Long before the word "hotel" shacked up with the term "quarantine", the way we think about accommodation was already dramatically evolving.
Right around Australia and across the world, the travel industry has been looking beyond the traditional, bricks and mortar four walls of conventional hotels and creating more surprising places for guests to wake up in and to be dazzled and inspired by. (And we've all had enough of our own traditional bricks and mortar home walls after months of lockdown, right?)
Treehouses, vintage caravans, even shipping containers have all been successfully reinvented as lodgings, often luxurious to boot, and are more often than not planted amid some of our most eye-catching natural landscapes. Really, who needs a hotel?
Somehow these novel accommodations don't feel so much like novelties anymore but simply more part of the extraordinary range of accommodation experiences available to us when we're able to travel (as soon as possible, we hope).
Many of them offer a surprising number of conventional hotel-like little luxuries, while others stick to the bare essentials, but what these un-hotels have in common is that each of them offers a stay that is far from predictable.
Here's a choice of some of Traveller's favourites from here and around the globe for 2022, or even earlier with a bit of luck.
REEFSUITES, GREAT BARRIER REEF (OFF AIRLIE BEACH), QLD
TELL ME MORE Fall asleep beneath the waves in one of the underwater Reefsuites at the Reefworld pontoon.
THE EXPERIENCE Your Reefsuites experience starts with a cruise to Hardy Reef, arriving just before lunch. Spend the afternoon snorkelling, swimming or diving the reef before tucking into a dinner under the stars and fall asleep watching the marine life.
DON'T MISS If you have never dived before, this is the place to experience a beginner dive.
BUBBLETENT, CAPERTEE VALLEY, NSW
Photo: Mayumi Iwasaki
TELL ME MORE These see-through domes allow you to immerse yourself in the lush country between Lithgow and Mudgee.
THE EXPERIENCE Housed on a 400-hectare working farm, each of the three off-grid bubble tents offers both complete privacy and sensational views through transparent walls. You will need to bring your own food, but little luxuries such as a queen-sized bed and a wood-fired outdoor tub are included.
DON'T MISS Lie back in bed and be dazzled by the Milky Way overhead. There's even a telescope supplied for closer inspections.
MATILDA CABN, KUITPO, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
TELL ME MORE CABN's series of off-grid tiny houses includes this hideaway set on a working winery an hour out of Adelaide.
THE EXPERIENCE The CABN philosophy is about living more mindfully – and yes, that means no Wi-Fi. With its verdant setting, a stay at Matilda is about simple pleasures like bushwalking, horse riding and bird watching.
DON'T MISS Two other CABNs are located at the same winery, making this a great getaway option for groups. The property is also dog-friendly.
TELL ME MORE Drift off to sleep on a rustic yacht moored off the coast near Nadi.
THE EXPERIENCE This 46-foot yacht makes a good base from which to explore the many attractions of Viti Levu. The facilities are simple – there are two double and three single berths, and the only shower is on deck – but the crew are happy to help with whatever you need.
DON'T MISS On fine nights, ask the crew to set up the comfortable lilos on deck so you can sleep under the stars.
RETRO PODS, VARIOUS LOCATIONS ALONG THE NSW NORTH COAST
Old-school camping with RetroPod.
TELL ME MORE Vintage fans will enjoy a seaside stay in one of these old-school caravans and campers.
THE EXPERIENCE You choose and book your spot at one of a range of campgrounds between Tweed Heads and Byron Bay and Retro Pods will have everything set up for your arrival.
DON'T MISS Choose a berth at First Sun Holiday Park or Clarkes Beach and you are just steps away from the beach – perfect if you have booked an early-morning surf lesson.
HAPPY GLAMPER, MORNINGTON PENINSULA, VIC
TELL ME MORE Choose your perfect camping spot and the Happy Glamper team will set up a cosy bell tent for you.
THE EXPERIENCE Days on the Mornington Peninsula can be hectic, with so many wineries and walks to explore. Spend some downtime relaxing in Happy Glamper's carefully equipped tents, kitted out with everything from carpets to books to board games.
DON'T MISS Skip the bowl of cereal and treat yourself to breakfast at one of the area's lovely cafes, such as Merrick's General Wine Store.
SKY DEN, NORTHUMBERLAND, UK
TELL ME MORE Sleeping four people, this treehouse is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible.
THE EXPERIENCE Set in the Kielder Water & Forest Park, activities include rope courses, abseiling, ziplining and canoeing. The Sky Den includes a functional kitchen; alternatively, there is an on-site dining room or several restaurants nearby.
