From Tasmania to the Top End, Paul Myers finds remote destinations that deliver adventure with style.
Not so long ago, comfort and style weren't synonymous with an outback destination or experience. Fortunately for those who like their creature comforts and have a sense of adventure, there is an increasing number of destinations off the beaten track that provide everything the most discerning traveller expects.
To be sure, the accommodation isn't always five stars but the astonishing locations and hospitality are ample compensation.
Here are 20 of the best destinations in Australia that handle remoteness in style.
Flinders Ranges, SA
Australia has few family-operated farm-stay properties that successfully blend comfort, history, scenery, style, activities and interaction with the owners in a memorable package. Ian and Di Fargher achieve this brilliantly on their 64,000-hectare sheep station in the Flinders Ranges. Angorichina is situated superbly in a stunning landscape, 10 minutes' drive from the village of Blinman, 500 kilometres north of Adelaide and within easy access of Wilpena Pound. The Farghers treat every guest with genuine warmth and invite them to witness everyday station activities as well as learn about indigenous links with the land from an Aboriginal guide. There are two guest rooms: one in the 1860s homestead, the other in a separate cottage. Phone (08) 8354 4405; see angorichinastation.com.
Top End, NT
A 20-minute flight east of Darwin on the Mary River floodplain, this working buffalo property ripples with wildlife and offers guests abundant creature comforts. Voted best leisure property in Australasia-South Pacific by readers of Britain's Conde Nast Traveller magazine last year, Bamurru is modelled on Africa's best safari camps. Its nine safari suites are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the bush, especially tens of thousands of magpie geese, after which the camp is named. There are safari activities, including river cruises, meals are included and Kakadu is close by. There are no phones or television, so be prepared to leave the outside world behind. Phone 1300 790 561; see bamurruplains.com.
You don't come to the outback's quintessential pub just for the accommodation. This 1884 National Trust-listed stone pub has a quirky and always entertaining front bar and enough all-round appeal to make it a great experience. There are plenty of sights in and around Birdsville, too, including the Big Red sandhill that provides symbolic access to the Simpson Desert, a fascinating museum, the easily traversed (but not in the wet) 517-kilometre Birdsville Track to Marree, South Australia, and plenty of ancient and early European history. The place is swamped during the Birdsville Races on the first weekend of September. Phone (07) 4656 3244, see theoutback.com.au.
Bullo River Station
Top End, NT
One of author Sara Henderson's daughters, Marlee, and her husband, Franz Ranacher, have turned 200,000-hectare Bullo River Station - the focal point of several of Henderson's best-selling books - into a wonderful, in-the-wild tourism experience. The accommodation in guest quarters close to the homestead is comfortable without being five star but the experience, near the mouth of the Victoria River, is: crocodile spotting, barramundi fishing, rock art viewing, exploring, helicopter trips to remote gorges and more. Bullo is about a two-hour flight south-west of Darwin near the Western Australia border, or can be reached from the Victoria Highway (80 kilometres on a dirt road, 4WD dry season only), and is 200 kilometres from Kununurra. Phone (08) 9168 7375; see bulloriver.com.
Bush Camp at Faraway Bay
East Kimberley, WA
Few remote wilderness experiences match Bruce and Robyn Ellison's bush camp, on the rugged tip of Western Australia. Fly-in, fly-out (April to November) over King George Falls to a spectacular Timor Sea cliff-top setting. Excellent food and absolute relaxation around a rustic central lodge with swimming pool are the order of the day. Accommodation in private cabins is comfortable rather than luxurious but the total experience and friendly hosts are what make this destination so special. Phone (08) 9169 1214; see farawaybay.com.au.
Cradle Mountain Lodge
Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair NP, Tas
This is a spectacular tract of wilderness, barely two hours' drive from Launceston. The lodge, in the national park, adds a touch of style to a world-class experience, especially when the weather turns sour - as it often does - at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. A three-hour walk to spectacular and much-photographed Dove Lake, 950 metres above sea level, is a must. There are four standards of private cabin accommodation, topped by luxurious spa suites. Meals are prepared in the rustic central lodge before and after you've ventured out walking, canoeing, fishing, biking or wildlife viewing. Phone 1300 134 044; see cradlemountainlodge.com.au.
Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris
Mount Borradaile, NT
Former buffalo hunter Max Davidson stumbled across the Mount Borradaile site in the 1980s and, with the co-operation of its traditional owners, he has a wildlife and indigenous tourism experience like no other, basic accommodation and facilities notwithstanding. The wildlife, birdlife, rock art galleries, bush tucker walks, Aboriginal culture and the astonishing Arnhem Land landscape draw travellers back on repeat visits. Phone (08) 8927 5240; see arnhemland-safaris.com.
El Questro Wilderness Retreat
East Kimberley, WA
With the orange-coloured Cockburn Ranges as a backdrop and just an hour's drive west of Kununurra, El Questro has a range of accommodation: the simple luxury of the homestead, perched high above Chamberlain Gorge; comfortable tented cabins in Emma Gorge with their own restaurant; and bungalows or camping by the Pentecost River. In keeping with the price tag, homestead guests usually fly in, take helicopter tours and live it up. More budget-conscious travellers drive from Kununurra and explore independently, on and off the station. Phone (08) 9169 1777; see elquestrohomestead.com.au.
Freycinet NP, Tasmania
Midway on Tasmania's east coast, Freycinet Peninsula is home to the perfectly formed Wineglass Bay and a rugged, beautiful coastline. The eponymous lodge inside Freycinet National Park has a pristine, idyllic bayside waterfront location, four types of comfortable private cabins, a better-than-average restaurant plus bistro, as well as abundant wildlife, walks and water activities. Spring to autumn is the best time to visit. Phone (03) 6257 0101; see freycinetlodge.com.au.
This historic hotel began as a coffee house during prohibition in the 1890s. It is now a magnet for food and wine lovers drawn to the enterprises of Mr Mildura - cook and A Gondola On The Murray host Stefano di Pieri. Stefano's restaurant, a cafe bakery with food store and Mildura brewery pub are part of the hotel. Accommodation ranges from average to a palatial presidential suite with marble bathroom. But it's Stefano's degustation menu and great bluestone cellar atmosphere that, rightfully, draw the crowds. Phone (03) 5023 0511; see qualityhotelmilduragrand.com.au.
Home Valley Station
East Kimberley, WA
Near the locations where much of Baz Luhrmann's Australia was filmed, Home Valley is a working cattle station with newly completed high-end and mid-range accommodation an hour's drive west of Kununurra on the Gibb River Road. Owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation, which bought the station in 1999, it features an on-site tourism training facility for young Aborigines. The 1.4 million-hectare station's upmarket Grass Castles suites, guesthouse rooms and Sand Castle eco tents are accommodation options for all budgets. A four-day wet-season package is being introduced this year to complement fishing, canoeing, horseriding, mustering, birdwatching and indigenous cultural experiences. Phone (08) 9161 4322; see homevalley.com.au.
Kimberley Coastal Camp
Mitchell Plateau, WA
Rocky Terry is a wonderful bush character and fisherman who built his camp on Admiralty Gulf, 450 kilometres north-east of Broome and almost as far from anywhere in Australia as you can get. It is accessible only by helicopter or boat. Fishing is a perfect reason - but not the only one - to come here. Mysterious Bradshaw rock art can be seen in sandstone overhangs near the camp. There are also whale watching and bushwalking and the spectacular Mitchell Falls - outstanding even in the Kimberley - is a short chopper flight away. Six private gazebos, accommodating up to 12 people, and a central lodge provide adequate creature comforts. Phone 0417 902 006; see kimberleycoastal camp.com.au.
