Take a breather from the daily grind and recharge at a luxury lodge in NSW. More intimate – and exclusive – than a hotel, these three retreats each offer their own distinctive luxury experience. At Marramarra Lodge, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, that means a secluded glamping or bungalow stay and a fine-dining restaurant. At Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley, a helicopter ride over the misty Blue Mountains will deliver you to your room. And at Spicer’s newest offering in the Hunter Valley, Spicers Tower Lodge, you can drink in views of the rolling vineyards from your outdoor hot tub. It’s time to stretch out and inhale some pristine country air – and all the extravagances these premium lodges have to offer.
This is the weekend getaway Sydneysiders have been waiting for – an adults-only luxury lodge on the Hawkesbury River within easy driving distance of the city.
The gentle Hawkesbury River stretches for about 120 kilometres from its origins near Penrith to its mouth at Broken Bay. But today, as I balance on a stand-up paddleboard and dip my oar in and out of its waters off the secluded peninsula that is Fishermans Point, it seems I have the place to myself. That is, 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 from central Sydney to Marramarra Lodge 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 stay, which opened in mid-2020. Accessible only by boat, the site 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 roughing-it-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; if you want the best vantage points for sunsets, request the Wirriga tent.)
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 executive chef Jerome Tremoulet has prepared a selection of breakfast options that include house-baked pastries and fruit. Lunch is light and can be served to you at the pool. For those keen to go exploring or fishing, picnic hampers are available upon request. The crescendo is dinner, an ever-changing tasting menu that makes a star of local, seasonal ingredients, paired with Australian and international wines.
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 Dharug people, who used it as a meeting ground, as well as the remains of European settlers’ graves from the 19th century. 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. I opt to take my cue from the lazy pace of the river and do little more than eat, snooze and read. Prince Charles wouldn’t recognise the place from its earlier incarnation but I suspect he’d like it an awful lot more.
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is a little under three hours north-west of Sydney, snuggled between Wollemi National Park and the Gardens of Stone National Park. Awarded the Regional Deluxe Hotel of the Year in July, it’s designed to cater to your every bushland fantasy. Not convinced? You can book a private helicopter flight that will transport you – via the breathtaking Blue Mountains – from Sydney’s CBD directly to your villa in less than 45 minutes, as though you’ve been dropped straight into an Arthur Streeton painting.
Admire the magnificent scenery from your own private pool, heated to your desired temperature, before padding over to the One&Only’s Country Kitchen for a snack or a meal, prepared using ingredients plucked straight from the resort’s own garden. Surrender to a massage or beauty treatment at the spa before supping on the finest dishes, dominated by Australian ingredients, at Wolgan by Bentley’s restaurant in the main homestead – think Cone Bay barramundi with brussel sprouts and ham hock broth or Rangers Valley sirloin with roasted parsnips. After dinner, relax into a rocker on your enclosed veranda, a glass of full-bodied red in hand, the double-sided stone fireplace crackling inside, and focus on your only task – looking up, beyond the mountains, to the night sky, bright and milky and twinkling with stars.
Spicers Tower Lodge
Spicers Tower Lodge, which opened in July, is the third in an elegant line of Spicers luxury stays in the Hunter Valley, and this one is inspired by the architecture, design and cuisine of Basque Country in northern Spain. Each of the 14 unique suites has high ceilings, a king bed and a secluded courtyard, while some come with a fireplace and a hot tub from which to survey rolling vineyards. Dine at Sebastian and you’ll be treated to a six-course tasting menu that makes a star of Basque flavours and techniques – in particular, the tapas-like tradition of txikiteo (pronounced chee-keey-tay-o). Recently, guests have enjoyed the likes of poached WA marron with scallop, herb omelette and pickled onions, and grilled venison backstrap served with rye-burnt leeks, black barley and fresh figs. The expansive cellar is packed with Australian, French and Spanish wines to accompany your food. There’s croquet and frisbee golf to play on the property, or book a hot air balloon ride for an unforgettable flight across the green and pleasant valley, bubbly in hand, at sunrise. Is there any better way to drink in the splendour of Australia’s oldest wine region?