Whether it’s to celebrate a momentous date, a honeymoon or make up after a lovers’ tiff, AT uncovers Australia’s most romantic secret getaways. By Dorian Mode
You’ve really gone and done it haven’t you? You’ve screwed up big time. One too many schooners at the pub. One too many mother-in-law jokes. One too many anniversaries forgotten. You’re a slob. An oaf. A buffoon. And you’re about to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to you. She’s planning a move even as you read this. Soon she’ll be alongside some rich, new-agey, sports-car-driving millionaire with thicker hair, a flatter stomach and a truckload more sensitivity. Worried? You should be.
Okay, here’s what you do: go to the bank, draw out the last of the cash you’ve been saving for those golf clubs you don’t need, and treat your partner to the absolute weekend of her life. A weekend so special that when you stuff up again – and you will – she’ll flick through the sun-marked, curling photos of said weekend and think: “I guess he’s not all bad.”
Got your pen handy? Because AT is going to whisper seven special nationwide names and you are going to pick one and get cracking. Each of these has been democratically extracted under torture from select people in the tourism industry (who wish to remain nameless) in order to save your relationship. So I hope you appreciate this. Okay. Here we go . . .
Kims Beach Hideaway, Central Coast, NSW// Where does a Rolling Stone spend a romantic holiday while avoiding the long lens of the paparazzi? Kims, of course! Ronnie Wood was so bowled over by the place on a recent stay he was heard calling Mick on his mobile over a king-sized breakfast in the five-star restaurant, saying that Kims was the best-kept secret in the world. And, what’s more, there are no coconut palms for Keith to fall from and hurt himself.
As the name suggests, this family run business do “romantic hideaway” like few others, simply because they’ve been doing it successfully for well over a century. Established in 1886, the stunning retreat comprises of 28 luxury private bungalows nestled among stately century-old Norfolk Pines, lush palms and sweetly scented hibiscus trees. If your goal is to impress your partner with exclusivity, Kims is the kind of place where you need to wear a tie just to make a phone reservation. That’s why so many A-list celebrities choose to stay there and why plebs like you and me never hear about it. No-one pesters you at Kims. Discretion is de rigueur. And, like a lot of these romantic picks, Kims has a generous staff-to-guest ratio so as to ensure your whims aren’t left unattended.
Situated on a smile of beach on Toowoon Bay on the NSW Central Coast, a weekend at Kims means you virtually have your own private promenade – and only a shell’s throw from Sydney. Be creative. Overnight you can find a piece of driftwood and write SORRY in the sand before gingerly showing your partner in the morning as you step from your luxury cabin and directly onto a ribbon of sand. Over breakfast you can plead with her, then grovel all through lunch. You’ll state your case over pre-dinner cocktails before the open log fire where a first-class jazz pianist will create a romantic ambience so that by dinner all will be forgiven, as the Kims fare, like the wine list, is world class.
The following day, go snorkelling in the bay, fishing, windsurfing or simply laze by the pool. The Coast also offers myriad beaches, cafés and romantic holiday activities. So whatever activity you choose, after Kims, your relationship will be back on track.
Ideal if // Your partner is a beachy person, likes privacy but is seduced by the gentle sound of the sea.
Wallet pain // From $238 per person to $800.
Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // Less than 2hrs from Sydney.
Contact // (02) 4332 1566, www.kims.com.au
The Lake House, Daylesford, Victoria// The Lake House began life as a 40-seater weekend-only restaurant until the owners, Alla and Allan Wolf-Tasker,discovered diners loved it so much they had trouble getting them to leave. So, rather than call the police, they built a boutique hotel (complete with Salus Day Spa) and scooped a trophy cabinet full of awards for their efforts.
The Lake House is considered by those in the know to be one of the country’s best hideaway retreats. Alla is head chef, while Allan is managing director – no doubt making phone messages a bloody nightmare – so, like the aforementioned Kims, it’s a family-run affair with an attention to detail not found in the bigger hotel chains. And, also like Kims, they vigorously guard the privacy of their guests.
The hotel’s setting is right out of a Jane Austen novel, so if your gal likes European elegance and old-world romance, this is the retreat for her. Sip champagne on the sun-drenched terraces overlooking stately Lake Daylesford before a degustation dinner (bits of your meal at a time) in the multi-hatted restaurant. Transform into Mr Darcy and elegantly read a book under the birch trees or stroll hand-in-hand with your lady offering her bon mots and dry witticisms in the splendid gardens before you tuck into a plate of regional cheeses, devouring the lot, belching, and resorting to type. For a really flashy night, book the candlelit cellar dinning room or have your meal on the secluded lagoon deck. Sure to impress.
Ideal if // Your partner likes spa treatments, exclusivity, fine dining and an Anglo Lake District-style charm.
Wallet pain // Rooms from $288 to $604 per couple per night includes breakfast.
Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // Around 1.5hr from Melbourne.
