Whether you're looking for eco-friendly adventure, an island getaway or rock-star indulgence, paradise awaits in the Sunshine State.
Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort
Manor Circle, Sanctuary Cove; (07) 5530 1234; intercontinentalsanctuarycove.com
THE LOCATION Up the northern end of the Gold Coast on Hope Island, 30 minutes north of Surfers Paradise and 45 minutes south of Brisbane, the resort is next door to Sanctuary Cove Marina Village, home to specialty stores, bars and restaurants.
THE PLACE Formerly a Hyatt Regency, the resort was taken over by Intercontinental in 2012, which has just spent $6.6 million refurbishing. You'll pass a Bentley entering the lobby, which looks across a Versailles-style fountain terrace to a huge man-made lagoon, fringed by a sandy beach. There are three accommodation wings, each with a view across the river and gardens.
THE EXPERIENCE The look-at-me ethos that was such a large part of the Sanctuary Cove experience (it was opened in 1987 by Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston) has been watered down. The glitz and glamour has been superseded by a vibe more akin to a country hideaway. Sure, super-yachts still ply their way past on the Coomera River, but these days it's the kangaroos nibbling at the lawn outside your room, or the pre-dinner drinks served in the quiet Verandah Roof & Bar, which lend the place a more subtle kind of charm.
DON'T MISS There are three world-class championship golf courses on site, including the only course in Australia designed by Arnold Palmer (The Pines). Hotel guests can play this private course.
FROM $180 a night. - Craig Tansley
The elegant house is an ideal base from which to explore Brisbane's cultural richness, as well as shopping and sipping options.
72 Heal Street, New Farm; (07) 3358 3350; healhouse.com.au
THE LOCATION Centrally located in the inner-city suburb of New Farm, Heal House is within walking distance of New Farm Park and Brisbane Powerhouse, Howard Smith Wharves, and is an easy stroll along the riverside boardwalk to Brisbane's CBD.
THE PLACE With just three guest bedrooms, each with its own en suite, this classic Queenslander offers boutique accommodation in quintessential Brisbane style. Built circa 1920, the house is on land once owned by Richard Symes Warry, mayor of Brisbane in 1866, when it was still a municipality of NSW. Suffering a period of decline, the house was meticulously restored by current owners Bryce Williams and Lindsay Bennett in 2014.
THE EXPERIENCE Relax on the wide verandahs, be distracted by the exquisite details of the inviting living areas and reading nooks, or retreat to your elegantly appointed suite. A healthy yet substantial breakfast is included and served indoors or out.
DON'T MISS The shopping and sipping precinct of James Street is at one end of the block, the cultural richness of Brunswick Street is at the other and Fortitude Valley is just up the road. Heal House is an ideal base from which to explore the most dynamic part of Brisbane.
FROM $249 a night. - David McGonigal
One way to wake up in the morning: a suite with its own infinity pool. Photo: Sharyn Cairns
20 Whitsunday Boulevard, Hamilton Island; 1300 780 959; qualia.com.au
THE LOCATION You have to hand it to the Oatley family. Before Qualia opened in 2007, no one would have picked bustling Hamilton Island as the ideal spot for an ultra-exclusive resort. Yet this private peninsula on Hamilton's secluded northern tip proved to be the perfect setting for the resort that lifted island escapes to the next level.
THE PLACE Secluded in leafy splendour and protected by high stone walls, Qualia is a world unto itself. When guests arrive at resort hub the Long Pavilion, they are greeted by one of the most spectacular views in the Whitsundays. Drag your eyes away from the glittering ocean and you will find that Qualia's other attractions include 60 sleek, stone-and-wood villas, an oceanfront pool, a tranquil, secluded spa and the resort's dedicated motor yacht.
THE EXPERIENCE The urge to cocoon is strong, particularly if you have booked one of the desirable windward villas, which come equipped with a plunge pool and where even the bathtubs have panoramic views. When hunger beckons, drive your electric buggy down to the waterside Pebble Beach café for a meal, or book in for a degustation dinner at the Long Pavilion. Breakfast, non-alcoholic beverages and airport transfers are included; no children under 16 are allowed.
DON'T MISS Take a scenic helicopter flight to Heart Island, where the resort has built a futuristic pontoon that serves as a base for exploring.
FROM $1400 a night. - Ute Junker
The design transformation of a 1960s motel was inspired by the laidback vibe of southern California's coastline. Photo: Louise Roche
Loea Boutique Hotel
361 Bradman Avenue, Maroochydore; (07) 5443 3142; loea.com.au
THE LOCATION Set beside the Maroochy River, 20 minutes south of Noosa and seven minutes from Sunshine Coast Airport, Loea Boutique Hotel is five minutes' drive from Maroochydore.
