In normal times (remember those?) often the people you encountered along the way would make the difference between a good and a great trip.
Of course, they still can do so but during these abnormal times, which if they go on any longer risk becoming the norm, we really do need to maintain our distance from each other. Officially that's between 442.3 and 453 people per square kilometre in Sydney and Melbourne respectively.
Now crowd control is king again but, fortunately, one of Australia's advantages in these times, especially for travellers, is its abundance of open space peppered with amazing far,and not so far-flung, stays that provide a welcome escape and modicum or more of luxury and comfort.
With these thoughts uppermost in mind, the Traveller team has chosen the best lodges, retreats and stays from across this wide vacant brown land where you can truly spread out while, er, you do your best to avoid the spread, if you get what we mean.
Do remember all of the usual pandemic rules apply, watch out there are still some people about, and you may find some of the featured retreats temporarily closed to visitors or with stipulations on how to keep yourself and your hosts as safe as possible.
CONTRIBUTORS Paul Chai, Anthony Dennis, Brian Johnston, Ute Junker, Sue Williams and Justin Meneguzzi
THE FAR-FLUNG LIGHTHOUSE RETREAT
GABO ISLAND, GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA
Gabo Island Lighthouse Reserve, Victoria. Photo: Roger Fenwick
One person per square kilometre (the island is 1.5 square kilometres and home only to a resident caretaker).
Few stays in Australia are as genuinely remote as this one. On starkly beautiful Gabo Island, set off the easternmost tip of Victoria near Mallacoota, your accommodation, the assistant lighthouse keeper's cottage, is fashioned from the same pink granite as the lighthouse. It all was hewn from the surrounding cliffs where you can still see the drill holes from the century-old quarry. The sea here is treacherous, a fatal cocktail of the Southern Ocean, Tasman Sea and Coral Sea that regularly splintered ships on the jagged coast before the almost 50-metre high lighthouse was built in 1862.
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The island is yours to explore, and a leisurely walk will see you discover the small island cemetery and dip a toe into the same water as the seal colonies with younger members of the group cautiously bobbing towards you with a curious glint in their eyes. Tours of the lighthouse can be arranged as part of your accommodation package.
Gabo island can be visited year round with the resident little penguins best viewed from August to September. Access being weather dependent, you can organise a boat from Mallacoota or there's the short flight with Merimbula Air Services. The lighthouse cottage sleeps up to eight for a minimum of two nights for $357.70 a night. See parkstay.vic.gov.au visitmallacoota.com.au; mairserv.com.au
THE EXCLUSIVE OUTBACK STATION STAY
CALLUBRI STATION, NSW
Callubri Station, New South Wales. Photo: Wolter Peeters
0.13 people per square kilometre
At the end of a gravel road between the remote country towns of Nyngan and Tottenham in Central West NSW, lies a vast 19th century, 11,500 hectare sheep and wheat property that takes in a few, and we mean few, visitors. At this newly-launched accommodation, there's a maximum of 10 guests at any one time, and it offers not only a chance to see, and even help with whatever's going on, but also luxury digs, a pool to lounge around, hammocks and gourmet food. The sleeping quarters are beautifully kitted out and consist of stacked former shipping container accommodation with picture windows revealing the mesmerisingly empty horizon. There's also a fully-stocked mini-bar to keep you company.
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Callubri Station offers the chance to do as much, or as little, as you'd like. There are farming activities, drives around the property with a smoko on offer, walks and picnics. There are also sundowners on a lookout and the option of a long lunch in the bush at a table in the paddock.
Visit between March to October, but for the intrepid, each month has its attractions. Self-drive or fly to Dubbo and drive (minimum two-night stay at $795 a person a night inclusive), or exclusive use packages are from $3495 for one person to $730 a person for a group of 10. Charter flights to Nyngan or Tottenham come in a package with two nights' accommodation for a minimum of eight people from $4870 a person. The packaged long lunch trip is $1815 a person. See callubristation.com.au; crookedcompassbyair.com; australianluxuryescapes.com; visitnsw.com
THE ALPINE WILDERNESS LODGE
THOUSAND LAKES LODGE, CENTRAL PLATEAU, TASMANIA
Thousand Lakes Lodge, Tasmania.
