Australia uses its superb natural assets to showcase an array of accommodations from wilderness lodges and boutique sandstone hotels to stunning steel and glass edifices that skirt the glorious coastline.
Accommodation choices are numerous in this vast country. Eco-friendly hostels in prime positions suit the young and budget-conscious, while luxury retreats and island resorts cater to the well-heeled and those who like their adventure mixed with comfort. Those who want something to write home about can snuggle into lighthouse keepers' cottages or bunker down in shearers' quarters in Outback cattle stations.
There's a lot of space in Australia, but when folks want to get away from it all they go to the extremes in search of isolated and exclusive sanctuaries. These lodges and retreats are typically quite expensive due to their remoteness or location in an environmentally sensitive area -- but meals and some touring are often included in the price. The cheaper accommodations may be in more of the "glamping" (glamorous camping) style, with stylish tents built on timber platforms complete with some modern conveniences. Many retreats are eco-certified by Eco Tourism Australia, the main national body for ecotourism.
Longitude 131 in the Red Centre is one that has it all (including a hefty price tag). Its 15 luxury safari-style tents pop up like white mushrooms in the desert, each with a sensational view of Uluru (Ayers Rock) from the terrace and huge bed. While secluded, guests stay in touch with Wi-Fi and complimentary iPads. Four-course meals and matching wines are served in the "big top" Dune House, complete with library and bar.
Glamping-style accommodations include eco-certified Paperbark Camp, in Jervis Bay south of Sydney, where a peaceful forest location belies its proximity to a quaint seaside town. Other stylish lodges, several of which are self-catering, are located in rain forests and national parks; the more expensive will have spas and top-notch eateries.
Wilderness Lodge Resources:
Australia plays host to all the international chains such as Hyatt, Sheraton, Westin and Accor, along with Australia-owned Mantra Group and SilverNeedle Hotels. There's also a heap of hip, funky and historic boutique and medium-sized hotels that suit those who like to be surprised when they check in.
It may be folklore or it may be fact, but it's said that Australia invented the concept of tea- and coffee-making facilities in hotel rooms. True or otherwise, it's hard to find a hotel or motel room without these comfy additions, and in better hotels there'll be several teas to choose from, as well as plunger coffee. Also standard in most hotels, or at least those deemed three-star and upward, are irons and ironing boards (Australians hate to pay for pressing clothes).
On the downside, most hotels (other than boutique properties or B&Bs) charge a fee for Wi-Fi, a practice that annoys Australians no end. This can be as much as $10 AUD an hour; it's best to get a 24-hour package, which can be relatively inexpensive by comparison. Also, don't use the hotel telephone to make calls until you find out just how much they cost, as big hotels still find ways to sting their guests. Breakfast is not usually included unless there's a special promotional rate or package. Check-out time is generally 10 a.m.
In recent years there's been a boom in apartment hotels, offering one to three rooms, fully equipped kitchens and laundry facilities (usually hidden away in a small closet). Apartment hotels have popped up all over the country and are perfect for families or groups of friends. Purpose-built with more space than established city hotels, they usually come with parking, but may not have their own on-site restaurants, relying instead on the eateries nearby. Australian-owned Medina Group is one of the main operators.
Australia and its thousands of off-shore islands have a coastline of 59,736 kilometers (37,118 miles), which naturally means lots of beaches and beach resorts. The New South Wales and Queensland coasts have the lion's share of resorts, due to their closeness to the big cities, good beaches, sunny weather and -- in the case of Queensland -- proximity to the Great Barrier Reef.
Resorts run the gamut from three- and four-star family-friendly accommodations with multiple pools, kids' clubs and a daily schedule of activities, to smaller luxury retreats specifically designed for couples. Accommodations will range from hotel rooms with perhaps a sofa bed for the kids, to apartment-style and two to three-bedroom villas. On Queensland's Gold Coast, a kind of mini-Miami that is still Australia's most popular holiday destination due to its theme parks and huge supply of accommodation, resorts are most likely to be of the high-rise variety and if not on the beach, then within a few hundred yards.
The Mantra Hotel Group, which has three brands in its portfolio, has more than 100 properties that appeal to a wide range of budgets. Its BreakFree brand is targeted at families who want big rooms without the unnecessary fancy facilities; the top-end Peppers brand has small resorts with an emphasis on cuisine and service.
Just over a dozen of the 600 islands that make up the Great Barrier Reef have resorts, ranging from moderately priced to exclusive and expensive. The islands' main draws are the views, translucent water and closeness to the reef. Glamor islands include Hayman in the Whitsunday group and Lizard Island, way up north beyond Cairns, while Hamilton and Daydream are quite a bit more affordable and Heron Island is eco-certified.
Beach Resort Resources:
Some 20 years ago almost all of Australia's lighthouses were fully automated, which meant that the traditional lighthouse keeper was no longer needed. Today the head keeper and assistant keeper's cottages, usually three-bedroom homes poised within yards of the ocean, are maintained by national parks authorities and rented out.
There are around 25 lighthouse keepers' cottages available in Australia, with the majority in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Cape Byron, at the most easterly point of Australia, and Cape Otway, at the start of Victoria's Great Ocean Road, are two well worth a visit. Cottages can sleep from two to more than 12 people in some cases, and range in price from moderate to very expensive in high season. A minimum stay of two to three nights is required in the most popular locations, and early bookings are essential to secure a stay in the summer holiday period.
For cheap, no-frills accommodation with character, it's worth checking out an Aussie pub, especially in a country town. While it sounds a little confusing, it's good to note that Australian pubs have traditionally been called hotels whether or not they offer accommodation. Many older pubs would have started out as bar and accommodation places, but ceased to offer rooms for rent once motels began to spring up along the highways. Fortunately, there are still many in country areas and a handful in the cities.
Sydney has some classic old pubs with affordable rooms in the Rocks district (the area just west of the Harbour Bridge). As pubs are made for drinking, guests shouldn't expect a totally peaceful stay. Country pubs are significantly cheaper, but are short on luxuries and may not have an attached bathroom.
Aussie Pub Resources:
They may be rustic and a bit rough around the edges but sheep and cattle stations make for a unique Aussie getaway. Western Queensland, Western Australia, and parts of NSW and the Northern Territory have several, sitting on thousands of acres of often-harsh cattle country. Some digs include cheaper shearers' quarters, others include the old homestead and the more expensive offer purpose-built hotel rooms, although all provide a chance to watch Aussie cowboys at work. Kilcowera Station in Queensland is a cheap option, Turlee Station in western NSW is a few miles from famous Mungo National Park, and Bullo River Station, in the Northern Territory, is the most luxurious. Learn more about staying on a cattle station.Station Stay Resources:
Australia's YHA group operates some 90 hostels across the country; other hostel chains include Nomads and Base. Hostels typically have dorm rooms for up to eight (both single sex rooms and mixed), as well as double rooms and twin rooms and perhaps one or two family rooms that sleep four to five. The private rooms mostly have ensuite bathrooms.
Amenities vary, but nearly all hostels have kitchens, dining areas and a lounge room or two; others have barbecues, separate TV room, computers, food store and tour desk. The most upmarket will have terraces with fantastic views over the local area and swimming pools. Sustainable hostels will recycle and be powered by solar energy.
Holiday parks are dotted along Australia's vast coast in every state. There are sites for camping and motorhomes, but city types may prefer the one- and two-bedroom cabins (which often come with the convenience of free Wi-Fi). North Coast Holiday Parks and Big 4 Holiday Parks are two of the best operators.
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--written by Caroline Gladstone