Everyone loves a unique boutique hotel. So emerge from the bland world of cream-coloured walls, “fusion” ideals and homogenised designs Xeroxed from one town to the next, and let Craig Roberts lead you through some of our favourite places to stay that aren’t just a pit stop for shut eye.
1. Hatters Hideout Rent-A-Cave
This lost cave in the NSW Blue Mountains is perched on the surface, not buried underground, and is roughly the same size and shape as the Sydney Opera House’s small shells. Given this, it’s not surprising that Hatters Hideout is not only a great place to experience the bush, but to also release your inner maestro and jam. Sleeps 16, comes with all amenities and, just in case you aren’t a camper and seek the home comforts of the modern world, it has a nearby lodge. Also comes with the prerequisite marvellously oddball owner, Mark the Hatter.
Details: Northern Blue Mountains, NSW. From $199 per person per night. www.hattershideout.com.au, (02) 6355 2777.
2. Canopy Treehouse
Climb to the top of the forest and stay there. With neighbours like tree kangaroos and green possums, it’s hard to say no. But this treehouse southwest of Cairns is no ordinary Swiss Family Robinson affair of slapped together timbers on the shoulders of tree limbs, but luxury living 30ft off the floor.
Details: Hogan Rd, Tarzali, Qld. From $297 per night. www.canopytreehouses.com.au, (07) 4096 5364.
3. Thorngrove Manor Adelaide
It’s hard to define Thorngrove Manor. There’s no front door. No single room is the same size or shape, nor does the place hold a single piece of furniture or decoration that’s the same. With spiral staircases, split levels, sandstone turrets, four-poster beds and manicured lawns, it could be a medieval castle, an English manor or something from the set of Merchant Ivory. Whatever it is, Thorngrove is designed for maximum privacy with guests unable to happen upon each other.
There are plenty of pros and cons to this place. Pro: you won’t need a parole hearing in order to leave. Con: you’ll be picking up the tariff, not the good people of South Australia. Pro: there’s a toilet in your room. Con: it’s right next to your head, so best not to be shy. The equilibrium tips over when the following are taken into account: it comes with an internal exercise yard, mess hall restaurant, gaol tours and a set of gallows!
Details: Glenside Lane, Stirling, SA. From $695 per night. www.thorngrove.com.au, (08) 8339 6748.
4. Mt Gambier Old Gaol
There are plenty of pros and cons to the Mt Gambier Old Gaol. Pro: there’s a toilet in your room. Con: it’s right next to your head, so best not to be shy.
Details: Margaret St, Mt Gambier, SA. From $20 per night . http://theoldmountgambiergaol.com.au/, 1800 626 844.
5. Carriageway Barrington Tops
Were all the old red rattlers like this? I doubt it. Had someone said back in the ’80s that a smelly, decrepit, graffiti-strewn train carriage would be turned into high luxury, you’d have been committed. That someone actually thought to do it, then sandwiched it between WHA Barrington Tops and the Hunter Valley defies logic. But here we are.
Details: Clarence Town Rd, Dungog, NSW. From $95 per night. www.carriageway.com.au, (02) 4992 1388.
6. Arts Factory Lodge Byron Bay
For that inner hippie in all of us, Arts Factory is the original backpackers of Byron Bay and the beating heart that reminds us what Byron was, before boutique hotels and yuppies set up shop on the beach: a getaway from modern life, modern people and modern ideals. Check out the vibe as you sleep in a Tee Pee or a surf shack, visit the lounge cinema, get lost on a bush tucker tour or just hang with the eclectic mix from around the globe that migrates through Byron on any given day.
Details: Skinners Shoot Rd, Byron Bay, NSW. From $28 per night. www.artsfactory.com.au, (02) 6685 7709.
7. Underground Motel White Cliffs
Usually living in the shadows of her more famous cousin in SA, White Cliffs proves there’s life underground elsewhere than in Coober Pedy. Underground Motel is a rabbit warren of ever-expanding dugouts that will have little ones running amok for hours mind-mapping the place. After a long drive it’s a subterranean oasis in the otherwise scorched tundra of the Strzelecki Desert.
Details: White Cliffs, NSW. From $85 per night. www.undergroundmotel.com.au, (08) 8091 6677.
8. Palace Hotel Broken Hill
Its location and architecture don’t mark it out as anything special. Neither, necessarily, does its history (though bits of Priscilla were filmed here). What makes it unique hides inside, on the walls. Formerly Mario’s Palace, this left-to-ruin outback masterpiece is being regenerated room by room by the delicate hands of locals. The interiors are covered in murals painted by a wandering Aboriginal miner in exchange for rent, and each surface is adorned with a different story.
Details: Argent St, Broken Hill, NSW. www.thepalacehotelbrokenhill.com.au, (08) 8088 1699. The Palace Hotel interiors are covered in murals painted by a wandering Aboriginal miner in exchange for rent, and each surface is adorned with a different story.
A Few Extra Weirdos
9. Q-Station, Manly NSW
Formerly a disease-riddled quarantine station, now a cracking hotel with nighttime ghost tours and some of the most secluded views across Sydney Harbour.
There are plenty. You can hire white ones, big ones, square ones, round ones, little ones, red ones, ones on islands, on cliffs, with shipwrecks, with seals or penguins and you can view them all at www.lighthouse.net.au
11. Coober Pedy, SA
From the five star Desert Cave to the weirdest of the weird, Crocodile Harry’s Underground Nest, it doesn’t matter where you lob, you’ll eventually end up underground here.
12. Fire Station, Adelaide
Sleep in a fire station with a working fire pole and a working order 1945 bright red fire truck in the bedroom.
13 Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn
The iconic Kakadu hotel turned 21 this year. Its croc design was the result of a comp to come up with something representing the NT that would be instantly recognisable – from the air anyway.