It is a leisurely 2-hour drive from the (Central) coast to the (Blue) mountains, but our final destination is still about another hour away in the midst of the valley. We follow the windy steep hill through ‘The Gap’ down to the valley floor, the scenery changes dramatically to gravel road and native bushland with kangaroos lazying about. Before we know it, we have arrived at the main entrance. A security guard quickly comes and greets us as he has been expecting our arrival. He instructs us to leave the car at the carpark as he will send someone to come and pick us up momentarily. An olive green four wheel drive is slowly approaching us from the distance not long after. A handsome young man dressed in RM Williams tailored staff uniform steps out of the car with the biggest grin on his face and welcomes us to the Wolgan Valley resort.
There is a sense of excitement and anticipation building up within us as we hop into the four wheel drive and strap ourselves in. The gate opens wider as our car slowly rolls in. The Jurassic Park theme tune is now humming in my head as we follow the dirt track into the valley…
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is Australia’s first conservation-based resort, located on Australia’s Great Dividing Range between two national parks. Built by Emirates, this $125 million project takes up only 2 percent of a 4,000-acre conservancy reserve. Bear in mind that not all money went into development of a luxurious resort, but also including comprehensive conservation programmes to help the regeneration of the Wolgan Valley reserve through the planting of thousands of native trees, including one of the world’s rarest trees, the Wollemi Pine. Hence, the logo of the Wolgan Valley resort resembles the needle leaf of the wollemi pine tree.
Wolgan Valley is currently the only luxury resort in the world to achieve the Carbon-Neutral certification.
Talk about dramatic entry, our four wheel drive rumbles through hill, paddock, creek and river before arriving at The Homestead, the main building of the resort which houses the reception lobby, dining rooms and lounge bars. “We don’t have a reception per se,” says our friendly staff as she welcomes us with glasses of champagne. Indeed, the main ‘lobby’ is homely yet contemporary in a warm, subdued and earthy tones. Low desks and high back leather chairs add elegance to the space, but my eyes are drawn to the dramatic wooden back wall made from logs found on the property and the enormous industrial pendant light fittings hanging overhead.
The paperwork is effortless, but we can’t check in to our suite until 3pm. So the staff are more than happy to give us a quick tour of the Homestead before leading us downstairs for lunch.
The resort was designed with respect to the Australian identity by incorporating a lot of natural and recycled materials sourced within a 100-km radius around the property. There is a massive wooden clock on the wall made from a giant fallen sequoia tree found on the property, artworks on the wall are composed of animal bones, hessian rags and even tiny capacitors that looked like seeds. I particularly like the recycled old kerosene lamps hanging on the ceiling in the conference room.
Most of the resort’s interior design features local artists within the region such as glass blowers, blacksmiths, carpenters, stained-glass window makers, and iron woders. The most eye-catching objects in the resort would have to be the quirky lamps dotted around the property, all made from recycled materials – oil can, old Drizabone coat, a horse trough, an old victorian clothes wringler and even chandelier made from a carriage wheel!
The boardroom, which can also be used for private dinner functions, caters for 12 people. Behind the bar is the cigar lounge with the most interesting decoration on the wall, a row of old books carved with silhouttes of different bird species found on the property.
Breakfast and dinner are served in the main Wolgan dining room. A sandstone fireplace towered in the middle of the room; two-seat dining tables with cushioned chairs in eucalyptus green lined across the length of the room which offers unobtrusive panoramic view of the dividing range. The breakfast session has just finished and the wait staffs are already busy replenishing and rearranging cutlery and glassware ready for the dinner service this evening.
After the brief tour, we advance to The Country Kitchen downstairs for lunch, a more relaxed casual setting than the formal dining room upstairs. Guests can drop in at any time of the day for light snack or enjoy a scrumptious lunch from the extensive menu plus daily specials on the blackboard. All meals, non-alcoholic beverages and selected local wines are included in the accommodation price.
