Australia's best luxury outdoor experiences: Eight great adventures in comfort

In theory, I love a good wilderness adventure. Conceptually, the idea of spending days bushwalking and communing with nature in remote places thrills me. In reality, though, I like my adventure just the way I like my eggs – firm enough to be fun but soft enough to be comfortable. Call me shallow but I love being able to appreciate the great outdoors without getting out of bed.

Getting back to nature doesn't have to mean roughing it. Glamping – glamorous camping – offers the best of both worlds, with the joys of being in the bush combined with the luxuries of proper beds, hard floors, power and even en suites in safari tents, like those found in the private game parks of Africa, and new glamping spots are popping up all over the country – in vineyards, gardens, farms and national parks – like wildflowers after rain. Guided walking holidays mean you don't have to haul a heavy backpack and eat rehydrated rations from an aluminium pot, instead you sip chilled wine while guides whip up a three-course gourmet feast, showers are hot and beds are warm and soft.

If even that sounds a little too outdoorsy, some of Australia's most luxurious lodges are in spectacularly wild locations with exclusive access to wildlife experiences and superb degustation dining. Expedition cruises will get you into the remotest places, gaiter and gortex free, and even once-humble beachside caravan parks now offer resort facilities at a fraction of the cost. Going wild is easier than you think.

ISLAND

Climbing Mount Gower, summit SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
NSW - Lord Howe Island
Image supplied to go with book

Climbing Mount Gower, Lord Howe Island.

THE PLACE

Lord Howe Island, NSW

WHERE IS IT?

Lord Howe Island lies about 600 kilometres north-east of Sydney and south-east of Brisbane, at the same latitude as Port Macquarie. There are regular services from Sydney most days, weekend services from Brisbane and summer services from Port Macquarie. Flight time is just under two hours.

WHY GO

Just 11 kilometres long and barely two kilometres at its widest point, Lord Howe Island is home to the world's most southerly coral reef, beaches where king fish swim around your ankles, beautiful kentia palm forests, an array of rare birdlife and one of the most challenging one-day walks in Australia, the climb to the summit of Mount Gower. It's a 10-hour return climb from sea level to 875 metres that involves lots of ropes and narrow ledges but, if you're at the top when the clouds break, it really is like being on top of the world.

WHEN TO GO

Temperatures are mild most of the year. Pinetrees Lodge closes over winter from the end of May to the beginning of September each year, although other accommodation is available on the island.

DON'T MISS

Keen walkers can explore the island on the five-day Seven Peaks Walk. Part of the Great Walks of Australia collective of luxury guided walking holidays, hikers climb all of Lord Howe's volcanic peaks on a series of day walks – some that are off limits to the general public – returning to the comfort of Pinetrees Lodge at the end of each day, usually in time for afternoon tea and cake, or a glass of bubbly on the boatshed deck.

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ESSENTIALS

The oldest guesthouse on the island, Pinetrees Lodge, has been run by the same family for more than six generations and accommodation is a mix of en suite rooms, suites and cottages. Five-night packages cost from $1700 a person. See pinetrees.com.au

MOUNTAIN

O'Reillys Tree Top Walk
Credit: O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
Qld - O'Reillys Rainforest Retreat
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THE PLACE

O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, Qld

WHERE IS IT

O'Reilly's is approximately 120 kilometres (two hours' drive) from Brisbane and 70 kilometres (90 minutes) from the Gold Coast, at the end of Lamington National Park Road.

WHY GO

Exploring the World Heritage-listed rainforest around O'Reilly's can be as mild or as wild as you like. There's a range a range of guided walks and activities, from flying fox adventures to Segway safaris, bird walks, glow worm tours and wildlife encounters, as well as 4WD trips to mountain-top sunset vantage points. The Lost World Day Spa offers vinotherapy baths and massages, a sauna and a cliff-edge infinity pool, and there's also a plunge pool and whirlpool at the retreat, as well as a cafe, restaurant and bar.

WHEN TO GO

Summer is mild, cooler than the coast. O'Reilly's Rainforest Bird Week, Australia's biggest and longest running birding event, is held in November.

DON'T MISS

O'Reillys is surrounded by one of the largest remaining tracts of subtropical rainforest in Australia and highlights include stands of 15,000-year-old Antarctic beech trees, about150 waterfalls and more than 160 kilometres of walking tracks. The most iconic is the 22-kilometre Border Track but there are also dozens of shorter half-day tracks, and even a couple of quick half-hour strolls, including the Tree Top Walk. It might seem a little tame by today's skywalk standards but in 1986 the 20 metre-high suspended walkway was the first of its kind.

