After a nearly three-hour drive from Sydney, to be greeted by dozens of kangaroos leaping around the 4,000-acre estate of Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa is one of the most memorable welcomes of all time. The gal parked her car by the estate’s main gate, and was driven the final ten minutes in a 4×4. At the lodge, you are welcomed in, to a soaring reception area with a view through an all-glass wall, 20 yards ahead, of more of this gorgeous valley. This is Arts&Crafts design meets modern Japan – see, left, the wall behind the two low-set front desks. The same use of wood cross-cuts has been employed by designer Mike Watson in mirror surrounds in the 40 detached villas (with families in mind, one has three bedrooms, several are two-bedroom).
Villa 16 (‘Red Wattlebird’), a typical 1,000 sq ft villa, has, like all the others, an integral 21-foot heated pool. Yes, as you can see from the video below, you can do your lengths without having to leave your temporary home. The main space is divided into two equal areas, living and bedroom, with the central easy-work gas-fuelled coal-look fire, with two levels of flame intensity, projecting heat in both directions. Slate floors, a really comfortable four-post bed, cashmere throws, binoculars and a DeLonghi espresso machine made this a really agreeable ambience. Masses of books ranged from Charles Darwin in Australia to Howard Spring’s 1962 tome, I Met a Lady. With an enormous walk-in closet, and a walk-through shower as well as a deep tub, I was all set for a long stay.
I looked out, as in all the villas, to the east, to Wollemi National Park, north to Donkey Mountain and south to Stone National Park. As well as taking one of the villa’s two mountain bikes for a spin I hiked along Carne Creek towards Platypus Deck – the longest hike listed on my handy map was a challenging 12-mile circuit, from and back to the 1832 Heritage Homestead. I could have taken yoga classes, a two-hour conservation course, or gone birding (the 150-plus range of species includes Brown Treecreepers and Dusky Woodswallows). Many regular guests return at different seasons, says the resort’s affable GM James Wyndham, to add to their ornithological check-list.
James Wyndham, a one-time diplomat, is a people-person, interacting incessantly with guests, and also with his 120 employees – many of whom fortunately have partners also working here as otherwise it could be incredibly lonely for them. This luxury resort’s guests come on an all-inclusive basis, standard or premium: I do not know what would have been better on the deluxe level but I was really happy with my dinner, a beef tartare with brioche crumb and truffle mayonnaise followed by swordfish with scallops and parsnip purée, with which the Hungarian sommelier recommended first a 2013 Craggy Range Gimlet Gavels Merlot Hawkes Bay and then a 2014 John Duval Shiraz. I was also ecstatic that, before breakfast-proper started at eight, it was no trouble at all to deliver a perfectly set-up room service meal, complete with crisp linens, superb thick home-made yoghurt, and Australia’s answer to Bordier, a 30g silver-wrap of Australian Cultured Butter Churned by Pepe Saya. This meant that, after Alex from New Zealand had checked my GPS, I was able to get on the road at 7.30 (James Wyndham there to say goodbye) to begin the trek back to Sydney airport. NOW TOUR MY VILLA, BELOW