Wilderness resorts in one of nature's wonderlands guarantee a holiday like no other, writes Nannette Holliday
The Top End in Australia's Northern Territory is famed for its spectacular natural wonders, World-Heritage National Parks, rugged coastline, 50,000-year-old indigenous artworks, ancient civilisations, primeval wildlife, birdlife and fishing. Immersive experiences are guaranteed. What isn't expected is being encapsulated in luxury at the end of each day.
Six unique retreat stays spread across the Top End provide exceptional wilderness luxuries while absorbing their superbly unique regional surroundings. Each resort offers all-inclusive creature comforts, including cosy beds complete with luscious linen, en suite, first-class amenities, exquisite chef-prepared meals and matchless private tours.
Whether you want a sea change, a tree change, or to be shrouded in Australia's oldest living landscape, each stay can be booked individually and is a sparkling gem waiting to be discovered in one of Australia's most picturesque and unexplored regions.
I guarantee a few days' sojourn at Banubanu Eco-Beach Retreat, off the Northern Territory's East Arnhem Land coast, will feel like a tranquil week away. Perched on the northernmost tip of Bremer Island (Dhambaliya in Yolngu), its seclusion and serenity immediately envelop you.
Six permanent deluxe accommodation tents are surrounded by cooling casuarina trees, the sliding glass door to your veranda providing glorious uninterrupted views. The waves gently lapping the sand outside your beachside eco-glamping suite become your music. It is barefooted freedom.
The translucent turquoise Western Bay waters and reef are not only a haven for large clown fish; they are the only NT coastal waters I've ever swum, snorkelled and kayaked without fear of becoming a crocodile's dinner.
Half or full-day fishing charters offer anglers and novices a plethora of challenges. The resort chef then seamlessly cooks your coral trout, Spanish mackerel, red emperor, trevally or queenfish catch with local produce.
Walking trails to secluded Northern and Eastern beaches reveal several sea turtle nesting areas. By special arrangement, local Yolngu explain about their sacred site homeland, culture, early Macassan trading, and may even show you how to hunt for mud crabs.
Banubanu operates on 100 per cent solar power, and pure water comes via a bore. Plus, internet and mobile phone coverage mean you can instantly make friends and family envious.
Access is by a 15-minute charter flight or 45-minute boat ride from Nhulunbuy. Gove airport has daily commercial flights from Cairns and Darwin.
Named after the indigenous seasons, Seven Spirit Bay is adventurous luxury on steroids. Beginning with a 45-minute charter flight from Darwin and a 30-minute scrubby woodland and red-rust road journey in a massive air-conditioned 4WD bus, you realise how remote and harsh this environment is.
But once at the lodge on Coburg Peninsula's Coral Bay embankment, you feel like you're on a tropical island. Verdant manicured lawns and lush gardens surround the main lodge buildings, lagoon pool and pathways to the 24 hexagonal villas.
The aquamarine waters and golden beaches are home to crocodiles. Snakes often warm themselves on the walking paths at night (torches are available), but most guests choose to hitch a golf cart ride to their villa after a superb night of exquisite wining and dining.
Discover five different ecosystems within a kilometre of the resort. See Nypa palms surrounding a crystal spring-fed stream, numerous buffalo, banteng and myriad birdlife from brolgas to whistling ducks. Collect beach shells, learn how the indigenous people use the local plants and visit the NT's first township, abandoned, historic Victoria Settlement.
Comfortable boats allow you to explore peaceful Coburg Marine Park and catch plentiful blue water fish or estuary barramundi, which the resort chefs will prepare for your dinner or as sundowner hors d'oeuvres. But with no mobile phone or internet, you'll have to save your photographic proof till you're back in the big smoke.
Get marooned at the completely reclusive Tiwi Island Retreat on the western side of Bathurst Island. A 30-minute charter flight from Darwin and a short estuary boat ride, the retreat snuggles against Port Hurd's palm-tree-lined beach. But don't step into the alluring waters; this is crocodile territory. Four resident crocs and visiting dolphins and sharks closely watch your every move and epicurean devouring.
Safely chill poolside or at the deck bar and view these amazingly captivating prehistoric monsters in between your daily activities. The only other don't is standing under the coconut trees. For safety, stay outside the green rope drop zone.
Now, forget your shoes; even the staff are barefoot. And enjoy your various activities, from all-terrain-vehicle sunset beach cruises and beach bonfires to picnicking along Four-Mile Beach, mud crabbing, reef and estuary fishing for jewfish, mangrove jack, golden snapper, coral trout and the elusive barramundi, which the chef cooks perfectly at day's end.
Additional tours include visiting the resident Wurrumiyanga indigenous community and their renowned Tiwi Designs on the other side of the island. Or helicopter into Ranku waterhole for a refreshing crystal-watered, spring-fed dip.