Kings Canyon Resort
Watarrka NP, NT
There isn't an abundance of quality accommodation in central Australia's West MacDonnell Ranges, where distances between scenic highlights can be long, hot and dusty. But, thankfully, near the western extremity of the Mereenie Loop, 330 kilometres from Alice Springs, is the comfortable and ideally located Kings Canyon Resort. The canyon, up to 270 metres deep, is one of the great natural wonders of the Red Centre. In Watarrka National Park just off Ernest Giles Road, the resort is a welcome oasis at the end of a long trip, blending harmoniously with the landscape. There are plenty of walking trails and other activities nearby. Phone 1300 134 044; see kingscanyonresort.com.au.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta NP, NT
Longitude 131 manages to achieve what its sister hotels in the tourist centre of Uluru don't: it sympathetically complements its ancient surroundings. The 15 white-domed "tents" are the ultimate in safari-style accommodation, with excellent food, guides on tap, a variety of services and good access to Uluru itself and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Rebuilt after a fire destroyed the site a year after opening in 2002, Longitude was the first camp of its type in Australia and it remains the best. Phone 1300 134 044; see longitude 131.com.au.
North Star Cruises
Picture this: a luxury boat with helicopter perched atop slides past spectacular waterfalls - including the famous horizontal waterfall in Talbot Bay - and rugged red cliffs that plunge to an aquamarine sea. North Star is one of several excellent luxury charter operators sailing from Broome to the Buccaneer Archipelago north of the historic pearling town. With 20 staff and 36 guests, plenty of activities and onshore excursions, a six-day or 12-day passage on True North is as good as any remote tourism experience. Phone (08) 9192 1829; see northstarcruises.com.au.
Flinders Ranges, SA
Jane and Ross Fargher's Prairie Hotel at Parachilna (population seven) is an ideal site from which to explore the Flinders Ranges, perhaps Australia's best-kept tourism secret. The 100-year-old Prairie Hotel, with a newish and comfortable accommodation wing attached to the original structure, often hosts film crews and an eclectic mix of locals and tourists who come for the hospitality, Jane's sumptuous "feral food" platters and the chance to discover the many Flinders attractions, including Wilpena Pound, Blinman village, Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary and Nepabunna indigenous community. Parachilna is 490 kilometres north of Adelaide on an all-bitumen road and is on the western edge of Flinders Ranges National Park. Phone (08) 8648 4844; see prairiehotel.com.au.
Royal Exchange Hotel
Broken Hill, NSW
With its mines closed, Broken Hill may be struggling for survival but the town and surrounding area (including Silverton, location of Mad Max, less than an hour away) have superb period architecture, art galleries on every corner, Kinchega and Mutawintji national parks within a couple of hours' drive and two-up every Friday and Saturday night at the Musicians Club. The art deco Royal Exchange is the town's oasis, a beautifully restored, comfortably furnished country pub with 24 rooms. Phone (08) 8087 2308; see royalexchangehotel.com.
Seven Spirit Bay
Cobourg Peninsula, NT
Since coming under the wing of Peppers, Seven Spirit Bay has been given a new lease of life. In Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula, a 45-minute flight north-east of Darwin, the wilderness lodge is virtually camouflaged by rainforest, with accommodation in clustered "habitats" (23 in all) providing superb vistas of the Arafura Sea. It's designed in sympathy with cultural and ecological considerations and with all the trappings any discerning traveller would expect. Fishing, wildlife and indigenous cultural experiences are among the many attractions. Phone (08) 8979 0281; see peppers.com.au/Seven-Spirit-Bay.
Southern Ocean Lodge
Kangaroo Island, SA
James and Hayley Baillie's Southern Ocean Lodge opened last year and has been hailed as one of the world's great new tourism developments. The line of lodges ranging down a cliff-top on Hanson Bay, on Kangaroo Island's south-west coast, is stunning from a distance but even better once there. The accommodation, food, service and ambience lack for nothing and then there's the stunning views. Phone 9918 4355; see southernoceanlodge.com.au.
Wrotham Park Lodge
Cape York, Qld
There aren't many big, fair-dinkum cattle stations where you can stay in luxury, eat gourmet tucker and mix with stockmen and women in their everyday working lives. This is one such place, where relaxation in classy cabins (called quarters) perched on an escarpment above the Mitchell River combines seamlessly with the non-stop action of a cattle station. Located 300 kilometres west of Cairns, this is a dry-season, fly-in/fly-out property suited ideally to couples seeking a unique bush experience. The park reopened this week. Phone 1300 134 044; see wrothampark.com.au.