DON'T MISS Stargazers will love the roof that opens up, letting you enjoy the night sky from the comfort of your bed.
KARIJINI ECO RETREATS, KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK, WA
TELL ME MORE Set within a spectacular national park in the Pilbara, the Deluxe Eco Tents at Karijini Eco Retreats are equipped with en suite bathrooms.
THE EXPERIENCE Hikers will love exploring Karijini's red gorges and emerald-green waterholes. The Eco Retreats' restaurant offers breakfasts and dinners, as well as packed lunches.
DON'T MISS The spring-fed swimming hole at Fortescue Falls, the only permanent waterfall in the park, is a great place to cool off.
THE CONTAINER, LILYDALE, TAS
TELL ME MORE Set on a 20-hectare property 20 minutes from Launceston, The Container demonstrates that even a shipping container can be repurposed into a cosy hideaway.
THE EXPERIENCE This solar-powered retreat comes equipped not just with a king-size bed, but with a full kitchen, a deck and a living area where you will find art supplies, musical instruments, a record player and more. We also love the outdoor bathtub.
DON'T MISS Collect your own eggs for a farm-fresh breakfast.
TREEFUL TREEHOUSE, OKINAWA, JAPAN
TELL ME MORE Fall asleep in the treetops in these compact cabins tucked into a forest on the northern side of Okinawa.
THE EXPERIENCE You need a head for heights if you want to stay in these solar-powered cabins, perched 10 metres above the ground. Each cabin has a double bed and a generous deck; the bathrooms, kitchen and recreation rooms are in a separate building, connected by floating walkways.
DON'T MISS The chance to do some forest bathing while relaxing in a hammock on your deck.
THE CUBE, WHITE SANDS, SA
TELL ME MORE Unwind on the Murray River in this floating house built for two.
THE EXPERIENCE There is no cruising down the river in this houseboat permanently moored at White Sands but once you're here you won't want to be anywhere else. We predict you will spend most of your time on the sundeck, lazing on a sun lounger or cooking up a storm on the barbecue.
DON'T MISS Ready to explore the river? Take the kayak out for a spin.
MONTE ROSA HUT, ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND
TELL ME MORE Set at 2900 metres above sea level, this mountain hut offers dormitory-style accommodation for 120 people.
THE EXPERIENCE Getting to the Monte Rosa Hut can be a challenge. Whether you ski in (between March and May) or hike in (June to September), the four-hour journey is the point. Travelling with a guide is advised.
DON'T MISS The views aren't the only thing that's impressive; this solar-powered, aluminium-clad building is a prime example of sustainable architecture.
LONGITUDE 131, YULARA, NT
Photo: Rhiannon Taylor
TELL ME MORE Hidden away amid the sand dunes leading to Uluru, this tented camp is the Red Centre's most exclusive lodging.
THE EXPERIENCE A stay here is a luxury desert adventure with plenty of fine food, spa treatments available and the thrill of being able to watch the sunrise over Uluru from the comfort of your bed.
DON'T MISS Staff can arrange a cosy swag on your large private deck, complete with an open gas fire and a selection of fortifying beverages, for a sleepout under the stars.
PERMANENT CAMPING, MUDGEE, NSW
TELL ME MORE Don't let the name fool you: this two-storey copper-clad tower is gloriously canvas-free.
THE EXPERIENCE Sophisticated solitude is the tagline for this secluded retreat 60 kilometres from Mudgee. Design fans will love the recycled ironbark and glass construction, which includes a sleeping loft (accessed by a ladder), a basic kitchen and barbecue, and an outdoor shower and dunny.
DON'T MISS The seven-kilometre drive to the tower is four-wheel-drive-only, but the owners will give you a lift.
MAJAMAJA OFFGRID RETREAT, HELSINKI ARCHIPELAGO, FINLAND
TELL ME MORE Designed to showcase off-grid living, each of the compact huts at this seasonal summer retreat offers views across the Baltic Sea.
THE EXPERIENCE Facilities are simple, there's a kitchenette, a shower and a dry toilet – but breakfasts and dinners can be pre-ordered, and the delights of Helsinki are just a 10-minute boat ride away. (You can also walk, cycle or get public transport into town.)
DON'T MISS A boat trip through the beautiful Helsinki archipelago is a highlight.
BAY OF FIRES BUSH RETREAT, TAS
TELL ME MORE When you want to go bush, head for these elegant white canvas bell tents.
THE EXPERIENCE Just 10 minutes from the town of St Helens, Bay of Fires Bush Retreat isn't a luxury stay – the bathrooms are shared – but this is a great base for exploring the area's famous white sand beaches and bush landscapes.
