Jheading to a walk-in campsite with a tent and provisions for fire-cooked meals on your back can certainly be a romantic experience. But if you’re looking for privacy and somewhat less rugged seclusion, lodging in scenic areas often goes from under-star to five-star, with little in between.
We’ve scoured the country for short breaks and special but not extravagant experiences, within hours of each capital.
NSW: Bioluminescence and a boutique hotel
Or: Blackheath, 1h drive west of Sydney (2h30 by train)
What: The Kyah – which opened in late 2021 – used a pastel palette and a restrained eye to transform an old motel into something much more stylish, retaining a touch of 70s nostalgia. In an area known for its four-poster beds and its sumptuous lace curtains, it is more elegant and more affordable than most of the other large hotels in the area.
The on-site restaurant Blaq sources primarily from local producers, an approach that extends to the wine and cocktail list. Blackheath also has a handful of excellent cafes and a classy place to dine (Has your) in town too.
In the evening, embark on an adventure to discover colonies of glowworms in the sheltered canyons and ravines of the Blue Mountains. For a few weeks a year, usually in late December, there are even courting fireflies.
Price: From $420 for a two-night stay in a King Room at The Kya plus $14.95 for a download Blue Mountains Glowworm and Firefly Discovery Guide.
Tasmania: A Kombi van at a horse farm in Clydesdale
Or: Huon Valley, just over an hour’s drive south of Hobart
What: Ten minutes by car from Cygnet and Huonville, a restored 1975 Kombi called Frida offers a taste of life in a van, without commitment. Parked on the edge of a pretty cove, the owners will decorate it with a theme of your choice – all shades of hippie – upon request.
The farm has several private waterholes for warmer temperatures (although diving in icy bodies of water is a Tasmanian tradition), and there is also a hot outdoor shower. There is an extensive outdoor facility including a patio, fire pit and kitchen with a belly stove, with a do-it-yourself breakfast also provided.
Price: $497 for a two night stay at Kombi Camp.
South Australia: Bushland and wine, just outside the city
Or: Aldgate, half an hour’s drive southeast of Adelaide
What: Surrounded by tall trees, the three rooms of glass and corrugated iron at Cladich Pavilions strike a balance between large windows and a sense of privacy. They are also at the heart of an excellent wine region.
For great estate tastings, try Sidewood and Shaw and Smithwhile experimental natural drops from small growers can be found at Summertown Aristologist. During this time, Apple tree distills craft spirits, and the McLaren Vale is to the south.
If your idea of romance is more chocolate boxes than wine, then the first German settlement of Hahndorf is just 11 minutes down the road. The area also has several farmers markets.
Price: Approximately $480 for a two night stay at Claditch Pavilions.
Queensland: Sunrise, sunsets and a groovy pink hotel
Or: Coolangatta, 1h30 drive from Brisbane (less than 2h by public transport)
What: Spoil yourself behind the white sands of Coolangatta Beach at a hotel that looks like a Wes Anderson movie on the outside and an episode of Real World: Miami on the inside, complete with an Astroturfed rooftop bar.
Nearby Eddie’s Grub House has repeatedly received nods for having the best burgers on the Gold Coast despite not technically being on the Gold Coast. A short walk away, Kirra Lookout and Point Danger offer that east coast rarity: a sublime sunrise and sunset over the water.
Discover hidden Froggy Beach, wedged between Snapper Rocks and Point Danger, and take a surf lesson with a friend at Greenmount Beach.
Northern Territory: Glamp and float through Kakadu
Or: Yellow Water Billabong, a three-hour drive west of Darwin
What: Kakadu National Park may seem like an expensive trip, but during the rainy season prices drop significantly, making it easy to get away quickly. In a few days, you can pass out to the birds of Kakadu Billabong Yellow Water Cruise and refresh yourself at Maguk, Motor Car or Moline Falls.
Savor colorful sunsets over the floodplains at Nawurlandja Viewpoint and admire the rock art site of Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) before sultry nights in your glamping tent (don’t worry, it has ceiling fans and air conditioning) at the backcountry retreat of Cooinda Lodge. Conditions change quickly during the Wet, so always check park websites and local signage for closures.
Price: From $358 for a two night stay at Cooinda Lodge Backcountry Retreat and $164 for an hour and a half Yellow Water Cruise for two. Note that prices can more than double during high season (June to October).
ACT: Caves, a thermal pool and an atmospheric lodge
Or: Yarrangobilly, 2.5 hours drive southwest of Canberra
What: Discover the surprisingly romantic stalagmites, stalactites and other delicate decorations of the Yarrangobilly Caves in the Northern Kosciuszko National Park. South Glory’s gigantic cave is magical, with light streaming through a hole at the top. Dress warmly to explore the caves, but bring swimsuits to soak in the warm but not hot thermal pool.
The rugged karst landscape offers great wildlife and birdwatching, and the Yarrangobilly Cave House, beautifully restored in 1917, makes an ideal base.
Price: $317 for a two-night stay in a Queen room at self-catering Cave House. Prices for cave tours range from $22 to $38 per person. The Jersey and Jillabenan caves are currently closed due to flooding. The free thermal pool is closed until April 9 due to maintenance work on the track.
Victoria: A little taste of France
Or: Avenel, 1h30 by road from Melbourne (and the same by train)
What: The affordable French provincial inn offering soul-warming food, comfy beds and great breaths of country air is a rarity in Australia. But the two-story, slightly bohemian Harvest Home Hotel fits the bill, with six characterful rooms, free breakfast, a lovely garden, pool, and open fireplace when the weather turns cold.
Enjoy goat cheese pies, risotto primavera and mouth-watering tenderloins with a thoughtful selection of central Victorian wines on the terrace, veranda or indoors. Check out the Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch range of wines nearby Fowles wine.
Price: From $398 for a two-night stay with full breakfast at Harvest the house. Main dishes in the restaurant are around $30.
Western Australia: A secluded cottage near sublime beaches
Or: Yallingup, 2.5 hours drive south of Perth
What: The romantic jackpot: a serene, secluded cottage studio with a large soaking tub, wood-burning stove and gorgeous views.
It’s only a five-minute drive to the waves of Smith’s Beach and a little longer to the dreamy turquoise waters of Bunker Bay, while all the smörgåsbord of Margaret River vineyards is laid out to the south. At the end of the day, watch surfers and dolphins at the famous Yallingup surf spot as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.
Price: Approximately $460 for a two-night stay at Honeybee Cottage in Wildwood Valley Cabins.