The Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa offers a beguiling mix of unbridled luxury and environmental sustainability. If you are looking for the best luxury resort in New South Wales, this is it. Even better, it is immersed in a dramatic outback landscape which the resort has gone to great pains to preserve, restore and protect.
It feels like you have entered a lost world when you arrive. The 4,000-acre conservancy reserve is located at the base of its own hidden canyon surrounded by ancient sun-drenched escarpments in a tucked-away part of the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains several hours’ drive out of Sydney.
It is the first carbon neutral resort in the world to be certified through an internationally accredited greenhouse gas program and one of its key initiatives has been to restore the indigenous habitat of the former cattle property, including planting of more than 175,000 indigenous plants and restoring of the original 1832 homestead.
Occupying just two per cent of the reserve, the $125-million resort features a two-story barn-like main homestead building, constructed of wood, sandstone and glass, plus on-site recycled building materials, and an entire flotilla of 40 free-standing luxury Federation-style bungalows.
The reception area in the main building features an ingenious wall built from the ends of old fence posts, an interesting outback gift shop, and an expansive bar and dining room with soaring cathedral ceilings and large two-sided sandstone fireplaces. A wrap-around veranda offers views over the free-form swimming pool and across the valley to the sandstone escarpments. It is perfect for breakfast, sunset drinks or lounging away the afternoon.
While cleverly designed to ensure complete privacy, the suites are perhaps a little too cheek by jowl, given the size of the property. Suites 17 and 41 at either end of the row offer the most privacy. Solar power and heat recovery are just some of the sustainable building principles incorporated into their design.
Each of the 83 sq-m suites, constructed of wood, glass and sandstone, has its own private terrace, screened deck and indoor/outdoor pool plus an iconic Aussie corrugated tin water tank and glass-louvered windows to let in the breezes (and mitigate the need for air conditioning, which is nonetheless provided).
A central sandstone fireplace offers open gas fires both in the spacious living area and bedroom with its four-poster king-sized bed draped in soft cream linens and large down pillows. A huge walk-in dressing area has a table and chair in front of a mirror and the spacious slate bathroom has double vanities, a spa bath and large shower area with a skylight that lets in oodles of natural light.
The suites feel like very classy country houses with comfortable couches, locally crafted leather chairs and writing tables. There are binoculars, a selection of interesting books, including one by Charles Darwin describing his visit to Australia (and Wolgan Valley), wines, sketch pad and pencils, soft wool throws, and a Nespresso machine plus international TV channels on LCD screens, DVD player, sound system, high-speed internet access, and pre-loaded IPods.
The inspired multi-course dinners feature vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts from the resort’s expansive kitchen gardens as well as local products such as local free-range pork, venison and line-caught trout plus a selection of local cheeses. The portions are delicate, perhaps a little too small, and are well executed but not breathtaking.
The wine list is first class, with exceptional and pricey selections from the world’s finest wine regions plus a terrific range of Australian boutique properties. Most interesting are the offerings from the burgeoning local wine districts of Mudgee and Orange .
On the ground floor the provedore-style Country Kitchen, with tables sprawling onto the terrace, offers light meals and snacks throughout the day. Guests tend to eat lunch here or order a gourmet picnic hamper which can be delivered to a private viewing deck or taken on a bush-walking adventure.
The young staff, a mix of internationals and locals, are exceptionally enthusiastic, friendly and hard-working.
* On your porch are two mountain bikes so you can explore the property at your whim, or just bike up to breakfast.
* If you tire of your own private pool, the main pool is great for laps and lounging and next to it is a fully-equipped gymnasium, sauna and steam room .
* There is also a tennis court if you feel so inclined.
* Nearby is the Timeless Spa whose huge doors open up during summer while a fireplace provides warmth in winter. Six double treatment rooms feature private showers, Japanese-style soaking tubs and change rooms. Spa products include Australian-made Sodashi from natural and organic ingredients and restorative products from leading spa brand Babor of Germany, which also furnishes the guest toiletries.
* Two experiential activities a day are included in the all-inclusive price.
- Must-do is the sunset wildlife and sundowner tour in an open-topped 4WD truck, reminiscent of African wildlife safaris, except Australia has no big game trophies to track down. In their place, Wolgan Valley field guides give nuanced and fascinating natural history explanations of Australia’s unique flora and fauna, which evolved in isolation from the rest of the world.
You’ll visit the Wollemi Pine Grove, with young plants cloned from the rare wild Wollemi pines that were only discovered in 1994 in a neighbouring canyon. This critically endangered pine dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and belongs to a 200 million-year-old plant family, previously only known to science through the fossil record. The discovery is considered to be the botanical revelation of the 20th century and the equivalent of finding a live dinosaur in the present time.
Along the way you’ll discover kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos (and if you are lucky the prized albino wallaroo perhaps with a black joey in her pouch) and learn how they differ from each other. You may also see eagles, lace monitor lizards, wombats, sulphur crested cockatoos, echidnas, and koalas as you explore the expansive Wolgan Valley Reserve that rolls out under dramatic sandstone escarpments.
Watch these cliffs turn brilliant shades of orange and red in the light of the setting sun while enjoying end-of-tour champagne and canopies at a hillside lookout.
- Take a two-hour horse-riding tour of the property. Horses are well matched to riders and the brand-new stables are very glamorous.
- Other great tours include nocturnal animal spotlight and star gazing, bush walking, and mountain biking, and tours of the beautifully restored homestead and expansive kitchen gardens.
How to access:
The most stunning way to access Wolgan Valley is via helicopter, which offers stunning escarpment views. Otherwise it is a long but pretty drive through the Blue Mountains from Sydney.
What I loved
The dramatic landscape and the spacious, extremely well-equipped suites, where I could easily hole up for weeks.
Given the size of the property, it is a pity that the suites are built so closely together. It would also be nice if you could open and close the windows of your private pool yourself rather than have to call someone to do it.
The Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa was a grand award winner in Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report 2012.
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