You may also like these photo galleries
LUXURY LODGES AND CAMPS
Our early explorers knew that careful planning was required before venturing into the outback. Today's safari camps may not rival the bizarre opulence achieved by the likes of Burke and Wills, but they do recapture the romance of 19th-century travel. Properties such as Bamurru Plains (Northern Territory), Sal Salis, El Questro, Kimberley Coastal Camp (all Western Australia) and Ikara (South Australia) have helped to redefine what "going bush" means in Australia with freshly prepared meals, helicopter transfers and professional guides.
Like their counterparts in Africa, the purpose of these safari camps is to offer total immersion in the landscape without sacrificing too many creature comforts. You may be sleeping under canvas, but the bed is soft and downy, the sheets pure Egyptian cotton and, most of the time, guests have en suite bathrooms. Meanwhile, properties such as Uluru's Longitude 131 and NSW's One & Only Wolgan Valley have taken the safari camp concept to another level of luxury with elegant pavilions, formal dining, plunge pools and spa treatments – a far cry from the Australian camping holiday of yesteryear.
Thanks to the safari camp, remote places such as Kakadu, the Flinders Ranges and Ningaloo Reef are now accessible to the adventurous traveller. This is sustainable, low-impact travel at its best. Safari camps also provide the perfect base for all kinds of nature-based activities, such as bird watching, hiking, snorkelling and kayaking. Although the concept was imported, the safari camp has been cleverly adapted to Australian conditions. Rather than simply imitating the East African model Australia has developed its own unique collection of eco-friendly properties; each offering a distinct travel experience.
With their strict environmental protocols, highly motivated staff, tented accommodation, contemporary fare and stunning wilderness locations these safari camps provide a privileged taste of Australia's remote and beautiful places – from the red dirt of Central Australia to the pristine waters of Western Australia's North West Cape.
QT HOTELS, NATIONALLY
Launched in 2010, QT Hotels are filling a much-needed gap in the Australian hotel market. They're quirky, with high emphasis on design and playfulness, and priced relatively affordably. Little themed touches such as the cockatoo-shaped lamps and retro beach chic at the Gold Coast property plus politician photo-framed mirrors in Canberra give distinct personalities. There are five in this gloriously un-chainlike chain, with three more on the way. See qthotels.com.au
ONE & ONLY HAYMAN ISLAND, QUEENSLAND
While the beauty of the most northerly island of the Whitsundays group speaks for itself, an $80 million refurbishment and the reopening of the resort as a One & Only last year – the first in the Asia Pacific region – has propelled this property into a new class of tropical sublime; no passport required. The room count has shrunk from 210 to 160 and turnedinto suites with extra living spaces or a bedroom. For further lounging, dive off your suite deck and swim across the gigantic pool to a private cabana and views of the Coral Seathat people travel the globe for. See hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com.
BYRON AT BYRON RESORT, NSW
The Byron at Byron is world class not because it tries to copy famous overseas resorts, but because it is very much part of the Australian landscape and culture. Sensitively built within 18 hectares of wetland rainforest, it's full of uniquely Australian joys, like sharing the boardwalk to your villa with a scrub turkey or a tree frog. Add morning walks through the bush to Tallow Beach; a 25-metre infinity pool; spacious, lodge-style rooms along a living tidal lagoon; relaxed dining; and a special sort of charm from the chilled-but-professional staff, and you couldn't be anywhere else by Byron Bay. Which is the point, really. See thebyronatbyron.com.au
ARKABA STATION, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
The remote and staggeringly beautiful Arkaba Station, a vast working sheep station on the edge of Wilpena Pound, takes the quintessential Australian bushwalk to a whole new level. Overlooked by the craggy Elder Ranges, think thirsty creek beds lined with magnificent river red gums, an historic 1850's homestead and wildlife at every turn. On a luxury overland safari explore the outback's rugged landscape by day with highly experienced guides; and by night dine by lantern light and watch for shooting stars from your comfy swag. See arkabawalk.com
There's no hotel on Earth that epitomises what the modern traveller looks for more than Saffire Freycinet. We're no longer interested in ostentatious veneer or pompous ceremony, we just want to feel comfortable in a place that allows us to see nature at its finest. Set in Tasmania's Freycinet National Park, you'll wake each morning to the pink-granite rocks of the surrounding Hazards mountains and the blue water of Coles Bay in a place that feels as relaxed as home. See saffire-freycinet.com.au
SOUTHERN OCEAN LODGE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Superb spas and outstanding food are par for the course at a luxury lodge. What sets Southern Ocean Lodge apart is the way an afternoon spent doing nothing is turned into a memorable experience. Swathe yourself in a cashmere blanket, grab one of the superb South Australian wines from the help-yourself bar, and curl up in an armchair to spend an afternoon gazing out at the mesmerising sight of the Southern Ocean pounding towards you. Unforgettable. See southernoceanlodge.com.au.
THALA BEACH NATURE RESERVE, QUEENSLAND
Combining luxury and impeccable eco-credentials, Thala Beach Nature Reserve has been leading the way in sustainable tourism since opening in 1998. Close to Port Douglas's glitzy resorts, and set on a coastal headland covered in rainforest, Thala offers something genuinely different, with nature tours, educational talks and star-gazing included in a stay. Its 83 luxurious bungalows stand in between trees and tropical vegetation, and the top-quality Ospreys restaurant has the best views of all, over the forest canopy and the coastline. See thalabeach.com.au
HOTEL HOTEL, CANBERRA
On his election nearly a year ago, Andrew Barr, the Australian Capital Territory's chief minister, declared that among of his objectives was a desire to displace Wellington, New Zealand's self-appointed status as "the coolest little capital in the world". We're not sure how the chief minister is progressing with his trans-Tasman scheming but even before he was elected, Canberra's edgy 68-room Hotel Hotel and the dynamic NewActon development in which it is located, was defiantly cooler than even relations between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Along with the Henry Jones Art Hotel in Hobart, Hotel Hotel ranks as the biggest game-changing hotel in an Australian capital. See hotel-hotel.com.au; newacton.com.au; visitcanberra.com.au; hehenryjones.com.
Qualia on Hamilton Island opened in 2007 amid much talk that it would redefine the luxury resort experience in Australia. That proved to be no small boast after Conde Nast Traveller , the prestigious US travel title, named it the world's best resort five years later. With its private plunge pools, vast rooms and stunning views, this is an Australian retreat that will make you feel like a member of Hollywood's A-list. And with its large, Jurassic Park-style entrance gate, you won't have to worry about anyone invading your privacy.
ART SERIES HOTELS, VICTORIA AND SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Sleeping amongst great art doesn't happen just in European castles. Art Series Hotels' seven hotels in Victoria and South Australia each showcase the work of one Australian artist, which is spread liberally throughout the properties, from shower screens to the lobby. The hotels are embedded in the local neighbourhoods, and with an eco-vibe thanks to electric Smart cars and gracious Lekker step-through bicycles for hire, and cheeky ploys to draw out our own creativity, including children's paint kits. See artserieshotels.com.au.
PUMPHOUSE POINT, TASMANIA
There are pockets of lovely wilderness dotted around the planet, but where else in the world can you sleep, comfortably sheltered from the storms, not only in the middle of Tasmania's Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, but bang smack in the middle of the spectacular lake itself? A pair of disused hydro-electric blockhouses have recently been converted to offer luxury accommodation for those who need a break from those leaky tents. From the outside they're basic concrete blots on the landscape; inside, they're hip industrial chic, with views to die for. See pumphousepoint.com.au.