Could one of Australia’s most luxurious resorts also be one of the friendliest for families? Dilvin Yasa checks in.
There are plenty of memorable ways to arrive at Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley. You can chopper in and enjoy the aerial view of the World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains, for example, or take advantage of the resort’s private chauffeur car service.
Me? I’m keen to check out all the chocolate-box towns and walks through the Blue Mountains, so I opt for the scenic self-drive option, driving our family SUV up to the sprawling, 2800-hectare property’s electric gates and sighing with pure joy at the morning we’ve already enjoyed.
A gate-keeper with a broad smile leans in to welcome us and take our rubbish – all the papery hallmarks of a young family who have enjoyed the picturesque twists and turns of our 2.5-hour adventure west of Sydney. He does so with the air of someone being presented with a Tiffany & Co. box. “That’s no problem at all, Madame,” he says. “We hope you have a wonderful stay!” This, I later tell my husband, is exactly why we’re here.
Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley for families
Let’s be honest, Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley isn’t the first place one thinks of when it comes to family holidays. Nestled in a private valley and protected by soaring bush escarpments, the resort – one of Australia’s finest – offers 40 stand-alone villas steeped in uncompromising bush luxury and a wealth of nature-based activities to tempt even the most ardent urbanites.
I see it as a chance for the whole family to discover the restorative qualities of the great outdoors and reconnect with each other, unencumbered of everyday life and interruptions.
Family-friendly accommodation at Wolgan Valley
Our children are excited; it’s a scenic buggy ride up to our two-bedroom Wollemi Villa (one- and three-bedroom villas are also available), where four bicycles are already parked outside for us to use throughout our stay.
Inspired by Australian Federation architecture and surrounded by fragrant gums, it appears the design edict appears to have been: ‘Make each one as spacious and as private as possible and then sprinkle liberal amounts of luxury fittings like fairy dust.”
Our lodge, I’m happy to report, features picturesque Wolgan Valley views framed by exposed wooden beams, with its famous indoor/outdoor swimming pool (always heated to a balmy 27°C) and a wraparound verandah to share with all manner of resident marsupials curious enough to step right up.
Inside, things are just as family friendly, with a separate living room featuring the double-sided, sandstone fireplace and a dining table for eight (“We’re more than happy to tailor meals to suit your family’s desires,” our porter tells me. “We can do a banquet perhaps, a barbecue or even a breakfast for the kids.”).
The bedrooms are spacious and well-thought-out with drawing pads and colored Faber-Castell pens laid out on the girls’ bed should they feel inspired to sketch the blue-tinged gullies outside their window. What do they want to do most? “Swim!”
And that’s probably the most genius thing about these villas. When you’ve got your own private pool essentially inside your own villa, no parent has to hear the dreaded words: “Muuuuum, I’m bored.”
Villa life, we can do, but it seems we need some help checking off the vast array of adventures listed on the brochure, which range from signature experiences and scheduled activities to private tours that cater for every age, interest and ability. Happily, a personal adventure guide is at our beck and call, ready to help tailor an itinerary that is specific to our family’s needs.
Should we traverse the property’s lush, green hills, creeks and ridgelines on horseback, mountain bike on foot, for example?
Or might we move straight into archery practice or tennis?
How about kicking in a stargazing and campfire experience or a conservation activity such as tree planting or wildlife surveying?
Unusually, for a bunch of city slickers with no real history of horse riding, we choose to meet the pampered horses down at the stables for the daily scheduled tour and a children’s horse experience.
The resort’s 19 horses have their own masseuse and are massaged weekly so, as expected, they exhibit a Zen-like calm with the kids. Feeling encouraged by our daughters’ reaction to their new environment, we sign up for the two-hour Wolgan Wildlife and Sundowner Tour which allows us to meet and greet kangaroos and wallabies from the lofty heights of our 4X4.
My daughters also lock in a private tour with a dedicated field guide where they forage for hours through the bush in order to make a bark-heavy art masterpiece that I’m likely to “accidentally” lose once we get home.
The parents? We get busy making the most of the cocktail menu beside the 25-metre infinity pool where a selection of pool toys have been discreetly tucked away.
Had we known better we would have pulled up an arm chair near the open fire in the Valley Bar & Terrace to experience the 1832 gin tasting experience, featuring spirits created in the surrounding landscape.
Surely there are options for those who’d like extended periods away from all this… togetherness, I hear you say. The good news for the tired and the frazzled is, ‘yes’, babysitting options are available for those with bubs and tots and, in fact, the Wolgan Rangers‘ program is here to entertain the five to 10s.
It’s a not-so-traditional kids’ club of sorts, with activities such as fossil hunting and bush survival skills all about getting the kids out and about and invested in nature. We use our time wisely when our children are with the Wolgan Rangers and head straight to the One & Only Spa, where, I suspect, we’re treated even better than the horses.
Food, glorious food
Of course, no luxury holiday experience is complete without good food and with Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley creative director, food and beverage, James Viles (ex-Biota Dining) at the helm, guests are in excellent hands.
There are two main dining options, each one sharing in the resort’s culinary philosophy, which is built on seasonal, regional, and where possible, organic produce to showcase authentic Australian cuisine. Upstairs, a la carte dining options are inventive and plentiful in Wolgan Dining Room, while downstairs at the Country Kitchen, a more casual three-course lunch can be enjoyed poolside.
What’s that you say? Your kids are not into line-caught Patonga sand whiting with bush lime butter and pickled saltbush? The chef insists he is only too happy to jump in and make them whatever they’d like.
For us, the only problem with that is that eldest daughter decides we should book the Krug Champagne and Lobster package, a private dining experience to be enjoyed at our villa or a private terrace set-up. “I can eat the lobster and trout and you can have the Champagne,” she says casually, as though she’s just suggested Vegemite on toast.
After a couple of days of blissfully reconnecting with one another, we get back in our SUV feeling rather disappointed. “That really wasn’t enough time, Mum,” my eldest daughter says from the backseat. “I reckon you need to let people know they need at least three days’ minimum here.”
Well, that I can certainly do.