One of the best things to come out of lockdown last year, was the ability to save money. Without bars, restaurants, retail and beauty spaces to treat ourselves at, we had some extra money to save.
Now that we’re back living in a recognisable world, it’s pretty exciting to be able to splurge on ourselves again, especially when it comes to travel. With so many incredible flight deals, why not really go for it and hire yourself a private island to holiday on? It’d be very LA, darling.
In the open ocean, just off the coast, in the middle of a lake or on a river, Australia is home to some of the world’s most enviable island experiences – and many of them can be hired exclusively. If your instinctive reaction is “wow that must be expensive”, we totally get it, but it’s actually super affordable. Averaging at around $2,000 per night, take 10 or so friends with you and it’s the same price as a nice hotel.
With over 3,000 coral reefs to snorkel, countless sunsets to witness and almost 35,876 kilometres (22,292 miles) of coastline, Australia can offer an unforgettable experience no matter what type of island holiday you’re after.
Those seeking a rugged private island escape should visit Satellite Island, located just off the south coast of Tasmania near Bruny Island. Enjoy exclusive access to the island’s 34 hectares of native bush, sea cliffs, pebble beaches and sunny coves, only sharing with the island’s resident deer and a pair of rare white breasted sea eagles. Getting there: Take a scenic hour-and-a-half drive south of Hobart to the coastal town of Kettering, catch the ferry across to Bruny Island before hopping on a private boat to Satellite Island. Or arrive in style with a magical 20-minute helicopter journey from Hobart to the top of the island. Cost: Available for exclusive hire only, prices start from $2,420 per night for two guests (with a minimum two night stay). Extra guests are $440 per person per night. The island can accommodate up to eight guests in the island’s Summer House, the Boathouse and the luxury bell tent. Must see/do: This is the kinda of place where you can do all the things, or truly sit back, relax and do nothing at all. From kayaks to snorkels, stand up paddle boards, fishing rods and board games, island guests have access to loads of equipment to fill their days. But if you prefer to truly disconnect with a good book on the water’s edge, while watching the sunset over nearby Bruny Island, then Satellite is the island for you. Where to eat: Exclusive hire of the island includes breakfast provisions, a stocked pantry with gourmet essentials, an endless supply of wild oysters plus kitchen garden and orchard produce. Those keen to head out for a meal can take the private boat across to Bruny to experience bay-to-bar dining at Get Shucked with a plate of fresh oysters and a glass of Tassie’s finest wine, or visit the Bruny Island Cheese Company cellar door for a taste of the locally crafted beers and cheese.
Located in Coles Bay, which is just around the corner from Wineglass Bay in Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park, the small private Picnic Island is a wild nature experience that offers the adventure retreat of a lifetime. The island’s stunning copper clad lodge sleeps 10 guests, making it perfect for hosted adventure retreats, or a group escape. Throughout the year, the lodge also offers endless adventures, with both day trip and overnight experiences available too. Getting there: Guests can fly into either Launceston or Hobart and drive just over two hours to Coles Bay, where Freycinet Adventures will transport guests for the 10-minute trip out to the island. Alternatively, you can fly seaplane from Hobart direct to the island. Cost: Exclusive hire starts from $2,200 per night, including water taxi return, for up to 10 guests (king double or twin in 5 bedrooms). They also offer discounted stays for off peak times and for shorter notice bookings, which can be as much as 50% of the standard rate. Must see/do: With the majestic backdrop of the pink granite Hazards mountain range, Picnic Island is surrounded by coves and beaches just a short distance away. Kayak to the shoreline and go for a hike, or wake up for sunrise yoga on the deck. Head off on a day trip to go fishing or swimming, or for the wildlife lovers, head off on an overnight trip to view penguins returning to their burrows at night. Where to eat: As the ultimate adventure retreat, visitors need to supply their own food. Bring your groceries over with you, or have a go at catching your own fresh seafood or book a ferry back to the mainland to visit the local pub.
