Related: Top Ten Best
Australasia has been leading the way when it comes to the top luxury lodges in recent years. Yet the Antipodean version of luxury is a subtle art. It’s about impeccable ecological credentials, whether that means a commitment to sustainability or sourcing the freshest local produce. It’s about privileged access to remote, untamed landscapes and the outdoor experiences they offer. And – almost always – it’s about a room with a view. Here is our selection of the best of the best, compiled by Audley Australia and New Zealand specialists.
Best Luxury lodges in Australia
Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island, Southeast Australia
KI (as locals call it) is covered in old-growth vegetation, webbed with farmland but little else in the way of human development, and enclosed by wave-pounded limestone cliffs and headlands. At its far western tip, granite formations – The Remarkables – have been sculpted into strange shapes, like something out of a Dali painting.
Wildlife thrives here. The consequences of European settlement on the mainland passed the island by, and several endemic sub-species developed. Southern Ocean Lodge, on KI’s southwest coast, has its own naturalist guides who help guests spot echidnas (hedgehog-like creatures with long beaks) goannas (Australian monitor lizards), koalas, emus and (of course) kangaroos. They also lead beach walks among throngs of seals and sea lions.
The lodge itself is a line of low-rise suites and buildings cantilevered out from the cliff tops. Its cuisine is fresh and imaginative, showcasing local ingredients. But the real joy is gazing through your suite’s expansive floor-to-ceiling windows at the crashing ocean. Next stop: Antarctica.
Sal Salis, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia
Cape Range resembles a ridged tranche of Outback, but this park borders the ocean. The 16 luxurious tents of Sal Salis are ensconced in sand dunes, while just offshore is Ningaloo Reef, one of the world’s largest fringing reefs. The corals are a magnet for marine life, including clownfish, manta rays and dolphins. Whale sharks arrive annually between April and July.
Sal Salis’s proximity to the reef is exciting: the camp can arrange for you to dive with whale sharks, but you can also simply walk out of your tent and drift-snorkel straight from the beach. Located in such a fragile habitat, Sal Salis takes its environmental responsibilities seriously – power is solar generated and the tents meld into their surroundings. It’s a place for switching off: don’t expect a TV in your tent, but do expect comfortable beds, excellent food and the odd red kangaroo peeking from behind the dunes.
El Questro Homestead, the Kimberley, Northwest Australia
The Kimberley is a frontier, a place where cattle ranches are the size of European countries. It has ochre-red expanses of desert and forested, flooded gorges that are swimming with freshwater crocodiles. Then there are craters, mountain ranges, waterfalls and a coastline so splintered it can only be accessed by boat. Swathes of the Kimberley are Aboriginal tribal lands, looked after by remote communities and dotted with cave paintings.
If you’re exploring the Kimberley, stop off at the El Questro Homestead. A sophisticated wilderness retreat, each of its stylish, contemporary suites has its own private veranda, some overlooking the Chamberlain River. The gardens contain a spa, swimming pool and tennis courts. But staying here is really about immersing yourself in the Kimberley’s landscapes: you can join the homestead’s rangers on trips to far-flung swimming holes, or on hikes and bushwalks among the area’s ridges and river systems.
Longitude 131, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Red Centre
Amid scrubland, dunes and endless-seeming rust-hued desert, Uluru rises up like a great red knuckle puncturing the horizon. This sandstone monolith has come to be a symbol of Australia and is imbued with immense spiritual significance for the local Anangu people.
One of the best places to view Uluru from is Longitude 131, a safari-style camp whose 15 individually styled tents offer an uninterrupted vantage. It’s an unrivalled location, and it really comes into its own at sunrise and sunset. Unlike most visitors to Uluru, there’s no need to travel to reach a viewing platform: you can watch the shades of the rock deepen and change with the light from the daybed on your balcony. Or beside your own crackling fire pit.
We also like the activities and experiences on offer here, particularly the chance to dine under the stars while the resident astronomer helps you locate the Southern Cross.
Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, Northeast Australia
The most northerly reef island of the Great Barrier Reef, and a national park, Lizard Island combines a reef experience with an intimate getaway: there’s only one hotel on this island.
It’s the sort of place where you can take a motorised dinghy to reach deserted, Crusoe-esque stretches of beach. Cerulean waters and fringing reef encircle the island: here, you can explore the Great Barrier Reef straight from the shore, swimming and snorkeling among black-tipped reef sharks over its corals and gardens of giant clams that close shut as you swim closer. The hotel also offers diving trips to nearby Cod Hole, where the waters are alive with potato cod.
