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Glamping Australia: If Prince Harry Can Do It, So Can You

Where: Australia
March 24, 2010 at 4:12 PM | by | ()

A villa at Eco Beach in Broome.

Yesterday we safari-ed the savannahs of Africa on our search for some of the most exotic glamping experiences around the world, and today we’re headed to Australia, where the flavor is decidedly more cowboy-ish.

Ever since Prince Harry spent a few months back in 2003 working as a “jackaroo,” or cattle rustler, at the vowel-rific Tooloombilla sheep station, the Ozzies have caught on to the whole trend, and they’ve taken it to new levels of luxury.

Homesteader Hospitality
The Arkaba Station is located in the hauntingly beautiful Flinders Range region of South Australia (about a four-hour drive north of Adelaide). First things first. In Australia, when someone says station, they’re not talking about the gas pump. It’s sort of like the American word for ranch, so think livestock, campfires, and cowboys. Yeehaw!

Arkaba Station is a five-bedroom former homestead house from the 1850’s on a 60,000-acre working sheep ranch, but the accommodations are all upscale urbaneness. The building itself is in the classic Flinders style, with thick stone walls (to keep out the heat, though the inn is now air conditioned), wide verandahs, and corrugated roofing. Four bedrooms in the homestead itself each contain en suite bathrooms with huge soaking tubs, while the fifth room is in a Coachman’s Cottage in the corner of the garden.

The beds have 500-threadcount cotton sheets, and a choice of pillows—but not TV’s, phones or minibars to distract from the nature experience. The lodge’s library’s leather armchairs are meant for some nighttime reading (nightcap in hand) by the light of the stone fireplace.

There is also an infinity-edge pool overlooking the Arkaba Creek for those lazy days when the nature hikes to find emu and kangaroos lurking in the bush, 4WD treks into the Flinders Ranges National Park and nearby mining town, sheep-station activities, scenic flights, and mountain biking are just too taxing to think about.

For meals, guests are treated to traditional station cuisine (think barbecue) livened up with native ingredients, as well as a cellar full of premium wines from the region, which is home to some of Australia’s best-known appellations like the Barossa Valley, and McLaren Vale. Rates at Arkaba, which are inclusive of all meals, beverages, transfers to nearby Port Augusta, and scheduled activities, start at $720 per person per night with a two-night minimum stay.

Those looking for a real “walkabout” experience, though, should consider Arkaba’s Walking Safaris: four-day eco-friendly hiking trips with expert guides to talk about the Flinders’ varied ecosystems, indigenous cultures, and station history. Each walking safari is limited to 2-8 people, and runs about $1,840 per person.

Stargazing at Rawnsley
Rawnsley Park Station near Arkaba Station, was recently converted from a 30,000-hectare sheep farm by fourth-generation sheep farmer Tony Smith into an eco-tourism venture, with six environmentally friendly one-bedroom, and two two-bedroom, villas with high ceilings, long verandas (with barbecues), concrete slab exterior floors, and straw bale walls that naturally insulate the rooms and keep them warm at night and cool during the day.

[Photo: TripAdvisor member]

That doesn’t mean guests have to sacrifice comfort, though. The interiors have polished timber floorboards, toffee-colored leather furniture, flat-screen LCD TV’s and DVD players, stainless steel mini-kitchens, and small laundry rooms. There are also telephones in the rooms, and WiFi is available. The coolest feature? Electronically controlled glass roof panels for laidback stargazing. Just be sure you book one of the villas, otherwise you might get a motel unit, a plain old bed in the Bunkhouse Group Accommodation, or, gasp!, a spot in their “Caravan Park.” Rates start at about $310 per villa per night.

