We’re plummeting through a vertiginously kaleidoscopic, William Robinson-esque landscape of eucalypts and wattles, sheared-off sandstone and coiling road that soon crumbles into a dirt track. Down, down, deeper and into the valley of Wolgan we plunge. It’s not so much the middle of nowhere as the bottom of nowhere: silent, still, alive with heat and intrigue (you can almost hear the eerie pan pipes in the crevices). The ridges! The ravines! Bloody hell, the epic magnitude of the valley beggars belief – just seeing it and being in it is worth the three-hour drive out of Sydney. And we aren’t even at the resort yet…
Sublime nature or the lap of luxury? From the moment we are met at the guest car park on the outskirts of the resort, it’s clear that we’re in the hands of experienced dilemma wranglers. Navigating the twin distractions of this eco-friendly heritage haven should prove as smooth as the five-minute transfer to the resort itself. The staff member who drives us is full of enthusiasm for the landscape and the way Wolgan embraces it. The 4WD, an air-conditioned sofa of a car, adds its own cool hug.
At reception, we sign in over a glass of locally produced sparkling wine, and get a brief round-up of the resort’s charms. To be frank, we are lap-of-luxury hounds, so our major concern is, ‘Where’s the spa?’ The acutely attuned staff whisk us over to the handsomely appointed Timeless Spa before we can even get tetchy. Then, for our sins, we submit ourselves to four hours of hellishly relaxing treatments in a room for two overlooking the rolling river flats and shadowed by the 100-million-year-old sandstone cliffs of the valley.
Soothed by our excellently executed therapies, we walk to the homestead where dinner awaits us. En route we pause to look around with reviewers’ eyes and contemplate the architecture. If one was forced to quibble, one might observe that the 40 standalone suites (each very lovely and well designed in itself) share an uncanny sameness, like the creepy future suburbs of our collective nightmare. But the magnificent main dining room and fantastic 28,000-course meal with matching local wines completely blows away that tiny gripe.
After drifting off in the three-bedroom Wolgan Suite, the next morning is a surprise indeed – mist lies thick along the valley floor, deeper than the sleep of babes from which we have surfaced. Breakfast is delayed for our activities of choice; the Mrs saddles up for a horse trail-ride and the Mr opts for a mountain-bike ride. Straight up, Wolgan’s field guides are the best, masters of revealing the marvels and mysteries of nature. Me and my guide hoot like 16-year-olds as we barrel along the paths then wait, quiet as suede, as we watch life shimmer into being at the platypus deck (one of the most astonishing spots on this 4,000-acre block of wonders). The horse ride transports Mrs Smith back to the time before machines and we are both left revived back in the present day, unwinding over a good breakfast coffee as the day burns the last of the mist out of the valley. Not for long though, as we ready ourselves for the arrival of… the kids.
Yep, we had one short but sweet night to ourselves before our three little ones descended upon us and indeed upon the whole of Wolgan. Luckily, the hotel management can organise pick-ups in and out of the valley without a fuss, so they’re bringing them in an hour. We worry: like most boys they are loud, noisy and smelly – essentially stomping, shouting, anti-spa machines, determined to stamp out quiet and relaxation wherever they find it. How will this upscale boutique resort cope?
As it turns out, the amazing staff, armed with a kid-friendly activities plan spanning bush craft and kite flying, can handle children beautifully and keep them (and us) occupied, alert and alive to possibility. In this playful wilderness, there is much to share across the generations: archery, horse riding, wildlife safaris and a most spectacular swimming pool. We end our day with a private barbecue set up for us on the deck of our stylishly furnished home-away-from-home. With the sun well behind the valley walls, the kids get a little bit of screen time before they collapse into their luxuriously soft beds, and in the silence, we snatch a couple of hours of wine and stars – all from the toasty 28ºC comfort of our private indoor-outdoor pool (every villa has one).
On our final morning we wander down to the Heritage Homestead – a meticulously restored original 1832 house built on the block by squatters who claimed the land for their sheep. The rooms are fascinating, each filled with the paraphernalia of farm life, as are the art works by the Wiradjuri people, the local indigenous mob whose animal totem is the platypus. There must have been many platypuses in the river back then (which says something about the valley’s seclusion and solitude) because Charles Darwin actually visited this very spot in 1836 to get a close look at one.
I know it’s a cliché, but this really is a place to return to time and again over one’s (hopefully long) life, be it for romance, adventure, culture, solitude or fitness. For one thing, it’s good for you – the activities keep you busy all day, plus there’s a smart gym. For another, the delicious food is light, fresh and wonderful. What can we say? Beautiful, and brainy, too – the world’s first carbon-zero resort, which loses nothing to hair-shirtery and gains everything in a real and profound engagement with its environment. And did we mention the staff? Going above and beyond the call of duty, they’re a great team full of personality and passion for their secret inland island. Endings are always sad, and parting is such sweet sorrow – but this was never truer than parting company with Wolgan.