Contact // (03) 5348 3329, www.lakehouse.com.au
Avalon, Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania// According to Arthurian legend, Avalon (from the Celtic abal, meaning apple) is the mystical island of apples where King Arthur was taken to recover from mead hangovers. What an apt name for this little slice of romantic paradise.
Situated on the breathtaking Freycinet Peninsula, Avalon is virtually a one-couple retreat – two at best – that’s perfect for lighting a log fire and drinking a glass of selected Tassie wine while watching the twitching stars or the moon bellying over the treetops.
For something different, the evening wildlife observation tour at Freycinet National Park is great for spying possums, wallabies, quolls or the famous Tassie Devils. Or you can simply wander down to the deserted beach and watch the dawn together barefoot and fancy-free. You could go fishing, collect shells or trace the old convict road, absorbing the rich colonial history of the place. Or you could head to Kate’s Berry Farm and sample her famous jams and ice-cream or dine in the many restaurants in nearby Swansea (The Ugly Duck Out, Makepeace, Kabuki Japanese). Or nip out for coffee and think all things Paris at the Left Bank Café after cooking your own meal using Avalon’s “Wursthaus” gourmet mini bar provisions: juicy eye fillet steak, game keepers sausages, chicken bocconcini, cheeses, olives, crusty bread, soup, all prepared for you. Avalon is the quintessence of Tasmania and its famous secluded wilderness experience is a weekend not easily forgotten.
Ideal if // Your partner likes secluded wilderness, cosy fires, empty beaches, wildlife and convict history.
Wallet pain // Weekend from $770 per night, midweek from $660 per night. Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // About a 90min drive northeast of Old Hobart Town.
Contact // 1300 361 136, www.avaloncoastalretreat.com.au
Songbirds Gold Coast, Qld// Queensland was hard. Bloody hard. It’s so big. In a fair and just world, where Dicko is placed in stocks in a public place and pelted with rotten avocados and Kyle ritually disembowelled to the strains of Shannon Noll, Lizard Island would get a gong. So too Orpheus and Double Islands. Let’s face it; the old land of Queens has so many stunning resorts it makes a grown travel writer cry. But I wanted something cosy, private, secluded and ideally drivable from your downtown capital city. A secret spot. And while Peppers Spicer’s Peak Lodge – just outside Brizzy – nearly got the guernsey, it narrowly lost to the secluded magic that is Songbirds.
Now, I must confess that I loathe the Gold Coast. For me (not the editor’s opinion but entirely my own) it represents everything crass and lowbrow in our world – but hey, the kids love it: Movie World, Sea World, White Shoe World. But what they don’t tell you about the Gold Coast is that the Hinterland is unbelievably spectacular and a welcome respite from all things development, brown paper bags filled with cash and crematorium-tanned meter maids.
Take a lazy drive from Surfers or Brisneyland and up into the cool air of Mount Tamborine and you’ll find Songbirds waiting for you. You may have observed from the content of this piece that I favour cosy retreats that offer day spas and treatments for your gal. Why? Because it puts them in such a grand old mood. Let me tell you, they come out of those spa treatments floating on gossamer wings. Perfect timing for that chat about the golf clubs.
They do all the romantic thinking for you at Songbirds because they know it’s not your strong point. They’ll organise picnic baskets for one of their many secluded spots on the 52-acre property, organise yoga and mediation classes (and no, you can’t smoke while meditating) or simply jump in the car and take a walk hand-in-hand down the strip of nearby wineries, gift-shops and art galleries and experience some of that famous mountain hospitality.
Songbirds is also situated beside some of the most gorgeous bushwalking tracks on earth, which they’ll kindly direct you to on arrival. Or, as the name suggests, simply flop on a lounge with a book and listen to the sonata of the birds. It’s the perfect romantic escape.
Ideal if // Your partner likes secluded rainforest ambience, a touch of the orient, tropical wildlife and Zen tranquillity.
Wallet pain // $398 per couple includes meal in restaurant. Flashiest suites from $880.
Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // About 30min from the Gold Coast or 45 mins from Brizzy.
Contact // (07) 5545 2563, www.songbirds.com.au
Seppeltsfield Vineyard Cottage, Seppeltsfield, SA// When I think of a romantic getaway in South Australia I automatically think, “wine country”. And Seppeltsfield Vineyard Cottage is a meticulously restored 1860s German-style cottage that doesn’t disappoint. It’s in a breathtaking vineyard setting and is exclusively for one couple, so it’s ideal for clearing the air with furious shouting, blaming and guilt trips followed by loud making up, with long soaks afterwards in the antique claw bath with views of the vineyard.
Open fires, king-sized cast iron bed and double shower, warm towels and under-floor heating in all tiled areas add to the cosy luxury. And the extensive lawns and gardens make this retreat a jewel of South Australia. Or why not simply experience the food, wine and hospitality of the Barossa Valley? There are a loads of nice things to do: winery tours, visit the Apex bakery with their wood-fired oven and old recipes or sample handcrafted lagers and ales at the Barossa Brewing Company, or simply abandon the gourmet BBQ pack at the cottage for some of the aforementioned splendid restaurants of the region, with their world-class wines and cuisine. Whatever you choose to do, this one-couple cottage could be the turning point in your relationship.
