Bald Rock Bush Retreat, Tenterfield review: South of the border

Read our writer's views on this property below

Bruce Elder finds a bold Mexican-Spanish statement deep in the bush on the northern tablelands.

Are you a fan of Clint Eastwood's "man with no name?" Remember those scenes where the cheroot-chomping Eastwood sat high in the saddle and rode into Mexican hacienda compounds full of bad guys and menace? In your wildest imaginings, you would never think such an experience could be had near the NSW-Queensland border.

Bald Rock Bush Retreat is a destination that turns cinematic fantasy into an entertaining reality. Drive 36 kilometres from Tenterfield on the Mount Lindesay Road towards Stanthorpe, a couple of kilometres beyond the sign to Bald Rock National Park, then take the turn to the Bald Rock Bush Retreat. Proceed along the dirt road through tall New England gums and suddenly, there it is: a perfect recreation of a Mexican hacienda compound, with a wide gateway, terracotta tiles on the roofs and high walls rendered in ochre.

Inside the large courtyard, there's a mournful donkey mooching about and a cactus garden in one corner. Narrow steps lead past terracotta flowerpots filled with geraniums to a flat roof, where you expect a villain in chaps to be waiting.

At the far end of this rooftop quadrangle is the home of owners Buko and Helga Vogel, with the reception area and a high-ceiling dining room, which looks more like a chapel than a restaurant. On one side, there's a kind of bunkhouse with games room and on the other, two single-storey guest rooms and, the most luxurious option (where we stayed), the Hacienda Apartment, with a queen-size bed in a gallery above a living area.

Step through the apartment's heavy timber carved doorway and you magically traverse the Pacific and land in a world coloured in vivid orange, mustard, purple and blue. There's not a hint of beige or blandness.

The attention to detail is meticulous. There's a domed fireplace in one corner, bright pillows on couches covered with vivid Mexican prints, a pandanus in another corner, a cobalt-blue kitchen cupboard, an impossibly bright purple feature wall and huge exposed logs and crudely adzed roof beams that jut through the walls into the courtyard.

There's a leather-covered circular dining table with four folk-art chairs fashioned from leather and split timber, wrought-iron candle sconces and large terracotta tiles underfoot.

Despite its overt homage to Spanish and Mexican themes, the retreat is actually the essence of the Australian bush.

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It's a monument to Buko's talent, tenacity and imagination. He built most of the buildings over a 12-year period - to 2004 - with nothing more than the help of friends when large pieces of timber needed to be shifted and the skills of local bricklayers when the walls needed to be erected. He is as comfortable building Spanish arches as he is carving timber facades and rendering walls.

Beyond the Spanish-Mexican compound, there's a bunkhouse up the hill that sleeps eight and two lake cabins located about 500 metres down the hill. One of them is in the bush beside the man-made lake at the bottom of the property and the other, rather dramatically, has been built over the lake. The complex can sleep a total 22 people.

We walk past the organic vegetable garden, across open countryside towards the lake and can see, in the distance, about 40 kangaroos and wallabies in the lower paddock. These are not pets. As we approach, they shyly retreat into the surrounding bushland. There are kookaburras laughing in the gum trees at the edge of the lower paddock.

Being so far from Tenterfield and Stanthorpe (about 32 kilometres from both), visitors have the option of bringing their own food - the Hacienda Apartment has cooking facilities and a full-size fridge - or enjoying Helga's exceptional home cooking. In the dining room, with its huge open fireplace, we have pumpkin soup (made from organic pumpkins fresh from the garden) and an excellent Moroccan chicken dish (again using fresh, home-grown produce). Breakfast is hot, substantial and cooked to order.

The main reason for visiting Bald Rock Bush Retreat is to marvel at how a German-born craftsman with a love of Spanish architecture has applied his unique vision to 255 hectares next to the national park. But, equally, no journey to this isolated region is complete without a visit to nearby Bald Rock, the largest exposed granite dome in the southern hemisphere and the third-largest monolith (after Mount Augustus and Uluru) in Australia. There are two options for climbing it: the easy route (2.4 kilometres) or a steep route up the face (1.2 kilometres). Either way, it is well worth the climb for sublime views over the surrounding countryside. On a clear day, you can see as far as Cunningham's Gap in Queensland.

Weekends Away are reviewed anonymously and paid for by Traveller.

VISITORS' BOOK

Bald Rock Bush Retreat

Address Mount Lindesay Road, Tenterfield.

The verdict A delightfully rustic Spanish-Mexican experience in the heart of the Bald Rock National Park.

Price Rates range from $100 a night for a couple for a two-night stay in the Hacienda guest rooms, to $160 a night for a couple in the Hacienda Apartment and Lake Cabin.

Bookings Phone (07) 4686 1227, see www.baldrockbushretreat.com.

Getting there Drive 700 kilometres from Sydney to Tenterfield on the New England Highway. Turn right into Naas Street, left into Logan Street and continue on Mount Lindesay Road for 33 kilometres. Bald Rock Bush Retreat is located three kilometres beyond the Bald Rock National Park turn-off.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Visit the national park; explore Tenterfield's connections with Federation and Peter Allen.