Inspired by Valentine’s Day, Australian Traveller asked its experienced travel writers where are Australia’s most romantic destinations? What are the dreamiest activities available? Read on to find out where the best romantic getaways can be found.
With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, Australian Traveller turned to its stable of experienced travel writers for romantic guidance. After all, what other group of individuals has seen so much of what this country has to offer? So the questions were posed: Where are Australia’s most romantic destinations? What are its dreamiest activities?
In responding, some authors chose moments of high pamper-time at plush resorts, while others selected deserted stretches of sandy beach or castles hidden in overgrown forests for their romantic moments away from prying eyes. The final result is this compilation of Ten Romantic Hotspots. And while we point out that they are in no particular order – and are certainly not the be-all and end-all of potential hideaways to take your intended for Valentine’s Day this year – they will most certainly impress, will definitely leave you in the mood, and might just give you that romantic idea you were searching for. Enjoy.
Girl on a Mission
Mission Beach, QLD
AT’s consulting editor Suzi Petkovski has worked at Lonely Planet, authored a travel book and done the Great Industrial Wonders tour of Australia with her engineer husband. A low-maintenance romantic, she considers anything this side of a dockyard portainer crane as moonlight and roses.
If your idea of a romantic retreat is palm-lined paradise, Queensland’s Mission Beach (pictured top of page), about 90min south of Cairns, is the ticket. In this colour-drenched world of glorious, uncrowded beaches, limpid waters and hazy green islands, the days are long and languid. Dress code: minimal.
Even being confined to swimming within the stinger nets doesn’t detract from this life-size postcard. Although some exclusive resorts (on Bedarra and Dunk islands) laze just offshore, Mother Nature is the real stunner. Mission Beach is where the reef comes closest to the mainland, and where rainforest and reef almost meet.
Wedged between the Bruce Highway and the coast is lush, World Heritage-listed forest – one of the best places to spot the rare (and feisty) cassowary, among other native critters. Eco-friendly accommodation allows you to virtually live in the forest. Sanctuary Retreat, at the northern end of the beach at Bingil Bay, has rainforest huts, with only a mesh curtain separating you from the wildlife.
A water taxi chugs about ten times a day to Dunk Island, just 5km offshore and an irresistible day trip. Swim a different beach, lounge around the resort pool or trek around the island. Touring inland, if you’re heading north to Cairns, make a romantic rendezvous at Paronella Park, about 25km from Innisfail, through the cane fields. This tropical Taj Mahal was a labour of love for Spanish immigrant Jose Paronella. Completed in 1935, the turreted, concrete castle, with its extravagant staircases, elaborate fountains and lavish gardens, was overrun by the surrounding forest for two decades; if anything, the years of neglect added a decrepit-grand appeal.
North of Innisfail, Josephine Falls is another great excuse to get your gear off and take a dip – this time in fresh water. At the base of Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain, this series of natural pools is more enticing than any five-star resort.
Do Not Disturb
Freycinet Lodge, Tas
Damian Cowell is Creative Director at a prominent Melbourne radio station, and in his past life as a musician and sportswriter, experienced some of Australia’s least romantic destinations. So you better believe he knows a romantic one when he sees it.
If you don’t associate romantic getaways with sunburn and umbrellas sticking out of your drink, point yourself in the opposite direction to where the hordes are heading. Romance is all about giving in to nature’s desires, and this is the most natural setting imaginable – right in the middle of Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s yet-to-be-corrupted east coast. But before you think this means guy ropes, beanies and sensible shoes, fear not: Freycinet Lodge has achieved the unachievable – putting luxury accommodation and five-star dining right in the heart of a national park, without disturbing the teeming, sumptuous beauty of its surrounds.
And believe me, this is no average national park. At Freycinet Lodge you are sandwiched between miles of secluded beach without a hint of jet skier, and the Hazards. And no, that’s not some hick family doing burnouts in their hotted up Chevy – it’s a range of pink granite peaks that tower over the skyline.
