I got invited by Destination NSW (tourism marketing company for the state of New South Wales) to go to Sydney, Australia and witness the first two games (and Opening Day) of the 2014 Major League Baseball season between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was an historic occasion, as the first-ever MLB regular seasons games on Australian soil, and generally too incredible an opportunity to turn down. in cased you missed them here are my stories and photos on the baseball:
- MLB Opening Day 2014: Los Angeles Dodgers vs Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia
- Major League Baseball in Sydney, Australia: An Unforgettable Experience
Since I was going to be all the way Down Under in Sydney, the kind tourism people asked if I would like to see another part of their marvelous state of New South Wales. Specifically, they recommended I drive three-plus hours to the swanky Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa. It’s located 118 miles (190 kilometers) from Sydney at the far end of the Blue Mountains. When I told them I wasn’t comfortable driving on the other side of the road for such a long period of time, they hired me a driver. That’s what most guests do, too—except the movie stars who usually opt to take a 45-minute helicopter flight.
Driving up, I wondered what the draw of a resort so far away and so expensive would be. When I told “Berge,” my cool Australian driver who didn’t work for the resort but instead for Brunel Worldwide Chauffeur, said in over 400 trips with guests he’d never heard a complaint. He also said he can’t say the same for other hotels.
Berge was a straight shooter and fantastic driver who had a real love for the area. We stopped off at several lookout points to get photos, grab a quick bite to eat and even take a quick peak in a grocery store. Some of the must-stops are Pie In The Sky in Bilpin for a mini meat or apple pie and the Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre in Mount Tomah for the views and bathroom. Other highlights included driving through an area where he rolled down the windows so we could hear the Bellbirds chirp. And thanks to him having Wi-Fi in the car, I was able to Skype with my dad and sister to show them the beautiful drive.
When we pulled up to the gatehouse of Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, I quickly realized how exclusive this place is. There’s a sign that says outside or day visitors are not permitted. The resort is only for the exclusive use of their resident guests only.
To make a long story short I was in awe of this place long before I even made it to my room. The Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa has only 40 lavish suites on more than 4,000 acres of private conservation and wildlife reserve.
Instead of writing some long boring piece on it, here are my 39 (I could’ve done 100) reasons why you should save your money to stay at Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa:
1. It cost a lot of money to build
They spent $130 million dollars building this resort and another $14 million to build the road entering, so it’s definitely not bumpy. Yes, it’s nice to have Emirate money. I later asked one of my field guides who grew up in the area how the community felt about the resort being built and owned by foreigners. She said that at first news the community was skeptical but then really happy when they learned of the project since it’s a nice change from all the heavy industry in the area. Good to know: The success of the resort has led to other businesses like locally produced food, wine, cheese…
2. The views
The views of the valley are ridiculous. Every time I went for a walk I couldn’t help taking at least a hundred photos. It’s that beautiful.
3. The staff
The staff at Wolgan are really very friendly and they actually outnumber the guests (there are about 100 of them compared to about 80 guests).
4. Great food
The Wolgan Valley food philosophy is based on seasonal, regional and organic produce from local boutique farms, private growers and vintners. The culinary skills of the Wolgan Valley chefs showcase Australia’s exceptional fare with such specialties as Ormiston free-range pork, Mandagery Creek Venison and Oberon line trout.
5. Tours are free
Wolgan has a number of tours available and they are almost all included in the rate.
6. 1832 Heritage Homestead
Instead of spending $4,000 to demolish the 1832 Heritage Homestead located on the property they spent two million restoring it. Now it’s a central part of the resort and guests can tour it with or without a guide.
They have sundowners and canapés at the Homestead. Guests are also free to check them out (and indulge) anytime they like.
8. Kitchen garden
Next to the Homestead is the kitchen garden, which grows some of the vegetables served at the resort.
9. The main house
The main house is where you check in and where the two restaurants and bar are. It’s beautifully designed and has the best views on the property.
10. The rooms
Every room/lodge has a lot of privacy, and great attention to detail has been paid to all the fixtures and fittings to ensure that they’re reminiscent of the Federation period—right down to the last hinge, light switch and glass blown shade. There are also warm, earthy tones and thick, neutral linens, both complemented by locally crafted wood furniture that typifies the lodges’ timeless style and elegance. The total internal area of the lodges is 83 square meters (note: not feet). They also each feature a walk-in dressing room, central air-conditioning, an LCD TV, a DVD player and sound system, international TV channels, an iPod docking station and binoculars. And yes, ladies, there’s a hairdryer.
11. Private indoor lap pools
Yep, you read that right. All the rooms have an indoor lap pool.
12. High-speed internet access and Wi-Fi
There’s free Wi-Fi in the rooms and the main house. Good to know: There’s no cell reception.
13. Free mini bar
Everything at the resort is included in your rate except premium alcohol—including what’s in your in-room mini bar.
14. 24-hour room service
Don’t want to eat in the main house? No problem—you can have room service any time. You can even eat on your screened-in balcony.
All rooms have a double-sided fireplace made of local sandstone that separates the bedroom from the living area.
16. Luxurious bathrooms
The rooms all have luxurious ensuite bathrooms with ‘his and hers’ vanity areas and separate bath and shower. They also come stocked with Sodashi and IKOU bathroom amenities that are 100% biodegradable.
