Australia holds some of the world’s wildest, most unspoiled and unique landscapes — from the rainforest and reefs of Queensland to the Red Center of the Northern Territory to the rugged wilderness of Western Australia.
Many are as far from civilization as you can get, only enhancing their off-the-beaten-path uniqueness and charm. That doesn’t mean you have to go full-on Crocodile Dundee to get back to nature, though. More than almost any other travel destination, Australia has embraced the glamping (glamorous camping) trend, and now boasts some of the world’s finest luxurious wilderness accommodations.
In this two-part series, we bring you some of the best glamping experiences the land down under has to offer, starting with these five from across the continent.
New South Wales
1. Paperbark Camp: Located in lush Jervis Bay two hours south of Sydney, Paperbark Camp feels like a safari camp in the heart of New South Wales. It contains just twelve naturally ventilated safari tents surrounded by paperbark and gum trees, each with its own private veranda. It allows guests to get back to nature with private open-air en suite bathrooms (the four deluxe tents have freestanding bathtubs), while still feeling pampered with plush towels and linens.
The camp was designed to be low-impact on the wildlife corridor in which it sits; lighting is provided by solar energy, and guest products are sourced to be biodegradable and recyclable. Guests can dine in the camp’s treetop Gunyah restaurant, and take advantage of complimentary bikes and canoes to explore the area and its wildlife corridors, where they might spot kangaroos, and possums in the evenings.
Rates start at $370 a night per tent including breakfast. Note: Paperbark Camp is closed from mid-June to the end of August for winter. Visit PaperbarkCamp.com.au to learn more.
2. Longitude 131: Mention Australian glamping, and one property inevitably comes to mind: Longitude 131. Not only did it set the standard for luxurious camping back when it originally opened nearly a decade ago, but it is also located in one of Australia’s most iconic landscapes: Uluru.
The resort has just 15 eco-sensitive platform tents (they can be disassembled without leaving a trace on the landscape) with dramatic sail-like ceilings and huge windows with unobstructed views of the famous rock at the center of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The tents are each named after famous Australian explorers and feature colonial-cool dark-wood furnishings, air conditioning, Bose sound systems, minibars and evening turn-down service.
Guests here can avoid the tourist crowds staying at the Ayers Rock Resort by taking advantage of Longitude’s private cultural tours to Uluru and the Kantju Gorge at sunrise or sunset. They can ride in a camel caravan through the Central Australian Desert, or take a helicopter tour of the area, among other outings.
Guests dine communally at the resort’s central Dune House, with three-course dinners and wine pairings; but they can also dine privately in the library, poolside, or in their rooms. There’s also the “Dining Under the Stars” experience where guests can enjoy sunset drinks and canapés with a view of Uluru, before a three-course supper. Rates start at about $1,689 AUD (or $2,070 per tent, double occupancy) per night. See more at Longitude131.com.au.
3. Wildman Wilderness Lodge: This eco-lodge is so environmentally friendly that all its permanent structures are actually recycled! That’s correct, this used to be another luxurious campsite called Wrotham Park Station, located 1,700 miles away in Queensland. Last year, they disassembled it all piece by piece and moved it to the lush billabong country of the Mary River Wetlands. It is about 90 minutes southwest of Darwin, where crocodiles, barramundi and water buffalo frolic, while countless species of indigenous birds flock overhead.
There are 10 cabins, or “habitats,” freestanding wooden structures with private decks and a glass wall overlooking the surrounding wetlands where wallabies graze and hop by. Inside, the habitats are air-conditioned and have a king-size bed with simple but high-quality linens, a nice writing desk, a leather armchair and ottoman, and a minibar stocked with sodas and free bottle water. The en suite bathrooms have simple vanities with sinks, and walk-in showers with wall-mounted and rainfall showerheads.
On the other side of the main lodge building — where guests dine on fresh Australian fare in the restaurant, hang out in the air-conditioned bar while surfing the free WiFi or lounge by the pool — are the 15 tricked-out African safari tents, including ten extra-spacious ones configured for families of four. The tents have small sitting areas with views over the wetlands, as well as wooden king-size or twin trundle beds, en suite bathrooms with full-size shower, toilet and sink, and powerful fans for ventilation.
Though the accommodations are first-rate, guests come here to explore the wetlands and sprawling Kakadu National Park. Among the Lodge’s many activities, guests can ride an airboat over the wetlands, take a nature boat cruise along the local billabong spotting crocs, learn how to fish for barramundi, or spend a full day trekking through Kakadu National Park with Aboriginal guides.
Rates start at $245 AUD per person per tent or $315 AUD per person in the habitats including breakfast and dinner. Wildman is closed during the wet season from the beginning of December to the beginning of March. Go to WildmanWildernessLodge.com.au for more information.
4. Wilson Island: Forget group tours and Great Barrier Reef day trips. Play castaway on a diminutive coral cay instead. Tiny Wilson Island is 45 miles off the Queensland coast, and 350 miles north of Brisbane. After guests arrive in the town of Gladstone and transfer to Heron Island, they are ferried to Wilson Island two hours away, where the adventure really begins (Those short on time can take a helicopter).
Don’t bother packing much more than a bathing suit and a couple T-shirts because the only creatures you’ll see on the five-acre cay are sea turtles, fish, and the indigenous birds for whom this cay is a sanctuary. There’s no cell phone coverage, no electrical outlets, no appliances; everything is powered by battery or solar power, so be prepared to go off-grid during your stay.
Only twelve people are allowed here at any one time, so there are just six permanent tents with uninterrupted views of the ocean. These aren’t just any old camping tents, though. They have raised timber floors, king-size beds with nightstands, sun decks with chairs and hammocks, bath and beach towels, guest toiletries, insect and mosquito netting, personal insect repellant, and daily housekeeping. Commodes are not en suite, however, but are located in the Washhouse Building, where each tent has its own private shower and bathroom area.
Guests dine communally on fresh produce and locally caught fish and seafood at the Longhouse. There is also a Community Tent open to the ocean breezes with daybeds and armchairs where guests can relax with books and binoculars for checking out the surrounding nature. They can also explore the area by swimming in the turquoise waters and watching the green and loggerhead turtles laying eggs in the sand. The luxury tents start at $671 AUD per night each including meals. Wilson Island is closed from the end of January until the beginning of March. To see more, visit WilsonIsland.com.
5. Sal Salis: Just about as far away from civilization as you can get, Sal Salis is situated 800 miles north of Perth in the Cape Range National Park on the northern coast of Western Australia along what the Sydney Morning Herald calls “Australia’s best kept secret”: stunning Ningaloo Reef. The 150-mile reef is like a mini Great Barrier Reef that 500 species of fish call home, including the earth’s largest fish, 40-foot-long whale sharks.
Sal Salis is an intimate experience with just nine luxury safari tents designed to have a low impact on the surrounding nature (using solar power and composting toilets) while still providing guests with creature comforts like 500-threadcount sheets, a small pillow menu, and fluffy bath towels. No TV, phones, minibars or other electronics, though.
During the day, guests can explore the reef and swim with sea turtles, reef sharks and manta rays, go kayaking and fishing, as well as spotting humpback whales and whale sharks in season. If they opt to stay on land, there are guided nature walks of the nearby gorges, and stargazing at night. In the evenings, guests congregate at the main camp building to watch the glorious orange-pink sunsets and dine on Australian cuisine that blends bush foods and local produce.
Rates start at $730 AUD per person per night, and just note that Sal Salis is closed seasonally from mid-January to mid-March during the wet season. Learn more at SalSalis.com.