Every year around this time, when the Northern winter is at its worst, we hear whispers about a legendary place where February is the height of summer, and March, far from being buried under snow, marks the gentle transition into fall. Well, we’re here to tell you it’s a real place — and, unless you’re an Antipodean yourself, you stand to earn a nice haul of frequent-flier miles getting there….
The lion’s share of foreign travel begins and ends with one or both of Australia’s big cities. Once upon a time Melbourne was the arty one while Sydney was all business, but the reality is more complicated than that….
Sydney’s Establishment was part of the very first crop of Tablet hotels, and for an introduction, you could do a lot worse — stylish and luxe, phenomenally well located, and with a rollicking social life, it’s still among our favorites.
The Lyall, in Melbourne, is another one we go way back with. There’s a laid-back, residential feel about the place, as well as a generous helping of tasteful luxury, and the South Yarra neighborhood has more or less everything you’ll need.
And if you want to go even more upscale, earning yourself a postcard-worthy view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge in the process, the Park Hyatt’s your choice. As for the hotel itself, well, Park Hyatt is one of the rare names that more or less says it all.
Queensland’s Gold Coast is holiday heaven, and it’s also the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef — and as you get closer to the equator, the wildlife gets increasingly bizarre….
Surfers Paradise is pretty much what it says it is — a bustling tourist destination that offers the nightlife of a coastal city along with some of the world’s best waves, playing host to an eclectic contingent of revelers, families and beach bums. QT Gold Coast manages to please them all, with a cosmopolitan sensibility that’s both fresh and unpretentious.
Meanwhile, in Brisbane, Limes cuts loose with a modernist sensibility that’s one part mid-century and two parts far-future. It’s surrounded by some of the city’s best nightlife, much of it run by the same folks who own Limes — there’s a beer garden, a tiki bar, an underground lounge, a late-night wood-fired pizza place, and plenty more.
And then there’s Hayman Island, which is far beyond, both literally and figuratively — this private island resort offers an almost comical array of luxuries and diversions, up to and including helicopter tours, seaplane excursions, and a submarine tour (!) of the Reef itself.
It’s not entirely fair to lump these regions together, but collectively they’re home to some of the most impressive landscapes, seascapes, and hotels — not just in Australia, but in the world.
We’ve been bending your ear about this place since it opened, and if you’ve seen the pictures, you understand why. Coles Bay, Tasmania would be out of this world even if you were staying in a Motel 6, but add a luxury lodge that’s as impeccably low-impact as it is unflinchingly futuristic (not to mention relentlessly high-end) and you’ve got a recipe for something truly special.
The Tasmanian port city of Hobart has a few tricks up its sleeve as well, including a surprisingly rich history. The Henry Jones is a series of historic row houses and an old jam factory, restored to house a cool, contemporary hotel and art space displaying hundreds of sculptures, paintings, and installations by Tasmanian artists.
Another impossibly dramatic collision of natural spectacle and architectural distinction, Southern Ocean Lodge occupies a permanent slot near the top of most of our luxury-lodge bucket lists. From the locally sourced food and wine to the front-row views of the landscape and the wildlife, it’s a totally immersive experience.
Forgive us for passing so quickly over the rest of Australia, but it’s a big, sparse place, and at the speed we’re going, we’ve only got time for a couple of highlights:
Ultra-luxe, ultra-modern, and built on stilts so as not to needlessly disturb the local environment, Longitude 131° is the wilderness camp in its most highly evolved form — with a view of Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, from every one of its luxury cabins.
Slightly inland from the Indian Ocean, the vineyard-surrounded town of Margaret River is located about three hours’ drive from Perth. Cape Lodge is one of a few grand estates in the area, boasting an award-winning restaurant, its own lake and vineyard, as well as easy proximity to beaches, a cave-filled national park, and, of course, all the viticultural attractions a wine lover could desire.
Meanwhile, “across the ditch,” New Zealand looms rather larger in the traveling imagination than you’d expect from a country of its size or population. First, on the relatively populous North Island:
Auckland’s not exactly New York or Shanghai, but it’s an increasingly cosmopolitan city all the same. Not only is the Hotel DeBrett surrounded by creativity — galleries, theaters and boutiques line the streets — but it’s filled with it as well, featuring photography, sculpture, even toiletries from New Zealand’s finest makers.
The lake that fills the volcanic Rotorua Caldera is one of the island’s great natural landmarks, and Treetops, in an ancient forest on the hillside above the lake, is a brilliant introduction to the outdoor paradise that is the New Zealand luxury lodge.
Meanwhile, on Hawke’s Bay, a bit farther down the coast, the land is a bit less rugged and the living a bit more idyllic. This is where you’ll get your first taste of another one of New Zealand’s great strengths — a farm-to-table tradition made possible by the extraordinary local livestock and produce.
Now, just maybe, you’re ready for South Island — this is the wild one, all mountains, fjords, wide open spaces and big empty skies. If you’re an adventure traveler, welcome to your spiritual home.
Fitting its South Island location, this is the sort of hotel where your room comes with a generous, serene expanse of the natural world and practically no one to share it with. No danger of your helicopter, seaplane or ferry arriving at the wrong hotel on the Bay of Many Coves; there’s just one here, and, like its setting, it’s a stunner.
Here, at the edge of Lake Wakatipu, one feels far indeed from the modern world. But one artifact of civilization that has extended this far is the, well, civilization of the place — though a tiny lodge, this hotel features interiors that rival, in their sheer luxuriousness, the finest city hotels and the most exclusive resorts.
We end our tour in Queenstown, between the shores of Lake Wakatipu and the peaks of the Southern Alps. This is, quite simply, one of the planet’s most beautiful places, and it’s all Eichardt’s can do to simply keep up — which it does, with admirable aplomb, combining gold-rush history with ultra-modern style and the expertise of a locally born-and-raised proprietor.