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Wet 'n Wild at Australia's Wildman Wilderness Lodge

April 21, 2011 at 1:02 PM | by | ()

All this week, HotelChatter contributor Eric Rosen lets us tag along as he explores the wild, far reaches of Australia, visiting some of the most untouched landscapes down under, and bringing you inside looks at some of the continent’s most distinctive hotel experiences.

So far, I’d been to a lush tropical island, a real-life sheep station, and the wildlife wonderland of Kangaroo Island. Next stop on my Australian perambulation was the lush billabong country of the Mary River Wetlands, about 90 minutes southwest of Darwin to live out my Crocodile Dundee fantasy at the all-new eco-luxe Wildman Wilderness Lodge.

Déjà vu: A Comprehensive Recycling Program
Never heard of it? That’s probably because it just opened on April 1. But maybe you recognize it from its previous incarnation as the Wrotham Park Station resort in Queensland. That’s right, the Wildman Wilderness lodge is a completely recycled hotel!

Wrotham Park closed back in 2009, and in November of that year, after buying the buildings and getting approval to place the resort on a new site in the Northern Territory, the Lodge’s new parent company, Anthology, dismantled the resort and its infrastructure in 28 days, including the cabins and the main restaurant and bar facility, plus a water treatment and sewage system. They loaded all the structures onto 18 huge semi-trailers and drove them 2,800km (about 1,700 miles) to their new site at Wildman, where they have since been installed with some décor touch-ups from the original architect, Justin Long, and the Aussie design firm, Pike Withers.

The main lodge building was also expanded to house the restaurant and the self-contained, air-conditioned bar.

Now the resort sits right in the heart of the Mary River Wetlands, where crocs, birds, barramundi and water buffalo frolic…and sometimes fight to the death. That’s nature, mate! It’s just a 90-minute drive from the Darwin airport, all of which is along paved, sealed road, except for the last 7km. Road and even helicopter transfers are also available.

Keeping it Natural
The 10 cabins, or ‘Habitats’ as they’re called, are each a freestanding wooden structure with a wall of screened glass windows looking out onto the surrounding wetlands, and a private deck on which to relax and watch the wildlife—like the dozens of wallabies that we saw grazing and hopping by.

Inside, they’re air conditioned, have overhead fans for when guests want to leave the windows open to the breeze, and king-size beds with simple but high-quality linens, a nice writing desk, a leather armchair and ottoman for contemplating the outdoors or curling up with a good book, and a mini bar stocked with sodas and free bottle water.

The bathrooms are separated by a square doorway (no door though) and have wooden vanities with rectangular sinks, a walk-in shower with a wall-mounted hand showerhead and an overhead rainfall showerhead, and a toilet—oh yeah, and a window (with a blind) so that all the wallabies can watch you bathing. They also include high-end, Australian-made bath products by Natio.

The lodge is also now sporting 15 new tricked-out African safari tents, including five that are now configured for families of four (though five more of the tents will be converted to this layout in the near future since it’s been a popular option). The tents cover a spacious 50 square meters (550 square feet) each, and also have small sitting areas with views over the wetlands, as well as king-size or twin and trundle beds made from blond wood, ensuite bathrooms with full-size shower, toilet and sink, and are cooled by powerful fans.

Communal Table
As we mentioned, the main lodge building has been expanded. Guests can hang out in a small air-conditioned bar area where they serve coffee and wine and beer (for now, until they get their liquor licensing), and which has leather sofas, bar seating, and smaller chairs around coffee tables. Guests can also log on and use the free high-speed WiFi (yes, it actually works really well!).

On the other side of the building is the dining room with simple tables and chairs. The chef prepares a rotating menu of specialties that might include soft-shell crab with Thai green salad one night, and pan-fried wild barramundi on a citrus salad with lemon-myrtle aioli and pesto potato mash another.

Outside, meanwhile, the lodge building has a new wooden deck with a huge cushioned bench around a fire pit where guests hang out in the evening over sundowners. There is also a small infinity-edge pool for taking a dip on the hotter days.

Though the accommodations and setting are gorgeous, the real reason to come here is to get out on the wetlands…

Out on the Bayou
This has been the rainiest wet season on record for the Mary River Wetlands, so we couldn’t help but be reminded of the Everglades during our visit. Among the Lodge’s many activities, we went on a boat tour of the “home billabong,” where we saw the swamp’s resident saltwater crocodile, who measures up at almost 5 meters! We also got a thrill ride on a high-speed airboat over the marshy land, spotting various birds and a few crocs—definitely a must for a visit here.

The rain cleared up one day, so we decided to trek into the World Heritage Kakadu National Park, where we hiked to Aboriginal rock paintings, stopped by a few cultural centers, and learned about the park’s famous flora and fauna for the day with Victor Cooper of Ayal Tours. The park is about 90 minutes away, so it was a long day that started quite early, though if it hadn’t been so waterlogged, we could have cut that time down by taking a back road, stopping by a billabong for morning tea, possibly taking a swim in another (croc-free) one, and having a sumptuous picnic lunch, which Wildman plans on running themselves as soon as their staff gets permitted.

The Lodge also sends visitors out on barramundi fishing safaris, and there will be 4WD and rockhole tours through the open woodland as soon as it dries out. Each of the activities does cost extra, from about $55 AUD-$220 AUD, so be sure to factor that into your account.

Traditional Landowners
Perhaps the most innovative feature of the new resort is how it is working with the local Aboriginal clans, or traditional landowners as they’re called, to offer distinctive tours that share with guests both the wonders of the surrounding nature, as well as the local lore, history and culture that flourished in the area over millennia.

Leading the charge is Neddy Tambling, a young local (28 years old) who is being groomed by the dynamic Lodge manager, Cameron Harms, to lead the indigenous tours, and who colors his guided talks with local legends and so-crazy-it-must-be-true anecdotes from growing up.

The one disappointing thing to note was that, since it’s been such a wet season, in addition to the fact that I couldn’t get to all the usual activities during my stay, the landscaping has not yet been put in, so my photos do look a little soggy, but as soon as the dry season sets in, the grounds will be planted with indigenous species that should be blooming in no time.

Wet Season
Wildman will be open from March 1 to November 30 each year, closing for the (very!) rainy wet season in summer. Rates start at $285 AUD ($305 USD) per person per night for the Habitats, and $215 per person per night for the safari tents, including two-course dinner and full breakfast.

Full disclosure: Eric Rosen was a guest of Wildman Wilderness Lodge for two nights, but all opinions expressed are entirely his own.

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