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Ready, set…when can we go? That's the million dollar question in travel as the vagaries of the pandemic cause havoc to our domestic, let alone, overseas travel plans and dreams. But when the time arrives, and be assured it will, borders will reopen to unveil an array of exciting new experiences. Meanwhile, here's our choice of the ones we can't wait to experience…when the time is right.
Contributors: Anthony Dennis, Jane Reddy, Jane Richards, Jim Darby
WILDLIFE WONDERS, GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VICTORIA
Tiger quoll. Photo: Lucia Griggi
SO WHAT'S NEW? Wildlife Wonders is a "first-of-its-kind native wildlife sanctuary", located just off the iconic Great Ocean Road and not far from Apollo Bay. An important new attraction for this spectacular region, it's set in an undulating, forested 20 hectare property with sea views
TELL ME MORE One of the sanctuary's most notable aspects is that it's designed by Brian Massey, art director of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit movie and landscape designer of Hobbiton in New Zealand. All profits from the sanctuary will go directly into conservation and the local and long-standing Conservation and Ecology Centre based at nearby Cape Otway. Once open, visitors, escorted by qualified guides, will be able to observe animals such as koalas, kangaroos, potoroos and bandicoots in a rainforest-style setting that emerges to ocean views.
ESSENTIALS The opening of the sanctuary has been delayed due to the pandemic but the operators hope to open as soon as possible. Keep on an eye on the website for the latest news. See conservationecologycentre.org/wildlifewonders/
W HOTELS SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE
An artist's impression of the W Melbourne.
SO WHAT'S NEW? The five-star W Hotel brand – so hip it hurts, bad - is part of the giant Marriott group, and had been absent from the Australian hotel scene until the opening of the impressive W Brisbane in 2018. Now it's to be joined by two major new stablemates in the nation's biggest capitals.
TELL ME MORE The new W Sydney with its 593 rooms will be built inside the striking new Ribbon development, wedged between freeway flyovers above Darling Harbour, while the 294-room W Melbourne is in fashionable Flinders Lane with no less than four restaurants. Depending on where the pandemic is at by the time the hotels open, the party mood may have to be toned down a notch or 10, especially the W's signature WET Deck pools and poolside cocktail bar settings.
ESSENTIALS The W Melbourne, which celebrates the city's famed laneways culture, is due to open in December with room bookings now available while the W Sydney's harbourside Ribbon-cutting debut is set for some time this year. See marriott.com.au
SAILS IN THE DESERT, AYERS ROCK RESORT, NT
The refurbished Sails in the Desert at Ayers Rock Resort. Photo: Lisa Hatzimihail
SO WHAT'S NEW The emblematic Philip Cox-designed, 228-room Sails in the Desert accommodation at Ayers Rock Resort, 20 kilometres from Uluru, has weathered the years remarkably well since it opened in 1984 but it was due for a refresh.
TELL ME MORE What better time than a pandemic to catch up on home renos? Voyages, operators of the five-star hotel, have seized the opportunity of the travel pause to complete a much needed spruce-up of the rooms, particularly the bathrooms of the hotel with its distinctive billowing white spinakers-cum-shade-cloth. The overall $50 million refurbishment extends to other facets of the resort including the Lost Camel Hotel and campground and the desert airport.
ESSENTIALS Ayers Rock Resort is due to reopen on August 1. Discounted packages for two, three and four-night stays are available though the Northern Territory border remains closed to citizens of NSW and Victoria. See ayersrockresort.com.au
BUNNIK TOURS, ADELAIDE, SA
SO WHAT'S NEW? The experienced family-owned Bunnik Tours is the latest such company to diversify from a pre-pandemic portfolio of overseas escorted journeys to a range of new domestic equivalents.
TELL ME MORE The company's matriarch, Marion Bunnik, will lead a 14-day tour of Tasmania starting and ending in Hobart with the itinerary featuring visits to Port Arthur, Bruny Island, Launceston, Freycinet National Park, Cradle Mountain, Stanley and Strahan. Marion's personable son, Dennis, will lead a tour, beginning with drinks at the family's own historic Adelaide CBD headquarters, of his native South Australia with the itinerary including visits to Kangaroo Island, Flinders Ranges and the winemaking regions of the Barossa and Clare Valleys and the Adelaide Hills.
ESSENTIALS All tour group sizes are no more than 20 travellers with all sightseeing, accommodation and many meals included in the starting price of $5,295 for the Tasmania tours and $4,395 for the South Australia journey. Departures are scheduled for later this year so check the Bunnik website for details. See bunniktours.com.au
THE TASMAN HOTEL, HOBART, TAS
An artist's impression of the Tasman Hotel, Hobart.