17. Skylight in the shower
The shower has a skylight. Need I say more?
18. Mountain bikes
Each room/lodge comes with mountain bikes so you can roam the grounds whenever you like.
19. No snakes
Although Australia has tons of snakes, I didn’t see any while at the resort and the staff said they rarely ever see them and never by the rooms (just down by the creek).
20. No bugs in rooms
One of the things I was worried about is having bugs in my room—especially big ol’ poisonous spiders—but the rooms are clean and you don’t have to worry about any insects or critters coming in.
21. Mobs of kangaroos
Always dreamed of seeing a kangaroo? By the end of your stay you won’t even blink an eye at the sight of one—that’s how many you’ll see.
22. Wallabies and wallaroos
The same goes for wallabies and wallaroos.
23. Rare albino wallaroos
You’ll even get to see one of their four rare albino wallaroos.
24. Beautiful birds
I saw numerous birds including cockatoos, lorikeets, kookaburras and falcons.
25. Nocturnal tour
Each night they offer a free nocturnal tour where you’re driven around the reserve in a luxury four-wheel drive vehicle by one of their field guides. You can use a torchlight to see the flashing eyes of possums, wombats, wallaroos and wallabies grazing alongside a host of other animals and night birds such as owls. On clear nights you can see the famous Southern Cross.
26. Timeless Spa
They have a spa with six treatment rooms and that uses products made of the highest quality plant essences and natural ingredients. They are chemical-free and based on the knowledge and wisdom of ancient philosophies and natural healing traditions.
27. Cheese room
Next to the bar in the main dining room is an exquisite cheese room, and staff are happy to make your own little platter either with or prior to dinner.
28. The Wolgan Valley Dining Room
Breakfast and dinner are served in the Wolgan Valley Dining Room. When it’s warm you can eat out on the veranda which has panoramic views that are to die for.
As you can see, the sunsets are heavenly.
30. Fog layer
Almost every morning it’s foggy, which makes the views even better if you can fathom that. One morning as I was admiring the view over breakfast my German waiter said “it’s something, isn’t it?” He then told me he was from Germany and that from his home he can see the Alps, but that didn’t compare to what we were looking at.
31. Country Kitchen
The Country Kitchen is located below the Dining Room and it’s open from 7 am to 6 pm. The Country Kitchen serves light snacks and coffee in the morning and a hearty lunch that are written on the blackboard. Kitchen specialties include a ploughman’s platter or antipasto, salted white bait fritter served with a crispy salad, and butternut pumpkin with black cod tortellini.
32. Tennis courts
If you are into playing tennis they have two remote tennis courts, and grass courts at that.
33. The beautiful pool
I didn’t see anyone playing tennis but every day I saw a couple of guests relaxing by the main infinity pool and soaking up the hot Australian sun.
Next to the pool is a fully equipped gym with sauna and steam.
35. Horseback riding
Into horses? Guests can go on a lively trot or canter across the wide grassy plains or choose to do a gentle ride through more enclosed areas. Novice riders can go on hand-led horse rides inside their riding arena. Each rider is shown the basis techniques of horse riding by one of their lead guides as they’re led around the arena.
36. Field guides
One of the best parts about Wolgan is that they have highly trained field guides that offer guests a range of exciting and educational tours that showcase the incredible landscape and its wildlife. My guide grew up in the area and used to work for Wollemi National Park.
37. The sky
When the sun sets the sky is full of stars, and since they’re in the southern hemisphere you get to see constellations you’ve never seen before. It’s amazing.
38. Turndown treats
At night when you return from dinner you’ll find that the evening maids leave treats like mini cupcakes for you. Just what my belly needs.
Most importantly, the 4,000 acre Wolgan Valley Nature Reserve nestles between the Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks, both part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Wilderness Area. This region is one of the most popular natural landscapes in Australia. Not a single tree was destroyed as a result of construction work on the resort, and the ground was meticulously studied for potential archaeological sites ahead of construction. The Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is not only the first carboNZero certified resort in the world, but also the first carbon neutral resort in the world to be certified through an internationally accredited greenhouse gas program, having measured its greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with ISO 14064-1: 2006.
As you can see Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa is pretty special. I’ve been fortunate to stay at some of Australia’s best hotels over the years—including Kangaroo Island, Longitude 131, Silky Oaks Lodge, Orpheus Island, Hayman Island (before I was a travel writer so here’s my editor’s review), Wildman’s Wilderness Lodge and Park Hyatt Sydney—and I would have to say that this one is my favorite. Now that’s not to say that it’s perfect. It’s not. The service could use some work (I asked for two bikes and they didn’t get delivered until the third time, some of the waiters took a bit too long, I could hear a funny motor buzzing in my room, and the massage table was too narrow). But those are all easy fixes. Most importantly, the staff was happy, energetic, lovely and there were no insects in my room or snakes around.
Good to know:
-It costs $2,000 AUD ($1,849) for a single night but they do have package deals for much cheaper.
-I was there in late March when the temperature was perfect and everything was green from the recent rains. Even in late fall it can be chilly at night so pack accordingly.