High-Concept Cottagecore Has Arrived with Osborn House

Osborn House, located just two hours out of Sydney, is bringing a new type of luxury hotel experience New South Wales' the Southern Highlands.

High Concept Cottagecore at Osborn House

Suppose you’re like me and are obsessed with the HBO TV series Succession. In that case, you’ll remember their stay at the Gleneagles Hotel in Dundee, Scotland. As the family bicker and Shiv Roy mesmerises in a backless Gabriela Hearst knit dress—you find yourself noting the quiet, homey luxury of their surroundings. Whatever happened to five-star travel without the fuss and intimidation?

Osborn House in New South Wales’s answer to Scotland’s Gleneagles—a two-hour drive from Sydney or Canberra. Founding Director Adam Abrams has overseen other experiential projects, like portable beach club The Island and is also involved in Matteo in Double Bay and Matteo, Downtown, Sydney CBD.

Osborn House was a pet project for the hospitality entrepreneur, who wanted to create something that felt not far from home but still worlds away. Abrams spent two years searching for the right location to bring his vision to life. He wanted a destination close to Sydney CBD that offered something completely unique. Abrams says, “I always had visions of creating a hotel that felt like you were staying in someone’s private country home, somewhere curated, considered, and personal. Ideally, it would be somewhere you feel completely transported.”

Osborn House overlooks Morton National Park
Morton National Park, Image credit: Getty, Louise Docker

Adams spent two years touring locations throughout NSW with his wife, “every second Tuesday we would stay in hotels, motels and other accommodation sites within two hours of the city looking for the perfect spot.”

In 2017 the couple were almost motel-ed out when Abram came across a listing in the newspaper for a health retreat in the picturesque town of Bundanoon, Southern Highlands. He had found his spot.

The history of Osborn House

Osborn House is steeped in a history that begins in 1892 when George and Dinah Osborn built a grand resistance known as “The Knoll” in Jordan’s crossing (which came to be known as Bundanoon). The Knoll, perched at the top of an incline overlooked the gullies below. George and Dinah realised its commercial potential and opened their home to guests in 1900 (they had room to spare).

The property changed hands many times over the years and at one point housed Dutch internees during WWII. In the 1980’s Solar Plexus purchased the property. They turned the surrounding grounds into Solar Springs Health Retreat, which operated for 35 years.

By the fireside at Osborn House
By the fireside at Osborn House, photography by Alan Jensen

What to expect at Osborn House

The drive from Osborn house to Sydney CBD is quick but scenic. Making your way from Bundanoon up the mountain, you quickly forget the city surrounds you as you pass farmyard animals. As you wend your way up to the “house”, you’ll find yourself lost in a tunnel of century-old pines and dizzy with fresh air. Entry to the courtyard reveals beautiful but not overly-manicured gardens. Everything about the property has an organic look and feel. But really, Osborn House is all about the view. The back of the hotel opens up onto a breathtaking panorama of Morton National Park – where guests can hike or simply enjoy the view while they dine.

The common areas where guests dine and lounge have a homey feeling, complemented by the presence and scent of roaring stove fireplaces. You could be in your bougiest friend’s countryside manor.

Linda Boronkay and Alan McMahon curated interiors with vintage pieces to give Osborn House its home-away-from-home look and feel. Photography, Alan Jensen

The menu is similarly synergistic with the local area, with regional produce used in the seasonally led menu crafted by chef Segundo Farrell. He tells me, “Our goal at Osborne House is to have a menu that uses produce 100% sourced locally, including from our onsite kitchen garden.” The menu is unpretentious, comforting and perfectly executed. You will find a chicken club sandwich and a beef burger on the menu, executed with aplomb, but also Argentinian cuisines like Empanadas containing Illajua, house-made potato gnocchi and Musset Farm Mushrooms.

Chef Segundo Farrel spent time learning the art of fire cooking with Latin American food legend Francis Mallman. There are plans for Sunday cook-offs later in the year, where guests will learn the art of fire cooking while discovering everything the Southern Highlands offers when it comes to produce.

Jai Vasicek's night garden inspired fresco wall paper
Jai Vasicek’s “Night Garden” – inspired fresco walls.

Linda Boronkay and Alan McMahon worked on the hotel’s distinctive refurb, responding to a brief: “a whimsical retreat, a slice of Europe in the Southern Highlands.”

Osborn House doesn’t conform to a particular time. While the exteriors and cabins speak to a heritage quality, the interiors are modern but quirky – with an almost Wes Anderson sense of eccentricity.

Boronkay tells me: “We didn’t want to conform to one design period or aesthetic. Our aim was to create a series of experiences for the Osborn Houseguests from early morning to late at night. We wanted them to feel like they were staying at a private residence rather than a hotel.” Rich textures, colours, fabrics, and vintage pieces give Osborn House an eclectic and personal feel.

Cabin exteriors at Osborn House
Cabin exteriors, Osborn House. Image: Ruby Feneley

Throughout the hotel, walls are decorated by artist-in-residence Jai Vasicek, who also showcases paintings in the common spaces. Vasicek said, “The splendour of Osborn House, within its walls and surrounds, is enchanting to me. I have painted to storylines in a tribute to the history of the house and its relationship to the gardens.”

Cabin interiors at Osborn House
Cabin interiors at Osborn House, Photography Alan Jensen.

Boronkay and McMahon engaged Vasicek after being inspired by the home of French socialites Francine and Alex Weisweillers, who invited French artist Jean Cocteau for a week, only to have him stay 12 years, and transform their interiors into a wildly frescoed “tattooed villa.”
Abrams was inspired by the concept of falling in love with a building and making it home and started their artists in residence program. Every year the venue will play host to a different Australian artist for 12 months.

The cabins are Osborn House’s piece de resistance—providing guests with a private view of the surrounding area. McMahon says the places have an intentionally different aesthetic, designed to complement the natural surroundings as much as possible. While the cabins have an unobtrusive, matte black exterior, the interiors are clad with recycled timber that glows amber in the light of the fire. The best bit? You can take a nighttime bath under the stars on the cabin’s outdoor decks. “We wanted to take advantage of the stunning views of Morton National Park and offer a different experience”—there’s nothing quite like being nude in nature.

25m Lap Pool at Osborn House
Pool, spa and pelotons abound at Osborn House. Image: Ruby Feneley

Osborn House is a unique proposition. Describing the experience makes you think of Jean Cocteau, the guest who never leaves. While undeniably luxurious, the house also has a homey feel. It’s easy to forget you’re amongst other visitors. Architecturally, it also brings the outdoors to you. From the 25meter lap pool under the skylight to the plunge pool that looks out over the national park and the wrap-around windows and Vavicek’s night garden murals, you never feel disconnected from nature.

It’s a different type of luxury tourism that allows guests to forget that they’re guests while never forgoing the amenities you would expect from a five-star hotel like, from spas and saunas to gyms replete with pelotons. Following years of lockdowns, we’ve all been birds in gilded cages to an extent. Osborn House house offers welcome disruption and a new way of taking in the serenity.

Rates at Osborn House range from $660 a night for suits to $1045 for cabins, including a full breakfast and complimentary non-alcoholic minibar.

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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: 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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