By David Armstrong
Emirates is an airline known for posh service, state-of-the-art infrastructure and attention to detail. Those same qualities are showcased splendidly in the Dubai carrier’s owned-and-operated Australian luxury retreat, Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa.
Wolgan Valley – the valley itself and the namesake resort on the valley floor – are reached by a three-hour drive through New South Wales’ famous Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.
One motors along a meandering blacktop that winds past farmsteads and forests and through wide-spot-in-the-road hamlets, finally fetching up atop 3,000-foot-high sandstone cliffs. Below is the Wolgan Valley, with its gently hilly floor, blanketed with trees, shrubs and grasses and crossed by streams.
The road down to the valley is twisting and steep, but also recently improved: widened, paved and carved with new turn-outs. This is thanks to Emirates, which also ran fiber-optic cables into the valley, a remote former home of cattle farms flanked by two ruggedly beautiful national parks, thus producing a more reliable supply of electricity.
Close to the resort, the road narrows to a dirt track. Guests enter via a gate staffed by an attendant. Four-wheel drive vehicles take guests safely through streams and up to the main building as curious wild kangaroos look on.
The high-ceilinged lodge of the Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa encompasses a ground-floor cafe; a second-floor fine-dining restaurant and bar; a well-equipped business center; a shop; and handsome rooms for meetings and private dining.
In the center of the expansive dining room is a towering, double-sided hearth. A wooden verandah wraps around the back of the building, affording breathtaking views down-valley.
At the outset of my three-night visit in early February, as I strolled the verandah like the lord of the manor, a helpful Wolgan staffer pointed out a rare sight: A young white wallaby, hopping across a nearby hillside with its grey-furred mum. Albino wallabies, I was told, are born here just once in 25,000 births.
There are three albinos in Wolgan’s silent surrounds – a 4,000-acre conservancy for animals, birds and rare plants. Indeed, the $132 million resort, which Emirates opened in late 2009, takes painstaking care to be environmentally sensitive. It bills itself as the world’s first certified carbon-neutral resort.
I stayed in one of 36 detached ‘heritage suites’ (villas), arrayed downhill and to one side of the main building and quickly reached by foot, staff-driven cart or bicycle. The villas – er, suites – are Federation-style, turn-of-the-20th-century rural Australian buildings of timber and sandstone roofed with corrugated metal.
My villa came complete with an indoor swimming pool. The temperature-controlled pool was bordered by a wall of windows that guests can open to catch the breeze, winsomely blurring the distinction between inside and outside.
I showered in an enormous, slate-floor bathroom, beneath a skylight. Located next to a discreetly placed window was a deep, commodious bathtub.
Traditional on the outside, Wolgan’s suites are 21st-century on the inside. Electronic gizmos control gas-fires in the two-sided fireplace. Docking stations for iPods sit by the bed, a high, step-up four-poster draped in fine fabric. The walk-in wardrobe was bigger than some bedrooms I’ve slept in.
Nearly everything in the spacious living room, with its screened back porch, was included in the price of the room: good Aussie wines, spirits, snacks, cheeses and more. Way better-stocked than a hotel minibar, it is more like a larder.
The heritage suite villas easily accommodate two. The effect is one of elegant rusticity.