The Tiwi Islands, often referred to as the ‘Island of smiles ’is an off-the-beaten-track destination with a rich Indigenous culture. The two main islands are Bathurst and Melville, which sit alongside nine smaller, uninhabited islands, 100km (62 miles) north of Darwin. Stay on the remote South West coast of Bathurst Island with Tiwi Island Resort, offering some of the Northern Territory’s best fishing, adventure and Indigenous arts and cultural experiences. Getting there: A 20-minute scenic flight from Darwin International Airport will take you directly to Tiwi Islands, flying over the Beagle Gulf and Bathurst Island. Air Frontier are the recommended light plane providers who land at the Tiwi Island Retreat airstrip. Cost: Double rooms start from $500 per night (with a minimum two-night stay). Featuring 18 rooms in total, exclusive use of the entire retreat is available, prices on request. Must see/do: Tiwi Island Retreat offers a variety of experiences to excite guests; choose from a beach buggy cruise, go mud crabbing and fishing, fly to remote swimming holes on a helicopter or enjoy a private Indigenous arts and cultural tour. Where to eat: Wander down to the Great Northern Bar for an afternoon drink and enjoy a selection of Australian beer and wine. Dine at The Retreat and indulge in a regionally focused menu.
Makepeace Island is as blissful as it sounds. Located on the Noosa River on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Makepeace is described as a ‘sanctuary of seclusion’. Sir Richard Branson’s private hideaway hosts up to 20 guests and focuses on relaxation and rejuvenation. Guests are encouraged to take advantage of the extensive range of onsite facilities including tennis courts, swimming pools, water sports and yoga. Getting there: Enjoy a private boat transfer from Noosa Heads to the island, which is just minutes away. Cost: Exclusive island rental, which includes three luxury villas, four rooms in the Island House and the unique Boathouse, starts from $18,000 per night, for up to 20 guests. The price includes airport transfers, limitless river transfers, all meals, beverages and full access to the island facilities. Must see/do: For those looking to explore or venture further afield, Makepeace Island offers a range of unique experiences and activities, including walks through the World Heritage listed Fraser Island and Great Sandy National Park, beach horse riding on North Shore’s white sand dunes, circumnavigating the island on board scenic flights or heli-rides. Where to eat: The Executive Chef will create culinary adventures in collaboration with you that will become a high point of your stay. It’s your restaurant and the menus will be designed specifically for you and your guests. With the food coming from local organic producers across the region, the Makepeace Island team can also organise masterclass experiences.
One of Victoria’s best kept secrets, Fraser Island Retreat is hidden away in the beautiful Gippsland Lakes near Lakes Entrance, approximately four hours’ drive from Melbourne. The retreat offers 11 rooms to house up to 38 people in the 100- year- old homestead “Kawar”, and the option of additional accommodation for 10 in private cabins with an exclusive booking, making it one of the most premium, secluded group accommodation options in the state. Getting there: Just a short drive from Gippsland and within close proximity of Lakes Entrance, the accommodation team will pick you up at Kalimna or Lakes Entrance jetty in the retreat’s own ferry for the short trip to the Island. For those looking to arrive in style, there is also an airstrip available for light aircraft. Cost: The island is available for exclusive hire from $2,500 per night. The 65 square homestead has 11 bedrooms, with accommodation for up to 38 people (and extra accommodation for 10 people in cabins). Must see/do: Tucked away in the stunning Gippsland Lakes, the island has a number of great outdoor experiences for you to enjoy during your stay. Play a round of golf on the 9-hole course surrounding the homestead or stroll through picturesque countryside amongst native animals, blooming flora and abundant birdlife. You can also fish, water ski or enjoy a game of tennis on the two flood-lit tennis courts, or head to the small private beach for a swim. Where to eat: The large kitchen in the homestead has excellent facilities for a fully self-catered holiday, otherwise catering is also available for one or all of your meals during your stay on the island. There is also a ferry that can carry 30 passengers for $200 per return trip and takes approximately 30 minutes from North Arm Jetty in Lakes Entrance, if you’d like to explore any of the local seafood restaurants or bars in Lakes Entrance, such as Sodafish, and Albert & Co.