The impressive lunch menu makes ordering difficult. There are four of us and we share two entrees of refreshing prosciutto, pomegranates, goat cheese and pear salad, and some crispy lobster spring rolls served with a sweet dipping sauce. For the mains, The Pom orders the wild mushroom pie, a short crusty tart filled with mix of button, inoki, oyster and king brown mushrooms in creamy sauce, topped with a flaky puff pastry lid. The pan fried crispy skin salmon with kipfler potatoes wins mum’s heart over. The Pom’s sister in law, Ann, orders Arborio crusted calamari with a balsamic aioli, preserved lemon and fennel salad. The calamari is tender but a little underseasoned, the crumbs milled from arborio rice adds an extra crunch.
I choose the Kurrajong beef burger, thick slab of juicy beef patty is covered in molten-hot cheese and sweet caramelised onion relish, sandwiched in two slices of soft flour damper. It also comes with a side of fries served inside a cute deep frying metal bucket.
There is also an infinity edge swimming pool, jacuzzi, fully equipped gym room, sauna, steam rooms and Timeless Spa adjacent to the Homestead. The outdoor pool is not heated, we are told, but the private pool at our suite is temperature controlled at a constant 25ºC.
Hang on… a private pool in the suite? Let’s go and check it out!
We are ushered into a golf buggy and cruise along the U-path dotted with forty stand-alone lodges with the dramatic escarpments as backdrop. There are 36 Heritage Suites – measure at 83 square meter, these one bedroom villas are ideal for individuals or couples at $1950 per night.
We are a group of four and check into one of the three Wollemi Suites which is much bigger at 201 square meters with two bedrooms, at $3500 per night. Then there is the only one Wolgan Suite, with a total area of 245 square metres of internal area, it is the epitome of space and luxury with a rack rate of $5500 per night.
“Would you like me to give you a tour of your suite?” our friendly staff asks us as she opens the front door. Oh why, yes please!
The Wollemi Suite is truly a state of art, constructed from wood and stone materials and designed in Federation-style. The suite has already warmed by the double sided fireplace as we walk in, our staff quickly turns on the stereo with ambient music fill the living room.
The suite is simply stunning! The living room is spacious with dining area all under a high A-frame ceiling. It is painted in the shades of pastel green and ivory white throughout the whole villa which sets an earthy tone that makes you feel instantly at home.
Everything in the suite are reminiscent of the Federation period; the bronze light switch, the lamps, the telescope, the water taps, and even the vintage books in the shelving unit.
Then there are the two spacious bedroom suites. The main bedroom has a four-poster king-size bed, while the second suite is furnished with a king-size zipper bed, which can easily be separated to create a twin arrangement. The bed is a big fluffy white cloud that guarantees sweet dreams in your sleep. The mattress is seven-layers of softness yet firm enough for lumbar support. You can actually buy this bed at $3,000 instead of the full retail price of $10,000. I fall in love with the wooden wombat ‘Wolli’ on the side table, which is used as a reminder for fresh linen by placing it on the bed. Each wombat is hand crafted out of Huon Pine by a local artist, Ole Nielson.
Each bedroom has its own walk in wardrobe, dressing table and the ensuite bathroom, equipped with twin sinks, shower with overhead skylight and a spacious bath tub with an expansive view of the bushland.
Finally the private pool with its own separate pool deck, measures 4 x 7 metres and is heated to a constant 25C, it is truly an indulgence that you simply can’t resist for a quick dip.
Each suite is also equipped with mountain bikes on the front porch, for guests to ride and explore the property, down to the 1832 Heritage homestead, or even up to the lookout.
Two on-site nature based activities per person per day are also included in the accommodation price. Guests have access to a team of Field Guides, who assist them with selecting activities and experiences based on an individual’s interests and abilities. We figure the best way to explore the valley is by joining the Wolgan wildlife and sundowner tour. We hop back into the four wheel drive and escorted by our field guide who takes out wildlife spotting.
There are literally hundreds of kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos and wombats in the valley. Immediately we spot the rare white wallaroos feeding in the grassy plains among the other common ones. Our field guide told us they have spotted four albino wallaroos to date, 2 adults and 2 joeys. She also said that the white wallaroos come down the hill more often and getting closer to the resort each day as they feel safe and protected because these smart animals know the foxes are too scared to come any closer to the resort.
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Our tour continues at the lookout which offers the most spectacular view over the valley. Our field guide told us that it used to be a cattle station in the past, which has caused quite some damage to the landscape as we can clearly see the tree lines stopped right above the foot of the hill, resulted corrosion with soil washed away and eventually ended up in the Hawkesbury River.