THE PLACE A rundown '60s motel has been transformed into a stylish beach escape. Ten rooms, finished with locally acquired custom furniture and fittings, look out towards a "magnesium" pool (one with added minerals) and green lawn stacked with timber lounge chairs. A vintage Citroën truck serves as reception and cafe.
THE EXPERIENCE The design of this establishment is heavily influenced by southern California. It's almost as if you're bunkered down in Malibu; there's a laid-back coastal vibe, with oodles of floaty white fabric to boot. With the exception of Noosa, the Sunshine Coast hasn't known this kind of effortless hip before. Guests mingle with drinks on the lawn by the pool, though it's not just a hipster's go-to; there's a family room (for four, with a king bed and bunks) and kids are most welcome. Next door, Maroochydore is slowly coming of age as a tourist destination, and Noosa is only a short drive north. Just across the road, the Maroochy River offers boats for hire and scenic flights by seaplane.
DON'T MISS Tuck in to a food box, savoury or sweet, packed with locally sourced goodies while relaxing poolside.
FROM $170 a night. - Craig Tansley
This relaxed-luxe getaway is set in nine hectares incorporating lush rainforest and expansive vistas. Photo: Pablo Pavlovich
Montville House at Spicers Clovelly Estate
68 Balmoral Road, Montville; (07) 5452 1111; spicersretreats.com
THE LOCATION On a ridge the Maleny side of charming Montville, 90 minutes north of Brisbane's CBD, Spicers Clovelly Estate's nine hectares extend from lush rainforest to expansive vistas.
THE PLACE Once a pineapple plantation, Clovelly Estate was acquired by Jude and Graham Turner, of Flight Centre fame, a decade ago. The 10 rooms of the main building, which sits under an imposing fig tree, were later augmented by the self-contained three-bedroom French House, and this year by the six-bedroom Montville House. Katherine Young, Spicers' designer, has combined European style with Australian tones to disarming effect. The new rooms are ingenious and welcoming; your luggage, closet and bathroom are artfully concealed behind the bedhead wall, leaving the visible space uncluttered and calming.
THE EXPERIENCE Two libraries, indoor-outdoor dining and large rooms, pool and spa, plus the Long Apron restaurant, impart a sense of space and relaxed luxury. The staff are memorable, from the personable sommelier who fine-tunes your wine choices with your meal to the chatty gardener and charming reception staff. Breakfast is included.
DON'T MISS While the galleries of Montville and the food specialists of Maleny are tempting, area walks shouldn't be discounted. Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve is easy and pretty, Kondalilla Falls is more challenging, and the estate's own Rainforest Walk is best combined with sunset over Lake Baroon.
FROM $589 a night; minimum two-night stay at weekends. - David McGonigal
Sun and style make this lodge feel tranquil despite its central location. Photo: Supplied
75 Sydney Street, New Farm; (07) 3358 2680; edwardlodge.com.au
THE LOCATION At the leafy end of the suburb, close by the New Farm Park and two ferry terminals with quick access to Brisbane's CBD and South Bank, Edward Lodge feels tranquil despite its quite central location.
THE PLACE Built as a home for wayward boys in 1912, the property had many iterations before the current renovation, completed in 2016 to provide a clean and fresh plantation vibe with pineapple motifs throughout. There are 10 individually styled en suite guest rooms and a one-bedroom apartment sleeping three.
THE EXPERIENCE When it was built, using bricks carried as ballast from England, Edward Lodge stood out from its weatherboard neighbours – and it still does. Brisbane designer Harriet Redmond has blended 1930s style with mod cons, comfy beds with crisp linen and Byron Bay toiletries. Enjoy breakfast in the sunny and stylish guest kitchen downstairs while pondering that it once was a dirt-floor laundry where the wayward lads were made to earn their keep.
DON'T MISS New Farm Park attracts visitors from across Brisbane and is a short distance away. The panoramic river walk at the end of the street will take you to the city via the thriving Howard Smith Wharves precinct.
FROM $155 a night; minimum two-night stay during peak periods. - David McGonigal
This suite channels rock-star exclusivity: think private yoga on the balcony, a couple’s massage in the master bedroom, and use of the Maserati town car. Photo: Supplied
The Parklands Suite, Emporium Hotel South Bank
267 Grey Street, South Brisbane; (07) 3556 3333; emporiumhotels.com.au
THE LOCATION You're a short wander from Brisbane's CBD, city parks and the Brisbane River, within one of the city's premier entertainment districts, South Bank Parklands. Brisbane's cultural precinct is also a five-minute walk away.