0.26860 person per square kilometre
It's no coincidence that the raw Central Plateau region of Tasmania was chosen as the site for a training base for Australia's Antarctic expeditioners. Today that base is a unique alpine wilderness escape, specially and sensitively refurbished for everyday guests with an adventurous streak. This stark flat-top roof of Tasmania is home to Liawenee, the coldest inhabited place in Australia and it's at this pin-prick on the map where you turn off to the nine-room Thousand Lakes Lodge, slap bang in the middle of the World Heritage-listed Central Highlands region.
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As befitting a semi-luxury lodge of this kind, there is plenty to do and not do (your choice) in this part of Tasmania that's as forbidding as it is enticing. Simply loll the hours away with a book, perhaps accompanied by a companionable fine Tassie pinot, on one of the leather sofas by the raging fire in the huge centrepiece communal lounge with its towering vaulted ceiling. Or saddle up on one of the E-bikes for a ride by the dam, which surrounds the lodge and then out along the road towards the spectacular Walls of Jerusalem, home to one of the island's best multi-day walks. By night there's the opportunity for spotlighting wildlife such as wombats, wallabies, quolls and, if you're lucky, Tasmanian devils. Towards and during winter the dam water freezes and it's possible to sight hardy platypus swimming above and below the ice. Daytime guided fishing and walking tours are also offered. The lodge, in the heart of the Western Lakes area, is known as one of the world's leading wild trout fisheries.
Thousand Lakes Lodge, just two hours' from Hobart and 90 minutes to Launceston, is open much of the year, depending on demand, though overnight temperatures can slip well below zero in late autumn and winter when you can wake to a frosty white world. The comfortable and pleasantly decorated rooms (some sans ensuites) start from $435 a night, breakfast included. See thousandlakeslodge.com.au
THE HIGH COUNTRY FARM STAY
SPRING SPUR, TAWONGA, VIC
Spring Spur, Tawonga, Victoria.
One person per 2.7 square kilometre
Pass through the eastern Victoria township of Bright and drive on through the mountains, navigating climbing hairpin turns to arrive at this slice of paradise nestled at the head of the lush Kiewa Valley. Spring Spur has been a working horse property for generations, belonging to the welcoming Baird family, who have built a 12-person boutique guesthouse that combines reclaimed materials with abstract art created by the family patriarch, Steve. There's a cosy communal lounge, open kitchen, bar, library, and patio. It's easy to while away the crisp alpine evenings around the fire pit with a cold beer, picking out constellations from an unspoiled night sky.
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Saddle up for one of the ranch's half-day or full-day horse rides, which cater to beginners and experienced riders, or go all-in with a week-long pack horse expedition across the Bogong High Plains. Prefer to stretch your legs? Explore leafy walking trails around Mount Beauty or tackle the mountain's network of mountain bike tracks. Foodies can sample local produce at Crank Handle Brewery, Honeybird Coffee and Mount Beauty Bakery.
Spring Spur is open year-round but visit in spring to see wildflowers in bloom. It's a four-hour drive north-east of Melbourne on sealed roads. Rooms from $280, minimum two-night stay. See springspur.com.au
THE HISTORIC SHEEP STATION RETREAT
RAWNSLEY PARK STATION, FLINDERS RANGES, SA
Rawnsley Park Station, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Photo: Matt Nettheim
2.5 people per square kilometre
The outsized extravagance of the Flinders Ranges' ruggedly ancient landscape supplies red outback remoteness without being too onerous to reach, as Rawnsley Park is an easy drive from Adelaide. Campsites, caravans, bunkhouses, holiday units and the two-bedroom Rawnsley Homestead are among accommodation options for all budgets, but best are the luxury, straw-bale eco-villas which have a shared swimming pool and extravagant outlooks onto rusting ridges.
