Sun Down Under
Written by Max Anderson
The winter skies may be blanketing the northern hemisphere, but it’s sizzling in Australia. Max Anderson turns up the heat with six bucket-list experiences on the world’s largest island continent.
Immerse yourself in Saffire
Tasmania enjoys some of the world’s best seafood, harvested from the some of the world’s cleanest seas. Guests at five-star wilderness resort Saffire are invited to discover just how good it gets – by wading out to oyster racks and eating the delicacy straight out of the shell.
The resort, located in the east-coast wild country of Freycinet Peninsula, is a contemporary structure that looks onto mountains and bay waters. Guests can explore beaches by quad bike, cruise to islands, and visit Saffire’s open-range Tasmanian devil enclosure, where you can help out with a health inspection of this endangered animal. Indigenous guide Mick Quilliam leads cultural tours of beautiful Oyster Bay – a chance to hear Aboriginal stories and harvest local ‘bush tucker’ as the local people have done for millennia.
But it’s the dining that keeps Saffire high on the Australian ‘hot lists’. New menus are drawn up each day, designed around what is growing in the chef’s garden or what has come in from the local fishermen.
New South Wales
Lose yourself on Lord Howe Island
Be sure to get a window seat for the two-hour flight from Sydney to Lord Howe Island – that way at least you’ll believe your eyes when you set down on this slim strip of far-flung loveliness.
The island, anchored at one end by two mountains, has endemic wildlife (including the huge phasmid ‘stick insect’, believed extinct until it was rediscovered in 2001), incredible marine life (wade into shallows off Ned’s Beach to handfeed 1.5m-long kingfish), and plenty of water-based adventures including windsurfing, kitesurfing, and fishing.
A highlight is a guided climb up 800m Mt. Gower, where seabirds can literally be ‘called’: when your guide hollers through cupped hands, providence petrels will come crashing through the forest canopy to land at your feet.
Capella Lodge offers upmarket finery and is very convenient for one of the world’s most beautiful golf courses. Be aware, however, that Lord Howe is something of a select destination, only taking 400 visitors at any one time. Book early to avoid disappointment.
Hike the Bibbulmun Track
This 1,000km track stretches from the Western Australian capital of Perth to Albany. And, yes, people really do walk the whole thing, taking in ancient eucalypt forests, the rolling vales of the Darling Range, and the spectacular south coast. But, if you don’t have the eight weeks (or the energy) needed to walk the equivalent of Doha to Muscat, then we recommend one of the most spectacular and soothing summer sections – the coastal track that stretches from Albany to Denmark.
As well as sea air and astonishing vistas, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to cool off in sheltered crystal waters, and walkers especially love the birdlife and the sight of marsupials at dawn and dusk. Albany is a great place to start, home to rugged Torndirrup National Park, and a remarkable whaling station that’s now a first-class exhibition called Whale World.
The Bibbulmun Track has a number of quality operators who can support your walk with guides, off-track accommodation, and all meals. World Expeditions has seven-day tours at the beginning and end of summer (October and March) when the heat is less taxing.
See the tropical wetlands as they’re meant to be seen – in the wet
Australians tend to visit the tropical ‘Top End’ in the dry season. This means they escape the humidity after February when the rains set in, but they also miss out on the landscape at its most remarkable, with powerful waterfalls, swollen billabongs, and abundant wildlife.
They also miss out on the fishing season – and the chance to catch the fabled barramundi.
Bamurru Plains wilderness lodge, located three hours east of Darwin, is a luxury camp on the Mary River floodplain. It comprises a main dining area (with spectacular infinity pool) and cleverly fabricated safari-style suites that look out across a vista unlike any other. Think agile wallabies darting hither and thither, great flocks of magpie geese, herds of roaming buffaloes, and – somewhere out there – the world’s biggest crocodiles.
From mid-February to April, the resort is dedicated to catching metre-long barramundi – a business so serious that guests are taken by powerful airboat to reach the prized wetland ‘honey holes’. After a hard day’s fishing, it’s about sitting back at the resort to watch as the giant thunderclouds begin to spill their torrents onto the wide wetland horizons.
During the drier months between May and October, Bamurru reverts to a leisure resort, with activities including airboat tours, wetland safaris, and visits to neighbouring Kakadu National Park.
Swim with dolphins and seals in Baird Bay
Baird Bay is a slice of sublime coast on the vast Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. It’s a long way from anywhere but famous for the unique proposition of swimming with both Australian sea lions and bottlenose dolphins in the same bay.
Now into its 24th year, the Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience takes guests out by small boat to snorkel first with the 30-strong pod of dolphins and then with the sea lions. It’s entirely up to the animals to interact, but none can resist a little human time, especially the sea lion pups, who love to spin and play around swimmers.
If you’re in this part of the world, you can keep things wild and wonderful at nearby Kangaluna Camp in the Gawler Ranges. This luxury tented camp has plenty of creature comforts and even more creatures – especially at twilight. Be sure to spend a night in the camp’s ‘swag’, a quintessential Australian adaptation where sleeping bag meets canvas. Kangaluna has gone a step further, specially tailoring a covered wagon with a double swag, and inevitably calling it a ‘swagon’.
Distance: 12,380 km
Flight Time: 13 hours, 55 minutes
Distance: 11,973 km
Flight Time: 13 hours, 30 minutes
Distance: 9,312 km
Flight Time: 10 hours, 50 minutes