Freycinet Lodge will give you a secluded cabin in lush bushland just a tippy-toe away from all those views, as well as a range of choices like guided walks through the national park, four-wheel-driving, dolphin-watching, or just the not-so-plain delights of enjoying your partner’s company, strolling hand-in-hand along the sand at Wineglass Bay, which, without much outcry, could be comfortably described as the most beautiful bay in Australia.
Later you could sample the natural effects of fresh Tasmanian oysters in Freycinet Lodge’s top-shelf restaurant, then retire to your room where possums and kangaroos literally come right up to your balcony. It might get a little chilly, but sitting together on your balcony, wrapped in your doona sipping champagne and gazing at the stars is an experience every couple ought to have. There’s no telephone or television either. But shouldn’t you two be entertainment enough?
A Sunrise To Remember
Cape Tribulation, QLD
There aren’t too many places in Australia Craig Tansley hasn’t seen in more than five years of fulltime travel writing. In over 40 trips since 2000, he’s experienced some of the country’s best kept secrets: romantic destinations that could put the fire back in the coldest of relationships. Of these, Cape Tribulation is his favourite. “If you can’t be romantic up here,” he says, “perhaps you just don’t like your partner.”
The best thing about this piece of World Heritage-listed paradise north of the Daintree River is that hardly anyone comes here. Sure, tourists come close – lots of them. They flock en masse from all over the globe to the glaringly bright lights of Cairns and the laidback sophistication of Bill Clinton’s favourite hideaway, Port Douglas. What they miss, just a 100km or so north, is so gorgeously romantic it makes you want to laugh out loud.
Should you leave them all behind and ride the barge over the impatient, brown, crocodile-infested Daintree, you’ll find the kind of solitude and natural beauty only a handful of places on earth can offer. It’s as if you’ve scaled the Andes and paddled the Amazon to find Utopia.
Truth is, there’s not much up here: a scattering of restaurants and cafes, a few general stores with grossly overpriced beer and some subtly designed Eco-resorts, a few of which happen to be five-star. And therein lies the romantic appeal of Cape Tribulation: it is wild.
At dawn as you walk the beach you’ll look nervously in the mangroves for saltwater crocs. And it’s empty – so empty you won’t find another soul for miles. The road north from Cape Tribulation is unpassable except to experienced campaigners in 4WDs. Southern cassowaries can pass by your vehicle without warning (and be warned, this bird is two metres tall and aggressive), and gigantic snakes hog the few bits of bitumen in the early morning, seeking the warmth still hidden there from the previous day.
Sunrise on Cape Tribulation is close to being a religious experience. Guaranteed, it will be yours alone should you opt to climb over rock to snuggle yourselves in on the Cape itself. From here, high atop the Coral Sea, the sun rises over a horizon of blue, while fish, turtles, reef sharks and dolphins glide by. Come here between August and October and you’ll no doubt spot a whale. I’ve travelled for years and discovered a world of surprises – I even lived in the Cook Islands for a decade – but I’ve never experienced anything quite like sunrise on Cape Tribulation.
There are plenty of activities for couples in love: horse riding on the endless sandy bays and through the 135-million-year-old rainforest; forest tours and boat trips to the Great Barrier Reef. But for mine, that’s not the point of this strip of romantic paradise. Cape Tribulation was designed for quiet worship.
Save your pennies, rent a tent site, cook your own food, then lie back together and breathe in the world’s greatest light show. It’s so serene, you’ll almost forget about the cassowaries, the snakes, the spiders and the salt water crocs.
Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Coast
Kissed By The Sun
Mt Warning, NSW
The romance of the road is all the romance you need. That’s long been the credo of writer Peter Olszewski. Recently he lived in exotic Yangon, Myanmar, walked headlong into a first-rate romance, married, wrote about his conversion in the book Land of a Thousand Eyes, and now travels with romance enhancement as a non-optional extra. That and a nice wine.
It’s so damned romantic that it’s becoming marketed as Australia’s most romantic place, a Mecca for adventurous men about to pop the big question, for couples who want a wedding with a difference, or for couples who simply want to celebrate their couple-dom. But what makes Mt Warning so special? And why do so many couples eagerly embark on the relatively hard slog, four-hour-round-trip hike from base to peak? Sure, the scenery is knockout and the climb health-inducing, but something happens at the peak that makes the experience unique.
