Before we do, though, first a little background on the resort itself: Wolgan opened in 2009 on a 4,000-acre reserve, and among the initiatives that have qualified it as carbon-neutral for two years running are the removal of non-native species from the property, re-vegetating it with indigenous plants (over 175,000 trees planted to date!), building with environmentally sustainable construction materials, using solar power, wind and heat recovery for 75% of its energy, and sourcing ingredients for the food program from within 100 miles whenever possible. All that’s a fitting legacy for a piece of land that Charles Darwin himself rode through in the mid-19th century to catalog its species.
Man and Nature
Let’s get on to the particulars of what Ben Boothby does, though. In addition to his field guide duties, Ben is basically in charge of making sure that every living thing—both plant and animal—is taken care of. That’s a lot of responsibility!
Boothby, a native of South Australia, studied ecology at Flinders University in Adelaide, and before coming to Wolgan Valley, worked at some of Australia’s other eco-conscious landmark luxury lodges including Longitude 131 near Uluru, and the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island.
A Challenging Environment
We asked Ben to talk about the particular challenges to preserving and maintaining the native environment in Australia, and Wolgan Valley in particular. “We are nestled between two major wilderness areas,” he begins, “Wollemi National Park and the Gardens of Stone National Park, which make up part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.” That presents a particular challenge, says Boothby: “Wollemi is home to the rare Wollemi Pine tree species, so everything we do is highly scrutinized by the environmentalist community and we have to be careful with all the choices we make.”
That has meant taking steps like using reclaimed building materials including wood, stone and iron whenever possible, not knocking down any trees or clearing land to construct the resort (which takes up only 2% of the whole land area of Wolgan Valley), and returning the land to its natural state after the damage that was done by farming by previous owners. Boothby says, “We have to monitor the soil and water and be careful to eradicate foreign weeds and feral animals that aren’t part of the natural environment…going beyond government environmental regulations to revert the property and land back to being as natural as possible.”
So how exactly do you balance running a world-class luxury resort with keeping the nature around Wolgan Valley pristine? It’s not as hard as you might expect, according to Boothby. “It’s surprisingly different than what we expected,” he says. “Everyone thought the native animals would be nervous and timid to explore the resort area, but because we’ve removed the cattle that used to roam the land, we’ve made it easier for animals to go from the national parks through our property. Every week the animals become more comfortable with the resort’s presence, and in the afternoons, you’ll see hundreds of animals traveling through.”
Getting Out in the Outback
That has led to some of the resort’s signature activities like the Nocturnal Tour where guests can get up close with the wild animals that wander the property including kangaroos, wallaroos (including four rare albino ones) and indigenous birds.
“Our Wildlife Drive in the afternoon is very popular, too,” says Boothby. “It gives guests the best chance to see a large part of the property in a short amount of time, and they can get an understanding of how big it is, and the things we’re doing to preserve it. On the Horse Riding Trail, the only noise you hear is the guide’s voice and the breathing of your horse—it’s the best way to showcase the area.” The resort also offers wildlife safaris, as well as extended activities that include photo expeditions, regional food and wine tours, and fly-fishing.
So, why Now?
“Environmentally conscious consumers want to travel to places that are trying to do something to offset their carbon footprint,” proposes Boothby when asked why he thinks eco-travel has become a watchword of the industry. “They want to go somewhere that is beautiful, natural and protected…it’s a feel-good choice.” We can’t argue with that—after all he’s told us, we’re sure we’d feel great visiting Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa and taking advantage of the natural splendor of the area.