Since the launch of the resort, Emirates has actively committed to rehabilitation programme with over 175,000 indigenous plants already planted in the valley. Guests are also encouraged to join in the tree planting day, organised by Planet Ark.
The nocturnal hour brings all the wildlife closer to the resort for a feeding frenzy. After an 2 hour tour, it is also time for us to head back to the Homestead and get ready for our dinner.
The Dining Room now looks completely different at night, warm glows fill the space whilst the fireplace crackles. The temperature controlled wine cellar is opened each evening for guests to browse over 300 wines at their leisure. They also hold a cheese and wine tasting class in the cellar in the afternoon.
Executive chef, Dwayne Goodman, is on the floor greeting every guest as they walk into the dining room. He has been expecting me and offers a brief tour of the kitchen. Dwayne has many years of experience working in hospitality at some high end hotels and resorts in Indonesia, London and Sydney, and now happily settling in at Wolgan Valley resort for over 3 years.
The dinner menu is designed by using as much regional produce as possible, they will usually go to local farmers and buy the whole cow or pig and break it down in the kitchen themselves. With the head-to-tail philosophy in mind, the whole animal will be used and nothing goes to waste.
The dinner is a five-course set menu.We start with an amuse bouche of chicken soup consomme and polenta dumpling. The little polenta dumpling (gnocchi) is surprisingly comforting, the clear chicken broth is full of umami which sends my appetite craving for more.
I can’t help but order the Pink Billy Saignee by Philip Shaw to go with my meal tonight. It is a salmon pink rose with berry fruit characters that will go well with any seafood dishes.
We are having breakfast for dinner. The first course is confit egg yolk with bacon chips, croutons and spinach puree. The confit method gives the yolk a thick gooey texture, it is a sexy flow of golden lava in contrast to the vivid spinach green. Bacon and croutons adds a delightful crunchiness to the dish.
Next course is a vegetarian dish, the housemade tofu is fried with crispy edges, served with pickled winter vegetables in vinaigrette dressing. We have another soup as palate cleanser, a zesty lemongrass consomme with baby coriander that packs quite a heat punch with gingery flavour and warms up the body from inside out.
For the main course we have the choice of four options. The roast five spiced duck breast fillet is a little overcooked and on the tough side, but the accompanying parsnip puree is silky smooth with a thick reduction jus. The veal fillet on the other hand is delicious, juicy and tender with a nice pinkish tinge, served with pomme puree and cavolo nero. I choose the John Dory fillet, cooked to perfection with white flaky flesh, paired with carrot and asparagus tapenade and a velvety smooth sweet potato puree.
Another palate cleanser before the dessert. A scoop of apple sorbet is cool and refreshingly minty. We finish the meal with a dessert of marshmallow meringue, raspberry sorbet and financiers. The presentation is simply gorgeous, a smear of toasty Italian meringue is sweet and creamy, goes well with the tangy raspberry sorbet.
The experience at the resort so far has been extravagant in an understated manner. It is time to call it a night, the golf buggy is waiting outside to take us back to our suite where we find our beds turned down with a plate of petite fours on our bedside table. It is going to be a sweet sweet dream tonight.
The breakfast next morning is exceptionally scrumptious. The wait staff hands out the hot breakfast menu then also brings out a tray of continental breakfast and sets it right next to our table. It’s a mini buffet, with a selection of Danish pastries, fresh fruit, porridge and yoghurt. We can eat what we like and don’t have to finish it all, but the idea of food wastage is rather disconcerting.
It’s only a short wait before our hot breakfasts arrive at our table. The egg benedict with Hollandaise sauce looks wonderful, two halves of an English muffin are topped with a generous mound of ham and two soft poached eggs, draped with viscous Hollandaise sauce that is sadly a little sharp from the vinegar.
The Pom goes for the big breakfast, a hearty kick starter for the morning of fried eggs, fried bacon, fried sausages, mushrooms and wholemeal toast. But my smoked trout with poached egg is the real winner. The trout is smokey but not overpowering, the flesh is firm and not too oily, served with crispy potato roesti and wilted spinach in a Bearnaise sauce.
We have time to spare before heading to the stables for some horse riding. We decide to check out the real heritage homestead in the valley, simply named ‘1832‘.