The summit is the first place on mainland Australia to be kissed by the morning sun. And if you kiss your true love while the sun is kissing you – well, it doesn’t get more romantic than that. Byron Bay old-timers have always been aware of this special aspect and about two decades ago Paul Hogan’s offsider, John “Strop” Cornell married his sweetheart Delvene Delaney at dawn on the peak of Mt Warning. The wedding entourage climbed the mountain by flaming torchlight in the pre-dawn hours, and when the sun kissed the peak, Strop kissed his new bride. And so the legend grows.
Climbing Mt Warning is a buzz. In the dark, with torches, you’re surrounded by beautiful rainforest night smells. During the day the walk is spectacular because of the visible rainforest. And at the peak the view is gob-smacking, one of the best in Australia, a 360-degree vista taking in the Gold Coast, the Tweed Valley, and Byron Bay.
On a difficulty level, the hike and climb is about medium, and not too much of a challenge for the moderately fit. The last 15 minutes to the peak is quite hard: a 90-degree climb where you haul yourself up with the aid of chains on the trail – but the reasonably fit will cope and glow once the puffing stops.
The mountain base is easily accessible by car from anywhere in the districts (45min from Byron, 35min from Coolangatta), but for the total experience, stay in one of the many guesthouses that have bobbed up in the past few years.
Longitude 131, NT
John Borthwick describes his research trips among the romantic seraglios of the world as “like a honeymoon for one”, which is the lot of most travel writers. A serial absentee from home, he may have frequented some of the most romantic spots in the world (think Maldives, Tahiti, the Andaman Sea) but almost always on an air ticket built for one. Consequently, in such places, he reads a lot – and not romances.
The Big Red One – Uluru – sits like a giant paperweight pinning Australia to the blue planet. With dawn and dusk its ancient faces bloom through a rosy spectrum, shifting hue each time you look away. The best place from which to gaze at Uluru – and beyond – is the very svelte Longitude 131 near Ayers Rock Resort. From your luxurious “tent” – it’s hardly the word – or the clubby Dune House, you may contemplate Uluru’s giant, 600-million-year-old berg of arkose sandstone and feel very diminished indeed, your king-sized bed and fusion dining entrée notwithsanding.
“To sleep with you in the desert tonight with a million stars all around . . .” By night, an old Eagles cliché soars above the peaks of Longitude 131’s extremely flash neo-tents, 15 of them in all. Within each, all the necessary luxuries are present, of course, to aid your epiphany: the flick of a bedside switch raises the blinds on Uluru’s transient visions, and the extreme desert temperatures never defeat your air-conditioned dreaming. Each Longitude 131 elevated tent is “themed” to pay homage to an early Outback pioneer, sometimes almost too literally, with various quotes and images as part of the wall decor.
The nearby Dune House is the resort’s central meeting place, where guests enjoy meals and tipples and swap long or tall tales of their day’s desert discoveries. It also includes a library with maps, historical books and even a large screen TV and DVDs for those who are overwhelmed by the majestic, silent story of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
Longitude 131 Yulara, NT
Phone: 1300 134 044 Website: www.longitude131.com.au
Seduced By Lovers
Lovers Beach, Lorde Howe Island
A tiny beach on Lord Howe Island wins hands down when it comes to romantic locations for experienced travel writer and AT regular Alison Plummer Martin – so much so that she chose to be married there. It’s difficult to get a stronger endorsement than that.
Can a place be intrinsically romantic in itself, or is it in the eye of the beholder? For me, it’s a sense of place which can be created by either built or natural formations; a sense of scale and light is important, and height, I think; the Spanish Steps in Rome, the view down a steep cobbled street in an Italian or Greek village. The particular light of the west coasts of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Scottish island of Iona is a great favourite while, alone for once, an auberge in the Pyrenees with simple rooms and lamb on a spit roasting over an open fire seemed the most romantic notion in the world, a place to return to with a loved one someday. Considering this serial love affair with islands and mountains, it’s no wonder that Lord Howe Island automatically assumed a high ranking on my personal “places for lovers” list.
