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The Best Luxury Retreats For 2022

Where to stay when you *really* want to get away from it all


Georgia Hopkins

In July this year, I packed the car and headed north from my home in Northern New South Wales on what I thought would be a three-week trip.

When lockdowns started to spread, I kept on going. For the next four months.

In my trusty Toyota, I made it all the way up to Port Douglas (with slow, lazy stops in places like Sunshine Beach, Agnes Water, Rocky, Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays, Townsville and Magnetic Island, Mission Beach, and Cairns). Then I headed across to the Northern Territory and East Arnhem Land, the Tiwi Islands, and Uluru. I even managed to jump on The Ghan and spent five days journeying from Darwin through the Outback down to Adelaide.

I was acutely aware of what a luxury and privilege it was to be travelling at a time when half the country was locked down. I hoped that by gently sharing my travels it might provide some inspiration for those eager to explore Australia when lockdowns lifted. For me, the places that filled me with the most joy were those that were incredibly remote and well off-the-beaten track. I felt the deepest connection to the land and its people when I was totally disconnected from all else.

Here are some of the best and most remote retreats I have found to escape to next year.

 

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Banubanu resort on Bremer Island, NT

Banubanu Beach Retreat 

Standout feature: Ocean that you can swim in!

How remote is it? Exceptionally remote. It’s a flight into Gove Airport in East Arnhem Land and then a 20-minute taxi to Gove Harbour. From there, you take a 45 minute fast boat to reach Bremer island. Alternatively, you can take a small plane which takes 15 minutes.

A truly off-grid experience, Banubanu showcases the simple pleasures of space and time. On the morning I arrived, the retreat’s barefoot and laid-back owner, Trevor Hosie, was waiting at the harbour and as the other guests and I settled on the boat, he shared a bit of the island’s history.

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Banubanu's charming bar

Banubanu sits on Aboriginal land belonging to the local Yolgnu clan of East Arnhem Land and was built in partnership with the local Yolgnu people. Over 17 years, Trevor and his wife Helen have created five Deluxe Beachfront Bungalows and an elevated Penthouse Bungalow, each of which has stunning views over the Arafura Sea and comes with an ensuite bathroom and beachfront deck.

Helen told me later that Banubanu calms her and connects her to the bird life, plants and ocean of this pristine place.

One of my favourite things about the island is that it’s the only place in the NT where you can swim in the ocean. It is (apparently) crocodile-safe! I can’t tell you how good it felt to jump in, even if I was still a little wary. There’s also a great little restaurant and bar – Seabreeze – that serves locally caught seafood and freshly grown herbs, as well as a mean Aperol Spritz.

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Luxe tents at Longitude

Longitude 131 

Standout feature: The premium Dune Pavilion for its views of both World Heritage-listed wonders, Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa

How remote is it? While exceptionally remote, Longitude 131 is only 15 minutes from Yulara airport.

It’s not every day you can lie in bed looking out to the magnificent monolith that is Uluṟu, which stands at an astonishing 873 metres high, or glimpse Kata Tjuta, a mysterious gathering of 36 rock domes standing over one thousand metres tall.

But this is what you can expect at Longitude 131, one of Australia’s most remote and most celebrated luxury camps. There are 15 luxury tents here and one ‘Dune Pavilion’ (the premium suite with two sleeping and living areas, and views to both Uluṟu and Kata Tjuṯa), all nestled into the rich red dunes of Australia’s outback – the traditional home of the local Indigenous Anangu people.

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The view from the Dune Pavilion deck

Given the remoteness of its location, the dining experience at Longitude 131 is impressive, bringing together the finest, freshest produce from across Australia.

The Dune Top is an intimate space with a help-yourself bar, outdoor lounges and plunge spa with outrageously beautiful views, and there’s a spa as well, Spa Kinara, which features Aboriginal massage techniques and local natural healing ingredients.

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One of Hayman's beaches

InterContinental Hayman Island Resort 

Standout feature: Blue Pearl Bay

How remote is it? Very remote. To reach Hayman Island you can fly into Hamilton Island Airport and then it’s a 60-minute luxury boat transfer from there (or you can opt for a helicopter transfer instead, which takes 15 minutes). You can also take a boat directly from Airlie Beach on the Whitsunday mainland.

Before visiting the remote InterContinental Hayman Island Resort, I was a little deterred by its size. With 200 guest rooms, suites and villas, I thought it was going to be way too big for my liking.

It turned out, though, that I loved my time on Hayman, especially for its extraordinary nature setting. The resort is perfectly positioned on a two-kilometre crescent-shaped stretch of stunning white sand beach with views over the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.

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Damage caused by Cyclone Debbie in 2017 caused Hayman Island to close for a two-year refurbishment, and its new incarnation is fresh and welcoming, with the introduction of five distinct restaurant experiences.

I loved hiking around the hill to tiny Blue Pearl Bay – swimming, snorkelling, picnicking, exploring. There is also an incredible two-hour trail that takes you around the edge of the island via Blue Pearl Bay, Dolphin Point and Butterfly Grove. It’s best to start super early (like, 5:30/6am) to beat the heat. The views along the way are breathtaking.