SO WHAT'S NEW The five-star Tasman will mark the debut of Marriott hotels' Luxury Collection in Australia. It is being built in the Parliament Gardens precinct, connecting Salamanca Place and Murray Street, putting it next to the Salamanca Markets, St David's Park and the waterfront at Sullivan's Cove and Constitution Dock, where fishing boats and the Sydney to Hobart yachts tie up and the annual Taste of Tasmania is held.
TELL ME MORE The architecture of the Tasman blends the site's historic legacy with a modern vision that links three eras of design - an original 1840s building, an art deco building and a striking new contemporary design. The Tasman will join the Crowne Plaza, which opened on July 1, in Hobart's portfolio of new hotels.
ESSENTIALS The Tasman is expected to open early in 2021 with rooms in art deco, heritage and luxury styles. See mariott.com
BLUE DERBY PODS RIDE, BAY OF FIRES TRAIL, TAS
The Blue Derby Pods Ride on the Bay of Fires Trail ends with lunch prepared on the beach by a chef.
SO WHAT'S NEW For mountain bikers who also like their home comforts, the three-day Blue Derby Pods Ride is a popular choice in the former tin mining town revived by 125 kilometres of purpose-built tracks. After a day in the dirt, guests retire to their curved pods tucked just off the trails overlooking tree canopies or sit in front of the fire at the gathering area, the Hub, while dinner is prepared. That experience has been ratcheted up with the latest four-day trip taking riders along the 42 kilometre Bay of Fires Trails following the new St Helens Mountain Bike Trails network before a delicious ending.
TELL ME MORE Starting at the top of Blue Tier mountain, the trail wends its way through rainforest, dry bush and coastal heath onto the Bay of Fires beaches with its distinctive orange lichen-covered rocks. Here a chef will be onsite to prepare lunch that, depending on the season, includes local natural oysters, pickled octopus salad, barbecued scallops and local sparkling and craft beer. Riders and bikes are transported back to Derby and their pods for a well-earned rest or more riding on the trails that now attracts 30,000 visitors annually.
ESSENTIALS The three-day experience costs from $1750 a person; four-day experience $2850 a person. Phone 0407 090 904. See bluederbypodsride.com.au
KALBARRI SKYWALK, KALBARRI NATIONAL PARK, CORAL COAST, WA
Kalbarri Skywalk, Coral Coast, Western Australia.
SO WHAT'S NEW About 500 kilometres from Perth, Kalbarri is well known for its national park, wildlife and inland and coastal landscapes where humpback whale watching is a favourite pastime. The opening of the Kalbarri Skywalk takes visitors to the next level.
TELL ME MORE At 100 metres high the Skywalk has two cantilevered viewing platforms that extend 25 and 17 metres beyond the rim of the Murchison River Gorge. The culture of the traditional oneres, the Nanda, features, including the key Dreaming story of the Beemara serpent sandblasted into the path to guide visitors. The $24 million project also includes toilets, shade shelters, paths and is wheelchair accessible. It's about 1.5 kilometres from another popular attraction The Window, a layered sandstone that frames a view of the river.
OVAL HOTEL, ADELAIDE OVAL, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
An artist's impression of the Oval Hotel, Adelaide.
SO WHAT'S NEW? A hugely-successful stadium redevelopment, the 53,5000-seat Adelaide Oval, is now to become home to a game-changing boutique-style hotel directly connected to the facility.
TELL ME MORE The 134-room Oval Hotel, which is integrated into the stadium's eastern façade and follows its curves, boasts suite views of St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide Parklands and the city skyline. Aside from sporting events, a stay at the hotel can be combined with a stadium RoofClimb experience 50 metres above the turf where Bradman once trod, or a tour of the historic oval and its facilities. Food and wine, in a capital renowned for it, has not been overlooked with the Oval Hotel featuring a chic restaurant, wine bar, taphouse and café.
UNITED PLACES BOTANIC GARDENS, SOUTH YARRA, VIC: IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES
Forest therapy in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Photo: Emily Weaving
SO WHAT'S NEW The boutique property of 12 rooms, with organic cotton sheets and Scott Pickett's Matilda restaurant, has added the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest therapy at the Royal Botanic Gardens opposite. Onsite, a private cooking masterclass with a Matilda chef has been added to its hotel offerings.
TELL ME MORE It's no secret that being among nature is good for you and the three-hour guided experience through the gardens led by a member of the International Nature and Forest Therapy Alliance offers a welcome dose of self-care.
At Matilda over an open fire and hot coals, guests will be taught how to prepare some of the restaurant's dishes including spanner crab with prawn butter and flat bread; smoked Flinders Island lamb ribs with spiced onion miso and Macedon Ranges duck and charred orange before a three-course lunch paired with Australian wine.
