Seaside hideaway

Sheriden Rhodes soaks in the solitude at an exclusive Whitsundays resort.

Woodwark Bay is mesmerising in the fading light of day. The last of the sun's rays play on the Whitsunday Passage and overhead a full moon rises over the string of islands.

A manicured lawn dotted with swaying coconut trees stretches to the water's edge where small waves crash upon the shore. I am the only one here apart from a lone catamaran anchored way off in the distance and a grazing wallaby.

It's a sensation so foreign that it takes a little getting used to. There's no rumble of passing cars, no noisy motorboats; not even the familiar ring of a mobile phone.

In fact there's nothing here but the increasingly rare sound of silence. I stand on the deep, covered veranda of the main house - a stylish, thatched, high-gabled building with views over Woodwark Bay - for a long time; searing the image into a storehouse of treasured memories.

Few people in Australia have heard of Woodwark Bay. Once the retreat of Sydney businessman Jodee Rich, this elite resort is today in the hands of a private consortium of Sydney investors who rent it to celebrities, royalty, chief executives and the like for their exclusive use - for a hefty sum, of course.

Tom and Nicole, when they were together, were one of the celebrity couples to holiday here. The resort has also hosted the King of Morocco and several US businessmen and women. Many guests fly by private jet to either Hamilton Island or Proserpine airports and then transfer to the property by road or helicopter - far from paparazzi.

Surrounded by national park all the way to Bowen several hundred kilometres away, Woodwark Bay is one of Australia's most exclusive holiday rentals.

Set on 1618 hectares, it has lush tropical rainforest, a deep freshwater lake, manicured gardens, more than 100 kilometres of roads, waterfalls and picnic huts and surrounded by 20,000 hectares of uninterrupted and untracked national parkland. It's aptly marketed as the outback by the beach.

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The property is luxurious but it's understated rather than ostentatious. There are six private South Seas-style thatched cottages (that sleep a maximum of 14) filled with one-of-a-kind pieces: an antique Russian chest, African wall hangings, damask, silks, Tibetan temple doors and tiles from palaces in India.

Many of the furnishings are sourced from the Sydney retail outlet of the renowned dealer Joan Bowers.

Some of the spacious guest rooms feature open-air bathrooms, either with deep baths that look out on lush foliage or showers where you can look up at the night sky. Each of the cottages has evocative names like Pebble House, Dream House and Island Hut.

The Dream House is the ultimate in luxury with cool limestone floors, a large stand-alone bath, pebble-lined shower that overlooks a private bamboo garden and a wide shady veranda with wooden swing and day bed where you can take in the views to Double Cone Island.

I am in the Siamese Hut, with wrap-around deck and hammock. I shower in the open air in the middle of a rainstorm and watch a scrub turkey weave among the shrubbery.

The main communal house, surrounded by a deep paved veranda, is where guests gather - if you choose to share the experience, that is. It's airy and expansive, crammed with a mix of interesting artwork and furniture and comfortable lounges for passing the afternoon with a book.

You step into the house through a fantastic antique wooden door sourced from an old estate in India. Upstairs is a cosy library with commanding views over the bay, where you can read, watch a DVD or surf the internet. The house has several seating areas, a Bang & Olufsen CD player, white walls and soaring high ceilings. There is also a long communal wooden dining table and an open-air kitchen where you can watch your chef work some magic.

An on-site host provides all the catering for in-house guests including pre-dinner cocktails; I found caprioskas are perfect for the tropics.

For lunch on our first day, we have house-made fettuccini with oven-roasted tomato, basil and chili with pan-seared king prawns, accompanied by a salad and crusty bread. The next night we are treated to a seven-course dinner, which includes oysters with white pepper and jelly; a salad of squid and green beans with a chive aioli; and Bowen reef scallop, asparagus and shitake mushroom atop cauliflower puree and wilted spinach.

After a leisurely meal guests can retire to the outside alcove with its gorgeous day bed, or head for the Moroccan- and Balinese-inspired pool, with cane lounges and deliciously warm spa.

Waking on our second morning, a seaplane arrives literally on our doorstep to fly us to the stunning Whitehaven Beach. A sweep of seven kilometres of pristine white sand, the terrain squelches like talcum powder underfoot as I take a walk. A hamper full of smoked salmon rolls and just-baked muffins, as well as wine and champagne, has been packed for us. We soak up the scenery before reboarding our seaplane for the flight back to the mainland.

While the accommodation is certainly luxurious, it's Woodwark Bay's location that is the real show stopper. And there are lots of playthings to make the most of its varied topography including an observation-meditation tower and a barramundi-stocked lake for fishing, waterskiing, power skiing and canoeing. There are mountain bikes and qualified massage therapists at hand. Manager Sarah Gorrie can arrange almost anything - a helicopter tour to the Great Barrier Reef, game-fishing trips, paragliding, scuba pool lessons, windsurfing or whatever takes your fancy. Or you can simply gaze out at the azure waters, smug in the knowledge that it's all yours. For now anyway.

Sheriden Rhodes stayed courtesy of Outback Encounters.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Hamilton Island and Proserpine are the two nearest airports. Jetstar fares are $159 to Hamilton Island non-stop from Melbourne and Sydney. Virgin Blue is $195 from Melbourne and $169 from Sydney to Proserpine. Fares are one-way, including tax, but cheaper specials are available at times.

Staying there

Woodwark Bay can be rented exclusively for a minimum of four nights. Rates from $4400 a night for a couple, up to $16,900 for a maximum of 14 people during high season. Larger groups of up to 20 can be accommodated on request. Phone Outback Encounter on (08) 8354 4405 or see outbackencounter.com/private.htm.

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