An abundance of wine, rich food and premium lodges turns a bush experience into a luxury getaway, writes Rosemary Garratt.
The brief was simple - and appealing - enough: visit three South Australian luxury lodges and write about the experience. It all gets a bit more difficult, though, when you find yourself lost for words; struck dumb by just how incredible the experience is, from the elegant accommodation to the breathtaking, unique South Australian scenery.
Let's start at the beginning.
Arriving at Arkaba Station in the South Australian outback feels like coming home - if home is a luxury lodge.
Arkaba is a working sheep station of 24,281ha, with a homestead dating back to 1851. The stone building with deep verandas was given a luxury makeover in 2009, with the interior design taking cues from the homestead's history. Old fence posts and sheepskins are used for bed headboards and Arkaba-branded mini wool bales act as bedside tables.
Hosts Pat and Sally Kent provide a friendly and typically Aussie down-to-earth atmosphere, and the resident chef ensures guests are well fed with three cooked meals a day and snacks available any time. You can also help yourself to any of the wines or beverages in the homestead. That can be a problem if you plan to make a pre-dawn start the next day to catch the sunrise.
Instead of waking to the call of birdsong, it was to the hearty laughter and South African accent of guide Brendon Bevan, who was showing us the Elder mountain range as first light struck, igniting it into a dazzling pink. It's also in the relative cool of morning that the animals come out. Red kangaroos, western greys and euros (common wallaroo) are easy to spot.
The majestic river gums are home to kingfishers, bee eaters and flocks of galahs and little corellas. We were fortunate enough to spy on a nesting pair of wedge-tailed eagles and their chick and inadvertently stopped for our morning tea break right under a pair of nesting brown falcons.
It's hard not to get caught up with the enthusiasm Brendon and our other guide, Kat Mee, have for their natural surroundings.
Though Brendon has had a career in South African game parks, his gusto for emu spotting, and his adopted environment in general, knows no bounds. On days off he heads into the Elder range to track down a cave of Aboriginal painting hunters stumbled on years ago, forgetting to note down its location. With the vast terrain here it will be a long, tough job.
After the aridness of the South Australian outback, it was on to the relative lushness of the Barossa Valley and The Louise, which is home to Appellation, named one of the country's top 14 restaurants by the Australian Good Food and Travel Guide.
The 15-suite vineyard retreat offers a private haven after a hectic day of sampling the great wines and food of the region. You step from your private courtyard into a heavenly scented and perfectly appointed suite, complete with gas fire, spa bath and outdoor shower. Just as I'm eyeing that up, Daimler Tours arrives to whisk us away in his luxury classic car for a spot of wine tasting.
First stop is family-owned Yalumba, which boasts its own cooperage and a wine museum with an extensive collection of its own and international labels, some going back to 1827.
From the impressive facilities of Yalumba, it's on to Hobbs, which is a decidedly more laid-back affair where Greg and Allison Hobbs' biodynamic wines are sampled on their front porch.
Then, back at The Louise, we walk across the road to taste the collection of another couple of highly regarded local boutique growers, Damien and Eva Tscharke.
Though wine is an excellent reason to visit the Barossa, the food is pretty remarkable too. At Appellation, executive chef Mark McNamara uses locally sourced ingredients, including those from the restaurant's vegetable garden, to create exceptional dishes. After an exquisite meal I was grateful I had only a short walk back to my suite.
The Barossa is hard to leave but before we get too comfy, we're whisked onward to the delights of Kangaroo Island, often referred to as the Galapagos of Australia.
Walking through the front door at Southern Ocean Lodge into the limestone-clad open-plan reception area is breathtaking.
Floor-to-ceiling windows showcase expansive views out to the Southern Ocean which draw you deeper into the Great Room, the hub of this 21-suite eco-lodge.
The lodge was designed to stretch along the cliff top above Hanson Bay, ensuring that each of the suites, named after local shipwrecks, is private and has uninterrupted views. With nature reserves bordering on either side, it feels as if you are alone at the end of the world.
The lodge is much awarded and lauded, and it's easy to see why - the magical setting, a guest spa housed in a separate building, signature toiletries, a complimentary mini-bar stocked with local delights and the incredible attention to detail.
It would be easy to spend all day lolling about in my suite enjoying the day bed on the terrace or reading in the sunken lounge, but a half-day trip to nearby Flinders Chase National Park beckons.
At Cape du Couedic there's a chance to catch up with some expat Kiwis - a colony of New Zealand fur seals have made themselves at home here and frolic, flirt and feed on and around the rocks, which include Admiral's Arch, a coastal grotto.
Just when I thought the scenery couldn't get any more spectacular, we head to Remarkable Rocks - huge granite boulders sculpted into grotesque shapes by the wind, rain and salt from the Southern Ocean.
Back at the lodge there was time for a brisk walk down the white-sand beach, where an echidna was foraging beside the boardwalk, before making my way back for another exceptional dinner, made using locally sourced ingredients.
After an intense overload of luxury, the sound of the Southern Ocean surf pounding on to the beach below my suite had me asleep in no time.
IF YOU GO
The three lodges are members of Luxury Lodges of Australia.
South Australian Air Charters: +61 8 8648 4467. Email: email@example.com
Barossa Daimler Tours: +61 8 8524 9047.
Rosemary Garratt travelled with the assistance of Tourism South Australia.