No more drop toilets: bush retreats go luxe

No more drop toilets: the bush retreat goes luxe

Discover new experiences in the world’s oldest landscapes.

Words by Ute Junker

Photos supplied

First published in The Australian Financial Review

Amanda Fry understands that sometimes you want to hurry up and slow down. The founder of Experience Nature, which offers luxury tours and experiences in the Southern Highlands, Shoalhaven and ACT, will happily organise helicopter transfers for guests for whom the 90-minute drive from Sydney to the Southern Highlands takes just a little too long.

When it comes to the day’s activities, however, she doesn’t believe in shortcuts. Whether you are opting to explore the area’s limestone caves or simple drifting down the river on her Canoes, Champagne and Canapes experience, your trip will often start with a long drive down a dirt road – and that, she says, is where the fun starts.

“The journey begins when you hit the dirt,” she laughs. “Dirt and wilderness go together.”

High-end travellers have become accustomed to dealing with a few bumps in the road – literal and metaphoric – in recent years. With the borders firmly closed for almost two years, they also learned that there are plenty of memorable landscape to explore within Australia. Travellers who in other years might have headed to Kenya on safari or done a full-service Inca Trail hike have discovered that there are plenty of ways to go bush without giving up their little luxuries. If it involves a four-wheel drive down a dirt road, so much the better.

“Half the market can’t get there, and that’s the point,” Fry says. “There is no regular road traffic, so you see more animals – they are practically jumping out in front of you.”

Australians have gained a new appreciation for landscapes that we once took for granted, says Spicers’ marketing manager, Sue Johnson. “That Australian bush experience, the smell of the eucalypts and the sound of the bell birds – you can’t find that anywhere else on earth.”

And you don’t have to go far to find it. Take Spicers Sangoma, the all-inclusive bush retreat nestled beneath the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, which has been virtually booked solid.

“People have been craving that sense of escape, particularly last year during the long runs of lockdown, and love being able to escape but staying close to the base,” says Johnson. “At Sangoma, you are only 100-odd kilometres from Sydney but it feels like the middle of nowhere.”

Just a little further afield, Bannisters’ newest opening, The Jackson Ranch on the NSW South Coast, is the first property in the portfolio not to have a beachside address. The 37-acre lakeside ranch is a tranquil spot where kookaburras flit through the trees and kangaroos graze on the dew-soaked grass.

The property is designed for buy-outs, anything from weddings to yoga retreats to groups of family and friends. The $15,000 fee gets you a four-bedroom Homestead, a three-bedroom Hideaway and three one-bedroom cabins, as well an events space with a commercial kitchen.

Owner Peter Cosgrove says that The Jackson Ranch, sitting a 3.5 hour drive from Sydney and a 2.5 hour drive from Canberra, hits the sweet spot between accessibility and privacy. “We’re at the end of the road. No-one knows you are here,” he says.

The beauty of the property is its flexibility. Want a private chef to cook multi-course banquets every night, or simply have pizzas delivered fresh from the woodfired oven? It can all be arranged. “Tell us what you want and we will deliver,” Cosgrove says

Our renewed interest in bush holidays can be linked to a fresh awareness of the landscape’s fragility and its resilience.  The Black Summer bushfires have made us far more aware of the bush as an eco-system says Mark Norek, the founder and CEO of Life’s An Adventure, which offers pack-free walking experiences across Australia.

“The idea of the bush regenerating and adapting hasn’t been front of mind before, but now it’s a discussion on just about every trip,” he says. “It is fascinating to walk through bush that is regenerating and see its different growth patterns, the epicormic shoots that seem to come straight out of the trunk.”

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