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5 Historical Australian Getaways

May 23, 2014

There's so much more to the land down under than its glittery cities and famous beaches. Here are five sweet spots that will transport you to another era. Story and photos by Ian Lloyd Neubauer

Published on May 22, 2014


For picturesque shores polished by the tides of time

For nearly a century, it has withstood the charge of interlopers: sand miners in the 1920's; meat workers and an abattoir that stank up the entire beach in the 30's; and a second wave of sand miners again in the 40's. Then came whalers in the 50's; long-boarders in the 60's; the flower-power brigades of the 70's; developers in the 80's; trancemusic junkies in the 90's; and speculators in the aughts, who proceeded to drive the price of realestate sky high.

Despite them all—or perhaps because of them, for its denizens range from retirees to yuppies to former backpackers brought together by their love for the sea and distaste for multinationals like McDonald's and KFC, whose repeated attempts to open shop here have been stymied by unrelenting protests—Byron Bay has retained its knockout natural beauty. Credit the animal magnetism of this beach-resort town on the northern coast of New South Wales to its position on the easternmost point of the Australian mainland. This is a subtropical pocket endowed with staggered mountains, waterfalls, epic surf beaches and green rolling hills. Think long, lazy morning walks up to the lighthouse; perfectly shaped waves; rambunctious drinking and dancing; and endless, uninterrupted Pacific sunsets.

STAY Gaia Retreat & Spa Olivia Newton-John's luxury wellness retreat in Byron's hinterlands. +61 2 6687 1216;

EAT Rae's Fish Café Overlooking the sea with poolside and private dining options. +61 2 6685 5366;

Byron Bay, NSW, Australia
Surf's up at Lennox Head Beach, just south of Byron Bay. Courtesy of Destination NSW.


For stately spa-ing (and an a-maze-ing garden)

In the mid-19th century, thousands of Swiss-Italians joined the great global migration to the Australian goldfields. When the precious metal ran out, these natives of Ticino and Graubünden, of Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Piemonte settled in Hepburn Shire, 100 kilometers northwest of Melbourne, where they went from sifting through pans of gold to serving up plates of pasta, artisanal cheese, salamis and vegetables. Reminders of their influence can be found everywhere in the village of Hepburn Springs: the Old Macaroni Factory on Main Road, The Savoia Hotel, the Palais Theatre, and at Villa Parma, a stately rose-colored two-story residence and maze garden built in 1864.

These old-world treasures might have been left to stately decay if not for the Melburian sybarites and members of its gay community whose tourist dollars paid for their architectural restoration. Visitors flock to this bucolic area to indulge in not just culinary delights but corporeal ones as well: Hepburn Springs has the largest concentration of subterranean mineral springs on the continent, and 50-odd day spas, making it the spa capital of Australia. The seat of its capital is Hepburn Bathhouse, an aquatherapy theme park cut straight out of the The Jetsons. Rising phoenixlike from a clearing in the forest, this hermitically sealed triangle, made of glass and steel, houses relaxation pools, spa couches, aroma steam rooms, salt therapy pools, monsoon showers and more.

STAY Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat A grand old guesthouse reborn as a luxury retreat with hotel suites and Art Deco villas with rolling country views; +61 3 5348 2202;

INDULGE The Spa @ Hepburn Bathhouse Offers mineral-based body therapies, massages and scrubs, and steams; +61 3 5321 6000;

Villa Parma
An organic eats at Villa Parma


For serious wines and toasting to the good ol' days

This fairytale village in the Adelaide Hills was one of 69 places in South Australia whose name was Anglicized (in this case, to Ambleside) as a consequence of anti-German sentiment during World War I. Nearly two decades would pass until the original name was restored to this settlement founded by Prussian craftspeople in 1839 and whose ancestors still live and work here. Their influence permeates the entire the village to this day: in the fachwerk or timber-frame architecture of Hahndorf's cottages and churches, and in the Swiss-Germanic cuisine sold in the delis, bakeries and groceries of Main Street.

Winding country roads lead in every direction to the vineyards of the Adelaide Hills, one of the most diverse New World wine regions on earth. It's home to more than 90 labels and 48 cellar doors where viticulturists in gumboots spend weekends hawking their versions of the area's signature Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, plus varietals Trollinger, Gewürztraminer and Blaufrankisch.

STAY Hahndorf House Immerse yourself in colonial grandeur at three period cottages with open fireplaces and manicured gardens. +61 4 1201 4217;

SHOP Beerenberg Family Farm Australia's oldest jam factory run by sixth-generation jam-makers. +61 8 8388 7272;

The White House
The White House, Hahndorf. Courtesy of South Australian Tourist Commission.


For a wild boat ride to an ancient harbor town

There are few places on earth more wild or remote than the west coast of the island state of Tasmania. On one side, the jagged rock meets waves up to 20 meters high; on the other sits 1.6 million hectares of inhospitable mountain terrain. The only respite from the geological interment is Macquarie Harbour—an Edenicescape estuary that provided shelter for sailing ships at Strahan Harbour, a former end-of-world trading post. Today Strahan is a quaint little tourist town with public bars, restaurants, cafés, galleries and guesthouses catering to travelers who come with one thing in mind: a journey into the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park.

This World Heritage-listed wilderness is so vast and thick the only way in or out is by boat—your own, a charter, or the Lady Jane Franklin II passenger catamaran—via the Gordon River. A serpentine body of water famed for its chrome-like surface, it cuts through a temperate rainforest to swaths of Huon pine, one of the longest living trees in the world, and endangered wildlife like the Tasmanian devil, eastern quoll and orange-bellied parrot.

STAY Strahan Village A collection of cottages and hotel suites with 180-degree harbor views. +61 3 6471 4200;

Specialist Timbers Purveyor of legally harvested Huon pine used to craft exquisite furniture, musical instruments and boats. +61 3 6471 7190;

Strahan at sunset


For a bucolic taste of the cowboy dream

Chinese, English and Irish miners…more than 10,000 of them were, within five years of the 1875 discovery of gold here, living in Mount Mulligan—if you can call spending every waking hour of the day taking a pick or shovel to rock-hard clay "living." Fossicking for gold is now but one of a range of adventures at Mount Mulligan Station, a working cattle ranch and homestead set on half a million glorious hectares of privately owned bushland on the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland. This fertile plateau can be explored on quad or dirt bikes, in 4WDs or, for those with time, on a mustering experience.

Ranging from four days to a month, musters let visitors drive cattle along dusty red tracks and ancient gullies on horseback, dine on "damper" bread and lamb shanks, and sleep in "swags." Seeing a stockman on a quad bike knock a one-tonne bull on its back, leap into the air and wrap a leather belt around its hind legs is a highlight of this tour—as is sitting around the campfire at night under a candelabra of stars listening to stories about prospectors who struck it rich at Mount Mulligan, those who died trying, and the ghosts in between.

STAY+DO Mount Milligan Station Basic farm-stay accommodation in an old homestead by a billabong.

Mount Mulligan
Quad biking through Mount Mulligan Station


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villa parma, hepburn, australia
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