We asked Australia’s travel insiders to share their favourite bush retreats. Words by Alissa Jenkins
El Questro Wilderness Park, WA
Eugene Tan, surf photographer
“This is real Australia and it’s untouched, raw and beautiful,” says Eugene Tan of the landscape surrounding his favourite outback retreat. “Even for a surf photographer, there are pictures everywhere.”
Amidst The Kimberley’s rugged sandstone ranges, rainforest pockets and unexpected waterfalls lies this sprawling property, which encompasses tented cabins, family bungalows and a camping area. But Tan’s pick is the most luxurious option standing atop a cliff at the property’s heart: The Homestead.
“The private rooms are all a part of the one homestead but come with their own balconies and amazing views of Chamberlain Gorge,” says Tan.
“It’s very sophisticated with one-on-one personal service.”
Each of the nine king-sized bedrooms also come with plush bedding, ensuite bathrooms with Aēsop amenities, and air conditioning. Guests can also indulge in the onsite swimming pool, tennis court and inclusive self-serve bar, or just relax in the tropical gardens.
“It’s a place to take the little lady – super romantic. They don’t allow children under 13 years old,” adds Tan.
And if guests can tear themselves away from the cliff-top views and gourmet meals provided, the park offers many outdoor experiences like exploring ancient Chamberlain Gorge by boat or taking a helicopter to remote waterholes.
“Go for a chopper ride and check it out from above,” suggests Tan.
“It’s a big place, driving around takes a lot of time and is not that comfortable in the heat. Also sunset drinks on top of one of the surrounding peaks or a fresh water bath in one of the waterfalls is amazing.”
Longitude 131, NT
Lee Atkinson, travel writer and author
“It’s all about that view,” says Lee Atkinson, who rates Longitude 131 as her favourite outback escape.
“Uluru is incredible at sunrise, but it’s always freezing out there just before dawn. At Longitude, all you do is click a button, the blind goes up, and you have views of Uluru from your bed.
“There is nowhere else in the world you can do that – nowhere.”
The exclusivity of the property doesn’t hurt either, she adds. “You feel like you have the rock to yourself.”
Longitude 131 is comprised of 15 luxurious ‘tents’, each of which has views of Uluru. They go for $2070 a night.
It’s expensive, admits Atkinson, but “ideal for couples celebrating a special occasion,” she says. The staff are well equipped to arrange all kinds of special experiences for twosomes, she adds, “like a private dinner in the library”.
Longitude was also one of Australia’s first ‘glamping’ properties, as each tent features a king-sized bed, air conditioning, private bathroom and an evening turn-down service.
While you’re there, Atkinson suggests seeing Kata Tjuta – “The Valley of the Winds walk around the domes is truly special”. Likewise, a walk around the base of Uluru reveals many little caves and water holes that people often miss.
Best of all, she adds, there’s rarely crowds.
Home Valley Station, WA
Ken Duncan, landscape photographer
“It has all the comforts you need, there’s good food and a real local feel,” says Ken Duncan of his top outback luxury stay, Home Valley Station. “And it’s a great base for accessing The Kimberley.”
Tucked away off Gibb River Road in the East Kimberley, this historic cattle station is nestled amongst towering gorges, sparkling waterholes and untouched beaches. And although there is a range of accommodation options at Home Valley, it’s their spacious new ‘grass castles’ – sleek, modern cabins – that Duncan rates for a high-end stay.
Set on Bindoola Creek, these free-standing abodes come with a king-sized bed, air-conditioning, private bathroom, television and floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the waterfront views. There’s also Dusty Bar and Grill onsite where “everyone meets and mingles”.
“This is a place for social people, it’s not a pretentious property like many luxury stays are,” he muses.“When I travel, I like to be in a place where you can talk to someone, get immersed in the local environment; not just sit in your room.”
And there is no shortage of ways to explore the area at that; “go fishing in the Pentecost River or swimming at Bindoola – but not the other way around or it could be your last,” warns Duncan of the local crocodile-laden waterways.
“You should also take a helicopter flight over the area, or drive to Bindoola Falls just after the wet season – it’s really an amazing experience.”