I stayed in one of the Beachfront Pool Villas (one of eight) and liked the direct access to the beach. This villa comes with its own private concierge service, available to assist you with anything you need at any time throughout your stay. I also had an amazing massage at the Hayman Spa.

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Orpheus island's jetty

Orpheus Island Lodge

Standout feature: ‘Dining with the Tides’

How remote is it? Very remote. Closest airport is Townsville. From there, it’s a 30-minute helicopter ride

Orpheus Island is truly an island paradise. Accommodating just 28 indulged guests at a time, this all-inclusive tropical island lodge feels intimate and personal. It’s surrounded by national park and a pristine reef, and the infinity pool looks over the Coral Sea. You will find yourself spending a lot of time there.

The team of staff are wonderful – they’ll remember your name and your favourite drink – and the dining experience is impressive. At the time of my visit the Head Chef was James Egan (who has since transferred to another of the Northern Escape Collection’s properties, Daintree Ecolodge), who is inspired by local and sustainable ingredients. Accommodation-wise, I recommend booking one of the South Suites as they feel more private and spacious; I especially love their private outdoor bath.

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I also recommend getting out on a boat for the day to explore the extraordinary and untouched Great Barrier Reef – the principal dive sites that the Orpheus team will take you to boast 1,100 of the 1,500 species of fish on the reef. It’s extraordinary!

Another highlight? The island’s signature dining experience, ‘Dining with the Tides’, which is an intimate, six-course degustation dinner for two served on pier at sunset. It’s pretty special.

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A private plunge pool at qualia

qualia 

Standout feature: The private infinity pool in the Windward Pavilion

How remote is it? To reach qualia, you simply fly into Hamilton Island Airport and from there it’s just a five-minute minibus transfer.

When I learned that qualia means ‘”a collection of deeper sensory experiences”, everything made sense. Walking in (a glass of Charles Heidsieck champagne in hand), it is the soft sea breeze that catches you as the views open up through the reception pavilion, over the infinity pool and immaculately landscaped grounds, out to the Coral Sea. It is breathtaking.

Cradled by the natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef, this resort is pure luxury. I can recommend the Windward Pavilions for their amazing private plunge pools and ridiculous Whitsunday views from the most comfortable king-sized bed. I also loved the delicious breakfasts, far more interesting than your standard hotel experience – the nasi goreng was a particular standout, as well as the comté and chive omelette.

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The main swimming pool on the private Pebble Beach is the perfect place to while away an entire day. There’s an abundance of experiences and activities on offer; you can choose to do as much or as little as you like. I loved the sunset sail on qualia’s luxury charter, and the “talk and taste” evening, which happened to be on sake and sashimi when we were there, with sommelier Ben Cabangun. I learnt a lot.

The qualia spa is an incredible oasis, with an open air yoga and meditation pavilion, outdoor Vichy shower and beautiful treatment rooms. The ‘Driftaway Sensory Journey’ was a full-body aromatic massage, petite Sodashi facial and hair and scalp treatment that had me floating out of there.

qualia is a world-class oasis of Australian style, luxury, and exceptional service – service that is often hard to find elsewhere in Australia; incredibly personalised, intimate, friendly, and intuitive.

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Mt. Mulligan Lodge 

Standout feature: The sunset bar

How remote is it? Very remote. Closest airport is Cairns. From there, it’s either a 2.5–3 hour 4WD drive (quite the adventure), or a 35-minute helicopter ride

Mt. Mulligan Lodge, on the Ngarrabullgan land of the Kuku Djungan people in remote north Queensland, is a 28,000 hectare property offering just 20 indulged guests an exceptional all-inclusive outback experience.

It’s situated under the watchful eye of the majestic Mount Mulligan, a sandstone tabletop mountain boasting a spectacular 18-kilometre escarpment towering over the surrounding Australian eucalyptus woodlands. There’s a contemporary yet rustic main pavilion, housing an airy lounge, bar and restaurant, a sleek infinity pool, and 10 guest suites.

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The perfect outdoor tub

I recommend booking one of the Outback Suites, which are a little more spacious with a living room attached. A major highlight for me was the corrugated iron water tank turned outdoor soaking bath that sits on the outdoor verandah overlooking the weir.

I also loved the sunset bar, where sundowners are served in the evening – watching the outback sky spin into a kaleidoscope of colours over the striking landscape is something very special. I felt like I was on a country and western film set at the sunset bar, sitting in the rustic wooden structure, gin and tonic in hand, looking over the dusty red escarpment.

Yes, this is remote, but the dining is beautiful, featuring local produce from the entire region. There are ‘Mulligan Garden’ soft herbs (from their own onsite garden), ‘Cairns Exotic’ king oyster mushrooms, ‘Tablelands’ pork belly (from the nearby Atherton Tablelands), and native fruit jazzing up your evening cocktail (in my case, a margarita). Another winning experience is ‘Dining under the Stars’, an intimate seven-course degustation dinner on the banks of the weir.

Mt. Mulligan Lodge really is an exceptionally special accommodation experience.

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BY Georgia Hopkins

Georgia is the creator of It's Beautiful Here and PRIMER's travel editor

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