Despite the hotel’s understated elegance, its fine dining and extensive wine cellar, the island itself hasn’t been falsely manicured. Go bushwalking to lookout points and you’ll discover an interior thick with rainforest, broken up by mountains, that’s home to nesting ospreys.
Best Luxury lodges in New Zealand
Eagles Nest, Bay of Islands, North Island
Colonial-era townships and undulating farmland meet the aquamarine Pacific in this Northland bay. Around 144 islands, which give the bay its name, are scattered around waters brimming with marlin and dolphins.
We think the Eagles Nest has easily one of the best vantage points in the Bay of Islands, sitting on a ridgeline on the tip of the Russell Peninsula. Each of the five minimalist villas in the property’s 0.3 sq km grounds has widescreen views over the bay, but the Rahimoana Villa takes the privilege that bit further. It sprawls on its own headland, in gardens flowering with sub-tropical native shrubs. From the infinity pool, you look out over the calm waters of the bay to a horizon of green, bosky islands. The skies feel huge here.
Food is an equally key part of the experience of staying here, with private chefs on hand to create meals using classic New Zealand fare, such as lamb and crayfish.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers, Hawke’s Bay (near Napier), North Island
New Zealand’s temperate Hawke’s Bay region on the west coast of North Island is criss-crossed with apple orchards, kiwi fruit plantations and wineries. This peaceable, agricultural landscape contrasts with the serrated, hook-like promontory of Cape Kidnappers, which throngs with Australasian gannets, their bright gold heads standing out boldly from the shingle beaches where they nest.
Keen golfers will enjoy staying at The Farm, where the rusticity of a working estate meets modern, sleek interiors in a cluster of lodges and suites overlooking Cape Kidnappers’ championship golf course. The Farm has even been known to offer residential golf workshops in the summer months.
Golf aside, staying here is about embracing the wilderness. Borrow a mountain bike to explore one of the surrounding trails, hike the clifftops, or join Farm staff on a Kiwi Discovery Walk, meeting these endangered birds and contributing towards their preservation.
Bay of Many Coves, Marlborough Sounds, South Island
The Marlborough Sounds is a water world of valleys drowned by ocean. Long fingers of ridges stretch out into the Cook Strait as the land mottles and breaks up into bays, inlets, coves and jagged islands. Fishing craft, water taxis and kayaks weave in between them.
Only accessible by boat or helicopter, the Bay of Many Coves hotel has a secluded location. Tucked into a cove on Queen Charlotte Sound, its rooms face the cobalt-blue waters and the encircling Sounds. The hotel also has an excellent restaurant which sources 80% of its cuisine locally.
Every inch of land here is carpeted in native forest and bush, reaching right down to the shoreline. We recommend venturing out on one of the walking trails that begin at the hotel, possibly joining up with the 71 km (44 mile) Queen Charlotte Track, which winds its way from Ship Cove towards the mainland. It’s also a great base for heading out on a tasting tour of the Blenheim wineries.
Hapuku Lodge, Kaikoura, South Island
Celebrated for the sperm whales, dusky dolphins, fur seals and other marine creatures that visit its waters, the small town of Kaikoura sits on a rocky outcrop on the South Island’s east coast, flanked by mountain peaks. Hapuku Lodge, a property we especially like here, makes the most of its location. Quirky yet chic treehouse-style rooms offer views of both the mountain ranges and the coastline.
Set within an olive farm, the lodge admirably maintains the responsible travel ethos that Kaikoura as a community has spearheaded with its eco-friendly wildlife-watching trips. Hapuku offsets its guests’ carbon footprints by planting a native New Zealand tree for every visitor who stays longer than two nights. The food, too, is locally sourced where possible.
The treehouses are great for year-round stays, with big balconies for summertime and a wood burning stove for cooler evenings.
Blanket Bay, Glenorchy, South Island
The small settlement of Glenorchy is engulfed by the sort of soaring snow-clad peaks and green valleys that have come to be seen as quintessential New Zealand scenery. In fact, the surrounding area enjoyed a starring role in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. You can think of Glenorchy as a smaller, calmer low-key alternative to nearby adrenaline capital Queenstown. It also makes a particularly good base for walkers heading out on the trails in Mount Aspiring National Park.
The lakeside Blanket Bay lodge impresses in several ways. First, there’s the alpine setting – every suite or chalet has generous panoramas over the Humbolt Mountains and Lake Wakatipu. The interiors are opulent but refined, making use of timber and stone furnishings. But no one comes here to stay indoors: this lodge offers some superb out-in-the-open experiences, from wine and art trails to heli-fishing, horse riding and a private helicopter trip to Milford Sound.
Disclosure: Our property, service and product reviews are sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own and are in no way influenced by the sponsor.