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With almost 12,000 hectares to explore, you could stay on the station and walk, grab a mountain bike on tracks that link to a 200-kilometre trail between Wilpena Pound and Blinman, or take a four-wheel tour to see the sunset from Chace Range. The station also offers three and five-day guided hikes that take in part of the Heysen Trail in Ikara-Flinders National Park. Rawnsley Park overlooks the worn walls of Wilpena Pound, a ring of cliffs that changes colour throughout the day, tempting you to clamber up to yet another sumptuous viewpoint. If you can afford the overnight heli-camping you'll be superbly rewarded with splendiferous scenery, solitude and immense outback silence.
Best visited between April and October for cooler walking weather, Rawnsley Park Station is five hours from Adelaide, or quicker by charter flight to the local airstrip. Holiday units from $190 a night, eco-villas $470, homestead $610. Heli-camping $755 a person, minimum two people.See rawnsleypark.com.au
THE RUSTIC MOUNTAIN CABIN ESCAPE
WOOLSHED CABINS, KANIMBLA VALLEY, NSW
1.5 people per square kilometre.
As you twist down the forested escarpment into the Kanimbla Valley, all the busyness and ballyhoo of the Blue Mountains vanishes and you step into a hidden world fit for Hobbits. Expect striped sunlight on grass nibbled by horses and kangaroos, magnificent stands of white-trunked gum trees, and a ring of cliffs. The original century-old woolshed still displays a rusting wool blender and baling machine. Nearby stand two eco-designed cabins with windows that eyeball a fiery sunset escarpment. You'll feel like an early European settler without the pioneer sacrifice, though you'll have to forego television.
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Lazy rambles take you along the lovely Kanimbla Valley as mist swirls in the morning and sunsets flare in late afternoon. You might spot a wombat along the creek. You can hire a horse at adjacent property Centennial Glen Stables. Blackheath and Mount Victoria are a short drive and the hike between Govetts Leap and Evans Lookout is magnificent and overlooked by many mainstream Blue Mountains visitors. The Megalong Valley, also close by, has walks, cafes and wineries.
Best visited in autumn but fine at most other times, the Woolshed Cabins are 10 kilometres from Blackheath, partly on an unsealed road. From $650 per night for two (minimum two nights). See woolshedcabins.com.au
THE CLASSIC OUTBACK WATERING HOLE
THE PRAIRIE OUTBACK LODGE, PARACHILNA, SA
Prairie Hotel, Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Photo: Jampal Dawa
2.5 people per square kilometre
The Prairie Hotel is a classic outback watering hole on the B83 road that skirts west of the Flinders Ranges and tempts outback travellers to stop and exchange tall tales over cold beer. The attached accommodation is unexpectedly chic and art-rich with executive suites offering the most comfort. Cowhides and an earthy palette provide a vaguely outback ambiance in otherwise happily suave, contemporary rooms. Gushing hot water is positively sinful given the setting but do be judicious. Don't miss an evening at Gallery Restaurant for outback fare (emu, camel, quandong crumble) and a glass of shiraz or two.
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A scenic flight from the airstrip can take you over one of two outback classics, the ragged red Flinders Ranges or startling blue-and-brown Lake Eyre much further north. Meanwhile it's a short drive to the vibrantly-hued Brachina Gorge, scattered with crumbling pink cliffs, blue boulders and white gum trees. Fossils of some of the earliest creatures on Earth imprint the rocks. The 100-kilometre Bunyeroo-Brachina-Aroona loop drive showcases some of the Flinders' most splendiferous ranges. Be sure to hit Bunyeroo Valley Lookout for an extravagant sunset and views to a horizon that bends over the plains.
