Travel

The Best Airbnbs in Australia Right Now

Find out who has the best-designed home, unique stay, and best regional stay.

best airbnb homes
Photo: Airbnb

Australia’s inaugural Airbnb host awards are always an exciting time, where we find out the most welcoming, creative, and big-hearted hosts on Airbnb.

The categories span from Best Unique Stay, Best Designed Stay and Best Regional Stay to Most Magical Experience—among others. This year’s winners include a luxury off-the-grid eco hut for two in Mudgee, and a 100-year-old former grain shed that is wheelchair accessible on the outskirts of Toowoomba.

So, without further adieu, here are the 2021 winners of the Airbnb Host Awards. Be sure to bookmark this for future travel plans.

best airbnb homes
Photo: Airbnb

Best Designed Stay

Slow Beam

Slow Beam is an architecturally designed, luxurious guest house with views of Hobart. Host Lauren set out to build something that would be comfortable and make the most of the views while also being “moody, glamorous and relaxed”. The black walls and ceilings were inspired by Brutalist architecture and also took notes from Hotel Hotel in Canberra. Lauren describes the style as confident, with bold choices and far from subtle. The windows are the highlight of the property – not only are they huge, but they allow the breathtaking views to dramatically contrast with the ultra-modern black interior.

best airbnb homes
Photo: Airbnb

Best Unique Stay

Gawthorne’s Hut

Gawthorne’s Hut is located 5km from Mudgee on a big property. Hosts Rick and Steph used to picnic in the location of the now-hut and decided to build guest accommodation in the spot. It was designed by an architect to optimise views of the land but they also wanted to make sure they captured the imagination of guests. There’s a feeling of isolation when you get there – you feel the peace and tranquillity in the off-the-grid property. They kept the facilities fairly minimalist (no TV or internet connection) so that guests focus on nature. Rick and Steph drive guests up to a secluded part of the property with a great view to watch the sunset – they even provide a little picnic.

best airbnb homes
Photo: Airbnb

Best Regional Stay

The Grain Shed Retreat

This renovated former grain shed sits on 830 acres in the Southern Downs region. It’s completely wheelchair accessible, as Hosts Neil and Bel also run an occupational health centre on the property. The property where the listing is located is called ‘Tarragunda’, an Indigenous word for ‘string of waterholes’ inspired by the local valley. Neil and Bel also work with local Indigenous organisations as there are some significant sacred sites on the property as well as some incredible wildlife, with wedge-tailed eagles often nesting behind the retreat.

best airbnb homes
Photo: Airbnb

Most Magical Experience

Coasteering Adventure

Host Cam draws on 30 years of rescue experience to Host the only coasteering tour in the country, creating a safe atmosphere for his guests to push themselves out of their comfort zones and get an unreal adrenaline rush. He has crafted an exciting coastal rescue mission in an exciting environment by the sea. His experience is all about overcoming a challenge together and conquering your fears, which he helps his guests do through his endearing dad jokes and his incredible rescue talents. He caters to young adventurers all the way up to those aged in their 70’s.

Host of the Year

Kate Quinlan

Host of the Year was awarded to Victoria’s Kate Quinlan, whose quirky 70s style campervan on her family farm near Daylesford has attracted rave reviews from guests around the world, especially for her complimentary breakfasts.

Community Contribution Award

Adrienne Penny

Adrienne began hosting on Airbnb in 2015 when her children had left home. With an empty self-contained apartment downstairs that had previously been used to host homestay students, Adrienne decided to take her love for meeting new people from different parts of the world one step further and earn an income as well. With more than 100 visits and many guests returning a second or third time, Adrienne’s apartment on Airbnb had become a big success. Two years ago Adrienne decided to host carers at the apartment for free— giving them a very well-deserved few days’ respite.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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