Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef
While the lure of the Great Barrier Reef created a building boom all along the Cairns coast, no such development has taken place along this stretch of the West Australian coast, fringed by the magnificent Ningaloo Reef. Apart from the small town of Exmouth and the even smaller outpost of Coral Bay, most of the land around here forms part of the sprawling Cape Range National Park. The park has a number of basic camp sites, but only one luxury option. Sal Salis, a 90-minute drive from Exmouth, offers a bush camp with a difference, one that combines strong eco credentials with five star service.
Tucked in behind a white sand beach and sheltered by low dunes, the low-slung central lodge is the hub of the resort. There is a communal table for meals, plenty of cosy nooks for curling up with a book, and a help-yourself bar. The nine tents, linked by boardwalks to protect the fragile environment, are just a short stroll away, as is the white sand beach. In the mornings, kangaroos and wallaroos graze their way through the camp; at other times, flock of galahs alight noisily. The lodge's elevated deck overlooks the ocean, making it the perfect place for sunset drinks. Strolling along the beach in the early morning, or enjoying a drink on the deck of your tent in the afternoon, it feels like the rest of the world has disappeared.
Don't be led astray by the "wild bush luxury" tag. If you expect your tent to be equipped with a TV or a mini-bar, you are in for a disappointment. Here, it's about the little luxuries: the 500-thread count sheets on the comfortable bed, the piping hot water from the pump-powered shower in your en-suite bathroom. In line with Sal Salis' eco-aware approach, the power is solar and the toilets are composting. There are no in-room power outlets. You can charge your phone up at the lodge, but it's hardly worth the bother, given there is no phone signal or Internet.
Tempting as it is, don't overdose on the fresh-from-the-oven muffins in the morning: you have a long day's eating ahead of you. Meals are one of the highlights of a stay at Sal Salis. Light lunches typically include platters of Asian beef salad or corn fritters with avocado salsa. From 6pm, start grazing on inventive canapes, but again, don't go too hard too soon: there is a delicious three-course dinner coming up, with fresh seafood usually a star ingredient.
On your first day, you'll be issued with fins and a mask, and taken for an introductory snorkel on the house reef, where colourful fish swarm through corals just a few metres offshore. During the whale shark season (April to November), the resort organises day trips to see these mighty creatures. As well as your swimsuit, pack some walking shoes: the daily guided activities include not just snorkelling and kayaking, but hiking through the national park's gorges.
For those who need to unplug entirely, but still want a hot shower and a gourmet meal at the end of the day, this is the place to go.
The Ultimate Reef Escape package includes accommodation, meals and beverages and daily guided wilderness activities such as guided snorkels and gorge walks. Rates from $563 per person a night twin-share. A two-night minimum stay applies. The whale shark package starts from $2660 an adult for three nights twin-share. Sal Salis is closed between December and March. Cape Range National Park, Western Australia. Phone 1300 790 561, see www.salsalis.com.au.
HIGHLIGHT: The utter isolation. No phone, no internet, just the ocean, the 'roos, and you.
LOWLIGHT: Light sleepers may be woken by the sound of flapping canvas on a windy night.
Ute Junker was a guest of Sal Salis and Tourism WA.