New South Wales: Where tourism treads softly

By Lucy Bennett

Lucy Bennett experiences a mountain high at an ecologically sound Hunter region retreat

Kangaroos and other wild animals are able to go about their business at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort.
Kangaroos and other wild animals are able to go about their business at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort.

Paul Miley is a newspaperman from way back - what he doesn't know about the Australian media probably isn't worth knowing. These days, though, he spends his time running a unique mountaintop retreat high above the Hunter Valley in NSW.

Around 20 years ago, Miley bought a large tract of land, sight unseen, with the idea of opening an exclusive wilderness retreat with a focus on luxury that worked in harmony with his conservation values. Eaglereach Wilderness Resort, just over two hours' drive from Sydney in the Hunter region, is the result.

To get to the clutch of 38 lodges that perch on a ridge some 450m above sea level, one must first navigate the mountain road, which apparently follows the trails left by wildlife as they wound their way up and down the hill. Just when you think there's no way the narrow and tightly winding road would allow the progress of materials for the construction of anything other than a rustic hut, the road flattens out and what begins as glimpses of lodges the size of suburban homes, opens up into a tennis court, swimming pool and playground, and then a reception area and restaurant.

The complex of facilities and lodges is a monument to the determination of Miley and his wife Carmen. It appears they have bent the unforgiving Aussie bush to their will. In fact, they have slipped into its embrace, creating a resort that sits unobtrusively within the habitat of a large number of native birds and animals, and always puts them first.

Although guests can enjoy a massage or a facial if they want to, or sit on the deck of the restaurant with a drink in hand, there are rules attached to the privilege of holidaying in such an area. Guests are asked to be frugal with the water, the sole source of which is rain, to use only biodegradable detergents, to drive at a maximum speed of 20km/h to avoid hitting wildlife... to "tread softly", the resort's motto.

The rewards for following the rules are rich. The area is teeming with wildlife, including possums, kangaroos, bandicoots, wedge-tailed eagles and even the odd koala.

Miley and his team have planted thousands of trees in a bid to attract more koalas into the area. Other projects have included the construction of a lagoon at the bottom of a hill to collect the rainwater draining downhill, and cutting tracks to access sights, such as the subtropical rainforest that grows alongside the gums and paperbark trees.

Miley likes his guests to get out and about, and has created many opportunities for outdoor activity. There are bushwalks and four-wheel-drive tracks cut into the bush, and kayaks and mountain bikes are available. You can fish for perch, if you throw it back, or you can go yabbying, and eat them.

When you're all tuckered out from all that fresh air and exercise, you can dine in the resort's restaurant, which created a name for itself under the stewardship of Richard Branson's former personal chef. With the proximity of the wine-producing Hunter Valley right next door, the wine list is wonderful, and features labels from as far afield as Margaret River and New Zealand.

Despite what he has achieved already, Miley has big plans for Eaglereach - more lodges, more activities for his guests - but he always has the good of the environment at heart. When he first arrived to inspect his land, a wedge-tailed eagle flew so close to him that he remarked, "I could just about reach out and touch that", and his "tread softly" approach to tourism means the eagles will always have their natural habitat in which to flourish.

HUNTER REGION CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily to Sydney - the Hunter Valley is about 150km from Sydney by car.

Online: See visitnsw.com.

Lucy Bennett stayed at Eaglereach Wilderness Resort courtesy of Tourism Australia and Destination NSW.

- NZ Herald

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