The Great Barrier Reef
Why go: This incredible, breath-taking phenomenon is known as one of the seven natural wonders of the world and is the only living thing that can be seen from space. To David Attenborough, it’s the ‘most magical thing’ he’s ever seen, and in his recent BBC1 series, he returned to the Reef for the first time in 60 years. Made up of nearly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands, it stretches along 1,400 miles off the coast of Queensland. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s home to over 1,500 species of fish, and multiple species of whales, dolphins, turtles, and sharks. While there are concerns about how global warming is affecting it, there’s no time like the present to go and see it for yourself.
Where to stay: One&Only Hayman Island is a private resort situated on the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands. This upmarket beachfront hotel is home to 160 rooms (including several suites), with two pools, a gym, spa, watersports centre, stylish lounge bar, Bar Fifty, and five restaurants – including Italian at Amici and Asian at Bamboo. Rooms are tastefully decorated in cool shades of light grey, blue, white and sand, with colourful printed cushions and modern artworks; some of those in the Pool Wing have decks from which you can plunge straight into the water. The vibe is very much relaxation, Aussie-style, and it’s fantastic for families due to the well-staffed Kids’ Club.
What to do: You name it, you can do it, from stand up paddle boarding, boat trips out to the reef, snorkeling and scuba diving among the coral, hiking, jet-ski-ing or even birdwatching – there are over 150 types of bird on the island, including cockatoos and kookaburras, who like to remind guests they’re there with their frequent caws and cries.
Spa: This is one of the only spas we’ve ever been to which offers massages in the ocean! The Ocean Dreaming package sees a massage table set up in the shallow waters by the sand, so you can drift off to the real sounds of the water lapping at the shore, rather than just a recording.
Don’t Miss: A helicopter tour of reef; it’s probably the best way to get a sense of its size and scale, not to mention the fact you can almost see the bottom of the ocean due to the clarity of the water. Flying over the famous and iconic heart-shaped reef is a thrill. A special four-hour package will also see you dropped off on Whitsunday Island’s Whitehaven beach, renowned for its pure, fine, white silica sand, with a picnic and snorkel equipment.
The Blue Mountains
Why go: This iconic mountain range is so-called because of the mist of eucalyptus oil released by the trees which blanket them, causing a blue haze to appear. Stretching over 60 miles from the west of Sydney, they form lines of imposing ridges, naturally carved from rust-coloured sandstone. Large areas are divided into seven national parks and conservation areas, so you can hike and explore.
Where to stay: The Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley resort sits on 7,000 acres of conserved land in the shadow of the mountains, 110 miles – and a three hour drive or 45 minute helicopter flight – away from Sydney, and is flanked by two of the national parks, Wollemi and Gardens of Stone. Opened in 2009 on the site of a former cattle ranch, it blends rugged, mountain-lodge chic with designer luxury and flaunts its impressive environmental and sustainability credentials openly (it was the first hotel in the world to receive internationally-accredited carbon neutral certification). There are 39 double-bedroomed Heritage Suites – families can book into one of three bigger retreats – each with a private plunge pool, spacious living area with fireplace, a deck from which to gaze at the sun-kissed or mist-shrouded peaks every morning, and a huge walk-in rainforest shower under a skylight. The décor uses stone, dark wood, marble tiles and, like the main homestead area, conveys an upmarket ranch feel with old books on the shelves and fine wines in the minibar. The main restaurant, the Dining Room, prides itself on serving local food and wines (winery towns and regions such as Mudgee and the Hunter Valley are within striking distance) and there is a main pool area, gym and spa.
What to do: It’s all about taking in the great outdoors here; whether that’s by hiking, making use of the mountain bikes that come with each Suite, or taking a ‘wildlife safari’ to spot the local critters – which include kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. The staff includes highly knowledgeable field guides who can tell you all about the local flora and fauna; there are over 150 species of birds in the area alone. Take part in some of the free activities they lay on, from whip-cracking classes to stargazing – you’ll be embracing your inner Calamity Jane in no time!
Spa: This stunning space only has six treatment rooms but they all have floor to ceiling windows looking out onto the mountains, and their own shower room and changing area. Book in for their signature treatment, the Mountain Aromatherapy Massage, which uses specially blended oils from native Aussie plants and herbs.
Don’t Miss: Take a gentle horseback ride along one of the trails; suitable even for beginners, it’s the best way to get a sense of the scale of the property, and your knowledgeable guide will inform you about the history of the area as well as the plants and animals (including adorable kangaroos and wombats) you see around you.
How: Stay from £4,425 per person. Price is based on 4 nights at One&Only Hayman Island, two people sharing a Lagoon Room including breakfast, followed by 3 nights at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in a Heritage Suite, including full-board. Includes all economy flights, private transfers and UK Airport Lounge passes. Valid 10 April – 15 September 2016 (some blackout dates apply). For further information please contact Elegant Resorts Reservations on 01244 897515 or visit the website www.elegantresorts.co.uk. For further information on One&Only Resorts, please visit www.oneandonlyresorts.com.