The best time to visit is April to October for the cooler walking weather with the lodge closed over the scorching summer. Five hours from Adelaide. From $595 for two nights for two, including dinner and breakfast. See prairiehotel.com.au
THE SECLUDED ISLAND LODGE ESCAPE
PICNIC ISLAND, TASMANIA
Picnic Island, Tasmania. Photo: Luke Tscharke
7.24 people per square kilometre
Can a place that's just one kilometre away from Coles Bay, right around the corner from the popular Wineglass Bay, be considered secluded? Yes indeed, when that kilometre is measured across the water, not over land. Then there is the fact that this lodge is self-catering, which means you are entirely alone with no staff and no fellow guests. With room for 10 people in four bedrooms, this is a great wave-washed retreat with family or friends.
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There is no shortage of things to do in the Coles Bay area but many guests choose to stay put. Watch for dolphins and seals, try and hook flathead or squid off the jetty, or simply watch the light playing off the pink granite Hazard mountains. In the evening, follow the boardwalk to watch the island's penguins and shearwaters returning to their burrows.
THE INDULGENT HILLTOP LODGE
SPICERS PEAK RETREAT, MARYVALE, QLD
Spicers Peak Lodge, Maryvale, Queensland.
0.342 people per km
Visitors rave about the view from the hilltop Spicers Peak Retreat – sinuous bush-clad mountains, and some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets you have ever seen – but what you don't see is just as important as what you do. Although you are only 2.5 hours from Brisbane, no matter which direction you look in, you will have a hard time spotting any signs of civilisation.
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Sixty per cent of this 3000 hectare property is a nature conservancy, so it's no surprise that exploring the great outdoors is the biggest attraction here. You can mix it up, however, with more indulgent pastimes including massages, gin tastings, a tour of the lodge's art collection and of course the superb meals.
Rates from $1729 a night for a midweek stay in a Loft Suite, including all meals and beverages and selected activities. See spicersretreats.com
THE RUGGED NATIONAL PARK HIDEAWAY
MULUERINDIE, WARRABAH NATIONAL PARK, NSW
No permanent residents.
Although not far from Tamworth in NSW's New England region, this cottage sits on its lonesome on a bluff above the gorgeous Namoi River in the seldom-frequented eastern end of Warrabah National Park, and feels a million miles from anyone else. The hand-built granite building and its wood-hewn furnishings look like they were crafted by trolls but with a full kitchen, shower, proper beds, solar power and a fireplace you won't lack in comfort. An outdoor dunny provides midnight adventure. The large river-gazing deck, serenaded by the chuckling river, is the highlight. Get the sausages sizzling, and bliss out.
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Go rock-hopping along the shallow, sunlit Namoi River, with its mirrored blue pools, convenient natural stepping stones and sculptural rock formations that look as if they've been arranged by a Japanese gardener. Keep an eye out for platypus, tortoises and, in the trees above, rare orange-bellied parrots. Bring a fishing rod and you can try for Murray cod or catfish in the deeper waterholes.
