Nature

Restore calm and balance to a busy life by immersing yourself in a pristine environment.

SHACK 14
GOLDFIELDS, VIC 

Hoopers Road, Chewton 
Phone: (03) 5472 1677

Email: booking@shack14.com.au
Web: shack14.com.au

The location Pretty Chewton is a short drive from the gold-rush township of Castlemaine and within half an hour of Maldon, Daylesford and Bendigo. The quaint Red Hill pub and the post office are the only real hints to the little town's existence, but beyond the main road the diggings-ravaged landscape gives way to peaceful bushy slopes traced by dirt roads and roo tracks.

The place On four hectares of private bushland that's dotted with old mine shafts and borders Friars State Forest, Shack 14 is a secluded retreat surrounded by scenery in the soft bush colours of Frederick McCubbin's triptych The Pioneer. In keeping with a self-proclaimed ethos of "luxury camping", the shack - created by Glenn Murcutt-trained architect Ken Latona - is rustic yet stylish. It has two queen-size bedrooms, a bathroom, a comfortable open-plan living space and a fully equipped stainless-steel kitchen. There is no telephone or television connection, and mobile coverage is patchy at best.

The experience Kangaroos munching in the fading light scatter as guests navigate the track to the house. The day begins with rainwater showers and bush exploration, but the evening is best whiled away with a platter of local produce, a glass of red and blues strains from the shack's CD collection. The night sky, unspoilt by the city's glow, reveals a spectacular arc of stars, and invites viewing from the deck. Eco accommodation isn't for everyone - take sharing the bedroom with a huntsman spider, or drinking the fresh, safe-but-slightly-murky water, for instance. Neither is Shack 14 within stumbling distance of restaurants and bars. Instead it offers a great opportunity to take time out from technology, enjoy each other's company and explore the landscape. A trip here will end, as it began, under the curious gaze of two dozen of the grazing locals.

 Don't miss … The nearby Wesley Hill farmers' market (Pyrenees Highway, Castlemaine) draws a crowd of locals and weekenders every Saturday. People congregate over organic coffee and stroll among the eclectic stalls offering everything from home-made peanut butter to tarot-card readings. Historic Maldon is worth a visit, too, as are Castlemaine's Mulberry's Delicatessen (60 Lyttleton Street; 03 5472 1651) and The Good Table (233 Barker Street; 03 5472 4400), among other outlets.  
Effie Mann

Cost: $420 for two people (two-night minimum stay); additional occupants, $60 a person a night.
Distance:
about 120km north-west of Melbourne.
Sleeps: 1-4
Children: by prior arrangement, although the property is not particularly child-friendly.
Wheelchair access: no.

RIVIERA NAUTIC
GIPPSLAND LAKES, VIC

Chinaman's Creek, Metung
Phone: (03) 5156 2243
Email: info@rivieranautic.com.au
Web: rivieranautic.com.au

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The location Protected from the vagaries of Bass Strait's winds and waters by the long strip of land that forms Ninety Mile Beach, Metung is a small village sandwiched between Lake King and Bancroft Bay, at the heart of the Gippsland Lakes system. Its position gives it an added protection - there is no through traffic to disturb the equilibrium.

The place The Quo Vadis, a six-berth, 10-metre cruiser. One of Riviera Nautic's B&B On Board options for those not quite ready to embark on an overnight venture exploring Gippsland's lake system, it remains safely moored at the jetty for the duration of the stay. A quick tour reveals a light and surprisingly roomy saloon, a compact galley and equally compact loo/shower - think old-style caravan on water and you're starting to get the picture. Add a flybridge, small decks fore and aft, and a gentle rocking motion and the image is pretty well complete.

The experience It's the simple pleasures that attract: birds flying overhead in the evenings; pelicans, swans and ducks diving for breakfast in the morning mist; a walk around the coast, keeping eyes peeled for dolphins. Or take a wander around the village, noting the galleries showcasing works by local artists and a smattering of shops offering Gippsland cheeses, chutneys and chocolates. Finish the day with fish and chips on board, followed by a quiet read with a glass at hand.

