Experiential travel, Australia
Get up close and personal with elephants, learn kitchen secrets from a chef, hurl yourself down a snowy mountainside, paraglide into paradise – if you're after an eye-opening, mind-expanding or pulse-quickening experience, these are the hotels for you.
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.’
Fancy swopping waves for peaks? It’s just over an hour from Port Fairy to country town Dunkeld in the Southern Grampians, backdropped by majestic mountains. Bed down at the Royal Mail Hotel & Mt Sturgeon. After hiking up view-blessed Mt Sturgeon or Mt Abrupt, retreat to the hotel’s renowned restaurant. Chef Robin Wickens helms this mod Australian eatery – reserve in advance, or dine at the relaxed Bistro.