THE PLACE Yes, it comes with a hefty price tag, but this is one of Australia's largest luxury hotel penthouses. Behold: four bedrooms, three bathrooms, three separate dining rooms (because one is never enough), two lounge rooms, a 15-metre infinity pool and a wrap-around balcony, all on the 21st floor of the stylish and cool Emporium Hotel. The views across Brisbane and the river that dissects it are the icing on this elaborate cake.
THE EXPERIENCE While the baby grand, bottles of Remy Martin Louis 13 Cognac in the drinks cabinet and private elevator all scream rock-star exclusivity, the subtle palette tones down over-the-top decadence. Well, kind of; you will want for nothing here. Limousine transfers to and from the airport, private yoga on the balcony, a couple's massage in the master bedroom, and use of the Maserati town car are just some of the distractions. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer 270-degree views, while the master bedroom is a suite-within-a-suite, complete with a stand-alone tub looking across the pool and down onto the city. Just in case that doesn't cover your every whim, there's a 24-hour "ambassador" service.
DON'T MISS Order in-house dining with your own executive chef. Forsake those three dining rooms and eat alfresco beside the pool with Brisbane's lights twinkling down below.
FROM $10,000 a night. - Craig Tansley
Surrender to cooling sea breezes and serenading surf from this house's generously sized deck. Photo: Simon J Coulson
20 Park Road, Noosa Heads; (07) 5447 3097; airbnb.com/h/pipirikinoosa
THE LOCATION At the end of the small ridge between Little Cove and Laguna Bay, this stay is perfectly positioned to afford sweeping views past gum trees to both beaches. Park Road is the continuation of buzzy Hastings Street and the start of the renowned boardwalk.
THE PLACE The lucky owners bought the land in 1969 and, in 2000, built a large louvred house that epitomises stylish, indoor/outdoor living. The entire top floor is occupied by a spacious master bedroom. There are three more bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen and a separate TV lounge.
THE EXPERIENCE The temptation is to not leave. On the first floor, the expansive dining/kitchen/living area with high ceilings flows out to a deck that has dining and lounging for 10 or more. But the boardwalk across the road beckons. Turn left and you're on Main Beach or Hastings Street. Turn right and you can step onto the sand of Little Cove or continue through the koala-inhabited bushland of Noosa National Park to several surfing spots and viewpoints. Upon your return home, be cooled by the sea breeze and serenaded by the surf.
DON'T MISS What's a visit to Noosa without a sunset cruise along the Noosa River?
FROM $990 a night; minimum three-night stay. - David McGonigal
Lose yourself in the wonders of the world's oldest rainforest in these eco-friendly treehouses. Photo: James Vodicka
3189 Mossman-Daintree Road, Daintree; (07) 4777 7377; daintree-ecolodge.com.au
THE LOCATION Drive 90 minutes north of Cairns between rainforest and sea, through sleepy coastal towns. Don't turn right onto the well-worn road to Cape Tribulation; rather, keep going straight towards the tiny village of Daintree.
THE PLACE Built entirely within the Daintree Rainforest in the early 1990s, but refurbished numerous times since, including during this year's COVID-19 shutdown, Daintree Ecolodge is the region's most environmentally sustainable accommodation. Stay in one of 15 eco-friendly bayans (treehouses) built within the forest canopy. Rooms don't require air-conditioners, as their open-plan design means they're cooled by the world's oldest rainforest outside. There's a main lodge with a bar and restaurant, Julaymba, built beside a lily-filled lagoon.
THE EXPERIENCE The nearly 500 species of birds in the forest surrounding the lodge have been arresting the senses of arriving guests for decades. Follow meandering paths through the rainforest to private waterfalls and swimming holes, or join free yoga classes overlooking the greenery. Order a picnic hamper to take to empty, white-sand beaches sprinkled along the coastline, 25 minutes south-east. When you get back, try a 60-minute Kodo massage, which is inspired by traditional Indigenous techniques and performed on a platform built beneath a private waterfall.
DON'T MISS Many guests don't leave the property at all, but it's worth visiting the nearby hamlet of Daintree, where you can take a boat tour of the Daintree River.
FROM $380 a night. - Craig Tansley
Great reads to enjoy in the Sunshine State.
To read while you're here:
Ashley Hay's third novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about two women who have lived in the same weatherboard house in Brisbane: Elsie in the 1940s and Lucy in 2010. A beautifully drawn portrait of the joys and challenges of domestic life in the suburbs.
Mirandi Riwoe's award-winning novel, Stone Sky Gold Mountain, set in the goldfields of Far North Queensland in the late 19th century, is a sensitive and authentic portrayal of the hardships faced by marginalised people – here, Chinese immigrants and single women – due to the hostility of the local community. Richly evocative of place and time. - Nicole Abadee