Cool days, warm stays: luxury winter getaways in Australia and New Zealand
Summer holidays enjoy much of the attention, but there’s plenty to love about a winter getaway. Siobhan Plowman takes a look at some of the hottest deals for the cooler months.
By Siobhan Plowman | Published #70, Winter 2017
Just 90 minutes from Melbourne, idyllic Daylesford is a small country town in the middle of Victoria’s spa country, known for its natural mineral springs and healing spa retreats. Daylesford is the ideal location for a luxury winter escape, not just for a soothing soak, but also as somewhere for food and wine lovers to relax and enjoy. Think frosty morning walks, afternoons in front of the fire with a good book and a glass of red, before finishing the day with a sumptuous, slow dinner. This is where Lake House comes in.
The property’s two-hatted restaurant is famed for its cutting-edge, seasonal dishes made using local produce and accompanied by an internationally acclaimed wine list with more than 1,000 labels. Nearly everything is made in-house, from the freshly baked breads to the charcuterie range – local lamb, grass fed beef and goat’s milk cheese are often delivered in the morning.
Lake House’s 33 rooms and suites sit on six acres of country gardens, brimming with native birdlife (and the odd koala). Keep an eye out for the Kitchen Garden with its edible shoots and flowers or the sculptures and artworks from local artists. Relax with a cocktail in the Argyle Library Bar or have a hit of tennis in the winter sunshine before retiring to the pavilion for refreshments. The Salus Spa sits among the treetops with its airy Scandinavian-inspired spaces and mineral spas overlooking the lake. In winter, treatments are infused with pine and eucalyptus from the hotel gardens.
Why Winter? The Annual Producers Day on Sunday June 25 marks the winter solstice with a celebration of regional cold-weather cuisine. Guests can meet the producers, sample local wines and see celebrity chefs like Darren Robertson of Three Blue Ducks in action at the Cooking School. Lake House chefs will also be hosting a special hands-on winter masterclass on July 23, creating a delicious three-course lunch.
In the coastal New South Wales town of Mollymook, the winters are just as pristine as the summers. A touch over three hours south of Sydney, this quaint beachside town draws visitors with its sweeping two-kilometre beach, seaside golf courses and migrating humpback whales.
Bannisters by the Sea, which began life as a classic beach motel, has been upgraded to a chic 34-room oasis. Its suites and penthouses are particularly luxurious, with ocean views and plush touches like spa baths, fireplaces and wraparound balconies. The two Collette Dinnigan penthouses are standouts with oak floorboards, hand-printed textiles, custom marble bathrooms and classic Australian surf photographs on display.
Just down the road is Bannisters’ sleek second venture, Bannisters Pavilion, which opened in 2015. The style here is more cool and contemporary with charcoal tones, soft-hued timbers, Scandinavian-inspired furnishings and contemporary artwork. The highlight is a cantilevered rooftop pool, which hangs over the entrance.
British cooking icon Rick Stein calls Mollymook his ‘spiritual home’ and opened his eponymous restaurant here in 2009, his only venture outside of the UK. Mollymook’s village atmosphere and excellent seafood remind him of his beloved Cornwall, and he puts a distinctly British spin on fresh kingfish, trevally, snapper and scallops (with plenty of cream and butter).
Why Winter? Take advantage of the Ten Degrees Warmer package during the winter months, which includes two nights’ accommodation (at either property), breakfasts, A$100 dining credit and two 60-minute hot stone massages at the Bannisters Day Spa. Prices start from A$810 and the package is available from Sunday to Thursday until August 31.
Elements of Byron, Byron Bay
Byron Bay is one of the country’s favourite beach towns in summer, but as the crowds thin and temperatures begin to ease, there is still plenty to see and do. June to November is whale-watching season – sit and enjoy a beachside breakfast while spotting humpback whales as they migrate down the coast or take in the ocean views from one of Byron’s many hikes and trails, like the Cape Byron walking track.
Just north of Belongil Beach is Elements of Byron, a quiet eco-oasis away from the busy Byron Bay township. Part of Accor Hotels’ MGallery collection, this A$100 million resort opened in 2016. The 50-acre property is dotted with 94 freestanding villas, surrounded by natural ponds, lakes and vegetation. Sustainability is a major focus and the villas are carefully designed to have minimal impact, but don’t be fooled by their external simplicity. All villas have split-level living and sleeping areas, with sleek, modern Australian interiors – think simple, natural wood tones with a splash of colour in artworks or furniture.
At the centre of the property is a large pavilion, architecturally designed to mimic the surrounding sand dunes. Here the reception, restaurant and bar open on to a large infinity lagoon pool, accompanied by cabanas and thatched swinging chairs. Guests can relax with a treatment at the Osprey Spa or join the First Light Club for some yoga while watching the sunrise. Classes run every day throughout winter and are complimentary for hotel guests.
Why Winter? The Byron Bay Fine Food & Beverage Festival is held on the first Saturday in June and celebrates the finest of Australian food and wine. Try the VIP Foodies Weekend in Byron package, which includes two nights’ accommodation, a ticket to the gala dinner, VIP festival entry and a guided tour of the Bangalow Farmers Market. Prices start at A$950 per person or A$1,250 per couple. Alternatively, the Byron Writers Festival is on in August; book three nights between August 4-6 and receive two three-day passes to the festival (valued at $A285 per person) along with complimentary breakfasts.
Sofitel Melbourne on Collins
It’s fitting for a French hotel brand to live at the ‘Paris End’ of Melbourne’s Collins Street, known for its heritage buildings and ritzy boutiques. Sofitel Melbourne on Collins is right in the city centre, five minutes from Federation Square and a 15-minute walk from the Melbourne Museum and Melbourne Arts Centre.
The building towers over the city and all 363 rooms and suites are located on the 35th floor or above, making for stellar views. The views are even more impressive in the suites, with their corner positions and floor-to-ceiling windows. The style is simple, understated luxury with colour schemes of plush creams and greys, along with luxe touches like French toiletries and Bose sound systems.
Head to the hotel lounge for an elegant high tea late on a chilly winter afternoon, or enjoy bar snacks and a glass of champagne at the Atrium Bar. Sofitel’s fine-dining restaurant, No35, also offers a pre-theatre menu.
Why Winter? Now in its 14th year, the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series brings major international exhibitions exclusively to the city for 100 days. This year, Van Gogh and the Seasons will be showing at the National Gallery of Victoria with more than 60 works, most of which have never been seen in Australia. Take advantage of the Sofitel’s So Cultural package, which includes overnight accommodation, breakfast with a view at restaurant No35 and two tickets to the latest Melbourne exhibition, including Van Gogh. Prices start from A$335 per night.
Sofitel Sydney Wentworth
It’s always a good time for a break in Sydney, but there’s something extra special about winter. The harbour city sparkles with crisp, cool days and there’s a packed calendar of sporting and cultural events, including Vivid, the world’s most spectacular light show.
Venture into the heart of the city to find the Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, a heritage-listed property that was Sydney's first five-star hotel. Now more than 50 years old, the Sofitel has always been the local address for high-profile guests like the Queen, Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The unique horseshoe shape of the building is reflected in the interior design, including the curvilinear marble bathrooms, which were the first of their kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The more than 400 rooms and suites follow the signature Sofitel style, with plush furnishings, soft lighting and opulent touches of glass and gold. Palatial floral displays fill the hotel from the lobby to the 15th floor.
The hotel’s central location is ideal for sightseeing, with the iconic Harbour Bridge, Circular Quay, Opera House and Botanical Gardens located within minutes. When the day’s exploring is done, come back to the hotel’s 1960s-inspired Soiree Bar for cocktails and champagne accompanied by a complimentary selection of canapes.
Why Winter? The Sofitel Sydney Wentworth has a front-row seat for Vivid. Stay in the heart of the action with their Vivid Sydney Experience package, including buffet breakfast for two, and Vivid cocktails and canapes served in the Soiree Bar. Prices start at A$325 per night, based on classic room rates. Offer is available from May 26 to June 2017.
Across the pond
Azur Lodge, Queenstown
Nestled on New Zealand’s South Island beside the pristine waters of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown is one of the nation’s top holiday destinations. And winter is one of the best times to visit, thanks to clear, crisp sunny days and sparkling snow-capped mountains. Whether visiting the world-class ski resorts, trying out the many adventure sports on offer, or simply relaxing, this resort town makes an ideal winter getaway.
Just west of Queenstown is Azur Lodge, a luxurious private retreat with nine identical villas set around a central lodge. Perched on a steep hillside, Azur offers spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Remarkables, and Cecil and Walter peaks.
The freestanding stone-and-beechwood villas are designed by award-winning Queenstown architect John Blair and every angle of the contemporary, open-plan-living interior looks out to the lake through floor-to-ceiling windows, while glass doors open on to a private sundeck. The best views, however, are from the bathtub, which is set into a bay window to mimic the feeling of bathing outdoors. Luxurious touches such as a gas fireplace, underfloor heating and 300-count Egyptian cotton sheets make the lodgings even cosier. Azur doesn’t have a restaurant, however evening drinks and canapes in the main lodge followed by a complimentary transfer into town to dine at one of Queenstown’s many fantastic restaurants is an exceptional solution.
Why Winter? Queenstown is home to two of the South Island’s most popular ski resorts, Coronet Peak and the Remarkables, and is the epicentre of myriad adrenaline sports including bungee jumping, paragliding and heli-skiing (all of which continue to run throughout the winter months). Try landing on a glacier via helicopter at Milford Sound, or unwinding in an open-air onsen hot pool, overlooking the snow-covered Shotover Canyon.
Azur Lodge’s Snow Deal offers a 15 per cent discount for a minimum stay of five nights between June 1 and September 30. Starting at NZ$1,050 (about A$962) per night, the offer includes breakfast, return airport transfers, a bottle of New Zealand wine on arrival, and daily afternoon refreshments, pre-dinner drinks and canapes. Luxury Travel readers receive an additional NZ$80 (about A$73) credit when booking via phone or email. Simply quote “Lux Travel”.
The Marlborough Lodge, Marlborough
Located at the top of the South Island, Marlborough is New Zealand’s biggest wine-growing region with almost 60,000 acres of vineyards. Famous for its endless sunshine, stunning waterways and sauvignon blanc, the region is ideal to visit any time of year.
At the heart of the region is The Marlborough Lodge, an historic Victorian house that sits on 16 acres of vineyard and parkland. Originally built in nearby Blenheim as a convent in 1901, the majestic two-storey building was relocated in five pieces to its current location, before being extensively refurbished and reopened in late 2016 as a luxury bed and breakfast. Victorian craftsmanship and local timbers can be found throughout the house, while the 10 suites are simple but elegant, blending Victorian-style curtains and plush armchairs with spacious, contemporary bathrooms. Join the head gardener on a tour through the estate, before sitting by the outdoor fireplace with pre-dinner drinks and canapes. A three-course dinner is served in the private dining room, with many ingredients sourced from the vegetable garden. Matched wines come from throughout the region, accompanied by wine produced on the property.
Why Winter? While temperatures drop, blue-sky sunny days and calm weather abound. The Marlborough Lodge is the perfect base from which to explore the area, whether cycling around the cellar doors and wineries, hiking one of the many walking trails or sailing the stunning Marlborough Sounds. The lodge offers a Winter Warmer Escape package that includes two nights’ accommodation for two guests along with breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, canapes and a five-course dinner each evening. Guests will also be taken on a half-day private wine tasting and a half-day seafood cruise, go foraging with chef Jason at the lodge, and take a guided tour of the gardens and vineyards. Rates for the package start from NZ$3,175 (about A$2,932) for a Lodge Room. The offer is valid until September 30 2017.
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Weather to go
In a big country like Australia, you can find somewhere that suits your climate any time of the year. Whether it's the tropical north or the temperate south, skiing in the winter or snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, there is never a bad time to visit.
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