It's just on dusk when I arrive at Urilup tucked away in the Tweed Coast hinterland. Mist wraps itself around towering gumtrees, while across a valley of waving sugar cane, the cloud-shrouded Mount Warning (Wollumbin) looms. The three villa Mistere Spa and Retreat is completely hidden amid 50 hectares of pristine rainforest, yet it's a mere roll down the hill to the bohemian town of Murwillumbah (30 minutes from Coolangatta Airport). The silence feels completely foreign, like I've somehow driven off the map.
If the Tweed Coast is one of the east coast's truly underrated destinations, Urilup is not even on the radar. Locals would be hard-pressed to know where the newly opened five-star hinterland retreat is. But things are changing on the Tweed. By 2025, the local tourism body has set the ambitious goal of becoming Australia's most sustainable destination, believing it's the Tweed's point of difference. Ultimately, they hope the plan will preserve its World Heritage rainforests, mountain ranges and unspoiled beaches found beneath the caldera of the southern hemisphere's largest shield volcano.
Ideal for couples (unless you really love solitude) Mistere is well placed for exploring the fertile NSW north coast. Magnificent, mostly empty beaches are 30 minutes away; Husk Distillers, famous for its ink gin, is soon to open a smart cellar door at nearby Tumbulgum; and the wonderful Tweed Regional Gallery which houses the Margaret Olley Art Centre is at Murwillumbah. You can also take your pick of restaurants including Paper Daisy at Halcyon House, Fins at Salt Village and the Greek inspired Taverna at Kingscliff from the team that brought Osteria to Casuarina.
Murwillumbah, with its art deco buildings, boutiques and cafes on the mighty Tweed River, has also morphed into a cool country town. Keith's serves up possibly the best coffee around in retro surrounds (doubling as a bar Thursday-Saturday), while the farmer's markets is pure joy, offering stalls selling fresh produce from the caldera, as well as humus, maple roasted pecan nuts, kombucha, wood fired bread and more. You'd be tempted to move here just to be able to do your weekly shop at this fabulous market in the historic showgrounds.
Midway between Murwillumbah and the coast, more incredible produce can be found at Tropical Fruit World. Think highland paw paw from Ecuador, custard apples, yellow dragon fruit and black sapote. It's also home to the newly opened Plantation House which looks out over lush coastal farmland to the Border Ranges National Park, Mount Warning ever-present on the horizon. Originally built in 1972, the elegant homestead is now home to Fins at Plantation House where renowned chef Steven Snow dishes up paddock to plate soirees on the first Sunday of the month. The wonderful dining space abuts an enclosed garden with a century-old fig tree; while out front are sweeping farmland views beyond a spectacular poinciana tree.
Back at Mistere, I take a walk along winding rainforest trails punctuated by dramatic sculptures, including a life-sized rhino, brolgas dancing on a lily pond and (my least favourite) the unsettling looking Predator. Birds flit and call, while a bubbling stream flows down to a waterfall. In my luxurious mountain view cabin, equipped with four poster bed, kitchen, rainfall shower and double chromotherapy spa bath, a gas fire gets things cosy at the flick of a switch. The Tweed may not attract the crowds of Byron to the south nor the Gold Coast to the north, but here at this decadent bushland retreat that feels like a good thing.
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Regal Retreats.
A one-bedroom villa costs from $225 a night. Breakfast and barbecue baskets available in advance at extra cost. Be sure to time your arrival in daylight hours due to the retreat's steep dirt and gravel driveway. See misterespaandretreat.com