Queensland Camping
One of Australia’s other newest glamping experiences is the Spicers Canopy camp in Queensland. It is located at Spicers Peak Station, in the Main Range National Park about a 90-minute drive southwest of Brisbane, and next to Australia’s largest private nature reserve. The retreat itself is a permanent luxury campsite on a grass-covered hill with views of the famous local mountains (and also within view of its sister property, the Spicers Peak Lodge). But despite its accessibility, there’s only room for groups of up to 20 guests at the camp, which has already received an Eco Tourism Accreditation.

The ten guest tents have either king-sized or twin beds with overstuffed pillows and fine linens, polished floorboards, plush wicker armchairs, and rustic-chic bedside tables and lamps. The communal dining area has a huge stone fireplace and private little sitting areas, as well as a large custom-made table where guests can enjoy gourmet, multi-course, sit-down dinners, and informal Australian barbecue.

We’d never sacrifice private bathrooms, which are actually located at a walk from the tents, just behind the dining hall, and the solar-heated water sounds just perfect for unwinding after one of the signature Spicers Private Walks to watch local wildlife like koalas, birds and kangaroos with expert guides. Rates at the camp, which is usually rented as a whole for groups, start at about $4,150.

Broome’s Balmy Beach Breezes
Though you can head to the far western edge of Australia and stay in a villa at Eco Beach Broome, we’d suggest one of their fancy beach tents instead, so that you can soak in the full experience. The spacious safari-style tents, right on the sandy paths leading up to the beach, all have private front decks with views of the Indian Ocean or the gardens, as well as about 280 square feet of interior space. They contain king-size beds, nightstands with reading lamps (but no TV’s), en suite bathrooms, coolers (no fridges, sorry), and just enough electricity to light your lamps and charge your Blackberry…but maybe not at the same time.

If that’s just too rustic, there are also 700 square-foot Eco Villas, which are a step up (they have walls), and include LED lights, A/C, solar power, louvre windows, bamboo floors and composite decks, mini-kitchens, sofa beds, dining tables, fresh linens, plus an energy monitoring system that allows guests to check their energy usage (so no long hot showers, you hear?).

Here the meals aren’t included, but they are easily obtained (and not too unreasonably expensive) from the ocean-front Jack’s Restaurant. Activities like self-guided bushwalks, fishing, bird- and whale-watching, kayaking, four-wheeling, yoga, sailing, and spa treatments are all available. Rates start at $150 per night for the tents, and $230 for the villas. Just beware, the resort closes from January-March for the wet season.

Camels and Harleys in the Outback
Finally, we just wanted to remind you about a resort we first told you about a couple years ago in our Cubicle Dreamin’ series, Longitude 131 Degrees, Ayers Rock, in Australia’s Northern Territory (HotelChatter's VIP reviewer, JohnnyJet, also stayed here.) The resort has just 15 eco-sensitive (and romantic!) tents with sail-like ceilings and huge windows featuring unblemished views of the famous rock at the center of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The tents, which are each named after famous Australian pioneers and explorers with inimitable names like Olive Pink and Len Tuit, have luxurious linens, dark-wood furnishings, A/C, Bose sound systems, minibars, evening turn-down service, and all the comforts of modern life. During the day, guests can take cultural tours to Uluru and the Kantju Gorge (either at sunrise or sunset), camel caravans through the Central Australian desert, and Harley rides (on the back, so you can take in all the sights) and helicopter tours of the area.

Most guests choose to dine communally at the central Dune House, with three-course dinners and wine pairings, but they can also dine privately in the library, poolside, or in their rooms (for an extra charge, of course). There’s also the “Dining Under the Stars” experience where guests can feast on outback fare (no, not “bloomin’ onions”), enjoying sunset drinks and canapés with a view of Uluru, before a three-course supper. Rates start at about $1570 per person per night (with 2-3 nights minimum).

These were just a few of many glamping options in the land down under, but we’re heading off to the Americas tomorrow for some good old-fashioned, cowboy action, some fly fishing straight out of A River Runs Through It, and some tree-house traipsing, so stay tuned for the next installment in our Glamping Series.

All photos unless otherwise noted courtesy of the hotels listed in this report.

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