ESSENTIALS A two-night stay including a Forest Therapy experience for up to four people costs from $1265; a two-night stay including a Matilda Masterclass (two people) costs from $1340. Phone 03 0866 6467. See unitedplaces.com.au
PORT ON A PLATE A HALF-DAY GUIDED FOOD TOUR FROM PORT DOUGLAS, FNQ
Mushrooms on the new Daintree Food Trail.
SO WHAT'S NEW Port on a Plate is part of the Daintree Food Trail launched recently to showcase Daintree deliciousness via a self-drive map to farm gates. Chef Pete Davidson follows the same trail but allows curious foodies to kick back while he does all the work. He'll pick you up in his spacious van and take you on an entertaining foray through the local countryside, stopping on the way to collect produce and meet those who grow and make it. Then he'll cook a two-course lunch from the ingredients you've gathered, which may just include a barra you've caught yourself.
TELL ME MORE There are no crocs on Pete's menu: he owes them. They spooked him from his previous kayaking business and so he returned to his first love – food. And it's a move he's loving. From the coral-like oyster mushrooms via the Good Shroom Company to the sashimi barramundi Pete whips up at the Hook-a-Barra Barramundi Farm, to the mango wine at Shannonvale Tropical Fruit Winery, to the pickled delights of the Keffir Queen fermentary – this produce is amazing.
ESSENTIALS Port on a Plate will operate Tues-Sat from 9am to 2.30pm and includes lunch. Pick up from all Port Douglas accommodation. Cost $160 per person. See portonaplate.com.au daintreefoodtrail.com
AND SOME HONOURABLE MENTIONS…
EARTH SANCTUARY SPACE CAMP ALICE SPRINGS NT
Sleeping under the stars at Earth Sanctuary, Alice Springs.
Central Australia offers some of the best night skies in the world. Now you can combine an Earth Sanctuary astronomy tour with a celestial sleepover in one of six intergalactic style domes. See earth-sanctuary.com.au
SKY PODS, GREAT OCEAN ROAD VIC
Luxury off-grid accommodation set on 80 hectares of wildlife refuge land. Floor to ceiling windows take in the Cape Otway coastline. See skypods.com.au
THREDBO GONDOLA NSW
At Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains, the resort has spent $15 million over summer building an eight-passenger gondola to replace its slow old Merritts double chairlift. This is set to not only transform access to that part of the mountain for skiers and snowboarders, but in summer should also prove useful for hikers and mountain bikers. See Thredbo.com.au
METUNG HOT SPRINGS, METUNG, VIC
Plans are afoot to build a year-around geothermal mineral springs attraction in the Kings Cove Estate which has views of the Gippsland Lakes. Meanwhile a hot springs experience will be open onsite for Christmas. (No website)
SHIRE HOUSE LAVENDER FARM VIC
This is a new purple patch on the Bellarine Peninsula where visitors are welcome to walk among with oil and floral bunches to take home. See shirehousefarm.com.au
HIDEAWAY LITCHFIELD, NT
Two converted shipping containers, one in a tree canopy, are minutes from Wangi Falls of Litchfield National Park. The cabins are spacious, solar powered and air-conditioned. See airbnb.com.au
SALTWATER ECO TOURS, SUNSHINE COAST, QLD
This is a new Indigenous-led cruise on the huon pine ketch Spray of the Coral Coast. A cultural tour includes stories of the Kabi Kabi people and spotting of sea birds, turtles, and dolphins. The sunset acoustic tour includes music, grazing platters and craft beers. See saltwaterecotours.com.au
CROWNE PLAZA HOBART, TAS
Despite COVID-19 delays the 235-room hotel in Tasmania's capital has opened. Rooms have views of the harbour or Mount Wellington and it's the city's first hotel to have a club lounge. See ihg.com
PORT STEPHENS KOALA SANCTUARY, MID NORTH COAST, NSW
Australia's most high-profile endangered species is set for a new $9 million home among the gum trees on the Mid North Coast. The Koala Sanctuary Port Stephens, about an hour north of Newcastle, will open in September complete with a veterinary hospital and rehabilitation enclosures for injured and sick koalas, an elaborate observation deck for viewing their healthy, if a little drowsy, counterparts, and on-site glamping-style accommodation for human visitors. See portstephenskoalasancturary.com.au
CABLE BEACH CLUB RESORT & SPA, BROOME, WA
To make the holiday just that little bit more special, guests can now charter a luxury yacht for the day or longer. The custom-made $24 million super yacht includes a qualified captain and five crew. See cablebeachclub.com