Let nature be your guide

Emily Dunn meets three professionals who bring the outdoors to the luxury hotel experience.

From a scented refresher towel to a striking limestone wall, it's the small touches that set a luxury destination apart. Yet those working behind the scenes in Australian resorts work extra hard to make the natural environment as enduring a memory for the guests as the heated floors, fluffy towels and five-star cuisine.

Simone Brooks

Field guide, Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa

Life for Simone Brooks at Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa in the Blue Mountains is far removed from the crowd and crush of city existence.

As one of seven field guides - the majority of whom live on site - her day job involves bushwalking, horse-riding and mountain biking. By afternoon, she may be leading a historical tour of the colonial homestead. Come sunset, her itinerary includes nocturnal wildlife tours.

While the adventure activities are a thrill, they provide the opportunity to share her real passion with guests.

"One of the things I love is to be able to share my love of this spectacular environment. Most of the guests are from cities so we try to help them connect with nature," she says.

"After a few days they start to observe things like the wombat tracks along the creek."


Each evening after dinner, guests are able to discuss with field guides the activities and tours on offer the following day.

Most activities are in groups but guests who wish for individual attention can opt for activities such as a half-day horse-riding journey with a guide to remote parts of the property.

For Brooks, the job is about helping her guests get the most out of the surrounding wilderness.

"There always comes a moment with the guests when they say 'it is so peaceful here'," she says.

Max Pritchard

Architect, Southern Ocean Lodge

Most of the guests who pass through the large rustic front door of Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island have never heard of Max Pritchard but his influence is inescapable.

The Adelaide architect spent more than three years designing and building the lodge with its owners James and Hayley Baillie and drew on his own experience growing up on the island.

"I was born here and brought up on a farm near the south coast," he says. "I love that coastal environment and the vegetation and I knew the local materials."

As a boy, Pritchard's house was built from the limestone on the island. He chose the same limestone as a dominant material for the lodge, including a 100-metre curving wall. Most of the construction was done by hand or by small machinery in order to preserve the vegetation.

"We wanted the building to have minimal impact visually," Pritchard says

What does make an impact, however, is the natural environment of the lodge. When guests arrive, following a plane journey and a 40-minute drive, their first view of the ocean is through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the circular entrance room.

Pritchard - who is currently working with the owners to decide on additional facilities - admits he still pauses to take in the view.

"Coming back I still feel as though we have achieved a reasonably timeless quality. Even for me, walking through the doors it is still quite a mind-blowing experience."

Mike Zerbes

Manager, Sal Salis

Mike Zerbes admits the experience of staying at Sal Salis can be a hard sell through a brochure.

Situated in the Cape Range National Park, 1270 kilometres north of Perth and two hours' drive from the nearest airport at Exmouth, the lodge has gourmet food and wine, fluffy robes and to-die-for views from its nine luxury tents but no plasma TVs and no mobile phone coverage.

The national park also imposes strict power and water restrictions to ensure minimal impact on the environment.

"People often ask for hairdryers," says Zerbes, whose job as the lodge manager involves helping guests adjust to life with less.

"I tell them the only thing we do have is a permanent hairdryer blowing in from the south-west, all they need to do is climb up on a sand dune.

"People walk away and can't believe what a good a time they had living without the power and without the water, it is a priceless experience."

The location - on a deserted beach between the coastal coral of Ningaloo Reef and the limestone hills of Cape Range - "sells itself", according to Zerbes, who previously worked as a chef and guide at the lodge. But what the brochures do not describe is the experience of interacting with the staff, who are integral to the remote camping experience, from guiding guests on fishing, hiking and adventure activities to hosting a dinner featuring bush food and local produce.

"We want to show people why we've chosen to live here. The beach is our front yard and the range is our back yard," Zerbes says. "We want guests to go home feeling like they've stayed with family."