With no internet or mobile phone coverage at the resort, it's easy to rest, relax and recharge. Accommodation includes 18 air-conditioned en suite rooms and four family rooms with shared bathrooms. If you want privacy, book outside the school holidays or stay at the two new exclusive western beachside glamping tents with Jacuzzis. tiwiislandretreat.com.au
Nestled on Swim Creek Station and bordering Kakadu National Park, Bamurru Plains is a magnificent African-styled safari camp of 10 individual, spacious mesh-sided lodgings with 180-degree floodplain views from your bed. Be prepared for your morning alarm clock of cackling blue-winged kingfishers and foraging buffalos.
Covering 300km of rich Mary River floodplains, paperbark forests, river mangroves, coastal beaches and savannah woodlands, it's a birdwatcher's and wildlife enthusiast's paradise. The plains are home to magpie geese, whistling ducks, kites, sea eagles, brolgas, jabiru, egrets, ibis, plus groups of agile wallabies, buffalo, wild horses and pigs roaming the plains. Not always so obvious are the crocodiles keeping an eye on your every movement.
Professionally trained guides elaborate further during your morning and afternoon adventures, whether an open-air 4WD safari, exhilarating airboat tour, river cruise or a thrilling quad bike excursion. From our airboat, we observed birds and buffalo munching their way through wetland waterlilies. Sundowners are in a different location each night. Watch the wildlife headed homeward with your favourite tipple and mouth-watering canapes. In-between times, chill beside the 10m infinity pool overlooking nature's wonderland, then refuel on gourmet lunches and dinners with unlimited paired wines.
With no mobile phone or internet access, it's easy to become one with nature in this wild, bush luxury setting, a three-hour drive from Darwin or a 30-minute charter flight.
The Top End's newest opulent immersive experience is Finniss River Lodge. Stretched along the edge of a vast floodplain, it's home to a multitude of birds and wildlife, on a 200km sq Brahman working cattle property, Finniss River Station, which stretches from Litchfield National Park to the Timor Sea.
The expansive picturesque outlook is captured from the main lodge Long Room, infinity pool deck and six luxe country-style suites. It's a diverse wilderness oasis. Live webcam of wetland billabong in the Long Room ensures you don't miss any action, even when you're wining and dining.
Other bespoke activities include airboat rides and crocodile education on Sweets Lagoon to all-terrain vehicle expeditions through the savannah, paperbark, wetland and rainforest landscapes, sunrise and brunch on top of Jarrold Ridge, 4WD to Top Swamp and Quartz Hill, the property's highest point or a fire-cooked dinner during sunset at the red rock coastal beach.
Seeing working cattle dogs and stockmen on quad bikes majestically completing a cattle muster on our tour return was pure poetry in motion. Another unforgettable experience was Sunset Cows' n' Canapes, nibbling mini kangaroo burgers, crocodile rounds and patting young Brahman cows with a drink in hand as the fiery sun dropped between pandanus.
An easy 90-minutes-drive or 25-minute helicopter/charter flight from Darwin, the property operates on mains power. So you're never without mobile phone or internet coverage to readily boast about your many indulgences and encounters. finnissriverlodge.com.au
Australia's oldest landscape
At the northwest corner of Arnhem Land beside Mt Borradaile, a registered Aboriginal sacred site, is exclusive Davidson's Arnhemland Safari Lodge. Set on stone country and surrounded by 700km sq of pristine wilderness, life here stands still.
Be prepared for multiple goosebump moments, as it's home to a national treasure trove of more than 60,000 years of indigenous occupation showcasing massive rock art galleries, caves and burial sites – all viewed as the traditional owners left it.
The landscape is rugged. Its edges softened with idyllic floodplains, billabongs, pockets of monsoonal rainforest, paperbark swamps, a myriad of wonderous ecosystems, bird life and wilderness inhabitants.
Your guide ensures you miss nothing on daily personalised and small group tours in open-sided Land Rovers. Fishing is available – and you are guaranteed to catch a large barramundi in these plentiful waters – but it's catch and release, so be sure to snap that Insta shot for bragging rights when you get home (there's no internet or mobile phone coverage).
Harmony surrounds your sundowner drinks and nibbles while cruising along the waterways, watching crocodiles warming themselves in the last light, birds circling overhead, and the sizzling sun drop for another day.
Relax and talk about your adventures with other guests over each decadent meal. Twenty individual solidly-structured and comfortable eco-lodgings face the surrounding bush for privacy. Access is a six-hour 4WD route from Darwin or a 60-minute charter flight.
CHECKLIST: THE TOP END
Qantas flies from Auckland to Darwin, via Sydney or Melbourne. qantas.co.nz
The best time to visit is between May to October, so plan now for your 2023 visit. For more things to see and do in the region, go to northernterritory.com