Off the irregular coast of New Zealand’s North Island, more than 150 smaller islands of varying size hopscotch across the deep blue waters, their tall Norfolk pines growing side by side with subtropical banana plants and fan palms in an ideal climate that adds to the bay’s allure as a recreational playground.
The area is world-famous for big- game fishing – author Zane Grey, a leading sportsman of his time, caught as many as five marlin here in a single day, including a 450-pound world-record striped marlin. (Grey’s Hemingwayesque Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand was instrumental in establishing the bay as a game-fishing hotspot.) But the fishing-averse can have their own adventure, experiencing the Bay of Islands as Captain James Cook did, with the wind in your hair and the flapping of sails overhead as you slip past hundreds of hidden coves and secret beaches aboard the schooner R. Tucker Thompson.
Alternatively, a 70-foot private charter boat like the ultra-stylish Sirdar can take you to an island all your own. For a trophy-size marlin to go with it, call on veteran fishing personality Dudley Smith, skipper and owner of the 32-foot Triple B.
For accommodations on shore, reserve one of the five rooms at the grand Kimberley Lodge, whose million-dollar views are reason enough to stay, with other luxury amenities just the icing on the cake. Native New Zealand materials were used throughout, with a craftsmanship and attention to detail that belie the lodge’s relatively recent construction.
Let the gracious innkeepers chart a roster of activities to keep you busy, or just amble down to the charming historic town of Russell, formerly a rowdy whaling port and New Zealand’s first capital, with wooden-facade colonial buildings lining its picturesque waterfront. Linger at Sally’s Café for tea and scones and the daily newspaper, or join the yachting fraternity on the veranda of the venerable old Duke of Marlborough Hotel for a sundowner (the hotel held the country’s first liquor license).
In the last twenty years, Australia’s sophisticated wine industry has given a cosmopolitan veneer to this remote and beautiful corner of the world, with its dazzling landscape of stunning surf beaches, manicured vines, and awesome forests.
Prestigious wines produced by the Vasse Felix, Cape Mentelle, Cullens, and the venerable Leeuwin Estate are world renowned. The latter hosts the Leeuwin Estate alfresco concerts, a heralded summer event in January attracting world-class performers and ever-growing crowds. Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, the Margaret Valley area is also graced with the annual spring wildflower season in September and October, when the countryside is filled to the horizon with a kaleidoscope of color. More than 1,000 wildflower species have been identified, including almost 70 species of orchid.
Happily, Cape Lodge, one of Australia’s most tasteful and relaxing country retreats, is located right in the middle of the region. The Dutch Cape – inspired main house is surrounded by rolling lawns and magnificent gardens, and overlooks a lovely lake, where guests can swim or paddle about in a canoe.
Morning wake-up calls come from a chorus of kookaburras – so no one misses the gourmet breakfasts in the sun-drenched glass conservatory. It’s a short drive to Margaret River, a delightful town full of antiques stores and crafts shops. Local restaurants with young and innovative chefs make this a culinary comer of Australia to be reckoned with.
You may feel a sense of discovery, as if you are the first to arrive, when you reach this million-acre working cattle ranch in the middle of Kimberly, just a dot on the map of massive, sparsely populated Western Australia.
El Questro Station is the ultimate outback experience, in a wonderful five-star incarnation. Saunter on over and offer to join the cowboys mustering 1,000 head of Brahman cattle in the bush, explore one of the property’s many tropical gorges or remote water holes, or go on horse, camel, foot, or four-wheel-drive treks with resident rangers, who will introduce you to the station’s thermal springs, waterfalls, and religious rock art.
At pricey Homestead cabins, cantilevered over the Chamberlain River, you can cast your line from your private veranda and hope for a record-breaking barramundi, Australia’s premier sport fish. Each airy suite is tastefully decorated with Asian and tropical Australian artifacts, a sign that you are closer to Indonesia than to Sydney.
Those whose wallets dictate Foster’s instead of Champagne can choose one of the station’s four less-expensive accommodation options, right down to bare-bones camping sites under the stars.
The Australians take their beaches seriously, so when they claim that Cable Beach is the continent’s most beautiful, take notice. Large and lustrous South Sea pearls (from the world’s biggest pearl oysters) put Broome on the map in the early 1900s, but today it’s the epic 14-mile beach, almost half a mile wide when the tide is out, that draws connoisseurs.
