This is the weekend getaway Sydneysiders have been waiting for – a luxury lodge on the Hawkesbury River within easy driving of the city.
The gentle, saddle-brown Hawkesbury River is enormous. Depending on how you measure it, it stretches for about 120 kilometres from north of Sydney to its mouth at Broken Bay then out to the Tasman Sea. But today, as I balance on a bright-blue stand-up paddleboard and dip my oar in and out of its lightly chopping waves, it seems I have the whole waterway to myself, except for two soaring sea eagles and a pair of monarch butterflies dancing round my head as I glide. It took me less than an hour’s drive, plus a 20-minute boat ride, to get here from my home in central Sydney but it feels like I’ve been dropped into a different world – one I don’t have to share with anyone else.
It’s a sensation that remains with me for my entire stay at the luxury Marramarra Lodge, which opened in mid-2020. The lodge sits on a secluded, boat-access-only peninsula called Fishermans Point on what used to be an Outward Bound adventure camp; in fact a teenaged Prince Charles once paid a visit to do gritty, sweaty things like rock climbs and brisk hikes during his roughingit- in-the-colonies phase in the mid-1960s.
Today, roughing it is the last thing you can expect at Marramarra. The property has a capacity of just 28 guests across eight paperbark-coloured safari tents and six sleek bungalows, each overlooking the river through the narrow trunks of eucalypts and casuarinas. (The Wallaby tent has one of the clearest water views or request the Wirriga tent if you want the best vantage point for sunsets.)
At the centre of the property, the vast, airy Budyari Restaurant is dominated by a huge picture window that looks out on some of the river’s oyster leases. The peacock-blue pool and day spa sit among the trees. A rocky path hemmed by jacaranda trees and bird-of-paradise shrubs leads to one of the wooden boathouses that can be found at every village along the river’s edge, only this one has a constantly replenished fridge full of beer and wine and a wall of fishing rods waiting for you to haul in a flathead.
As with all great escapes, much of my day centres around food. Each morning I wander to the dining hall at the civilised hour of 8.30am, where chef Paul Macnish (a man with upper-crust connections; until recently he was the private chef for the Earl and Countess of Derby in England) has prepared a selection of breakfast options that take cues from the bush, such as overnight oats sprinkled with wattleseed dukkah or poached eggs with mountain pepper butter. Lunch is light; a piece of cod with creamed corn, for example, or a refined stack of halloumi and lentils. The crescendo is dinner, a five-course tasting menu that might include Balmain bugs with lemon myrtle and buttermilk or a risotto of artichoke studded with fresh apple and a cured egg, paired with Australian and international wines that have been sourced from a private collection.
Anyone feeling energetic can take a kayak or paddleboard around to nearby Bar Island, a tiny four-hectare splodge on the Hawkesbury dotted with ancient oyster middens left behind by the Indigenous people who used it as a neutral meeting ground and the remains of European settlers’ graves from the 1800s. There’s also the option of being shuttled by boat to lunch at one of the river’s two best restaurants, Peats Bite and Berowra Waters Inn, or floating gently past the mangroves on a sunset cruise, champagne in hand.
But for the most part I take my cue from the lazy pace of the river and do little more than eat, snooze and turn the occasional page of a novel I’ve been meaning to finish for months. Prince Charles wouldn’t recognise the place from its rugged, sweaty beginnings but I suspect he’d like it an awful lot more.
More Hyper-luxe Getaways
Hermes Estate, NSW
The price tag is high at $15,000 per couple for a three-night stay at the all-inclusive hideaway Hermes Estate but for that you take over the entire twobedroom adults-only residence with its landscaped gardens, mountain views and a grand piano that pianist and local David Helfgott has been known to play. The mansion is set on a two-hectare property near the idyllic town of Bellingen, about 30 minutes south of Coffs Harbour. The name has nothing to do with the French fashion house, instead inspired by the Greek god of wealth and travel. There’s a 24-hour butler on call, plus a chef who’ll whip up meals based on your mood. But the true luxury of Hermes Estate, which opened in September, is the setting. On one side of the retreat are moss-covered forests, on the other the vast beaches of Sawtell. Bonville Beach is the pick – it’s more than twice the size of Sydney’s Manly (minus the crowds).
Sequoia Lodge, SA
Set to welcome guests in February, Sequoia Lodge features 14 no-expense-spared suites with panoramic views of Piccadilly Valley, sleek sunken lounge rooms with fireplaces and access to a private club lounge and heated plunge pool. The lodge, named for three giant Californian redwoods planted by the property’s original owner, is part of the upscale Mount Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills but Sequoia guests will enjoy higher levels of exclusivity. The lodge has its own entrance and separate concierge team and guests can expect personalised service at Mount Lofty’s Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant, Arthur Waterhouse Lounge and Gate Keeper’s Day Spa, as well as a menu of entirely private food and wine experiences around the region.
Images credits: Isabel Darling, Aaron Citti, Scott Ehler.