Read our writer's views on this property below
With an eye on the wildlife, guests aren't the only ones to benefit from this luxury lodge, writes Lynne Whiley.
Several guests have already bought the bed they enjoyed at Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, such is the comfort on offer at this boutique resort nestled between several Blue Mountains world-heritage national parks near Lithgow. The king-size four-posters are custom-made, as is much of the resort's built environment, as though a gathering of the guilds sought to outpolish one another when making the main lodge, guest bungalows, gym and spa.
If you noticed Sydney's hardwood supply run short last year, you'll find a wealth of it at Wolgan Valley, along with serious quantities of Central Coast sandstone. Together with recycled local timbers and found materials, the resort showcases the hand-hewn and high-end.
The $125 million hotel opened this month with 40 bungalow suites and a guest limit of about 80. Half are anticipated to be well-heeled Australians and half wealthy Europeans and Americans seeking privacy and bush luxury in a grassy, natural amphitheatre bordered by dense stands of native cypress, box and eucalypt ringed by cathedral walls of sandstone.
Anchored by massive stone fireplaces, the resort's light-filled central lodge takes its architectural cue from a nearby humble homestead built in 1832 by white settlers. The lodge's guest areas are a clubby, elegant combination of the antique and bespoke, of crystal glassware, fine dining and impeccable service, with deep leather chairs and a wine room where guests linger for a chat. The vibe is understated wealth, the dress code smart-casual. This is, after all, an Emirates Hotels and Resorts property.
Bungalow suites each have a private pool, separate lounge, verandahs (and breezeway, Australian-style), a slate-finished bathroom, walk-in wardrobe big enough for Madonna's baggage and, of course, the bespoke bed, made by a Sydney company to Emirates' specifications. Suites are spaced well apart, sited to reduce heating and cooling costs, pools use heat-exchange technology, solar panels fire the resort's hot-water systems, rainwater tanks are ubiquitous and all domestic water is recycled.
Guests walk or cycle between venues and every time you look up – from your verandah or pool, from the lodge's swallow-me-up armchairs or from the Timeless spa's treatment rooms – the soaring escarpment has something new for the eye. Aspect, play of light on rock, the lower slopes' dense bush and the grasses of the valley floor can be a compelling visual combination. Think happy valley with the sun's dawn and dusk light-show rather than brooding bush, even during a storm.
The resort occupies about 2 per cent of Emirates' 1618-hectare lease, bought from pastoralists several years ago and now cleared of almost 40 kilometres of barbed wire and other reminders of the valley's cattle-grazing history. The rest of the land is being turned over to biodiversity and wildlife. The Wolgan River and Carne Creek flow into the valley, a significant meeting place for the Wiradjuri, Daruk and other groups, so Emirates had archaeologists and Aboriginal groups in to investigate before site works began.
Taking up the lease and seeking to build within a stone's throw of the world-heritage Wollemi and Garden of Stone national parks had environmentalists – local and otherwise – raising concerns, so Emirates did a land-swap with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and undertook the planning and environmental safeguards demanded by government.
As Wolgan Valley's general manager, Joost Heymeijer, concedes: "It has not been without challenges, without pushback. But we're not into greenwash and we're here to stay."
People philosophically opposed to for-profit conservation probably won't book in to the Wolgan Valley resort. However, guests seeking a unique bush stay may not blink at the all-inclusive tariff of $1950 a night for two. With it comes meals from executive chef Dwane Goodman's international-level menu, sourced from regional (within 180 kilometres), seasonal and organic producers where possible and accompanied by wines from Mudgee, Orange and other Australian vineyards. The menu changes daily, the breads are baked on-site, cheeses are Australia's finest and almost everything else coming from the kitchen is made there – except the caviar.
The tariff does not include spa treatments, which take place in a sanctuary of curved corridors and well-appointed rooms staffed by Emirates-trained professionals who know their Sodashi and Babor products. However, the tariff does help pay for the labour-intensive outdoors work – the tree planting, the field guides who accompany guests on bushwalks, mountain bike rides or horse and four-wheel-drive adventures on marked trails to avoid areas of soil erosion that are now being rehabilitated.
A stand of rare, ancient Wollemi pine, planted under licence a few years ago, can be looked at but not touched. The foxes, feral cats and dogs being hunted out by staff mean the indigenous, featherweight stars of biodiversity, such as the quoll and potoroo, can be reintroduced to the valley alongside the wombats and roos.
Professor Tim Flannery reckons Australia's biodiversity will be in crisis if small mammals aren't actively looked after. And he says privately-owned conservation parks may be the way to ensure endangered species survive. These pages aren't the place for that discussion, however, the resort's guests can sleep soundly in those oh-so-comfortable beds secure in the knowledge a percentage of their bill is being used to give wildlife the run of the place.
The writer was a guest of Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa.
WHERE Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, via Lithgow, NSW. Phone 6350 1800, see wolganvalley.com.
HOW MUCH $1950 a suite, a night, for two. Includes all meals, selected wines, comprehensive mini-bar and two guided activities. Packages offering three nights for the price of two are available until December.
TOP MARKS Bringing Ian Kiernan in to rescue the Wolgan Valley homestead, built by white settlers in 1832. When he's not cleaning up Australia, Kiernan restores old buildings. The homestead has been saved using meticulous Burra Charter heritage techniques. Kiernan says it has been a privilege to restore it. The project cost $2 million but what price history?
BLACK MARK Water pressure; it took 30 minutes to fill the bath in my suite.
DON'T MISS Sunset drinks on the wooden platforms built to capture views above, along and below.