Originally a settler’s farmhouse, the building is believed to been built in 1832 from materials found almost entirely on site using the traditional slab hut method of construction. It was in a state of disrepair when Emirates found this homestead and decided to spend AU$2 million to restore it over two years.
Apart from restoring the homestead, they also built a kitchen garden next to it. The vegetables grown here are harvested and used to prepare the menu in the restaurants.
Guests are welcome to visit 1832 as they like as during day time, the door is always opened. It is now a living museum housing many artifacts and restored pieces.
The workers cottage sits adjacent to the homestead is a little eerie, but it really gives you a sense of how the original inhabitants might have lived in the shed.
That particular Sunday is also a tree planting day with Planet Ark. All guests are encouraged to help and plant some indigenous trees along the river banks, with the promise of sausage sizzle for lunch afterwards. Sadly we have to leave the homestead after a short visit and are unable to help out as we have horse riding scheduled at the same time.
Only The Pom, Ann and myself are joining the horse riding whilst mum will be the spectator over a cup of tea at the stables. The horses here are about ten years old, with Oscar being the oldest at 14. They are tame but sometimes can misbehave if the riders don’t know what they are doing. Our riding instructor reassures us that we will be fine so long we are in charge, and not the horses.
Guests can choose to ride the horses around the arena or take them out for a longer trail ride. Except Ann, The Pom and I have actually never ridden a horse before and are very skeptical whether we should really join the trail ride. But our riding instructor is extremely helpful and let us have a trial ride around the arena and assess whether we are good and confident enough to take the horses out. I pull, I steer, I cluck with the tongue between my teeth to make a noise that my horse knows is a command to move forward. I am ready for the trail ride with ‘Marshmallow’, my noble steed.
Our instructor gives us lots of advice on how to maneuver down and up hill, she is especially impressed with me steering the horse with one hand whilst trying to take photos with the other. The trail ride is peaceful and steady, but the thrilling part is while crossing the creek with the chance of getting wet! It is definitely the highlight of our time at Wolgan Valley.
It’s time to check out and conclude our stay at Wolgan Valley with a lunch back at the Country Kitchen. Another opportunity to try a few more dishes on the menu. This time we all share a beetroot, fennel, goat cheese salad with candied walnuts. The beet is sweet and earthy whereas candied walnuts add a nice crunch to the salad.
Most of us order a dish from the specials menu except Ann. Ann’s caesar salad is generous, a bowl full of lettuce, shaved pecorino, prosciutto and crouton crisps with a poached egg on the top. It is as healthy as you can get. The beef fillet is tender and juicy, served with crunchy sugar snaps, pomme dauphinois and a salsa verde dressing. Mum orders the pan roasted barramundi, crispy skin tile with white flesh, the delicate flavour is accompanied by asparagus and cherry tomatoes. I have the oxtail and red wine ragout penne, it is rich and comforting for the winter days.
All in all, our weekend at Wolgan Valley Resort was memorable and needless to say, absolutely spoiled. The level of service is impeccable and the resort is way beyond my expectation. We simply can’t fault it. One last trip in the four wheel drive with our handsome chauffeur to the main entrance. He bids us farewell with endless bows and handshakes, ahh…. as I always said, it is the small gestures that count.
Spring Renewal Renew yourself this spring at Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa. Feast on the freshest seasonal, regional produce, relax in unsurpassed luxurious comfort, and soak up the breathtaking beauty of this natural sanctuary. Enjoy two nights in a Heritage Suite including gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, non-alcoholic beverages, a select range of local wines and beer with meals and two on-site nature based activities per day for just AUD 1,450 per person twin share. Additionally, take home a ‘Taste of Wolgan Gourmet pack’ or ‘Timeless Spa Pamper pack’ with our compliments. For those who stay two nights or more from Sunday to Thursday inclusive, a 60-minute spa treatment per person is also offered, representing additional value of AUD 330 per couple. The Spring Renewal package is valid from 16th September 2011 until 19th December 2011. For more information call +61 2 9290 9733 or email [email protected]
A Table For Two and company stayed as guests of Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa.
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Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa 2600 Wolgan Road, Wolgan Valley NSW 2790 P: (02) 6350 1800 W: wolganvalley.com