Being Lord Howe virgins, my partner and I were quite unprepared for the island’s stunning boomerang shape dominated by its two dramatic peaks – Mounts Lidgbird and Gower – a sheltered lagoon with turquoise water and a subtropical climate conducive to activities for two such as walking, biking, hiking and snorkelling on the world’s southernmost coral reef, which all but surrounds the island.
We were soon initiated. Biking, walking, climbing to the Goat House for stunning views, stopping to rest on the high ridge at Malabar and peering over the edge of the cliff to see turtles swimming in the clear seas below. We wandered through forests of giant banyan trees and indigenous Kentia Palms, which grow here in profusion.
In love with Lord Howe, it was a natural choice when it came to finding a place to tie the knot and, it being the second time around, we half thought to slip away for a quiet wedding a deux. Thankfully, friends thought differently and there were 19 of us in the end. We walked and talked and wined and dined and watched the weather anxiously; my chosen location for the evening wedding was Lovers Beach on Lovers Bay, and the onshore wind was threatening to make it less than pleasant.
There were many alternatives, but I had my heart set on Lovers in the lee of the mountains, so our black tie party gathered for the ceremony. And although my friend Donna did ruin her new designer suede shoes at the choppy water’s edge, all was perfect for me – and the esky of Moet made up for much, followed by a delicious dinner at Pinetrees Resort which, happily, was large enough to house us all.
Lovers is just one of many beautiful places on Lorde Howe. There’s an intangible magic about the whole island which for me is best experienced as you slowly discover its scenic – and eminently romantic – secrets.
Living A Fairytale
Port Fairy, Vic
Peter Robinson has been a freelance travel writer for 15 years and has personally reviewed around 600 B&Bs. A recently refreshed single status means his search for romantic places is all too genuine.
Long touted by tourism bodies as Victoria’s most intact colonial coastal village, Port Fairy has enough postcard-perfect stone cottages to make the heart burst when you see them in real life. Old shops and commercial buildings crowd the centre of a kilometre-wide grid of streets, with upmarket cafes and restaurants toeing the footpaths alongside antiques and craft shops.
At Port Fairy your abode should be a luxurious B&B like Goble’s Mill House, Oscars Waterfront – both on the tranquil Moyne River – or Hearn’s Beachside on a secluded beach just 2km out of town. There are others, but I personally guarantee romantic notions can be let loose at these places. The first two serve indulgent breakfasts by the river, the last is self-contained. BYO food and champers and you may never want to leave, apart from occasional beachcombing forays.
One of the nicest walks at Port Fairy is to the lighthouse on Griffith Island; the village centre only bustles at weekends and holidays, so the rest of the year it’s likely you’ll have this two-hour island stroll to yourselves and whatever nature provides. Meander the riverside boardwalk past yachts and fishing trawlers that customarily reflect perfect mirror images, then grab fish ’n’ chips from the wharf shop and watch the world go by. Take a harbour cruise, or in fine weather to the nearby seal colony (note: sea-sickness is not romantic).
Further afield lie the clear cold waters of a shelly beach that stretches beyond the fabled location of the Mahogany Ship.
Make the journey more stimulating by taking the Great Ocean Road – and be sure to stop at the Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge.
Romancing the Dandenongs
Dandenong Ranges, Vic
Michelle Hespe’s first romantic story was about a mouse taking a ride with a frog in a hot air balloon above her home town of Frogshollow near the Bega Valley. She was nine, and has remained on the hunt ever since for subject matter as romantically enthralling. In the meantime, she has contributed to The Weekend Australian, The Japan Times, The Prague Post and The Cambodia Daily.
A backdrop of sun-dappled roads winding through towering rainforests past wooden taverns and cosy tea houses sounds like an artist’s romantic merging of the Daintree and English countryside, but it’s actually a slice of heaven 90km southeast of Melbourne called the Dandenong Ranges.