ESSENTIALS

Accommodation ranges from small but comfortable studios to self-contained villas perched on the hillside with deckside spa baths. From $157 a night; packages are available. See oreillys.com.au

COAST

South West Rocks - Sunshine Resort - Ngurra Lodge SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
NSW - Sunshine Resort, South West Rocks
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Ngurra Lodge, Sunshine Resort, South West Rocks.

THE PLACE

Sunshine Resort, NSW

WHERE IS IT?

South West Rocks is 460 kilometres north of Sydney, about a five-hour drive via the Pacific Highway.

WHY GO

You can't see the cabins for trees at Sunshine Resort. Decorated with a two-storey-high photographic image of the melaleuca and banksia forest they flank, the Ngurra lodges blend in so well with their surroundings they are almost invisible. Inside, it's like sleeping in a luxury treehouse, with nothing but glass between you and the kookaburras laughing at you from their treetop perches outside. Sunshine Resort started off as a caravan park but over the past few years has transformed itself into a family-friendly resort, where the focus is very much about keeping under-12s entertained, with adventure playgrounds, fairy gardens, pirate shows and treasure hunts.

WHEN TO GO

Sunshine puts on lots of special activities for kids during school holidays. The water is still warm enough for swimming in March, winter is whale watching season and the coastal heath lands are carpeted in wildflowers during spring.

DON'T MISS

Follow the sandy track that winds through the bush to Trial Bay, a sheltered beach with white sand so fine it squeaks. Trial Bay Kiosk has food every bit as good as the view, is licensed and is open for breakfast and lunch daily, and dinner on Friday and Saturday. While you're there, take a wander around the very photogenic sandstone ruin of Trial Bay Gaol on the headland. It was built in 1877, closed in 1903 and reopened in 1915 to hold internees from Germany during World War I, who were allowed out onto the beaches during the day but locked up at night. The beach is good for swimming and fishing, the headland ideal for whale watching and you'll usually spot a kangaroo or two, although there's plenty of those grazing the grass at Sunshine Resort, too. That is, of course, if you can manage to get the kids away from the pool.

ESSENTIALS

There's a range of cabins, cottages and lodges as well as campsites and powered caravan sites with private ensuites, from $45 for campsites up to $368 for a Ngurra Lodge (sleeps six). See big4southwestrocks.com.au

WALK

Great Ocean Walk
12 Apostles Lodge Walk
Credit: Credit 12 Apostles Lodge Walk SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
Vic - 12 Apostles Lodge Walk
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THE PLACE

Twelve Apostle Lodge Walk, Vic

WHERE IS IT?

Accommodation is at Johanna Beach, 230 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, via the Great Ocean Road, although transfers to and from Melbourne are included in the tour price.

WHY GO

First there was the Great Ocean Road, and now there is the Great Ocean Walk, a coastal trail linking Apollo Bay to the famous Twelve Apostles rock stacks near Port Campbell. Covering 55 kilometres over four days, the Twelve Apostles Lodge Walk takes out the hard work, with three nights spent at the eco-friendly Twelve Apostles Lodge, which means all you have to carry is a day pack with your lunch, a rain jacket and a camera. The lodge was built specifically with hikers in mind and creature comforts, beyond crisp linen, soft beds, en suites and hot showers, include foot spas for tired feet.

WHEN TO GO

Walk operates between September and the end of May.

DON'T MISS

Just like the road, the walk is knock-your-socks-off gorgeous, with dramatic sea scapes and iconic rock formations, giant mountain ash gums, rainforest, fern gullies and rugged secret beaches. The adventure finishes on high at the Twelve Apostles, with a scenic helicopter flight above the coastline, giving the walk a whole new perspective.

ESSENTIALS

Four-day guided walks, including all meals, from $2285. See twelveapostleslodgewalk.com.au

COUNTRY

Lake Reflection, Karri Valley Resort
Credit: RAC Karri Valley Resort SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
WA - Karri Valley
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Lake Reflection, Karri Valley Resort.

THE PLACE

RAC Karri Valley Resort, WA

WHERE IS IT?

Twenty-two kilometres west of Pemberton, and 367 kilometres south-east of Perth, about a 3.5-hour drive.

WHY GO

The southern corner of Western Australia is a land of giants, home to Australia's most impressive tall forests. Some of the trees here, particularly the red tingle and karri, are as high as 75 metres with a base circumference of 20 metres. Encircled by karri forest and set beside a trout-filled lake adjacent Beedelup National Park, the RAC Karri Valley Resort near Pemberton makes a good base to drive the Karri Forest Explorer Drive, a scenic 86-kilometre-long loop from Pemberton.

