Sal Salis, Ningaloo, Western Australia © Aquabumps
Australia’s most unmissable sustainable stays
From outback to city and mountain to coast, Australia offers some of the world’s most extraordinary sustainable accommodation choices.
By Ralph Bestic
One way you can ensure your holiday in Australia contributes to preserving the natural environment and has a positive impact on the communities you visit is by choosing sustainable accommodation.
There are sustainable options to suit all budgets and travelling styles, whether you are visiting as a couple or a family or going solo. Here we’ve compiled a selection of the many camps, boutique offerings, eco-resorts and lodges around the country that actively work to reduce energy use, minimise waste, nurture the land, encourage local producers and craftspeople, and work collaboratively with local communities, so you can feel good while having fun on holiday.
Blackbird, near Byron Bay, New South Wales
If you’re seeking space and sustainability, this is the place. There are only three guest pavilions at Blackbird, a boutique hideaway in the lush hills of the Byron Bay hinterland in northern New South Wales, a two-hour drive south of Brisbane.
Each pavilion is serviced by rainwater and solar power and has sweeping views over rainforest to the coast. A communal area, built largely from repurposed materials, is centred around an open-space conversation and dining area, and overlooks a chlorine-free magnesium salt pool.
Spend your days immersing yourself in nature and exploring the rainforest and waterfalls in the vicinity of Blackbird, call in on the cafés and markets at the colourful nearby town of Mullumbimby, or head down to Byron Bay for a day of grazing in town or lazing at the beach.
Capella Lodge, Lord Howe Island, New South Wales
Capella Lodge, which sits above a beach at the foot of Mount Gower, operates under strict regulations designed to conserve the island’s spectacular natural beauty and unique ecology. The luxury lodge is also committed to engaging with the island’s tightknit community, and has a large solar power system, returning excess solar energy to Lord Howe’s power grid.
Guests can get involved in world-class conservation efforts through the Lord Howe Island Conservation Volunteers program and can protect this beautiful island’s environment through weed eradication activities and collecting beach debris. You are also encouraged to join Lord Howe’s resident naturalist Ian Hutton to learn about the island’s ecology and the large flocks of migratory seabirds that visit the island every year.
Back at the luxury lodge, you’ll enjoy fine fare such as fresh line-caught kingfish and tuna, which is delivered by island fishermen straight to the lodge, to be served alongside vegetables from Capella’s kitchen garden and foraged sea herbs.
Alkina Lodge, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
The three Southern Ocean-facing guest lodges were designed by renowned Australian architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin to touch the earth lightly. As part of the passive solar design, “skywindows” provide natural light (and great stargazing) as well as keeping the sun out during summer and letting it in during winter (with gas-fired hydronics as a back-up).
Nightfall, Lamington, Queensland
The tented micro-getaway of Nightfall is deep within a rainforest next to Lamington National Park, a 90-minute drive south of Brisbane.
This Ecotourism Australia-certified forest sanctuary offers glamping accommodation in hand-built, permanent safari tents for just four couples at a time. Each tent has its own fireplace and twin bathtubs for winding down to the sound of birds calling in the surrounding rainforest.
Keep an eye out for red-necked wallabies, long-nosed bandicoots and even the occasional koala while exploring the rainforest, before returning for dinner featuring wild-harvested and organic fare. Here you can happily immerse yourself in a lush environment and connect with nature knowing that your impact has been carefully minimised.
Faraway Bay, Kimberley, Western Australia
The Faraway Bay wilderness retreat, on the Kimberley coast, in the north of Western Australia (a 90-minute flight from Darwin), has been attracting guests and environmental scientists alike for more than two decades.
As well as hosting and consulting with conservation research programs, the retreat aims to tread lightly in this remarkable landscape, with a gravity-fed water supply, solar energy, natural walking tracks to beaches, and an erosion-control program.
Faraway Bay’s small footprint allows for just eight cabins in a natural bush setting overlooking the turquoise Timor Sea, while the surrounding untouched ancient landscape contains a host of elusive fauna and flora endemic to the Kimberley. Stay here and you’ll experience the beauty of the outback on the retreat’s scenic tours without leaving a trace of your visit when it’s time to depart.
Arkaba, Flinders Ranges, South Australia
This historic property has been reinvented as a wildlife conservancy and ecotourism venture, to fund ongoing efforts to regenerate land that suffered more than a century of environmental damage. Staying at the carefully conserved 1851 Arkaba homestead steeps you in pastoral history, while you’ll gain an understanding of the land’s cultural heritage with an interpretive walk with an Adnyamathanha Aboriginal elder.
Conservation programs here are designed to reverse the effects of livestock grazing by encouraging the return of native plants and eradicating pest species. Guests can witness an abundance of native wildlife, including endangered species such as yellow-footed rock wallabies, while actively participating in conservation work such as tracking feral animals.
Sal Salis, Ningaloo, Western Australia
Sitting among the sand dunes of Cape Range National Park, on land leased from Western Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service, Sal Salis does everything it can to minimise its environmental impact – from producing almost all its own power through solar, to having strict water use limits, to using organic linen and chemical-free products.
Sal Salis’ 16 tents overlook the waters of the Ningaloo Reef, where you can swim with whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea, between March and July. The concentration of marine megafauna such as whale sharks and humpback whales at Ningaloo is astonishing, so it’s heartening to know that tourism practices on the reef are some of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable in the world. You’ll leave nothing but footprints on the sand, but you’ll depart with a greater understanding of importance of conserving this incredible region.
Bamurru Plains, Kakadu, Northern Territory
A three-hour drive from the Northern Territory capital of Darwin, Bamurru Plains occupies 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of wetland wilderness on the edge of the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
Due to its sensitive location, this lodge is dependent on renewable energy resources and maintaining low-impact guest programs. Facing the wildlife-rich Mary River floodplains, each of the 10 elevated tents have mesh walls on three sides and is shaded by native woodland and pandanus trees, while an array of 240 solar panels provides around 75 per cent of the lodge’s power.
Walk through the floodplains and forests on the property with a highly trained wilderness guide to discover the complexity of this fragile ecosystem, or take a river cruise or an airboat ride to observe water buffalo and crocodiles up close. The bird-watching here is incredible – the lodge maintains a hide high up in the tree canopy so you can observe the hundreds of bird species making the property home. You’ll come away from the experience confident this extraordinary land is being well looked after.