Smith Exclusive: Winter Escape 2018
Discover Boutique Hotels in Australia
Destinations in Australia
Centred on Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra in the ACT is the hub of Australian politics and culture, with a swathe of stately buildings, grand art galleries and a flourishing food and wine scene.
Flashy capital Sydney may take centre stage, but beyond the harbour city lie Byron Bay’s laid-back beaches, the Hunter Valley’s vineyards and Blue Mountains’ wow-worthy wildlife encounters.
Home to majestic Uluru, mesmerising Kakadu and 40,000 years worth of Aboriginal history, Northern Territory spans the rugged Red Centre, tropical Darwin and huge expanses of wild terrain.
For a taste of the tropics, dive into Queensland and its mind-blowing line-up of cosmopolitan Brisbane, mighty Great Barrier Reef, beachy keen Port Douglas and serene Scenic Rim.
Team genteel Adelaide’s galleries and food markets with a tipple-sipping road trip to the famous Barossa and Clare Valley vineyards. Wildlife-packed Kangaroo Island offers an epic coastal alternative.
With a fast-growing reputation for world-class art in capital Hobart, delicious local produce and pristine nature, Australia’s southernmost state the Apple Isle punches well above its weight.
From the caffeine-fuelled, fashionable laneways of Melbourne, sally forth to savour spa breaks in Daylesford, arty adventures in the Goldfields or beach-hopping along the Great Ocean Road.
Whale-watching and wine-quaffing wow in WA. Surfing gourmets will love Margaret River, or enjoy Southern Forests’ tall trees, the Kimberley’s desertscapes and Ningaloo Reef’s subaqua thrills.
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.’
Drive from Brisbane to Sydney, breaking for two nights at romantic Victoria’s at Wategos in bohemian Byron Bay (two hours to the south). Swim or surf at curvy Wategos or Little Wategos beaches, where you’ll compete with dolphins for the breaks. Enjoy ocean and bush views on the four-kilometre circuit walk around the Cape Byron Lighthouse, stopping off for coffee at Byron Beach Café on Clarkes Beach. Byron’s Julian Rocks Marine Reserve is great for snorkelling or diving with turtles and manta rays. Just over eight hours of driving brings you to New South Wales’ Central Coast, where boutique hotel Bells at Killcare combines delicious Italian dining, care of chef Stefano Manfredi, with serene seaside strolls. From there, it’s just an hour and a half on to Sydney.
Hire a car and explore the Macedon Ranges, an hour north of Melbourne – or go the whole Charley hog and cruise the region by motorbike. You can pick up a bike from Compass Expeditions. The hilly, gumtree-dotted land is beautiful, with the chance of bird, possum and kangaroo sightings. You’ll also find niche, cold-climate wineries and foodie pit stops along the way. Former goldrush supply town Kyneton has become a gourmet destination, so base yourself here at Mollisons, a stylish boutique hotel set in an old bank. Nearby Piper Street boasts note-worthy Annie Smithers’ Bistro and paddock-to-plate dining at the Royal George Hotel. Enjoy a half-day hike up Hanging Rock, the location for spooky novel and film Picnic at Hanging Rock; you can also catch a horse race at the country course below or visit Hanging Rock Winery. Kyneton’s Adventure Flights Unlimited can get you airborne in an ex-Russian Air Force Yak52 – choose a flight from Mild to Wild! For something more slow-paced, saddle up for a horseriding tour with Hepburn Lagoon Trail Rides, near spa-toting Daylesford.
Got an extra week? Tack on Charley’s road trip to Tasmania – car ferry the Spirit of Tasmania departs from Melbourne harbour.
Wrap up in Adelaide, South Australia’s arty, wine-quaffing capital. For natural highs, Temptation Sailing at Glenelg Beach can take you swimming with dolphins. Adelaide Zoo is home to Australia’s only giant pandas Wang Wang and Funi, as well as native mammals and reptiles. Clarion Hotel Soho makes a slick base; Emirates will fly you home to the UK.