WHEN TO GO

Winter can be wet and quite cool; summer is normally dry and warm. For wildflowers visit in spring, peak flowering time is August to November.

DON'T MISS

The Gloucester Tree, a 61-metre-high karri in Gloucester National Park, was used as a lookout to help spot forest fires in the 1930s and '40s. In the old days you had to get to the top the hard way, using special boots and a belt, but these days there's a spiral of iron spikes embedded in the trunk like a staircase to heaven, or at least to an aluminium lookout platform. Be warned though, it's harder (and scarier) than it looks, and less than a quarter of all those that try to climb the tree make it to the top.

ESSENTIALS

Accommodation ranges from lakeside motel-style rooms to two- or three-bedroom chalets with kitchens, balconies and log fires. Rates start at $210 a night. See parksandresorts.rac.com.au/karri-valley

OUTBACK

Kakadu chopper flight, Jim Jim Falls SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
NT - Kakadu
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THE PLACE

Kakadu National Park, NT

WHERE IS IT?

The main route through Kakadu, the Nature's Way, is sealed and links up with the Stuart Highway at both ends. It begins at the turn off to the Arnhem Highway, 34 kilometres south of Darwin and roughly forms two sides of a triangle, with the mining town of Jabiru at the apex (256 kilometres east), joining up with the Kakadu Highway running south to the Stuart Highway near historic Pine Creek.

WHY GO

Kakadu is one of those larger than life places that really does live up to the hype. It's wild, beautiful and seriously out there, a place where wild buffalo roam, birdlife mass in the thousands, rivers flood and crocodiles lurk. Gaze at rocky walls covered in ancient art, cruise lily-covered billabongs fringed by pandanus and drift through paperbark swamps, hike through monsoon forests to hidden waterholes and take a tour with an indigenous guide who will introduce you to the world's oldest living culture.

WHEN TO GO

Most people go in the dry season (May to November), but the waterfalls are best in February and March – it doesn't rain all day, every day, accommodation is half-price and there are no crowds. Spend the money you save on your accommodation on a 70-minute helicopter flight over the falls – it's one the most awe-inspiring things you'll ever see. Or go at the end of the dry, in September, when the waterholes are shrinking and the birdlife is massing.

DON'T MISS

7. Gunlom Plunge Pool - supplied Tourism NT Swimming in Gunlom Falls upper pool str20-trav10swims

Gunlom Falls.

It's a bit of a hot and sweaty climb to the get there, but the plunge pool at the top of Gunlom Falls has to be one of the best wet-edge pools in the universe. At Cooinda make sure you do the Yellow Water billabong cruise. Take the sunset or sunrise cruise and you'll see thousands of birds and more than likely a few big crocodiles as well.

ESSENTIALS

Camp in one of the 25 camp grounds or caravan parks, sleep in the belly of a croc at the Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru or family-friendly motel-style units at Cooinda Lodge. Campsites from $6 a night; hotel accommodation from $139. See kakadutourism.com

GLAMPING

Arkaba Walk Sleep under the stars Flinders Ranges
credit: Arkaba Station SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
SA - Arkaba
Image supplied to go with book

THE PLACE

Arkaba Conservancy, SA

WHERE IS IT?

380 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges, about a five-hour drive.

WHY GO

Plenty of places offer glamping in carpet-strewn bell tents, flash camps or even hard-floored safari tents with ensuites, but no one does it quite like Arkaba, where you sleep alfresco in a traditional canvas swag on a specially-constructed raised timber deck, between crisp cotton sheets, beneath a soft feather doona and under a canopy of stars. A chef cooks dinner and staff are on hand to heat water for a bush shower with a knockout view. It's the ultimate way to camp out in the bush, particularly when you don't have to worry about creepy crawlies.

WHEN TO GO

The Flinders are fairly dry all year, but summer temperatures can be punishingly hot, which makes walking challenging. The best time to visit is in spring, when wildflowers are blooming.

DON'T MISS

Swagging out is a highlight of the overnight walking safaris, but you don't have to sleep outside. The homestead, a private home for 150 years, has been transformed into a stylish lodge with five en suite bedrooms. Beyond the overnight walking safaris you can opt for shorter bushwalks with your own private guide, a 4WD ridgetop drive across the station, wildlife viewing safaris, scenic flights, mountain biking, or just lazing by the homestead's pool.

ESSENTIALS

From $990 a person a night – rates include guided wilderness safaris as well as all food and drinks. See arkabaconservancy.com

AFLOAT

Southwest National Park - Bathurst Harbour - from Mount Milner SunOct21Cover - Australias Best Nature Escapes - Lee Atkinson
TAS - Bathurst Harbour
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Southwest National Park, Bathurst Harbour.

