Sure, you can travel the globe but Australia has a host of bucket-list experiences all over the country. Linda Jaivin discovers new tours, eco resorts and rides that showcase the very soul of our nation.
Arnhem Land, Northern Territory
Arnhem Land, the home and heartland of the Yolngu people for at least 60,000 years, is a place of pristine wilderness and immense natural biodiversity. There are monsoon rainforests, savanna woodlands, rugged coasts with white-sand beaches, vast river systems, floodplains and more – all under a sky so clear and dark that you can almost touch the Milky Way. It’s a place of great cultural significance, too. There are rock paintings here that are tens of thousands of years old, while contemporary Aboriginal artists are creating works that reflect land, legend and life today as in the past.
Outback Spirit Tours recently launched a 12-day Arnhem Land Wilderness Adventure, designed and guided in collaboration with local Aboriginal partners. It takes you on a journey of 1000 kilometres from Nhulunbuy to Port Essington, via the limpid shores of the Arafura Swamp and Tomkinson River. Stay in luxurious tented camps with ensuites, real beds, air conditioning and private decks at Murwangi Safari Camp and Arnhem Land Barramundi Lodge. The package also includes a stay at Seven Spirit Bay Wilderness Lodge, which has just been given a ritzy refurbishment; everything is new, from the furnishings to the ensuites and the décor. Sample bush tucker straight from the land, fish for barramundi and see saltwater crocodiles close up – but not too close. Later, over a glass of good wine and excellent food, you can talk about the one that got away – that’s you, from it all.
SEE ALSO: The Hottest Travel Experiences of 2017
Tilba, New South Wales
The Tilba region on NSW’s Sapphire Coast, halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, has sweet surprises in store for visitors in 2017 well beyond its famous local honey and ice-cream and the charming heritage villages of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba – total population 391.
The shiniest new jewel in Tilba’s crown is Tilba Lake Camp. Glamp in one of the three stunning Lotus Belle tents with comfy beds, mood lighting, luxe rugs and wi-fi. A lovely converted barn just 80 metres away offers environmentally friendly flush toilets and showers. There are also plush hammocks, an on-site heated swimming pool and a fire pit. Cook on your personal barbecue, enjoy food hampers filled with local produce such as artisanal breads and Tilba cheese or just order “in-tent dining”, starting the day with breakfast delivered straight to your tent by golf buggy. Best of all, enjoy panoramic views that take in the Pacific Ocean, the Yuin people’s sacred Mount Gulaga (Mount Dromedary), Tilba Tilba Lake and the rich green paddocks of the volcanic plain.
You may never want to leave the site but do check out the lively local art scene and fine dining and maybe try your hand at deep-sea fishing – at 20 kilometres offshore from Bermagui, the continental shelf is closer here than anywhere else in Australia.
Three Capes Track, Tasmania
The Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 didn’t end well; its leader, William Smith O’Brien, suffered transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. But when he sighted the Tasman Peninsula’s Cape Pillar, with its steep dolerite cliffs rising up from the Tasman Sea, the Irishman confessed, “It is almost worth while to travel 16,000 miles to see such a scene as this.”
Visit the Three Capes (Pillar, Raoul and Hauy) and you’ll share O’Brien’s awe. Walking for four days at “the world’s edge” along the 46-kilometre Three Capes Track is a chance to glimpse views of one of the most dramatic and remote coastal landscapes in Australia.
The walking track is suitable for anyone who’s reasonably fit, including children. It has stretches of boardwalk, steps to help you through the steeper parts and “story seats” dotted along the way. It’s been open to a strictly limited number of walkers since December 2015 but from late 2017, multi-award-winning ecotourism operator Tasmanian Walking Company will be offering guided small-group tours. Carry the lightest of daypacks and finish each day’s walk (about four hours) at new and exclusive architect-designed lodges. There, the guides put on their chefs’ hats to prepare gourmet meals from top-quality Tassie produce, accompanied by craft beers and local wines. Like O’Brien, prepare to be transported.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia
The aptly named Remarkable Rocks – sculpted over 500 million years by rain and wind to look like a cross between dinosaur bones and an aliens’ midden – is just one of the spectacular sights on Kangaroo Island’s 61-kilometre, five-day Wilderness Trail. This new walking route on the island’s south-west coast stretches from the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre to the Kelly Hill Caves, taking in bushland and water views. Spot sea lions, encounter kangaroos and koalas and marvel at the island’s unique flora – there are almost 50 plant species you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The trail requires a decent level of fitness as you can be walking for up to seven hours a day between camp sites.