Don't miss … walks along the two-kilometre boardwalk built over the water's edge from Riviera Nautic to the Metung village, or a visit to Nungurner by water or road - this quiet, tiny bay with jetties at either end is beautiful, and perfect for a picnic.   Sally Dugan

Cost: B&B on Board option: $300 a night for two (extra people, $80 each), including continental breakfast.
Charter:
$1062-$1790 for two nights, including fuel and 24-hour support.
Distance:
315km north-east of Melbourne.
Sleeps:
1-6
 Children: yes.
Wheelchair access: no.

ZENERGIE
WILSONS PROMONTORY, VIC

45 Kongwak-Inverloch Road, Kongwak
Phone: (03) 5657 4490
Mobile: 0409 295 657
Email: so-ausp@bigpond.com.au
Web: zenergie.com.au

The location As the largest coastal wilderness area in Victoria, Wilsons Promontory attracts visitors year-round for swimming, walking, kayaking and camping. The beautiful beaches of the national park also extend to seaside villages such as Inverloch, its position at the mouth of Anderson Inlet making it an excellent spot for fishing, kitesurfing and windsurfing. It also draws jazz lovers to its annual festival in March. This area offers peaceful rural and dramatic water views.

The place Owners Hess and Jennie Strengers have built three Asian-style villas on their farm, a short drive from Inverloch. Zenergie was named after their aim to provide guests with both Zen (stillness and minimalism) and energy (the life force). The villas are stylish but cosy, with double-glazed windows providing lovely views over Powlett River flats to Wilsons Promontory. Each has elegant oriental furniture and ornaments from the owners' other business, a gift shop. The villas are also practical, with well-equipped kitchens and sheltered courtyards.

The experience Zenergie can be a place to rest or to practise yoga (including supervised partner or lovers' yoga) or to enjoy a massage (including Hess's speciality of "raindrop massage", which includes essential oils being dripped on the back like raindrops), meditation, drumming on djembe drums and other activities at a purpose-built studio in the Strengerses' home. Vegetarian or vegan meals can be ordered, with cooking classes also offered in retreat packages. Feng shui, yin yang (balance) and environmental principles such as a worm-waste system have been carefully integrated into the villas, and each has different decor. Our villa, named My Mantra, had vibrant red furniture and furnishings to represent fire, energy and exuberance. This lively decor did not detract from the soothing view of lush green paddocks. Zenergie is a great place for rest and reflection.

Don't miss … Zenergie is a few minutes' drive from the former coalmining town of Kongwak, now best known for its popular vintage and second-hand market every Sunday.   Denise Ryan

Cost: villas $180-$205 a night off peak; $195-$220 peak.
Distance:
130km south-east of Melbourne.
Sleeps:
1-4.
Children: No.
Wheelchair access: limited.

JANAZA BOUTIQUE RETREAT
GRAMPIANS, VIC

Halls Gap
Phone: contact via web
Web: stayz.com.au/17590

The location The cliché about kangaroos hopping down the main street is a reality in Halls Gap, the small Victorian town nestled in the Fyans Valley. Situated at the base of the Wonderland and Mount William ranges, it's a great destination for anyone looking for pristine bush and stunning natural settings, with trails for bushwalkers of any level.

The place Set on a half-hectare block, and with the Grampians National Park as a dramatic backdrop, Janaza is a modern one-bedroom, two-storey house with a large wooden deck. It's just a 10-minute walk from town, yet feels quite secluded. Upstairs, there's a very comfortable bedroom with a queen-size bed and high windows that frame the mountain ridge, so there's no need to get up to enjoy the view. Downstairs are a small but serviceable kitchen, a bathroom and a combined dining and lounge room with leather couches and a flat-screen TV.

The experience An early-morning amble turned into an interactive nature walk with wallabies and kangaroos leaping in all directions, all over town. A weekend here can be as relaxing or as physically challenging as you like, but if you do feel like a long walk, start your adventure at the nearby Halls Gap Visitor Information Centre. This is especially worthwhile if you strike a patch of bad weather, as the centre provides a list of rainy-day suggestions. There are few dining options during the winter months, but when the weather improves, Halls Gap offers a choice of restaurants, including the Kookaburra Bar & Bistro (03 5356 4222) and a couple of takeaway options such as the Black Panther Cafe & Bar (03 5356 4511).

