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From the blog
Tales from our travels
Ease into the end of your ideal holiday in the rolling Barossa Valley, a patchwork of hillsides with more than 80 vineyards, producing mostly robust reds. A distinct local foodie culture has also evolved with cool cafés and sexy restaurants extolling regional fare. Settle in on a vine-lined hillside at The Louise, an exquisite, contemporary boutique hotel featuring 15 architecturally inspired suites in seductive mod tones, each with superb ensuites with spa tubs, an outdoor shower for star-lit shampooing and a private terrace. The facilities are state-of-the-art and the restaurant is truly outstanding. But, you’ve got reds to sample, and your Mr & Mrs Smith planner will help organize only top-flight private tours, tastings and meet-ups with influential winemakers at wineries like Charles Melton and Two Hands. Cheers to that…
My wife, Sarah, organised a surprise 60th birthday party at a friend’s farm overlooking the sea near Mollymook. One of my sons, Jack, turned up from the UK and Mark, a chef from our restaurant Bannisters, did the food, unbeknown to me. It was a lovely mix of barbecued beef and lamb chops, snapper with harissa, warm potatoes with chives and mayo, and a fabulous salad of tomato, prosciutto, pear and creamy goat’s cheese. We followed it up with passion fruit pavlovas and vintage champagne, Ten Minutes by Tractor chardonnay and even some old red Burgundy.
British adventurer and motorbike fanatic Charley Boorman has travelled the world by bike, boat, train, elephant and everything in between. His adrenaline-fuelled travel documentaries – including Long Way Round and Long Way Down with actor pal Ewan McGregor, Race to Dakar and By Any Means – have proved a huge hit. A veteran of Australia’s outback and adventure thrills, Charley shares his travel tips…
I’ve seen many extraordinary wonders, but I was still bowled over by just how big the Outback is! It’s when you’re lying in your swag looking up that it hits you – the most amazing night sky ever and there you are, just a speck surrounded by this magical environment. I was reading a fascinating book about little known Australian adventurer Frank Birtles, who cycled alone across Australia in the 1900s. It made me feel so humble thinking about the challenges he must have faced on his many Outback forays, as I perused his story in comfort on my iPad…
For a touch of the extraordinary explore the Kimberley, a land of epic gorges, secret waterholes and ages-old Aboriginal rock art sites. El Questro Homestead offers a design-sleek retreat in a million acres of Outback wilderness, with expert guides to whisk you away on walks, swims in thermal springs and picnics by waterfalls (closed 1 November to 31 March during the hot, wet season). From Broome, fly to Kununurra (one hour 20 minutes), then it’s a two-and-a-half hours’ drive from El Questro (transfers available). Alternatively, for the intrepid, it’s either an 11-hour or 23-hour drive east to the hotel, depending on your route. Barramundi fishing, horse-riding and helicopter flights over the hive-like Bungle Bungles await, plus indigenous art galleries in Kununurra. If you’ve got more time, Willis’s Walkabouts offers treks in the remoter areas of the Kimberley, including Drysdale River National Park to see large numbers of Bradshaws, or Aboriginal rock paintings.
My experience with Tasmanian devils was my most bizarre. Having baited the lawn outside my lodge in Narawntapu with a road-killed roo, I waited silently in the bushes in the dark. The sound of the approaching devils, crashing through the undergrowth and growling and squabbling, was terrifying. I could see where they were by the way the foliage thrashed about. When they finally bundled out onto the lawn and started tucking in, I was both thrilled and relieved!
A close second was diving with leafy sea dragons – nothing will beat that first encounter in the water off South Australia. No fish is so bizarrely beautiful and we found them in water only a few metres deep near Normanville on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
With mellow vineyards and beaches, the Mornington Peninsula is the ultimate escape an hour’s drive from Phillip Island. With its Bush, Beach and African boudoirs, Big Blue Backyard makes a boho base, dishing up delicious breakfasts and candlelit dinners. Savour a soak at Peninsula Hot Springs, unwind on nearby St Andrews Beach or check out bayside villages Portsea or Sorrento. For alfresco sculpture and tasty winery meals, head to Montalto Vineyard & Olive Grove. Merricks General Store bistro has an inviting Hamptons-esque vibe.
Board the Searoad car ferry at Sorrento Pier on the Mornington Peninsula for the 40-minute voyage across Port Phillip Bay to Queenscliff. Once there, Phil Spencer recommends ‘checking out the surfing Meccas of Torquay and Bells Beach.’ Bells is home to Easter’s iconic Rip Curl Pro competition, but you can watch surfers here any day. ‘From Bells, the drive to Lorne is simply breathtaking, as around every bend there are amazing views of pristine beaches and stunning cliffs,’ says Phil. Turn in at Grey River Road, in Kennett River, to see koalas snoozing in the gum trees; to enjoy aerial views yourself, hightail it to Otway Fly Treetop Adventures, which boasts ‘uplifting’ canopy walks and zip line thrills.
Driving the Great Ocean Road takes about five hours, but rather than rushing it stop off along the way. Cape Otway’s Great Ocean Ecolodge offers guided walks at twilight to spy wild kangaroos and koalas, and whips up hearty meals with homegrown produce. Fancy self-catering? Rustic Allenvale at Lorne is a good bet for night one; for a second night, Smith recommends designer den Moonlight Escape near surf-lashed Johanna Beach or Anchors’ contemporary cabins at Port Campbell, ideal for viewing the jaw-dropping 12 Apostles offshore rock stacks at sunrise or sunset and dramatic Loch Ard Gorge. Handy pit stops include the Bottle of Milk at Lorne, the Wye General Store at Wye River and Wickens Provedore at Apollo Bay. ‘Port Fairy is a charming fishing village just past Warrnambool,’ adds Phil. ‘It has a great little beach, café culture and laid-back vibe, as well as a fantastic folk festival in March. Call in at Basalt Wines in Killarney en route.’
Known for its sporting passion, cultural edge and cool take on music, fashion and food, Victoria’s capital is Australia’s most liveable city. And, The Prince Hotel, in the bohemian St Kilda district, is a flattering reflection of its locale – particularly Room 413, featuring an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair, a Philippe Starck tub and private balcony. The cityscape is a quirky clash of elegant Victorian houses, skyscrapers and gardens, along with hidden laneways brimming with hip bars, graffiti-strewn galleries and high fashion stores. Tap into Melbourne’s creative underground with private tours of speciality boutiques and local designers, or follow a bespoke map to of-the-moment restaurants and cellars, one quaff at a time. Both strolls offer a must-see peek of this cool, cosmopolitan city.
Leave the cultured crowds behind for the native wildlife of the Freycinet Peninsula (pronounced Fray-sin-aye), which rises from Tasmania's low east-coast hills like the arching spine of a whale. This is the go-to destination for pristine shores, crowd-free trekking and seafood to savour. Make camp at Saffire, a jaw-dropping, stingray-shaped sanctuary that embraces the landscape and encourages you to chill out in style. The spacious suites make the most of the cobalt blue sea views, and just try to resist the seductive spa. It will be tough to pull yourself away from your private balcony, but do wander this rich landscape on Mr & Mrs Smith-arranged explorations. Discover deserted islands (have your camera ready for fur seal, albatross, penguin, dolphin and whale sightings), wild brush lands and secluded beaches on a signature Schouten Island experience. Venture out on a nocturnal wildlife safari in the woods followed by star-spotting as you cosy up by the campfire. If only all days could end that way…