On a remote bend of the Hawkesbury River, Marramarra Lodge’s luxury tents and bungalows exist in a perfect wilderness of native Australian bush, where days are spent in horizontal bliss at the Iyora spa, gorging on the restaurant’s gourmet tucker, or coming over all David Attenborough on a kookaburra- and cockatoo-spotting bush walk around the grounds, where you’ll also encounter indigenous rock carvings, ancient Wollemi pine trees and elevated views across the river to Bar Island. You needn’t exert yourself to make the best of the scenery though; you’d do just as well to order an Australian chardonnay, pull up a chair by the firepit and watch the sunset over the river.
14, including five Hawkesbury Bungalows, eight Peninsula Tents and a Bay Bungalow, accommodating a maximum of 28 guests in the resort at any one time.
10am. Earliest check-in is at 2pm.
Double rooms from £817.73 (AU$1,495), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates include a la carte meals: breakfast, two-course lunch and a tasting menu every evening. Drinks are also included, as well as boat transfers, a river cruise and various other activities.
This is indigenous Dharug country, where rock carvings and other archaeological discoveries abound. Indiana Jones types can take a kayak over to Bar Island, home to an Aboriginal shell midden, as well as a cemetery and ruined church dating to the colonial era.
At the hotel
Spa and outdoor pool, restaurant, bar, free WiFi (though expect a patchy connection). In rooms: terrace, minibar, Sodashi bathroom products.
Our favourite rooms
It’s not easy to play favourites with the accommodation at Marramarra Lodge. If riverside safari-chic is your thing you might prefer the Peninsula Tent option, where the canvas covering provides a slightly more authentic wilderness experience to the more solid wooden bungalows. In either case, you’ll get bags of space, a huge open terrace with sweeping river views, and the kind of luxe interior furnishings that would make many 5-star city hotels blush.
There’s a small-but-perfectly-formed pool sunk into the lounger-dotted decking high on the hill by the main house, from where the river views are some of the best on site.
Iyora Day Spa uses premium Australian-made Sodashi products to spoil guests. There’s a three-hour package that includes (deep breath) an aromatherapy massage, a body polish, a facial and a hot-stone foot massage. Shorter, less life-changing experiences are also available.
You’re a 15-minute boat ride from civilisation here, so nipping out to buy the flip-flops you forgot is a no-no. Sturdier walking shoes are also recommended for exploring the bush trails, as well as a decent pair of binoculars for eyeballing the swooping pelicans and passing fishing boats. And don’t forget your mozzie repellant: bare legs and balmy evenings on the terrace may otherwise lead to packer’s regret.
The resort is adults-only, but teens aged 16+ can stay with an adult.
That it can only be accessed by boat may give you some idea of this barefoot resort’s eco credentials. This is a place where traditional jet-powered Aussie watersports are eschewed in favour of more meditative pursuits: think fishing, yoga, mahjong and gentle sightseeing river cruises. The large luxury lodges and tents are constructed from locally sourced timber and river stone – the better to blend with the native bushland that overlooks this stretch of the Hawkesbury River. The use of reverse-cycle air conditioning is also an efficient method of keeping summer evenings cool and winter nights toasty.
You’d be hard-pushed to find a bad view anywhere in the resort, let alone in a restaurant deliberately situated to make the best of the river views. But, naturally, try to nab the table closest to the windows if you can.
Come comfortable and loose for those tasting menus.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in Budyari, which translates as ‘good’ and ‘well’ in the local Dharug dialect. No danger of a bushtucker trial here, then. The restaurant’s minimalist style – all wooden floors, exposed beams and bare walls – allows the food and the views to do the talking. Chef John Lyons conjures a daily-changing tasting menu using the finest local produce: expect toothfish with confit fennel and salsa verde; quail with fig and prosciutto; and duck with Jerusalem artichoke, wild mushrooms and broccolini. Each dish is washed down with carefully paired old world and Australian wines, such as the intensely fruity Dalrymple pinot noir from Pipers River in Tasmania. There are six courses to get through at dinner so you may want to consider bypassing the late-afternoon snacks.
