WEIRD HOLIDAY SPOTS
The Australian Country team have set out to find Australia’s quirkiest hotels, unusual tours and strangest holiday spots in every state.
Underground Motel, White Cliffs, NSW
More than half of the 200 people who live in the outback NSW opal mining town of White Cliffs live underground. They include Jenny and Richard Beach and their guests at the Underground Motel, which was first excavated by a miner in the early 1900s. In the monastic white cells the temperature is a constant 22˚C, regardless of 45˚-plus summer days or below-zero winter nights. Shared bathroom facilities are the upshot of the difficulty of plumbing the units, so take a torch for the trek through the catacombs at night. By day explore the surreal pockmarked landscape, visit the house made of beer bottles, take a mine tour, fossick for your own piece of rainbow stone, or buy one from one of the locals, who all seem to have something precious tucked in a matchbox in their back pockets.
Rates are $149 double, including continental breakfast.
Ruwenzori, Mudgee, NSW
Actor and TV presenter turned tour guide Scott McGregor reckons he was in the right place at the right time in the early 1980s, when much of the NSW railways infrastructure was being decommissioned, scrapped or sold off. For the best part of the next decade the self-confessed railway buff became the main tenderer at all railway auctions and the railway carriages, memorabilia, furniture, signage and train bits and pieces he acquired found a home at Ruwenzori, his weekend retreat in the heart of Mudgee’s wine country. These days he shares the retreat with up to 12 guests at a time. Accommodation is in three vintage railway carriages and there’s a separate dining car with well-equipped kitchen for those who like to self-cater. There’s also a great outdoor barbecue area or guests can have meals prepared in house by the local caterer, A Private Chef. Tour the wineries, sample fine local fare, bushwalk on the 25-hectare property or explore the nearby historic villages.
Rates begin from $525 for four people on weekend nights, $250 for two people on week nights for a minimum of two nights.
Possum Park, Miles, Qld
In 1942, with the devastation following the bombing of Darwin fresh in the nation’s mind, the probability of a Japanese invasion seemed very real. Whether or not the so-called Brisbane Line was official government policy, the possibility of abandoning the top of Australia seemed high and defence points, munition stores and tank traps were established across southern Queensland and northern NSW. The property now known as Possum Park located about 20 kilometres north of Miles on the Darling Downs was one of those top-secret bomb and ammunition depots, on the record books as 3CR RAAF Kowguran with 2500 tons of explosives hidden in 20 well protected underground bunkers. When cattle farmers David and Julie Hinds bought them in the 1980s they intended to use them for hay storage, but they saw tourist potential and instead converted several of the bunkers into self-contained accommodation. The quirky nature of the bunkers, not to mention the insulation from the earth surrounds, makes them popular with travellers on the way north to Carnarvon Gorge, the Gemfields or the Great Barrier Reef. The Hinds have run with the unique accommodation ball and have added converted railway carriages and a decommissioned TAA aircraft to their options for sleeping quarters and the slightly daggy décor is part of their charm. A totally peaceful bush location, immaculately kept grounds and a big campfire at night make this a popular stopover with grey nomads, families and anyone with a passing interest in history.
Rates are from $80 double per night.
Airstream, Mansfield on the Manning, Taree, NSW
The consolidation of the National Parks Service and the rise in automobile ownership meant that average Americans in the 1930s could explore their country like never before. In 1936, Californian lawyer turned inventor Wally Byam capitalised on this trend by designing the first Airstream trailer (caravan). Modelled on the streamlined shape of an aircraft fuselage, the aluminium Airstream capitalised on the notion of freedom to roam wherever the heart desired. Taree couple Jane and Neil Mackenzie have taken this romantic ideal one step further by remodelling a 1978 Airstream Soverign Land Yacht into a luxury retro B&B on their property on the banks of the Manning River (see Food Files, starting on page 72). With full kitchen facilities including a gorgeous Smeg fridge and an ensuite shower and toilet, the Airstream has all you could want for a glamping weekend. If the prospect of self-catering takes the shine off a weekend away, the good news is that Neil is a top chef and will happily provide fabulous meals for the whole weekend.
Rates from $175 a night double.
Tree house, Bilpin, NSW
After 25 years as an environmentally sustainable designer, Lionel Buckett decided he wanted to build his own fantasies instead of other people’s. Enter the love series, a collection of rustic cabins dotted across 600 acres (243 hectares) of Blue Mountains wilderness. There’s a Bedrock-inspired cave, a teepee and the more conventional Wollemi cabin, all with spa baths and truly spectacular views of the Wollemi National Park. But the one that blows all the others out of the water – perhaps that should be the sky – is the treehouse, perched 30 metres above the ground, and on the edge of a 300-metre gorge. There aren’t sufficient superlatives to describe the splendid isolation, the views and the bush ladder up to this luxurious eryie. Less adventurous souls might be deterred by the long drop composting toilet, the visiting wildlife, or the fact that you have to bring all your own provisions. But true romantics, and the many marriages proposal and honeymoon bookings bear this out, love this property, arrange for caterers to bring in all provisions and rarely venture out until their departure.
Rates for treehouse $1600 for two nights.
Ghostly sleepover, Quarantine Station, Manly, NSW
Even case-hardened cynics report sleepless nights during the overnight tour of Sydney’s Quarantine Station at North Head. From the 1830s until 1984 passengers suspected of having a contagious disease on any ship that arrived in Sydney Harbour were offloaded at the Quarantine Station until they received a clean bill of health … or died. Five hundred souls joined the latter category and it’s said their spirits haunt the precinct, which today includes a hotel in the historic buildings within the national park. The late-night tour takes in the buildings where the most paranormal activity has been recorded and visitors BYO sleeping bags and stay in bunkhouse accommodation beside the former hospital.
Rates are $155 for the tour and breakfast.
This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Australian Country. Order the back issue here.
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Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Ken Brass