of buffalo mozzarella and basil ravioli. The chef used to run the Blue Angel restaurant in Noosa and the fare is a long, long way from camp stew and damper. The night ends around the firepit, toasting marshmallows and nursing brandy nightcaps under a star-filled country sky.

Spicers Canopy is about an hour-and-a-half from Brisbane in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Because of the elevation, it’s a couple of degrees cooler than the city. When I finally retreat to my tent I find a hot water bottle tucked between the sheets to keep the cold at bay. There are eight more-or-less permanent tents at Spicers Canopy, all with proper double beds, armchairs and a little verandah. It’s still camping, but it’s a whole lot more comfortable than I remember. The tents fan out around the one permanent building which serves as the central lounge and dining area and which also houses a drying room and three bathrooms. These hotel-standard bathrooms are blissfully clean and warm and there is what seems like an endless supply of hot water. Only the most grizzly non-camper could complain.

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Blue lake dreaming

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 42, Autumn 2010

Looking out from Charlotte’s Pass, the Snowy Mountains look chiselled from pink marble. The dust storm that swept through New South Wales just weeks before has left ripples of dusky pink and orange across the snowdrifts on the peaks.

Hidden behind one of these marbled ridges is Blue Lake, an under appreciated marvel of Kozscuisko National Park and our destination on this trek. The walk is graded easy and can be taken as a day-trip or extended into an overnight trek. Equipped with walking poles and daypacks – containing windcheaters, water booties and snow gaiters – we feel ready for anything. From Charlotte’s Pass the trail descends sharply into the valley, where we quickly discover the reason for the water booties. It’s late spring and the stepping-stones that lead across the Snowy River are smothered in a rush of icy meltwater. Feeling brave, we plunge in and survive about five paces before we’re all cursing like pirates. We survive without any major frostbite though, and with our feet back in warm socks we start the gentle climb up the mountain. I’d had high hopes of seeing native wildlife on our walk, but as we pass above the tree line it becomes obvious that any animal able to survive here must be either very small or very hard to find. (The rare pygmy possum, almost a mascot for the region, ticks both of these boxes.)

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Treading lightly in the rainforest

Published in Luxury Travel, Issue 43, Winter 2010

With rooms that feel like they’re floating in the rainforest canopy, the centrepiece of the new Te Waonui Forest Retreat on New Zealand’s South Island is nature itself. Architect & interior designer Richard Dalman says the West Coast rainforest “is such a strong element it’s always going to be there, no matter what you do. So our approach was to try and make it a seamless experience, from outside of the hotel to inside of the hotel, then through into the courtyard.”

Make no mistake though, when Dalman is talking about the courtyard, he doesn’t mean a nicely paved Mediterranean-inspired entertaining area. Instead, the four low wings of this eco resort weave through untouched rainforest. The decision to build around existing forest – instead of alternatives like landscaping new gardens – is part of the reason why Te Waonui Forest Retreat was awarded a New Zealand Institute of Architects award soon after it opened in 2009. The design, say judges, “surprises in the way it forces customers to engage the smell, dampness and density of the rainforest setting”.

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