Breakfast is served in Budyari from 8am to 9.30am.
No room service as such but snacks are available in your room's inclusive minibar.
4 Fishermans Point, Berowra Waters NSW 2083, Australia
There is no road to Marramarra Lodge, which is reached by boat or seaplane in secluded native bushland at Fisherman’s Point, on the banks of the Hawkesbury River.
Arriving by air is the quickest and arguably most scenic way to get here, and has the added bonus of letting you live out your best Bond-villain fantasy. After all, you only live once. Or should that be twice? Seaplane charters to the lodge’s private jetty take 15-25 minutes from Sydney Harbour, Rose Bay and Palm Beach.
Regular services out of Sydney reach Hawkesbury River Station in around an hour. The lodge’s free boat will pick you up here, at Brooklyn Wharf, for the short trip to the lodge. Or take a cab from the station to Mooney Mooney, from where the pick-up service also operates.
It’s a 45-minute whizz up the freeway from Sydney to the riverboat pick-up at Mooney Mooney wharf. You can park your car for free here.
Make like a celeb and arrive by helicopter from Bankstown or Sydney Airport. A nerve-steadying drink awaits as you wobble your way – as elegantly as possible, of course – off the helipad.
Worth getting out of bed for
No-one will think any less of you if you take the entirely understandable decision to spend the duration of your stay lounging on your balcony, watching fishing boats bob lazily downriver. But that would be to miss out on the many activities included in your room rate, among which: a decadent cruise on the Hawkesbury with oysters and bubbly; sunset paddleboarding; morning yoga classes. None of which sound overly taxing, right?
Boats are also available to hire from AU$75 per hour, meaning you can don your sailor’s hat and captain your own vessel along the winding river, pausing to picnic on tiny, secluded beaches, and fishing for tiddlers from on deck. Hunters of more sizeable game like bream and yellowtail kingfish are going to need a bigger boat: guided fishing charters can also be booked from AU$350 per half day, including lunch.
Swirl, sniff and sip until your legs give way in the vineyards of Pepper Tree Wines, an award-winning Hunter Valley producer of sumptuous shiraz and chardonnays. The AU$750 wine-tasting experience includes a three-course lunch (and yet more wine) beneath grand wooden beams in the historic Circa 1876 restaurant.
Budyari’s imaginative and daily changing menu really does make excursions to other restaurants an unnecessary exertion. That said, Marramarra Lodge’s ever-helpful staff will happily rev up the boat’s engines and ferry you to/from nearby Peats Bite (AU$50 per room, each way) and Berowra Waters Inn (AU$200 per room, each way).
Peats Bite, punningly named for its Peats Bight location, is a short hop across the river. The ethos here is that fine food and wine should be savoured slowly and in good company. So settle in for the duration: like all the best lunches, the set menu is designed to be enjoyed over a languid four hours. The menu changes with the seasons, but expect the likes of scallop ceviche and fillet steak paired with cocktails and regional wines. You’re welcome to have a dip in the pool here, too.
Set among verdant eucalyptus and angophora trees right on the riverbank at Berowra Creek, Berowra Waters Inn has been described by its architect as a ‘veranda by the water’. Ask for a window table: you’ll have the feeling of floating above the water as you devour crab custard and miso, scallop with horseradish and mushroom, and kangaroo pastrami on rye.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this laidback riverside resort an hour from Sydney, Instagrammed their dinner pics and shown off their new oyster-shucking skills, a full account of their barefoot bush break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Marramarra Lodge at Fisherman’s Point…
Marramarra Lodge provides all the evidence required that achieving oneness with nature needn’t mean losing a fight to your pop-up tent and being outsmarted by a can of baked beans. This is the territory of the Dharug people, where intrepid visitors can go bush foraging in the Marramarra National Park with an elder, who will identify local bush tucker, Aboriginal middens and rock carvings, as well as sharing songs and yarns of yore.
Back at the resort, your private deck opens onto widescreen views of the surrounding bushland and meandering river; your quiet contemplation interrupted only by the chirruping cicadas, a fishing boat chugging gently downriver, or a pelican dive-bombing in search of its supper.