Words by Ashton Rigg
The concept of barefoot luxury proves that you really can have it both ways. Lavish but laidback; 5-star service in total seclusion. Think deserted island paradise with top-shelf wine, or a boutique overwater bungalow with a side-serve of SUP yoga.
At its heart, a barefoot luxury resort should place strong emphasis on embracing its surrounds – coaxing guests to switch off the Smartphones and tune in to nature. It's less about free wi-fi and more about freeing the senses.
Barefoot luxury is well and truly carving a travel niche, with eco-lodges and digital detoxes playing into the holistic holiday theme. With the Aussie dollar in a bit of a slump, focusing your sights on a luxury escape close to home is well advised and there's no shortage of places to pick from.
Bedarra Island, Great Barrier Reef
Haven't heard of Bedarra Island? That's exactly the point. This all-inclusive private haven is pinned offshore from Mission Beach in Tropical North Queensland, around two hours south of Cairns. It boasts just eight luxe villas and supplies guests with the likes of gourmet picnic hampers for beachside lunching, sea kayaks and stand up paddle boards.
When it comes to dining, expect a locally focused menu dictated by what's thriving in the island garden, which was created by a specialist gardener from the US, while a nearby exotic fruit farm provides a regular surprise selection. "We don't know what we're going to get each week," says Executive Chef Jimmy Ward. "It's whatever fruit is fresh off the trees."
Longitude 131°, Uluru
Longitude 131° is one of the most dramatic and iconic stays in Australia. Just 15 'tents' are sprinkled among the red dust in Australia's spiritual heartland, treating the desert with respect and reverence. Much like Bedarra Island, this luxe escape is set in a World Heritage-listed area; it overlooks the monolithic Uluru.
Acclaimed dining at Longitude 131° showcases the best of modern Australian fare while taking cues from flavours favoured by the local Anangu people. Throw out what you think you know about 'glamping' – the canopied pavilions of Longitude 131° are a next-level nature escape.
Capella Lodge, Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island is often referred to as the 'last paradise on earth' and Capella Lodge is the jewel in the crown of this rugged kingdom. The boutique lodgings overlook Lord Howe's breathtaking scenery: the twin volcanic peaks of Mount Gower and Lidgbird, lush ancient forests, and the jewel-toned lagoon.
Lord Howe Island is found 700 kilometres northeast of Sydney and caps visitor numbers to ensure its natural beauty remains intact. The lodge itself overlooks the 'secret' Lovers Bay, with suites, lofts and pavilions designed in an upmarket 'beach house' style and exquisite on-site dining for guests only.
Southern Ocean Lodge, Kangaroo Island
Commanding spectacular views of the Southern Ocean, this luxury lodge was one of the first to set the bar for accommodation of its ilk in Australia. The Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island boasts an incredibly dramatic setting, with 21 premium suites perched on the island's south-western edge with a full-frontal view of the crashing surf below.
The lodge offers bespoke island itineraries for guests to fully experience this 'zoo without fences', including a guided tour to see the sea lions at Seal Bay and a journey along the limestone cliffs of Flinders Chase National Park.
Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef
Sal Salis is a remote, beachfront safari camp where the Outback meets the reef in Western Australia. There are just nine luxury wilderness tents on offer, each designed to emphasise the sights and sounds of its natural setting. Sustainability is a high priority here, right down to the use of native herb soaps.
The main lodge on site is perched atop the sand and scrub, with books and board games as opposed to plasma TVs. But who has time for Scrabble when you could be swimming with whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef?