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Richard Engle

Chicago, Illinois Travel Agent

Luxury Lodges of Australia

Australia is a frontier kind of destination that offers the kind of off-grid experiences I love. It is huge—about the size of the Continental U.S.—yet only has about 25 million people, less than 10 percent of the U.S. population.

I’ve traveled to Australia four times, and the highlights of my trips always include stays at some of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, a collection of about 20 lodges known for their high levels of service, comfort, and cuisine. The lodges tend to be in fascinating but out of the way areas that don’t get a lot of visitors. Due to their locations and pricing, they are not on the radar of mass market travelers. Most are family-owned, with five to fifty rooms, and each lodge offers unique experiences.  

On my most recent trip, I visited Lizard Island, a private island hideaway with only 40 rooms. It’s my favorite place to experience the Great Barrier Reef. You are right on the reef, so it’s a scuba diving paradise, and the snorkeling is terrific too. You also can go sea-kayaking, or take a boat to different parts of the reef for fishing, snorkeling, and diving. The fish and marine life are incredible. And with a beautiful spa, tennis courts, evening lectures and guided nature walks around the island, there are enough activities to easily fill four to five days.

You could see and dive the reef from via boat or seaplane from the mainland, but to me, staying right on the reef offers a more upscale and immersive view. You get to Lizard Island by taking a small plane that only goes between Cairns and Lizard Island, so even before you leave the mainland, it feels exclusive and private. The food is exquisite, and the service is very accommodating. 

Cairns is also the gateway airport to a very different set of experiences at Silky Oaks Lodge. Located in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest, the lodge is family owned with a great spa and dining and only 50 rooms. The best months to go are June, July, and August--their winter--because summers there are too hot. It’s in a gigantic national park with cloud and rain forests with a tremendous diversity of wildlife and birdlife. 

During my last visit, I stayed in one of their private tree house rooms, surrounded by rainforest. It is very popular with honeymoon and wedding couples. There’s also a gorgeous pool and something Australians call a billabong, a naturally created swimming pool in a riverbed where you can go canoeing, swimming, kayaking and do other non-motorized water sports. Stays also include guided hikes to learn about indigenous lifestyles and see beautiful flora and wildlife including several species of kangaroos. 

Another of my favorite “lodges” is the True North shallow-draft expedition ship, which is the best way to see the Kimberley region in Australia’s rugged northwest. The ship carries a helicopter and six adventure boats to transport passengers to their adventure of choice for the day, which could be anything from hiking through Kimberly National Park, with their powerful waterfalls, and deep canyons and valleys to scuba diving and snorkeling along the coast. It’s ideal for the person who wants nothing to do with the city. You’re out in nature by day, and at night, you’ll see more stars than you can imagine.  

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