An Australia Vacation
Three Australian cities serve as points of departure for a trio of different experiences Down Under.
In the Outback: Arkaba Station
Think Dorothy’s Kansas farmhouse blown away to the real land of Oz, complete with yellow-footed rock wallabies…and very good Cabernets.
From above, the outback of central South Australia seems to stretch forever: an ancient, rugged landscape largely unchanged since dinosaurs roamed the earth. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, in the fiery orange and gold foothills below the towering Flinders Ranges, Arkaba Station materializes: a genteel 19th-century homestead and sheep station as unexpected as it is luxurious. One of four properties in Charles Carlow’s appropriately dubbed Wild Bush Luxury portfolio, Arkaba still has the feel of a working farm—what with the cowhide rugs, burlap-wrapped night tables and sheepskin hot-water bottles—but let there be no mistaking the luxury here. “As remote as we may seem, we’re still on the doorstep to all the wonders of food and wine,” says Brendon Bevan, who manages the property with his partner, Katherine Mee, who oversees the outdoor activities. Before this, Bevan acted as a guide on private game reserves in southern Africa, and the drill here is very much based on the safari MO: You’re up early, say, 6 a.m., for a hike or four-wheel drive in a Toyota Land Cruiser with Mee; then back for a late breakfast, an afternoon of leisure and another drive in the evening before settling in for dinner. The couple’s knowledge of Aboriginal culture and wildlife—yellow-footed rock wallabies, red kangaroos, wallaroos, emus—is equally matched by their appreciation of food and wine. “Sharing this ancient part of the world and its millions of years of evolution with those who stay with us seems a privilege,” says Bevan. “But being able to do that in a luxurious fashion makes the experience all the more memorable.”
Arkaba is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Adelaide or 65 minutes by private charter with adelaidebiplanes.com.au. Rooms start at $820 a person per night for a minimum two-night stay and include all food, wine, game drives, hikes, etc.; 61-2/9571-6399; arkabastation.com.
Off the Coast: Southern Ocean Lodge
On the romantically named Kangaroo Island, a quick 30-minute flight from the mainland, this eco-minded Aussie superlodge was a singular undertaking by any standard.
The setting was, of course, spectacular on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island, Australia’s third largest, overlooking Hanson Bay. But the obstacles, like the incredible complications of designing such a place with über—and then some—eco-sensitivity, could have left other mortals in the fetal position. But James and Hayley Baillie knew—and must have truly, madly, deeply believed—that if they built it, they would come. And so they have, from day one in 2008, when construction of this resort–cum–architectural wonder of the world was completed. With a fresh, very contemporary feel by local architect Max Pritchard, “it was the perfect cocktail of all our previous experiences,” says James, who came from a background of hotels and resorts. “And since Hayley’s experience was in cruise ships, we set ‘sail,’ so to speak,” he says, “combining our joint loves of nature, design, premium lodgings and the sea.”
From the get-go, the Baillies had to prove they took the environment seriously. Not only was the property on what sometimes feels like a deserted island—the year-round population is 4,261—but with more than a third of the island declared as conservation or national park land, building a world-class resort was tricky. As part of the deal, James could develop only 1 percent of the total acreage on the wildlife-filled isle, leaving the rest in a preservation trust. But persevere they did, and the result is a perfect marriage of nature and invention: Rainwater is collected, electricity is generated on-site, and wastewater is treated by a unique organic waste-treatment system. All 21 suites are impeccably modern and connected to the lodge itself by a timber-planked walkway overlooking the bushlands and culminating in the Osprey Pavilion. Mostly local materials were used throughout, and the area’s artists and craftsmen were called upon to give the resort its very particular look and feel.
But the lodge is only the beginning: Kangaroo Island, called the Galapagos of Australia, hosts one of the most abundant displays of wildlife anywhere, from sea lions, osprey and koalas to fur seals, kangaroos and echidnas, aka spiny anteaters, all best experienced through customized excursions with the property’s guides. The dining room focuses on local farm-to-table cuisine, and according to the Baillies, their spa is unique, a combination of talented staff, made-in-Australia Li’Tya products and the power of the crisp, highly oxygenated Antarctic air from the pounding surf.
Kangaroo Island is most easily reached from Adelaide. From there it's a 30-minute flight on Regional Express. Rooms start at $2,055 for a minimum two-night stay; Hanson Bay; 61-2/9918-4355; southernoceanlodge.com.au.
In Wine Country: The Louise
Food, wine and a sense of place converge with charm and authenticity at a little hotel in the vineyards.
The Barossa, just a little over an hour’s drive from Adelaide (which is two hours on Qantas from Sydney), is at the heart of South Australia’s wine production. In fact, nearly half of the nation’s wine is made here. And though more than 90 percent of it is made by just ten companies, according to the Financial Times, the remainder belongs to some 2,300 smaller producers “who continue to embody a hands-on, accessible, unpretentious approach to winemaking—and to the presentation of their wine.” That could also quite easily describe The Louise, a charming property perfect for spending a night or two while touring the vineyards and enjoying the hospitality and tastings of nearly 100 “cellar doors” open to the thirsty and the curious—from such terrific but little-known (to Americans) vineyards as Seppeltsfield, Hentley Farm, Torbreck and Skillogalee. The hotel itself is chic and modern, offering 15 suites, each with its own patio overlooking 755 vineyards, but Appellation, its restaurant, is the star attraction. The menu varies daily: The night I was there, the specialties included a purple carrot velouté, prosciutto-wrapped snapper, cauliflower mousse with anchovies and parsley, and a spectacular risotto made with barley, local Corella pears, thyme, Adel blue and roasted hazelnuts—and with each course, a bottle from a nearby cellar door, impeccably selected by sommelier Cassaly Pihodnya.
Rooms start at $500; dinner is about $125 a person, including wine; 375 Seppeltsfield Rd., Marananga; 62-8/8562-2722; thelouise.com.au.