Rawnsley Park Station, SA
Quentin Long, co-founder of Australian Traveller magazine
Quentin Long can’t go past the mountainous views surrounding Rawnsley Park Station, cementing its place as his most-loved outback retreat.
“If you haven’t been to Wilpena Pound, you don’t believe such a place exists,” he says.
“Of all the outback places I’ve been to, it is by far the most stunning, and that includes the Red Centre.”
Set on a sheep station on the edge of Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges, Rawnsley Park Station has opened a set of secluded luxury eco villas.
“They’re not ostentatious or over the top, but have beautiful, homely touches that ensure a really, really comfortable stay,” explains Long.
“For example you lie in bed and there’s a remote-controlled blind that reveals a skylight so you can see the stars.”
They also feature high ceilings, full kitchens, air conditioning and private verandahs with views of the surrounding mountain ranges. And although self-catered, there’s a popular onsite restaurant too.
“It is by far one of the best value outback stays I have seen in a long time.”
Better still, there’s an array of local activities to entertain travellers, such as great 4WD tours, renowned bush walks and as Long advises, “you’ve got to get a scenic flight around the pound. Don’t bother going if you’re not prepared to lay down the cash because it is just such a special place – geologically, historically and culturally.”
“Flinders Ranges should be said in the same breath as Uluru, as the heart and soul of Australia.”
Kings Canyon Resort Hotel, NT
Catriona Rowntree, travel journalist and TV presenter
“While Uluru may be the superstar of the region, when you travel that little bit further to Kings Canyon, you will be rewarded in every way,” says Catriona Rowntree of her favourite desert dwelling, Kings Canyon Resort Hotel.
Just nine kilometres from its namesake canyon, between Alice Springs and Uluru, there is, as Rowntree explains, “every level of accommodation here, from spa bath suites to arguably the Territory’s best camping ground next door”.
However Rowntree’s pick is at the top of the accommodation offerings, the deluxe spa room. Set amongst rugged bushland, the interior is filled with creature comforts such as wi-fi, an ensuite bathroom, private balcony and a view-hogging spa bath.
“I know a very famous Australian media identity who proposed while staying in the suite so it’s great for couples,” she adds. Guests can also indulge at the onsite restaurant and lounge bar and enjoy the swimming pool, tennis court and sunset viewing platform.
But, as Rowntree attests, it is the canyon itself that draws travellers, with its sandstone walls plunging 270 metres, which can be experienced in many ways. “You can walk in along the creek, take a chopper over and into it, or the slightly more adventurous option is to wander up a steep incline to the canyon’s rim,” she says.
“You get a little bit of vertigo but you feel like you’re standing on the edge of the world.”
Rowntree also recommends the resort’s Under the Desert Moon dinner, involving a fire-side six-course menu, Australian wines and soft music.
“This is sensitive, respectful, professional, forward-thinking tourism at its best – well worth the King’s crown.”
Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris at Mt Borradaile, NT
Andrew McEvoy, CEO of Tourism Australia
This is what Andrew McEvoy calls “Australia’s answer to the Garden of Eden”.
In the North West corner of Arnhemland, this sacred Aboriginal site became a place for travellers through a collaboration between the traditional owners of the area, and Max Davidson and his late wife Philippa.
Today, Davidson’s not only offers culturally-sensitive tours to some of the most restricted areas of Australia, but deluxe cabins which McEvoy rates as his favourite outback escape.
Set amongst native trees and decked out with polished timber floors, plush beds and ensuite bathrooms, “they feel quite open so you can hear and see everything like swooping birds – with fly wire to keep bugs out,” he says. “It’s all very comfortable.”
However, McEvoy admits it is Davidson’s experiences that travellers stay for, namely their must-do rock art gallery tours.
“The most memorable experience I had was when Max took us into a traditional burial site with the permission of the local Aboriginal elders,” he recalls.
“We stood there with great respect and I was really struck by how many thousands of years of history were before us. This was a beautiful culture laying to rest their people in a beautiful setting; it was a very spiritual experience.”
More light-heartedly, McEvoy also loved Davidson’s barramundi fishing tours, which afterwards, can be cooked by the live-in chef, just the way you like it.
“Staying at Mt Borradaile would be among the top three things I’ve ever done in the world.”