DON'T MISS You can choose between cooking up your own meals in the communal kitchen or opting for pre-prepared meals.
SNOWHOTEL KIRKENES, KIRKENES, NORWAY
TELL ME MORE Its igloos are famous but to savour the beauty of the Arctic wilderness, opt for one of the Snowhotel's northern light cabins.
THE EXPERIENCE Modelled on the traditional Sami hunting and fishing huts, these wooden cabins allow you to watch the spectacular display of the Northern Lights while staying cosy and warm.
DON'T MISS During the winter season (December to April), popular activities include snowshoeing and skiing, as well as sauna sessions.
TALO RETREAT, MOAMA, NSW
TELL ME MORE Set up camp by the Murray River in air-conditioned Mongolian-style yurts, their canvas walls lined with Australian wool.
THE EXPERIENCE It's all about unwinding at Talo Retreat, part of the Moama on Murray Resort. Explore with the complimentary canoes and bikes, relax in your hammock, soak in your outdoor spa or use resort facilities such as the pools and tennis courts.
DON'T MISS Each yurt has a domed skylight that allows you to watch the heavens without stepping outside.
SAFARI TENTS AT HALLS GAP LAKESIDE TOURIST PARK, VIC
TELL ME MORE There are no lions prowling the Grampians National Park, but these safari tents are still our choice for a memorable stay.
THE EXPERIENCE These family-friendly tents have a rustic charm, with handmade wooden furniture and are fitted with bunk beds for kids. Meals can be prepared in the kitchenette or on the barbecue.
DON'T MISS The Venus Baths Loop, which takes you past pretty sandstone pools fed by Stoney Creek, is one of the park's most scenic hikes and is suitable for all ages.
CROSS HILL LODGE AND DOMES, LAKE HAWEA, NEW ZEALAND
Cross Hill Lodge and Domes, Lake Hawea, New Zealand.
TELL ME MORE Six geodesic domes offer an immersive stay in the South Island's high country.
THE EXPERIENCE Super-king size beds, Wi-Fi, coffee machines - these domes offer all the mod-cons, including an expansive deck on which to kick back and feel the serenity. Cooked and continental breakfast at The Lodge is included, and you can also opt for three-course dinners.
DON'T MISS Cross Hill's location near Wanaka makes a great base for exploring some of the South Island's best sights. Day trip options include visits to wineries, ski slopes, Queenstown and even Milford Sound, if you are happy to hop on a helicopter.
TAYLORMADE ESCAPES YACHT STAYS, PITTWATER, SYDNEY
TELL ME MORE If you've always loved sailboats but aren't fond of the open water, this yacht stay keeps you safely moored in the tranquil Pittwater.
THE EXPERIENCE Options, options. Cook a romantic meal in the kitchen or head to shore and leave the cooking to someone else. Fall asleep to the soft wash of the water, and wake yourself in the morning by taking a plunge.
DON'T MISS Want to enjoy a bit of sightseeing? Add a 90-minute skippered sail to your package.
KASBAH TAMADOT, ASNI, MOROCCO
Kasbah Tamadot Asni Morocco Photo: Jonathan Cosh of Visual Eye
TELL ME MORE There are many luxe options to choose from at Sir Richard Branson's retreat in the Atlas Mountains, but we'll take one of the Berber-inspired tented suites every time.
THE EXPERIENCE This is five-star glamping, with private decks and roll top baths, but the views across the Atlas Mountains are the real highlight.
DON'T MISS Sign up for a hike to immerse yourself in the landscape, and relax afterwards with a session in the hammam.
FIVE HOTELS THAT DO IT DIFFERENTLY
PEPPERS SILO LAUNCESTON, TAS
Peppers Silo Hotel, Launceston, Tasmania.
OOK AND BED, TOKYO, JAPAN
The accommodations are basic but bibliophiles still love to spend a night in what is essentially a giant library. See bookandbedtokyo.com
THE OLD MOUNT GAMBIER GAOL, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
No surprise that you'll be sleeping in a bunk bed when you check into one of the cells in this former prison. See theoldmountgambiergaol.com.au
CRANE HOTEL FARALDA, AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Leave your vertigo at home when you check into this three-suite hotel, housed in a converted crane. See faralda.com
PALACIO DE SAL, UYUNI, BOLIVIA
When you build a hotel on the Bolivian salt flats, what are you going to build it out of? Why, salt blocks of course. Much of the furniture is also made of salt. See palaciodesal.com.bo