Rediscovering Australia

Visiting Bamarru in Australia
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The first time I went to Australia, I was not “wowed.” It was 10 years ago – I flew 15 hours and found a country not as exotic as I was expecting. Same language, first world. Similar in many ways to my own culture. I loved Sydney, but as far as what I saw on that trip I decided I didn’t need to return. However, a group of friends were planning a trip and invited me along. I wanted to see why Australia is such a draw for so many people, so I signed on.
 
We flew to Sydney. The city was stunning – the weather sunny, bright and clear, not too hot, perfect for exploring. We took taxis and ferries to Bondi Beach, Manley Beach and Circular Quay, then back to Double Bay where we were staying at the Intercontinental for three nights.  We were out on a Sunday, so the beaches and cafes were full of energy, with people in a holiday mood. What a great introduction back to this vibrant and beautiful city!
 
We discovered very cool neighborhoods and loved staying in Double Bay, a quick ferry ride from Circular Quay and the central business district. The area was full of beautiful homes, charming cafes, restaurants and upscale boutiques. The iconic bridge and Opera House were front and center in Circular Quay – with The Rocks filled with shops and restaurants. There were Aboriginal people playing didgeridoos and selling hand-painted boomerangs, next to chic boutiques with the latest in Aussie fashion, next to banks and businesses. All in all, a diverse and thriving community. A fun Sunday in Sydney.
 
We spent a day outside the city on a wilderness tour to the Southern Highlands. We saw some kangaroo, spent too much time fruitlessly looking for platypus, drove a long way to see one koala and found only one wombat in the evening as he was heading into his burrow. The tour included lunch and dinner – both of which were sub par. This is a tour I would not recommend. There are other, better ways to see Australia’s wildlife. 
 
We had a lovely brunch at the wonderful Park Hyatt, a stunning hotel within touching distance of the Sydney Bridge and across from the Opera House.
 
Our next stop was Barossa Valley. We flew to Adelaide and were driven about an hour out to The Louise, which is surrounded by vineyards. The dining is beautifully done – a wine pairing dinner with the owner made for a very special evening; creative and elegant 5-course meal with wines to match. (I did have a taste of the kangaroo steak – but couldn’t manage more than one bite even though it was excellent.) 
 
We spent the next day on a tour of the Barossa, wine tasting at Edgerton, lunch at Vintners, then in the afternoon a stop to see kangaroos. We were able to walk quite close before they hopped away. This area is excellent for wine lovers, lots of vineyards, some excellent restaurants. 
 
Heading out, we flew to Kangaroo Island for a stay at Southern Ocean Lodge. This is a spectacular property.  The rooms are in a single line, stretched out so each has as an ocean view. The central living/dining/reception area is the gathering place from which everyone arrives and departs. The hotel is all-inclusive with a full bar, sophisticated menus and a variety of small group activities to see the highlights of the island. We enjoyed every minute. No televisions but wifi is strong so you can stream movies if you want. There is a very nice spa but no fitness room. There is an open bar in the common living room, with lots of couches and chairs, and the mini bar in the room is stocked and complimentary.
 
The Wonders of Kangaroo Island is a half day tour on which we saw long-nosed fur seals, the Remarkable Rocks (granite rock formations which are so strange and interesting they could be museum pieces) and walked on the beach next to the sea lions. We visited a koala sanctuary, walking among trees where koalas were camped out. They sleep for hours wedged into the forks of the trees. 
 
We ended our day with a tour called Kangas and Canapes – we walked into a field full of over 100 kangaroos – they were so calm we could get right next to them before they hopped away. Since Kangaroos have no predators, they are only skittish when you get too close. We then were served wine and cheese as we watched the sunset. 
We did a cliff walk lead by one of the staff, who pointed out the flora and fauna and told us how the Aborigines used certain plants for healing and food.
 
There are beaches nearby, but during May it was too chilly – it was windy and cold.
 
I was sad to leave Southern Ocean – I would love to have stayed another day as there was so much to do – it would be great to have a day to simply enjoy the beautiful views and comfortable ambience at the lodge. The staff was knowledgeable, professional, as well as passionate about the wildlife. 
 
We flew to Brisbane, then were driven up into the mountains for about two hours, to Spicer’s Peak, one of Australia's luxury lodges. Spicer’s Peak is remote; there are cattle wandering around as well as a few horses. Coming up the long drive through the forest we saw several potoroos, which resemble small kangaroos – the size of a small rabbit.
The main lodge has around ten rooms and the bar, living room and dining room.  There is a swimming pool just off the dining room which has a fabulous view over the lawn and mountains. Activities are hiking, mountain biking, yoga, spa, relaxation. There are two villas a short drive from the lodge which are suitable for families.
 
The lodge is beautiful, the food sophisticated, the hospitality lovely. I would recommend staying a night in or near Brisbane and driving up in the daytime to enjoy the views in the mountains. There is plenty of history here – one of the original penal colonies was near Brisbane and the stories of the original colonists, the Aboriginal tribes and the prisoners are worth paying attention to.
 
We left Spicers and flew from Brisbane to Darwin, a 4+ hour flight. Next was a 25-minute flight on a single engine plane to our next destination, Bamarru Plains, a luxury bush camp. The distance and effort were definitely worthwhile. This camp is not for everyone – it is a wilderness camp with no wifi or cell service. Ten villas, enclosed with screens for walls so you can see and hear the wildlife just outside.
 
Bamarru is all inclusive and runs in a similar way to an African safari camp. The central living room holds the open bar as well as the dining table just in front of an open kitchen. The outdoor deck has a swimming pool and sitting areas to relax, have a cocktail, watch the wildlife put on a show. This camp is a dedicated fishing camp for part of the year. It becomes a wilderness camp April to October. Activities are included, such as 4-wheel drive safaris, ATV’s and my favorite, the air boat safari.
 
The area is full of birds – this is a mecca for birders as it sits on a floodplain with gorgeous marshes, reeds, jungle. There are hundreds of wallabys putting on a show every morning and evening. This is also a buffalo ranch, with several varieties of buffalo wandering everywhere with their young. There are a few wild horses known as brumbys running around, looking beautiful. We spotted a few crocodiles during one of our airboat excursions – young ones, but there are quite a few living among the reeds. 
 
Guests dine together at meal times, but our excursions were just for us. We met guests from Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Australia.  Bamarru is a true bush experience, with comfortable accommodations and excellent food. We loved our stay and all agreed we wanted one more day. The weather in May was hot and humid during the day, comfortable at night. The cabins are equipped with fans, but no A/C.
 
While it would be cooler to delay a visit until later in the year, we felt that the balance of weather in Sydney, Kangaroo Island, Barossa Valley, Spicers (near Brisbane) and Bamarru in the top end worked well. 
 
We reluctantly departed, returning to Sydney for our last night at the Park Hyatt, the number one hotel in Sydney. The location, design, level of service and luxury can’t be beat. What a great way to end a stellar trip! I left Australia vowing to return – there are so many places I still need to see!