Ideal if // Your partner is a lover of fine wines or a foodie or you simply like total seclusion.
Wallet pain // $310 per couple per night.
Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // Only one hour from Adelaide.
Contact // (03) 8563 4059, www.seppeltsfieldvineyardcottage.com.au
Peppers Seven Spirit Bay, Arnhem Land, NT// For this special romantic getaway you’ll need to hop on a plane for 45 minutes. Sorry, pal, that’s just the way it is. At least you don’t have to drive. However, it’ll be worth it as you serenely bank over Arnhem Land’s Cobourg Peninsula to land at your secret hideaway weekend.
Peppers Seven Spirit Bay is your genuine NT experience but with lashings of luxury – just the way I like to rough it, in fact. Situated on a tapestry of sandy beaches, open woodlands and coral reefs, the retreat is hidden in a thick rainforest perched on the edge of the Arafura Sea in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.
Your digs are situated among – in the parlance of Seven Spirit Bay – 23 habitats, including three Bay View habitats where guests are privately lodged; ideal for romantic seclusion. In its lush wilderness setting, her fury will be tempered by gentle sea breezes and the sweet scents of the rainforest.
And we love those spas! Treat your gal to the Wellbeing Habitat where she can select from a menu of relaxing massages and treatments while you go and experience some of the best damn fishing of your life because that little piscatorial nook of the world is fat with fish, my friend – fat with fish!
Or for 60 bucks opt for the Stargazing Experience where, in a purpose-built star-arena, an amateur astronomer will stick you with a glass of port or liqueur and talk you through the constellations and unravel the southern hemisphere night sky. Find your star-sign, pick out the planets and learn something about those mystical orbs above.
Alternatively, you could fork out for the Champagne Sunset Wildlife Safari where you’ll be four-wheel-driven to Vashon Head – a low sandy point that pokes out into the Arafura Sea. Your guide will find the waterholes that attract the wildlife who are all gasping by day’s end in the sweaty NT. After your close up nature experience, you’ll then be driven to watch the sunset over a sleepy lagoon famous for its multitude of marine life as you suck on the bubbly and look into each other’s eyes as she forgives you for that broom you bought your mother-in-law for Christmas with the words “Free Parking” etched into the handle.
Ideal if // Your partner is a safari type adventure woman who likes crocs and barramundi with her strawberry daiquiris.
Wallet pain // About $1385 to $1505 for twin for two nights and two days. Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // 45min flight from Darwin.
Contact // (08) 8979 0281, www.peppers.com.au/seven-spirit-bay
Empire Retreat, Yallingup, WA// At last we come to the West. Like Queensland, WA was tricky. Let’s face it, Broome is spectacular. So too the Kimberleys. But those aren’t exactly a lazy drive away from Perth. This was a major consideration in order for you to slip away for a quiet weekend and rekindle the romance. So, with these parameters, suggestions were painstakingly whittled down to one magnificent hideaway destination: Empire Retreat. At Empire there are four unique suite styles and ten suites in total – again, a small staff-to-guest ratio, which gets a big tick here.
Empire opened its doors in 1999 and is built around an old farmhouse set in 265 acres of serene bushland and is within arm’s reach of Margaret River. The sea is at your doorstep, with some of the world’s best surf breaks at your fingertips, if you’re so inclined. Or, for whale watching, Geographe Bay is world famous, rivalled only by the food court at Perth Mall.
At Empire there’s a recurring eastern motif, from the stylish minimalist décor, oriental style teak beds, Japanese water gardens to the monastery style doors at the entrance. And, you guessed it, Empire has a fabulous spa to treat your lady with an extra special load of new age fluff thrown in to justify the cost. Empire spa treatments draw on the ancient elements of fire, wood, earth and metal through a journey of the senses, sight, sound, scent, touch and taste. But first through a more modern and less sensitive route via leather (your wallet), plastic (your credit card) and cyberspace (your bank account).
From the sun-soaked private deck of your suite you can sip fine Margaret River wines overlooking the Empire vineyard and plan your day’s romantic activities, after you tuck into a gourmet breakfast prepared by their first-class chef. Twelve acres of vines were planted in 2000 so guests can sample wines in the gallery area after taking a dip in the pool, or playing a game of pool, or playing in the pool while eating dip. And, like many on this list, they’ll also prepare picnic hampers so you can sit under a tree in a secluded corner of the property and talk about your future life plans together.
Ideal if // Your partner is a lover of fine wines and beaches.
Wallet pain// From $260 per couple to $550 for the swankier suites, including a mind-blowing breakfast.
Tense drive while she stares out the window not talking to you // About 3hr from Perth (take the iPod).
Contact // (08) 9755 2065, www.empireretreat.com