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Going for it in Goolwa: The Australasian Circa 1858

Nestled on the Murray River, some 100 kilometers from Adelaide, the sleepy town of Goolwa has been a popular beach retreat for decades.  Famously Australia’s first inland port, Goolwa presides over inter-coastal waterways, fishing boats and sailing regattas, offering respite and views out across southern Australia’s coastline. 

More obscure than the Great Ocean Road of the east, and forming part of the series of heritage harbors of the west, Goolwa’s place in Australia’s history is solid and significant. With industry transitioning into tourism in the latter half of the 20th century, the area has managed its evolution with grace and cautious development. The beach remains local and understated. Its visitors remain fond and familiar.

We arrived in Goolwa in the week after Christmas, driving down from Adelaide, through the neighboring McLaren Vale, past vineyards, coastal lookouts and great open fields. This is a beautiful part of Australia.  

It was in 2003 when co-owners and curators, Deborah Small and Juliet Mitchell first discovered the building, which would become the Australasian. A former working man’s pub, located by the river in central Goolwa, the listed building, (built in 1858), has been converted into a modern über-hotel, fusing the breezy sunshine of Australia with the ergonomic micro-detail of Asia.

The sandstone building sits baking in the blue skies of the south. We drove past it. Twice. The Australasian has an air of quiet confidence, distinct in a town of loveable scruffiness.

Japanese silk robes line the exposed brick walls where modern angles are juxtaposed with heritage beams. The glass foyer successfully slices through old stone, meeting wooden boardwalks and Japanese ferns. With five rooms boasting distinct personalities, flashes of the Orient are betrayed by the brilliance of the Australian sky beyond. Old teak furniture stands alongside antipodean designs. An enormous bathtub stood proudly on an elevated platform. A table was set by the window overlooking Goolwa’s estuary winding out to the Pacific. We would settle in here for breakfast - with fresh orange juice and eggs - staring out to sea.

Supper is provided on site, in the elegant Japanese-inspired dining room. Sparkling wine and canapés are served out on the large deck, as the sun tracks down to the sea. The menu is, as to be expected, a fusion of Pan-Asian cuisine, made from locally sourced produce, designed and overseen by Juliet. Both Juliet and Deb remain at the core of the Australasian’s operations.

Families from Adelaide descend on Goolwa to hire big cabins by the coast. They stay for weeks over Christmas, eating fresh seafood by the beach, and baking on the beach. The Australasian is, by contrast, a fine dining establishment. Rack rates start at 395 Australian dollars a night. It is not rustic. It is not wild. However, whilst some of the locals look on in suspicion, the concept is a solid one, and the Australasian’s fresh take on hospitality is attracting new faces and nationalities to the region. Visitors are increasingly swinging by, en route to Kangaroo Island, Melbourne or Adelaide. The Australasian is becoming a destination in its own right.

More sophisticated than her peers, with impeccable service and modern comforts, the Australasian is one of the only luxury operations in the region. Polished and pristine, this is a local hotel operating on an international playing field. With a passionate team at her helm, the Australasian’s star is on the rise.  

Harriet Dedman

Based in Hong Kong, Harriet is a freelance journalist and photographer. Over the last decade, Harriet has built up an editorial portfolio, specialising in vintage and boutique travel throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. Harriet's work has been published by leading international travel publications including Vacations & Travel Magazine, A Luxury Travel Blog (voted best for luxury by the Tel...(Read More)

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