THE PLACE

Bathurst Harbour aboard the Odalisque, Tas

WHERE IS IT

Cruises depart from Melaleuca, about an hour's scenic flight from Hobart, included in the price.

WHY GO

Tasmanian Boat Charters operate summer-time cruises, aboard a custom-made abalone boat with just three cabins, into Bathurst Harbour and Port Davey, deep inside a wilderness area that is otherwise only accessible by foot on an eight-day hike. With a chef and an expert wilderness guide onboard, it's perfect for those eager for adventure but not so keen on roughing it.

WHEN TO GO

Cruises depart February to May.

DON'T MISS

Pack your hiking boots, because this is a cruise for those who want to experience the wilderness rather than just look at it, with lots of bushwalking (tailored to suit individual fitness levels and the weather) to mountain-top vantage points – where it feels like you can see over the edge of the world – and through beautiful rainforests and across buttongrass plains littered with wildflowers to isolated beaches where few, if any, Europeans have ever trod.

ESSENTIALS

Cruises ranges from four to seven days, and start at $5000 a person. See tasmanianboatcharters.com.au

CHEAP AND CHEERFUL CAMPING TOP FIVE

NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND, QLD

Camp with koalas and enjoy ocean views from your beachfront campsite, just a 45-minute ferry ride from Brisbane. See minjerribahcamping.com.au

BARMAH FORESTS, VIC

Explore the largest river red gum forest in the world. Riverside camping in Barmah National Park is free. See parkweb.vic.gov.au

GOVE PENINSULA, NT

Getting there is a 4WD adventure but the beaches of north-east Arnhem Land are spectacular, campsites are right on the edge of the sand and included in the cost of your entry permit. See dhimurru.com.au

COONGIE LAKES, SA

Surrounded by the blood red dunes of the Strzelecki Desert, this astonishing wetland – one of the most significant in the world – is home to a multitude of birdlife. See environment.sa.gov.au

THE WARRUMBUNGLES, NSW

Sleeping under the stars takes on a whole new dimension in the Warrumbungle National Park in central-western NSW, Australia's first – and only – Dark Sky Park. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

FIVE GREAT GOURMET GLAMPING GETAWAYS

BALGOWNIE ESTATE, VIC

The G stands for gourmet as well as glitz when it comes to camping out in the middle of one of Victoria's award-winning vineyards on the outskirts of Bendigo. See balgownieestatebendigo.com

TRUFFLE LODGE, TAS

This new glamping spot beside the Derwent River is on a one-hectare truffiere under hazelnuts, one of the oldest black perigord truffle farms in Australia. See trufflelodge.com

OLIO BELLO, WA

Bunk down in a safari-style en suite bungalow surrounded by more than 8000 olive trees in the heart of the Margaret River wine region. See oliobello.com

PAPERBARK CAMP, NSW

The famous white sand beaches of Jervis Bay are just down the road, but it's the fine dining in the treetop restaurant that's the real reason to stay at this luxury eco-friendly camp. See paperbarkcamp.com.au

LONGITUDE 131, NT

Dine out under the stars in the middle of the desert before retiring to ultra swish "tents" and wake up to a view of Uluru. True luxury is watching the sunrise over the rock from bed. See longitude131.com.au

FIVE NATURAL PLACES FOR A SPLURGE

QUALIA, QLD

Soak in the views from your own private wet-edge pool at this luxurious tropical island resort on Hamilton Island, with the Great Barrier Reef right on your doorstep. See qualia.com.au

SAFFIRE FREYCINET, TAS

Picnic on famous Wineglass Bay, drink with the godfather of Australian whisky, Bill Lark, eat oysters on a table in the middle of the bay, and wake up to one of Tasmania's most mesmerising views. See saffire-freycinet.com.au

SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE, SA

This clifftop lodge on Kangaroo Island offers unforgettable ocean views, amazing food and wine, and a range of guided activities, including walking on a beach with sea lions. See southernoceanlodge.com.au

TRUE NORTH, WA

See the Kimberley coast in style aboard a True North Adventure Cruise. Itineraries include fishing, mud crabbing, hiking, remote picnics and flying above waterfalls and gorges in your own private helicopter. See truenorth.com.au

WOLGAN VALLEY, NSW

The landscape steals the show at Australia's most glamorous bush retreat at the foot of the Blue Mountains. Enjoy it from your private pool, or get out into it on a 4WD safaris, night wildlife spotting or horse riding tour. See oneandonlyresorts.com

This is an edited extract of Lee Atkinson's book, Australia's Best Nature Escapes (Hardie Grant Books, rrp $39.99).

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