Don't miss … a walk in the Grampians National Park, the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre (an Aboriginal cultural centre with interactive exhibitions; brambuk.com.au), local wineries and the Halls Gap Zoo (hallsgapzoo.com.au), home to an eclectic collection of animals from around the world.   Frances Atkinson

Cost: $165 a night (two-night minimum stay).
Distance:
about 250km north-west of Melbourne.
Sleeps:
1-2.
Children:
yes.
Pets: yes, but dogs are not allowed in the national park.
Wheelchair access: no.

THE TOPS ORGANIC RETREAT
BARRINGTON TOPS, NSW

384 Jems Creek Road, Cobark
Phone: (02) 6558 5544
Email: bookings@thetopsretreat.com.au
Web: thetopsretreat.com.au

The location Driving through Stratford (upon the Avon River, no less), the image of a blue-singlet-wearing William Shakespeare somehow springs to mind. The township of Gloucester is next, then the British theme comes close to manifesting itself physically as you reach the World Heritage-protected Barrington Tops National Park. All rolling hills and knobbly crags, the descent into the stunning valley is reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands.

The place Six cattle grids after the turn-off for The Tops Organic Retreat, the buildings are still nowhere to be seen. "Remote" is the word, followed by "serene". On an 800-hectare property, the retreat is positioned between babbling brooks, lush rainforest and imposing mountains. Four timber cabins overlook the rainforest alongside four self-contained cottages. Sleeping up to four, the cabins are compact but comfortable and each has a queen-size bed upstairs and a sofa bed, log fire, polished floorboards and TV/DVD in the lounge downstairs. A spacious bathroom with spa bath adds a touch of luxury.

The experience Your morning soundtrack is the chiming melody of bellbirds and whipbirds, with an occasional kookaburra remix. From pademelons, possums and, er, leeches, to cows, chickens, horses and militant geese, there's a mixture of animal life to meet or avoid. There's even the rumour of a koala or two. A game of tennis and a swim in the saltwater pool are good activities, but the secluded bushwalks reveal the retreat's best assets and the homestead's dingo-cross, Jessie, is only too chuffed to be your guide. The superb food is where the "organic" part of the title truly comes into play, with all the chemical- and pesticide-free produce either grown sustainably on site or sourced locally.

Don't miss … A guided horse ride ($50 for two hours, ask at reception) is the best way to experience the Tops, but if food is your primary concern, make sure to get up for the hearty three-course breakfast ($25).   Robert Badman

Cost: $275 a night, twin share; extra adult, $65 a night; child 3-16, $35 a night.
Distance:
300km north of Sydney.
Sleeps:
1-4.
Children: yes.
Pets: yes.
Wheelchair access: limited.

HILL OF CONTENT
PHILLIP ISLAND, VIC

33 Rhyll-Newhaven Road, Rhyll
Phone: 0400 940 301
Email: info@thehillofcontent.com.au
Web: thehillofcontent.com.au

The location Phillip Island is rightly famous for the bird that flies under water, the grand prix without cars and Cowes that produce no milk. Rhyll is located at the quieter north-east end, far from the madding crowd.

The place Hill of Content is a complex of five luxurious units, each offering accommodation for two - ideal for a romantic getaway. Its bushland setting is idyllic, with the upstairs loft units commanding views across the eastern end of the island. The accommodation is set among lovely gardens, which were once a potato field in the grounds of the original Rhyll Post Office.

The experience Content Cottage - the largest of the five units - comes complete with fluffy towels, bathrobes and lemon-myrtle shampoo. A great bathroom, ultra-modern kitchen, huge flat-screen TV and a king-size bed conspire to outdo all the comforts of home. Should the outdoors beckon, a whole world of natural wonders is on offer: swimming, surfing, fishing, sightseeing, nature walks, the penguins (of course) as well as an abundance of other wildlife.

Don't miss … a dusk stroll along the mangrove boardwalks at Conservation Hill, five minutes' drive away. And if you like fishing but don't have the time (or skill), try the Rhyll Trout & Bush Tucker Farm (03 5956 9255; rhylltroutandbushtucker.com.au), an eco-friendly, award-winning attraction right across the road from Hill of Content. You can catch your own trout or simply buy fresh (or freshly smoked) fish - no one need leave empty-handed.   Bill Farr

Cost: lofts from $250 a night; Content Cottage from $330 a night.
Distance: about 140km south of Melbourne.
Sleeps: 1-2.
Children: no.
Wheelchair access: limited.

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