The magnificently relaxing Muluerindie, at its best in autumn and spring, is 60 kilometres west of Uralla via Retreat Road. From $675 plus booking fee for three nights. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
FIVE MORE GREAT MEANS OF ESCAPE
Kittawa Lodge, King Island, Tasmania. Photo: Adam Gibson
KITTAWA LODGE, KING ISLAND, TASMANIA
Two one-bedroom villas, 40 hectares of farm and bushland, and the ability to watch the sun sink into the ocean from the comfort of your bathtub: it's no wonder that Kittawa Lodge has quickly built up a loyal following. Warm-hearted hosts Nick and Aaron will create a program for your magical stay on this wild and remote 1000 square-kilometre Bass Strait Island famed for its produce including arrangement of in-villa massages. See kittawalodge.com
HOME VALLEY STATION, THE KIMBERLEY, WESTERN AUSTRALIA
As your four-wheel drive wallows across the crocodile-patrolled Pentecost River, mere excursionists from Kununurra are left behind and the remote Gibb River Road truly begins. Home Valley, a working cattle station under Indigenous management, hunkers not much further on under flat-topped hills that look like giant multi-coloured sandcastles. You can camp, stay in the homestead or enjoy standalone suites that supply the only luxury (including merciful air-conditioning) for the next 700 kilometres. See home-valley.com.au
BAMURRU PLAINS, NORTHERN TERRITORY
With just 10 glamping tents available, the human population of Bamurru Plains, near Kakadu National Park, will always be less numerous than the wildlife, including shy wild brumbies and countless buffalo that roam free. Perched on the edge of a vast Top End floodplain, your experience changes with the seasons. In the wet, a sea of reeds stretches around you, and airboat excursions let you discover the delights of gliding through a sun-dappled paperbark forest. See bamurruplains.com
ARKABA RETREAT, FLINDERS RANGES, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
With five guest rooms and 260 square kilometres of the Flinders Ranges with which to play and commune, Arkaba Conservancy was designed, even before the pandemic, as a place where you can truly spread right out. Against a backdrop of the towering ranges, a program of walks and drives allows you to explore this underrated region's remarkable landscapes, from creeks lined with red gum to acacia flats, pine forests to mallee scrub. See arkabaconservancy.com
BIRDSVILLE HOTEL, QUEENSLAND
On the edges of the Simpson Desert and Sturt's Stony Desert, Birdsville in outback Queensland, has the deserved moniker of Australia's most isolated town. Once it would take six weeks to arrive here from Marree in the north of South Australia at the other end of the Birdsville Track, with Afghan traders leading trains of more than 100 camels from bore to bore. But today this rough outback jewel, with its legendary pub as its centrepiece, still feels only a tad less remote with its 140 hardy residents. See birdsvillehotel.com.au
SWELL LODGE, CHRISTMAS ISLAND
Settle back on the spacious deck of your eco-chalet, gazing out to sea, and you could be forgiven for thinking you are the last person on Earth. Then again, guests at Swell Lodge never get lonely as local guides will lead you on a fresh adventure every day. Nature lovers will enjoy exploring the waterfalls and fern gullies of the old-growth forest, the coastal blowholes, white sand beaches and scenic grottoes. Christmas Island, a four-hour flight northwest of Perth, is known for its unique crab species: the ubiquitous red crabs are famous, but the shyer pearlescent blue crabs are particularly endearing. See swelllodge.com; christmas.net.au
CORINNA WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE, THE TARKINE, TASMANIA
Late 19th-century mining town Corinna is today a rustic modern-day wilderness escape set in unspoilt Gondwana rainforest and snuggled by the banks of the Pieman River near Tasmania's wild west coast. Although it's only 60 kilometres from Strahan and not much more from Cradle Mountain, the sense of isolation here is profound. Eighteen kilometres from Corinna is the turbulent Southern Ocean which can be reached on a memorable half-day tour aboard the MV Arcadia II, a nostalgic vessel crafted from Tasmania's famed Huon pine which grows along the densely forested en route. There's also kayaking, fishing, twitching and walking on offer with accommodation in simple but comfortable self-contained cottages. See corinna.com.au
SEAL ROCKS LIGHTHOUSE COTTAGES, SEALS ROCKS, NSW
Seal Rocks is already well off the highway down a winding road through gum forest and farmland, and these cottages are at the end of another, shorter track that brings you out onto a sunny headland above a wild beach barely marked by a human footprint. A three-bedroom Head Keeper's Cottage and two two-bedroom Assistant Keeper's Cottages have all the necessary self-catering comforts but retain their retro feel and trim nautical polish. Despite the coffee machine and smart TV, you'll feel almost like a 19th-century sailor as the surf pounds and whales blow past. See srlc.com.au