After passing through the city’s dry outer suburban sprawl, it’s a magical treat to enter lush rainforests where townships nestle in the dips and slopes of garden-filled hills, and romance can be practically smelled in the air.
In the ranges, there are countless sign postings for retreats and B&Bs, but there’s a particular property developed with the primary intention of nurturing romance in a retreat that is as exotic as its location. From the moment of turning down the pebbled drive of The Japanese Mountain Retreat in Montrose, visitors feel as though they’re not only taking a breather from their own lives, but stepping into another world where the traditional elements of Japanese lifestyle are celebrated.
Guests are treated to a full body massage upon arrival, followed by a delicious five course Japanese meal on a low wooden veranda overlooking manicured lawns where ducks waddle through mountain mist to the private lake below. Then there’s the option of indulging in a deep spa before a Japanese garden or retiring to the futon in authentic minimalist surrounds where every detail has been expertly and passionately considered.
If that doesn’t quite sound indulgent enough, on Sunday embark on a wine tour of the famous Yarra Valley, the gateway to which lies only a short drive away. Be picked up in a chauffeur-driven ’65 convertible Chevrolet and enjoy a Top Down Tour through a valley where Domaine Chandon and plenty of the Yarra’s other finest drops are ready to be savoured.
The Japanese Mountain Retreat
Phone: (03) 9737 0086 Website: www.japanesemountainretreat.com.au
Top Down Tours
Phone: (03) 9489 4727 Website: www.topdown.com.au
A Little Slice of Bali
Margaret River, WA
Blokey sportfishing publisher Jim Harnwell is a softie at heart; when he’s not catching big fish in the wilds of the Kimberley or Cape York, he can think of nothing better than spending time with his wife and family. Margaret River is his pick for a romantic getaway, with the wineries, fine foods and classy lodgings combining to create a sensory overload. “If a bottle of great red, some nice cheese and the sun setting through the gum trees doesn’t get you in the mood for love,” he says, “it may well be that you are dead.”
After a day spent touring wineries, olive groves and a variety of cafes, antique emporiums and assorted retail outlets – not to mention strolling along deserted beaches to watch surfers brave the booming Indian Ocean swells – my wife and I were feeling pretty shagged (in a very relaxed and pleasant way, I hasten to add). This was our first romantic trip away in almost five years. At home on the east coast our two young sons were safely in the care of grandparents; we didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere for at least a couple of days. This was a rare opportunity to pretend we were again the young, carefree couple that I dimly recall we were before kids, mortgages and careers got in the way of everything.
Friends on either side of the continent had urged us to spend a day or two in Margaret River, so we dawdled south from Perth. Inspection of the local Visitor Centre revealed a plethora of places to stay. The nice lady at the counter suggested quite a few cottages but none caught my eye – until I found a brochure on a place called River’esque. “Oh yes, that’s very nice,” the lady said. “Very luxurious. People rave about it.” We were sold.
Booked in, we went to a local deli and purchased all the food we used to eat before the arrival of kids saw our culinary adventures come to a sudden halt. Smoked salmon, Brie, nice bread, olives, sun-dried tomatoes. I had a couple of bottles of local Shiraz hidden in the boot of our rental car.
We found River’esque, a stylish Balinese-inspired chalet perched amongst eucalypts on a hill above the actual Margaret River. A note propped up against a smiling Buddha welcomed us and urged us to make ourselves at home. No sooner said than done. I had the first bottle open in a jiffy and we sipped the peppery wine as we explored the house. Immaculately presented, it was hard not to feel instantly relaxed. The comfortable rooms flowed into one another, all leading to a marvellous balcony set among the treetops. We collapsed into the comfy armchairs before spreading our feast out on a low table and opening the second bottle of red. The evening passed in a blur of languid indulgence. We bathed in the moonlight in the fern-covered outdoor shower before running back in and leaping into the huge steaming bath.
The vast white bed in the upstairs room was so big and soft I almost lost my wife in it. But I found her eventually. The outcome of that is a whole other story. Let me just say that when we arrived at River’esque we had two children. When we left, a third, now known as Suzanna May, was on the way.