The Indian Ocean’s waters are crystal clear, and pearly shells mingle with the sun- bleached sand, making it gleam and shimmer. In the small frontier town of Broome, the spirit of the pearling era is still evident among the Japanese, Chinese, Malay, and Aboriginal population.
The pearling masters’ indigenous architecture of wooden latticework screens, corrugated-iron bungalows, and colonial verandas is reflected in the luxurious Cable Beach Club, the only hotel adjacent to the beach. It’s a long way from anywhere, and most guests come starved for the laid-back atmosphere, though everyone should be able to shake off their torpor long enough to take a sunset camel ride along the beach.
This long coastal highway, often compared to California’s Pacific Coast Highway, ranks among the world’s top scenic drives, cliff-hugging its way west of Melbourne along the rugged southern coast of the Australian continent.
Every bend of the 180-mile journey reveals another awesome scene of jagged bluffs, windswept beaches, old whaling and fishing towns, inventive restaurants, sweet B&Bs, and protected rain forest and national parkland populated by koalas and kangaroos.
The timeless battle between the relentless waves of the Southern Ocean and the shoreline has resulted in prime surf beaches such as world-famous Bell’s and such extraordinary rock formations as Loch Ard Gorge, the Bay of Islands, and, most famous of all, the Twelve Apostles. In the 19th century, these limestone pillars were known as the Sow and Piglets.The ocean has claimed four of the brood in the intervening years; of the remaining eight, some reach as high as 180 feet.
It’s not hard to see why the Twelve Apostles stretch is also known as the Shipwreck Coast, since the waters claimed hundreds of ships during colonization in the 1800s, when the journey from England took three to four months. This is the most spectacular segment of the Great Ocean Road, often broody and romantic during windy and stormy weather. It’s best to drive the road round-trip, since the rugged sea views are different depending on your direction.
If you’re up to it, biking with a small organized group is the best way of seeing it all. Be sure to take advantage of the lookout points along the way at sunset, and don’t forget to visit nearby Coonawarra’s best winemakers while you’re in the area.
Freycinet is Tasmania’s oldest coastal park, a dramatic combination of red granite mountains, white-sand beaches, and lapis-blue ocean.
Unobtrusively nestled within its confines is the ecosensitive Freycinet, “the disappearing lodge,” so carefully constructed that it is barely visible from even a few feet away. Luxurious cabins with redwood terraces have been harmoniously integrated with the attention-stealing environment.
Guests pick and choose from a host of nature-oriented activities including whale watching, visits to the breeding grounds of fairy penguins and black swans, and guided walks through forests populated by marsupials, brilliant-colored parrots, and laughing kookaburras. A self-guided nature walk through fields of wildflowers and up and over a spine of mountains leads to the trek’s grand finale: Wineglass Bay, one of Australia’s most beautiful panoramas.
The Freycinet coastline is famous for its seafood – a chef doesn’t need to do much to the local lobster-size crayfish to create an award-quality dinner at a window table overlooking Great Oyster Bay at sunset.
Lying 150 miles south of Australia, mountainous, Virginia-size Tasmania seems like the end of the earth even to mainland Aussies, and because of its isolated location, much of its flora and fauna exist nowhere else on earth.
Still, most of the island is green and civilized, much like England’s Surrey – except, that is, for the 3 million largely wild acres set aside as parkland, encompassing some of Australia’s most spectacular alpine scenery. The jewel in this natural crown is Cradle Mountain National Park, whose rugged peaks and high moorlands make up a large, untamed portion of the area. The 53-mile Overland Track, linking Cradle Mountain Park with Lake St. Clair, is the country’s most famous trail and one that every Aussie vows to do at least once in his or her life. Penetrating much of the rain forest, a boardwalk protects the environment from human impact.
There are basic huts along the way, but they’re often full. Rather than carry camping equipment for the duration of the six-day hike, sign up with a reputable trekking agency that operates private huts with hot running water and private guest rooms. They’ll supply an experienced Tasmanian guide who accompanies a group at a ratio of one per five guests (groups are never larger than ten); he or she will double as cook at the end of each glorious day of walking, during which you’ll cover between 6 and 11 miles.
The last day includes a walk through a dense eucalyptus forest to the shores of Lake St. Clair, Tasmania’s most beautiful, carved out by glacial ice over the past couple million years; the 10-mile boat cruise that follows augments the magic of your Cradle Mountain experience.
If walking the Overland Track is about 50 miles more than your average vacation undertaking, the Cradle Mountain Lodge is a stationary alternative. Rustic and cozy, it’s not a luxury operation (unless you count the huge breakfast of prime Tasmanian bacon and local free-range eggs). Rather, it’s the kind of informal inn where a glass of Tasmanian cabernet is nursed in front of a roaring fire while swapping hiking stories. It’s a good base from which to plan some days of horseback riding, canoeing, and hiking through lush rain forests and along alpine lakes.
A popular tradition is the nightly “leftover extravaganza,” when the kitchen’s scraps are put out on a nearby platform for the forest’s nocturnal wildlife, which includes the occasional Tasmanian devil (and we don’t mean Errol Flynn).
Australia’s third-largest island is uncrowded and uncomplicated and boasts a treasure trove of unique animal life amid a variety of unspoiled scenery. Sheep outnumber residents 300 to 1, but it’s the armies of wild kangaroos, koalas, Tamar wallabies (nearly extinct on the mainland), and fairy penguins that astound.
They live among some of the whitest sand dunes on the planet, surf-sculpted boulders resembling abstract art (aptly called the Remarkable Rocks), sparkling seas, and a natural bridge carved from limestone called Admirals Arch. Seal Ray is home to one of the world’s rarest species of sea lions; they can be seen lounging on the white beach by the hundreds. They seem unperturbed by Homo sapiens, who take advantage of an up-close-and-personal experience rarely possible in the wild. The sea lions’ cousins, the New Zealand fur seal, frequent pretty coves at the island’s southwestern tip.
Visitors who sign up only for Adventure Charters of Kangaroo Island’s whirlwind one-day excursions usually underestimate the island’s size (90 by 40 miles) and invariably long to stay on at one of the charming local B&Bs – farms and homesteads that welcome guests with true Australian hospitality. Hope for availability at the Stranraer Homestead, a 3,500-acre working farm run by the Wheaton family since 1911.
The picturesque Barossa Valley is Australia’s lodestone for all things gastronomic, and along with the nearby (and lesser-known) Clare Valley, produces close to 60 percent of Australia’s wines. Maximize your wine-and-food experience with a stay at The Lodge Country House, a charming former homestead built in 1903 for one of Australian wine pioneer Joseph Seppelt’s thirteen children.
The handsome bluestone country-house inn is framed by 3 acres of gorgeous rose and flower gardens and stands just across the road from the Seppelts’ sprawling showpiece vineyard, which dates back to the mid-1850s. The Lodge’s shaded veranda is the gathering spot where the inn’s eight privileged guests come to watch the sunset.
A memorable candlelit dinner follows, accompanied by an excellent selection of Barossa’s best. Some fifty wineries are within a half hour’s drive (including Peter Lehman, Stanley Brothers, Henschke, Penfolds, and Richmond Grove), and many of them are represented on The Lodge’s wine list.
From The Lodge it’s a lovely ten-minute drive to Tanunda, the most important, lively, and charming of Barossa wine towns. Its blend of antique shops, wine stores, and cafés will fill an afternoon pleasantly, but your final destination should be the smart but casual 1918 Bistro and Grill, with its straightforward and memorable menu of modern Australian specialties. Locals in the know order from the extensive list of unlabeled Barossa wines, available to patrons at a substantial savings over the officially labeled versions. But you have to ask.
Of the dozen or so island resorts amid the emerald and turquoise waters of the Great Barrier Reef, this one, located farthest north, is the most beach-endowed. With just forty homestead-style bungalows, a justly famous Blue Lagoon, and twenty-four secluded white-sand, palm-fringed coves, there’s a good chance you’ll have a beach to yourself – and reason to stay for a few weeks to check them all out individually.
Uninhabited save for resort staff and guests, Lizard Island is a 2,500-acre national park, and the descendants of the 3-foot-long monitor lizards – after which Captain James Cook named the island in 1770 – can be found sunbathing on the palm-studded green lawn in front of your bungalow. Being so far offshore and nearer the outer reef, Lizard has some of the clearest and bluest waters and some of the best diving of the islands.
Cod Hole, a hot spot just 12 miles away, has long been a must-do diving site; dozens of giant potato codfish expect to be stroked and fed by hand – which may explain why they grow to 6 feet in length and weigh more than 400 pounds.
Things really jump on this otherwise relaxed and informal island when the black marlin are running, and 1,200-pound catches are not rare. Fishermen from all over the world descend on the island from August to November, and at the annual Black Marlin Classic in October, they reminisce about the seven world and two Australian records (as of this writing) that have been set here.