The Top End is tops, whether poolside in Darwin or ogling the outback in a luxury swag.
Mary River Floodplain, Kakadu; 1300 790 561; bamurruplains.com
THE LOCATION This lodge is wedged between the Mary River floodplains, Sampan River and the edge of Kakadu National Park, a three-hour drive or 30-minute flight from Darwin. An absence of signposts and mobile coverage makes arrival an adventure.
THE PLACE You'll be channelling your inner Irwin at this eco-friendly lodge on a working buffalo station, where wallabies hop and crocodiles lurk. Most guests opt for daily safari-style inclusions such as 4WD excursions, quad biking, barramundi fishing, river cruises and walks through paperbark forest.
THE EXPERIENCE The main lodge houses a lounge and dining room. There's an infinity pool beyond, while accommodation is in individual canvas-covered bungalows. There's a nod to bush living in the hardwood and corrugated iron decor and old lanterns used as lampshades, but you won't have to endure a backyard dunny or swag at this luxury property. The dining room offers convivial story-swapping and excellent food such as butterflied prawns, pan-fried barramundi and soufflé with caramel ice-cream.
DON'T MISS Taking an airboat ride on the floodplains for an exhilarating sense of space. You'll see extraordinary bird life: cormorants, sea eagles and enormous flocks of egrets and whistling ducks, all against a backdrop of vast floating mats of purple water lilies and stunning sunsets.
IDEAL FOR Those seeking outback experiences with luxury.
FROM $488 a person a night for a Safari Bungalow; minimum two or three-night stay at some times of the year. Brian Johnston
DESERT GARDENS HOTEL
1 Yulara Dr, Yulara; (02) 8296 8010; ayersrockresort.com.au
Desert Gardens, Uluru. Photo: Supplied
THE LOCATION Desert Gardens is part of the Ayers Rock Resort complex at Yulara, just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
THE PLACE Ayers Rock Resort is a substantial site, with shuttle buses running between the various accommodations. The town square offers a variety of shops and a spa, as well as free presentations on topics such as local plant and animal life and bush tucker. But the star attraction is Uluru.
THE EXPERIENCE Desert Gardens Hotel completed its first major refurbishment in 15 years in 2017. The 218 refreshed rooms are bright and light, the pick of which are the 24 with views of Uluru. There are two restaurants on site and a swimming pool for welcome respite after a walk around the base of Uluru or exploration of Kata Tjuta (the Olgas), the underrated sister site of red rock formations nearby.
DON'T MISS Bruce Munro's Field of Light, a collection of 50,000 glowing, solar-powered light stems, was installed near Uluru in 2016. Originally planned to be open for 12 months, its success has seen its run extended twice. You've now got until December 2020 to see it.
IDEAL FOR Experiencing Australia's famed rock in style.
FROM $380 a night; minimum two-night stay. Craig Platt
SKYCITY RESORT DARWIN
Gilruth Ave, Darwin; (08) 8943 8888; skycitydarwin.com.au
SkyCity Resort, Darwin. Photo: Shane Eecen
THE LOCATION An outpost of poolside beers on the edge of the Arafura Sea, Skycity Darwin is bordered by the famous Mindil Beach on one side, and the George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens and public golf links on the other. It's an easy 15-minute drive from the airport, 10 from the CBD.
THE PLACE Behind the unremarkable main building is Skycity's secret: Superior Lagoon Rooms, which afford access to a pool and secluded artificial beach. Modern, neutral decor (floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden finishes), plus careful landscaping have created a surprisingly serene mini-resort, which feels entirely separate from the rest of the complex.
THE EXPERIENCE The rooms are cool and tiled, and those at ground level are the pick of the bunch. Known as Superior Lagoon Rooms (the adjective matters), they have wooden decks that give direct swim-out access to the expansive chest-deep pool. The beach, complete with palm trees, is dotted with sun lounges occupied by honeymooners and grey nomads on respite from their caravans. There's also a small swim-up bar that covers all bases: cocktails, ice-creams, hot chips.
DON'T MISS Sunset walks along Mindil Beach (watch out for occasional crocodiles); a treatment at the Lagoon Day Spa; a swim after dinner, even if it's just a brief plunge into the water. What else is a private pool deck for?
IDEAL FOR Couples – or families with kids who can swim – seeking a resort-style mini-break.
From $699 a night Amanda Hooton