Romance in the Spring
Hepburn Springs, Vic
Sandy Guy’s passion for travel hasn’t abated since 1975 when, at 18, she drove an EH Holden from Victoria to far north Queensland. A journalist for more than 20 years, Sandy loves exploring Australia and far-flung parts of the world. At her century-old home in Ballarat, she loves to cook, garden and plan romantic getaways with her partner Rob Fisher, a business owner so enamoured by travel he’s taken up photography. Rob doesn’t mind a massage and a few subdued lights either, but draws the line at champers.
The small town of Hepburn Springs, 114km northwest of Melbourne, is home to the Hepburn Spa Complex, where the heady aroma of fragrant essential oils tantalises the senses as you enter its doors. In the heart of Victoria’s mineral springs region and renowned for its odourless, effervescent mineral water, this haven of pampering is just the place to kick-start – or reignite – romance.
Built around a renovated Edwardian pavilion at the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve, the spa offers every kind of hydrotherapy imaginable, along with massage and beauty therapies for every inch of your body. Spend blissful time with your loved one wallowing in a private aromatherapy mineral spa perfumed with a potpourri of sweet-smelling oils, before heading to a private treatment room for a sensational dual massage.
The heavenly array of treatments on offer include full-body massages; “Pure Bliss” hand and feet massages; “Fango Therapy” (mud spa bath followed by a detoxifying Dead Sea mud body wrap); Vichy rain massages; Milk and Honey Body Cocoons, in which your body is smothered with aromatic body creams; and body relaxation steam cocoons, during which you are doused with an elixir of anti-stress oils.
Every type of massage known to humankind, as well as aromatherapy, reiki, reflexology and acupuncture, can be found at Hepburn Springs or the nearby former gold-mining town of Daylesford, which also boast more than 60 dining establishments. There’s accommodation aplenty to choose from, ranging from cosy B&Bs, cute cabins with open fires and antique furniture, grand old-style guesthouses, and the gracious Peppers Springs Retreat, situated in a restored Art Deco building near the spa complex. The Retreat’s pleasant gardens house three open-air mineral water plunge pools, a sauna, a steam room, and eight treatment rooms in which you can be pampered with fabulous health treatments and facials. Later, treat yourself to a meal at Deco’s, the Retreat’s top-notch and well-regarded restaurant.
When you’re not floating in a spa, having a massage or snuggling in front of the fire, amble through the bush to some of the region’s 72 mineral springs, picnic in the botanical gardens, or enjoy a beer or glass of champers at one of the old-style pubs that abound in this delightful corner of Victoria.
Hepburn Spa Mineral Springs Bathhouse
Phone: (03) 5348 8888 Website: www.hepburnbathhouse.com
Peppers Springs Retreat & Deco’s Restaurant
Phone: (03) 5348 2202 Website: www.peppers.com.au/springs
Another Two Dozen
If there’s nothing in that first ten to stir the blood, here’s a bonus two dozen destinations and activities – call them honourable mentions – to consider for Valentine’s Day:
1. Mt. Rael, Yarra Valley, Vic
2. Bali Hai, Mossman, near Port Douglas, Qld
3. Lizard Island, Qld
4. Avon Valley, WA
5. Four Winds Villas, Byron Bay, NSW
6. Marwood, near Halls Gap, Grampians, Vic
7. Cape Le Grand, WA
8. Cradle Mountain, Lemonthyme Lodge, Tas
9. Rules Beach, 100km north of Bundaberg, Qld
10. Ningaloo Reef, WA
11. Johanna Beach, Great Ocean Rd, Vic
12. Bareboat island hopping, Whitsunday Islands, Qld
13. Apollo Bay, Vic
14. Binna Burra Eco-lodge, Qld
15. Bruny Island, Tas
16. Phillip Island, Vic
17. B&B and hot air balloon ride in the Barossa, SA
18. Heart Reef, Qld
19. Night stargazing at Wrotham Park Lodge, Qld
20. Esperance, WA
21. Murray River cruise, SA
22. Stanley, Tas
23. The Garden Burees, Balinese retreat, Byron Bay, NSW
24. Broome, WA