Houtman Abrolhos and Rottnest Islands, Western Australia
For sheer beauty and ocean adventure, you can’t go past the coral cays of the Houtman Abrolhos. About 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast from Geraldton, the archipelago is spectacular when seen from above: 122 islands in all, some little more than sandy smears against the jewel-like blues and greens of the Indian Ocean. Activities include deep-sea fishing, snorkelling and diving (including at shipwreck sites). It’s a birdwatchers’ delight, too, as the archipelago is an important breeding site for seabirds. Until now, the Houtman Abrolhos have been relatively difficult to reach and visitors haven’t been able to stay overnight, although some islands host a sparse and seasonal population of rock lobster fishers. But the entire island group is set to become a national park this year and there are plans to create camp sites, moored accommodation and, potentially, an eco hotel.
The Houtman Abrolhos are not the state’s only destination undergoing change this year. Rottnest Island – home to ridiculously adorable quokkas, insanely beautiful beaches and absurdly enchanting sunsets – is about to get more serious about its accommodation. The Rottnest Express ferry company and a Broome eco resort have banded together to launch an eco glamping site on two hectares of land between The Basin and Pinky Beach. Opening just ahead of the 2017/18 summer, Pinky’s Eco Retreat and Beach Club will offer a mix of four- and five-star eco tents, each with a kitchenette, ensuite and comforts galore, plus two-bedroom family tents and budget tents. Swim, snorkel, bike, surf, do a Segway tour, skydive or just spend the day taking “quokka selfies” (yes, that’s a thing). Then kick back in style.
Mount Mulligan, Queensland
The Sunshine State’s hottest new destination, Mount Mulligan, is also one of its oldest. The ancient monolith is a table-top mountain bigger than Uluru; its sinuous sandstone bluffs snake across the rainforest for 18 kilometres. The local Djungan people (and other Aboriginal peoples for hundreds of kilometres around) consider it to be a place of great spiritual significance, as the mountain they call Ngarrabullgan is home to a malevolent spirit named Eekoo and other Dreamtime beings. Some of the oldest cultural sites in Queensland – including one 40,000 years old – can be found here.
About 160 kilometres from Cairns, Mount Mulligan has had a colourful and sometimes dark history. Over the past two centuries, people have mined it for coal, rushed it for gold and farmed it for cattle. This year, the 27,000-hectare Mount Mulligan Cattle Station will reopen under the management of CLG Properties. The development will include a luxury lodge and camping ground accessed by 4WD, private plane or a 30-minute helicopter flight from Cairns. The 12 architect-designed rooms, suites and villas, located on the edge of a scenic weir, boast majestic views of the 400-metre-high cliff face. Swim in the weir, natural pool or swimming pool; go fishing, boating or birdwatching; try your hand at cattle mustering or your luck at gold fossicking. In the evening, savour the best of paddock-to-plate dining then retreat to the sunken fire pit to share the day’s stories.
Mornington Peninsula, Victoria
The term “tree change” takes on new meaning when you’re skimming the tops of the eucalypts in Arthurs Seat State Park’s swish new gondola. The Arthurs Seat Eagle travels a similar path to the old chairlift between Dromana and the summit, offering views over the sandy bays and aqua waters of the Mornington Peninsula’s swimming beaches, all the way to Melbourne.
But the gondola isn’t the only reason to put the peninsula on your 2017 travel hit list. A longstanding popular getaway for weary Melburnians, it also boasts olive groves, hot springs, national parks, golf courses and more than 200 vineyards. And now there’s luxury, too. This year, Willow Creek Vineyard will open a sumptuous 46-room hotel, Jackalope, under the management of Tracy Atherton (ex Hotel Hotel, Canberra). Indulge in fine dining and great wine, lounge about on bespoke furnishings by Zuster, take in the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows and private terraces in the guestrooms and enjoy a swim in the 30-metre infinity pool overlooking the vineyards. ￼