Our latest glamorous guidebook Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: Australia/New Zealand is poised to hit the shelves: and it’s our boldest expression of wanderlust yet. From the lush wet plains of Australia’s Top End, via the iconic beaches and islands of the east coast, right through to the Middle Earth peaks of New Zealand’s South Island, it signposts you to the most stylish stays in Australasia. Here we treat you to a few tempting tasters of some of the off-the-beaten-track destinations featured…
Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: Australia/New Zealand is officially out 25 November (£19.95), but you can order an advance copy now.
Barossa Valley South Australia Valleys, vines and vales
South Australia has half a dozen world-class wine regions, but the Barossa wins hands down when it comes to cultivating an historic, reverent atmosphere. It has a lot to do with the vaulted sandstone tasting rooms, the old European trees and the valley’s German heritage (play ‘Count the umlauts’ as you drive past winery signs), but it’s also about the grape gravitas: weighty, substantial and brooding. This is no fizzy, fun-in-the-sun frolic. This is serious business. The old-school ‘Barossa Barons’ attract the lion’s share of trade and traffic, but sassy young boutique wineries have also carved out a market niche in recent years.
Bay of Islands North Island, New Zealand Cliffs, coves and clear-blue sea
If you’re an architecture buff, get your kicks for free by taking a gander at some of the area’s old missionary-founded buildings, such as musket fire-scarred Christ Church in Russell, which dates from 1836 and is the country’s oldest church (www.oldchurch.org.nz). We wouldn’t normally advocate hanging out in public toilets, but the one in Kawakawa, at 60 Gillies Street, should be on your to-do list. It was built by famous radical Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who spent the last 20 years of his life in the town from 1975 until 2000.
The Grampians Victoria, Australia Mountains, cliff faces and bushscapes
If the striking physiography of this sandstone mountain range in Victoria doesn’t take your breath away, an on-foot sampling of its mighty trails should. Don’t go home without… walking the Nerve Test. At the end of the Pinnacle Walk is this unsigned lumpy sliver of narrow rock that falls away perilously on each side. Whether you’re testing your machismo or showing off your sure-footed beam-gymnastics, there are no second chances.
Hawkes Bay North Island, New Zealand Forests, fertile plains and wild coasts
This east-coast swathe of the North Island has got it all: a head-turning ocean setting, nostalgic 1920s architecture and a Mediterranean-style microclimate. If the buzzwords in the food world right now are fresh, local and seasonal, Hawkes Bay is well ahead of the times. With fertile land and the perfect climate, just about everything is grown or gathered here: meat, seafood, cheese, honey, olive oil, fruit and vegetables, and even coffee. Sample the end result in the area’s inviting cafés and restaurants, where top-class chefs are blending Asian and European tastes to create appetising Pacific Rim cuisine. Order a local glass of wine to match: names to watch out for near Havelock North and Cape Kidnappers include Craggy Range winery (www.craggyrange.com) and Te Mata estate winery (www.temata.co.nz).
Kangaroo Island South Australia Wild times (big nature as opposed to big nights out)
Touting itself as ‘Australia’s Galapagos’, Kangaroo Island (KI) has an amazing proliferation of wildlife – in the sky, the scrub and the sea. Located 13km off South Australia’s coast, it’s the country’s third biggest island – so there’s plenty of space for the fauna to do its thing without the 4,250 islanders getting in the way. Ideal for sampling one of the six Ss: swimming, surfing, sandboarding, snorkelling, sailing or scuba diving.
Launceston Tasmania Historic Tamar-hugging town
Lush and leafy, Launceston wears its colonial history with puffed-up civic pride. Indeed, with graceful Georgian estates peppering its West Country farmland surrounds, this is as Jane Austen as Australia gets. In October, the Royal Launceston Show (www.launcestonshowground.com.au) brings the district’s loveliest livestock and oversize veggies to town. Don’t miss the auxiliary Tasmanian Whipcracking Championship.
Margaret River Western Australia Coastlines, cabernets and culture
If Margaret River didn’t exist, someone with an active imagination would have made it up. Just three hours south of Perth, the region mingles natural beauty with phenomenal dining and more than 120 wineries that produce a quarter of Australia’s best bottles. The Mediterranean climate makes the Margaret River an ideal destination year-round. In summer, temperatures rarely creep above 32°C and in winter average around 18°C during the day, although it can be a touch chilly at night.
Ningaloo Reef Queensland Dune-backed beaches and reef-fringed sea
The tourist hordes may head for Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, but those in the know are talking up this remote yet ravishing reef off the coast of Western Australia where you can swim among rainbow fish and psychedelic coral just metres from shore. Whale sharks are the big attraction, drawn by the coral spawning to chow down along Ningaloo’s coastline. These slow-moving beasties may seem intimidating because of their size: they can grow up to 12 metres in length and weigh about 18 tonnes, plus they have a huge mouth, around 1.5 metres wide. Like whales though, they’re actually harmless filter feeders who eat plankton, algae and krill – but not humans. In fact, they’re happy for you to swim alongside. The whale sharks may be headline news here, but the coral is pretty amazing too, with over 200 species of fantastically formed hard coral which spawn in sync during March and April (hermaphroditic branches ejecting eggs and sperm into the water). You don’t see that every day.
Southern Forests Western Australia Towering trees, trekking and truffle hunting
The black trufﬂe rules here, and when it’s in season you’ll ﬁnd menus dominated by the expensive little fungus, including scrambled eggs, trufﬂed salt and pepper squid, and even pannacotta with trufﬂe. The region loves it so much that out of season you’ll ﬁnd dishes using trufﬂe honey, trufﬂe butter, trufﬂe oil and so on. Other players in these parts are trout and marron, a large freshwater crayﬁsh and a delicacy only found in this corner of Australia. This is also one of Oz’s premier cool-climate wine regions, producing grape varieties such as merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and shiraz. Black trufﬂes (also known as black diamonds or black gold because of their rarity and value) are grown here in the largest trufferie in the southern hemisphere. From June to August these highly regarded black fungi are sniffed out by dogs, rather than the usual pigs, so that oinkers like us can devour them at restaurants across Australia. Delicious.
Top End Northern Territory Wetlands and wildlife
Tropical weather, rich indigenous culture and national parks are headline acts in themselves, but add to this territory’s impressive cast: brilliant sunsets, world-class fishing and a colourful calendar of outdoor events and you have a taste of this northernmost point. At a whopping 200,000 square kilometres, World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park is the largest in Australia. Famed for its natural and cultural wonders, it’s not just home to several Aboriginal rock-art sites and plenty of saltwater crocs. No sir. Grab your lizard-skin waistcoat and doff your tooth-trimmed cowboy hat to Mick Dundee. Indeed Crocodile Dundee was based on a real-life hunter from Top End.
Wairarapa North Island Hillside villages, vine-lined plains
Wind through the jaggedy, treeless Rimutaka Range and the two-hour drive from Wellington may feel like more of an adventure than you bargained for; but grip the steering wheel and descend into benevolent villages and vineyards that provide weekend-away gold. Summer in the Wairarapa (December to February) is a beautiful time, with hot, clear days and long, still evenings – but this is also when New Zealanders are on holidays, so things can get a bit hectic. A better bet is to visit during autumn (March to April) when the grapes are being harvested, the kids are back at school and days resonate with post-summer nostalgia.
If that doesn’t help you work up an appetite for Australia and New Zealand… nothing will!