The cool winter night air, deep in the heart of the World Heritage-listed Greater Blue Mountains encircles me, and yet I’m warmed from the inside out – thanks to the roaring fire pit in front of me, which our field guide Ben has lit, and the hot chocolates and tawny he has poured while we sit on camp chairs beneath the night sky.
I’m a guest at the ultra-premium rural retreat, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in New South Wales, just a 2.5-hour scenic drive from Sydney. Earlier that day, the natural surrounds of the valley create a spectacular arrival. Turning off the main roads, the long road down to the entrance showcases the dramatic sandstone cliff faces and ranges of the Wolgan Valley. We pass little else as we drive along the only road in and out to the property, aside from the quintessentially Australian yellow kangaroo and wombat road signs. As we turn off into the property’s driveway, a wombat casually waddles along the path ahead of us. There’s no mistaking it, we have certainly left the city and its stresses behind.
During our private campfire and stargazing experience, Ben, in between stoking the fire, is also pointing out to us the characters and legends of the night sky. Using a red-filter torch which doesn’t blind the animals, Ben outlines the shapes for us of Scorpio, the Southern Cross, the two pointers, Jupiter and Sirius, the brightest star in the sky.
Our legs are wrapped in blankets and a hot water bottle heats our laps, but we could sit here for longer, alongside the original 1832 Wolgan homestead, while a multitude of wombats and furry possums go about their business as we toast marshmallows on a stick in the open flames.
I’m visiting during the thick of winter, and to be sure, it is cold – but the property is well set up for the elements. We are collected from our rooms in buggies, with hot water bottles and blankets again to warm us for the short drive up to the main restaurant and drawing room; all rooms have not only a heated private lap pool but a dual-sided gas heater that fronts onto both our lounge area and also the huge, four-poster bed that I almost need a stool to climb into. In the bathroom, I throw open the shutters above the bath to be met by a couple of Eastern Grey kangaroos lazing on the grass outside our villa. In the shower, while washing with Sodashi amenities that are thankfully sensibly packed in large, refillable vessels which therefore reduce the use of single-use plastics, I stare upwards at the clear glass roof with nothing but sky and abundant birdlife to view. The rooms are cleverly designed to allow us to feel at one with nature, whilst still being protected from the elements. There’s a decent WiFi signal but there’s no phone coverage here which only adds to a rare and blissful feeling of being in perpetual ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
Guests gather for pre-dinner drinks by the open fireplace in the Wolgan Dining Room and sip on a Wolgan Tonic, which features the property’s own 1832 Wolgan Gin made from botanicals sourced on-site and fresh spring water, mixed with Cointreau, Jack Rudy tonic from New Orleans; soda water and bitters. It’s as crisp and refreshing as the outside air.
Tonight, executive chef Nancy Kinchela has prepared a five-course Game and Big Reds Degustation menu. We take our time enjoying each thoughtfully-prepared dish which showcases where possible the best of local produce.
The next day, I visit the stables for a Signature Horse Trail Ride. Our guide Dana fits the horses with their saddles, speaking fondly to them like old friends. We set off for a 90-minute leisurely ride on a mostly flat trail that takes in some incredible views of the 7,000 acre carbon-neutral wildlife reserve. We cross two creeks and spot wallabies as we pass beneath towering Eucalyptus trees. I soon learn how my horse Joker earned his name. He momentarily takes me slightly off course from my horse-riding companions, but with some reign steering and intervention from the highly-experienced Dana, he falls in line and all is forgiven as we continue on our way with little blue birds fluttering past.
In the One&Only Spa, we feel completely removed from the rest of the lodge’s activities. The impressive spa is worth visiting, if, for nothing else, its impressive architecture. But with six double treatment rooms that each feature their own bathroom and Japanese soaking tub, book some time here to indulge in one of the many therapeutic treatments on offer. We are treated to the spa’s brand new ‘The Power of Sound’ session, hosted by Polish-born Sonia. Incredibly passionate about the healing properties through the vibration of sound, we escape for 60 minutes into a deep state of meditation and relaxation, facilitating the movement of chi or prana (positive life force) throughout the body through the use of various sound instruments including gongs, chimes and Himalayan singing bowls. We leave feeling rejuvenated and Sonia’s knowledge and talent in this area is infectious, as she shows us through her repertoire of instruments. During the warmer months, she will be taking some of her sound therapies outdoors into various places around the valley and the property.
As the day draws to a close we set off in a One&Only khaki Jeep with our field guide Ben to enjoy the Signature Wildlife and Sundowners Drive. We pass other guests who are out on cycling tours around the property, and a couple that are being led on a horse-riding trail too. We wait for platypus in the creek but the elusive creatures can be hard to spot. In contrast, there’s no shortage of wallabies, kangaroos and wombats to view along our drive, and Ben spots a wedge tail eagle soaring high above. He is enthusiastically sharing his knowledge of the wildlife and the valley and we feel as though we are on some sort of safari mission to submerge ourselves into the depths of the valley and take in the glorious surrounds these creatures call home.
“I like to have a sense of purpose,” says the environmentally aware Ben. “I don’t want to drive people out just to take some photos. If we can educate people too while they are here, that’s great.”
Pouring us wines and preparing a platter of cheeses, dips and charcuterie, the sun is setting against the escarpment directly opposite us, casting an orange hue across the valley and reflecting in the windows of the Jeep. By the time we drive back, the kangaroos are silhouetted like black bouncing objects against the sky that has now morphed into a deep magenta colour. The night air is starting to set in but I feel alive and free, so connected to the landscape, all her treasures and the many wonders of Wolgan Valley.
Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley is currently offering a Winter Wonderland package.
The package includes:
– Luxury Heritage Villa with private, heated pool
– Gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
– Selected regional wines and beers with meals
– Non-alcoholic beverages and in-villa snack bar
– Two daily on-site activities from the schedule of complimentary inclusions
– Use of the gymnasium, tennis courts, sauna and steam room
– A 60-minute pampering treatment at the One&Only Spa for one
– Signature Wildlife and Sundowners Tour for two
– Winter Stargazing Talk for two
– Evening Mulled Wine & Marshmallow Toasting
Offer is valid for stays until 1 September2019. Book by 31 August 2019.
Minimum two-night stay applies.
Find out more: oneandonlyresorts.com