Accommodating just 28 guests, Orpheus is an all-inclusive, private island lodge located in the Great Barrier Reef, and one of only a few secluded islands on the Reef that can be booked in its entirety for private use. With only 14 rooms, suites and villas, it is the ultimate secluded tropical paradise, surrounded by pristine fringing reef accessible on the doorstep of your accommodation. Getting there: Access to Orpheus is via a 30-minute helicopter journey from Townsville over the picturesque coral-studded sea. Cost: Individual rooms are priced from $1,600 per night, and exclusive use of the resort is priced from $25,350 for up to 28 guests. Must see/do: Orpheus creates bespoke experiences for guests, from arranging private dives at the Museum of Underwater Art to Helicopter Adventures, and even a variety of eco-tours. Where to eat: All stays include three gourmet meals prepared daily by chef Winston Fong and his team at the ‘chef hatted’ Orpheus restaurant, which was awarded a Chef’s Hat in the 2019 by the Australian Good Food Guide. The culinary team at Orpheus delivers an innovative daily-changing menu that showcases the riches of the region across breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks.
Located over 800km north of Cairns close to the northernmost tip of Queensland, Haggerstone is one of the most remote and private island resorts in Australia and offers an unparalleled adventure experience individually tailored to each guest. Uniquely designed lodges blend seamlessly along the island foreshore, with each private villa offering its own pristine beachfront and sea view. The island accommodates just twelve guests, meaning you can easily book the whole place out for you and a group. Getting there: To access Haggerstone, fly to Cairns and then either catch a two-hour private charter flight directly to Haggerstone’s airstrip or a pre-organised flight to Weipa with Qantas, where you can board a private charter to Haggerstone. Cost: Exclusive island hire for up to 10 guests starts from $6,800 per night, including all meals and non-alcoholic beverages and island excursions. Must see/do: The island offers a range of tailored excursions on its 45 ft jet boat, which is included in the accommodation cost and allows guests to experience activities such as fishing, snorkelling over coral gardens, and beach combing to name a few. You can also book chartered helicopter visits to private waterfalls, mountainous sand dunes and other nearby attractions. Where to eat: All meals are included in the stay, with the cuisine focusing heavily on the abundance of first- class seafood fresh from the ocean. The seafood is almost always caught on the day and fruit and vegetables are organically grown in the orchard.
Located on the Great Barrier Reef midway between Cairns and Townsville, Bedarra is an all-inclusive, private resort and the ultimate in barefoot luxury. With just ten private villas hidden amongst 45 hectares of tropical rainforest, the island offers solitude, privacy and sublime views over the reef. Accommodating a maximum of 20 guests, you are guaranteed a secluded, personalised island getaway like no other. Getting there: Guests can arrive or depart from Bedarra with the following options: launch to/from Mission Beach, helicopter to/from Mission Beach, or helicopter to/from Cairns Airport. Cost: Villa rates start from $1,390 per night, whilst exclusive use of the resort starts from $13,530 a night, including nine luxury villas, all meals and unlimited Jacquart Champagne. Must see/do: All bookable via the resort, you can enjoy sea kayaks, stand up paddleboards, motorised dinghies, massages and spa treatments, snorkelling, fishing, tennis courts, rainforest walks, outer Great Barrier Reef snorkelling and scuba diving trips, deep-sea fishing charters and scenic helicopter charters. Where to eat: The open terrace restaurant, bar and lounge are the heart and soul of Bedarra, serving a delicious and ever-changing menu created by executive chef Heath Weber and his team.
As the northernmost resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island is truly secluded from the rest of the world. Located on a 1,013-hectare National Park surrounded by World-Heritage listed coral reefs, Lizard Island offers seclusion and natural privacy that guests will cherish, as well as easy access to one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Getting there: Depart from Cairns Airport on a charter plane and travel one-hour over the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef to Lizard Island. Cost: The 40 rooms and villas on the island are priced from $2,029 per night. Exclusive use of the entire resort is also available, prices available on request. Must see/do: All bookable via the resort, guests can experience Lizard Island on the reef, on land or in the tranquillity of the spa. With guided and self-guided activities include snorkelling, diving, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, visits to the Research Centre, tennis under night lights, morning yoga on the beach and indulgent spa treatments. Where to eat: Two private beach pavilions sit on Anchor Bay, each commanding spectacular views of the nightly sunsets and ready for guests to have their own private degustation dining experience on the beach, or for something less formal take a picnic for two to a private beach of your choice.
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.
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.”