Inside Australia's number one resort
Deep inside the Wolgan Valley towering sandstone cliffs loom in every direction.
We ride our bicycles towards the morning mist as it rises through scrappy eucalypt tress and parched grasses.
Anywhere else, this rugged landscape would make you feel small, insignificant. But here at Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa it's the tiny details that will leave you feeling like a king.
The luxury resort set over 1600 hectares near Lithgow in the Blue Mountains has just been named the number one resort in Australia by travellers on Trip Advisor. It's an award they take very seriously. It's an award earned through focussing on the smallest of details and making sure they are all just right.
Over lunch in the Country Kitchen Wolgan Valley general manager Joost Heymeijer spots an open balcony door on one of the 40 villa suites. It shouldn't be open with the wind picking up he says and radios for maintenance to come and close it before the wind pulls the hinges. The door is at least 500m away. We can't even see it.
Heymeijer is known for doing this. He started his hotel training at age 11 as a dish boy before becoming a waiter, training as a chef and working his way right up to the top of hotels in Europe and Australia. He's been with the resort for eight years - it's been open for four.
Staff say Heymeijer straightens tables as he walks through the restaurant and can spot a blemish not visible to any guest's eye. You could say this resort is his baby - he knows when one hair is out of place. That hair will be fixed.
So it's no surprise that the rooms here are immaculate. Every single one of the 40 suites has its own indoor private pool - the smallest of which is 7m by 2.5m. The pool is heated with solar power to 27C between 6am and 11pm.
In the lounge room an open gas fireplace is set into sandstone. An old map of the valley slides up to reveal a flat screen TV that can be angled to face anywhere in the room or even the adjoining balcony. The minibar has a coffee machine that not only warms the milk, but cools it for iced coffees.
In the bathroom the attention to detail - to meeting and exceeding every guests' desires - is most apparent. Here the toilet paper is not just folded into attractive little triangles - it's folded and stamped down with Wolgan Valley's signature sticker - the Wollemi Pine. A deep recessed bath sits under the window offering a view of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos bounding across the property at dusk and dawn.
The shower is topped with a clear glass skylight allowing naked guests to gaze up at the stars at night and to watch wisps of grass caught in the wind during the day.
In the bedroom a four-poster bed can be enclosed with sheer fabric leaving just a view of a second flat screen television and the open gas fire.
As tempting as it would be to cocoon yourself inside this room watching all 40 latest release movies on demand, the resort provides every guest with a complimentary mountain bike, backpack and umbrella - so there's really no excuse not to begin to explore the grounds.
By crossing the bridge over the Wolgan River, guests will find themselves at the original homestead of the property now named 1832 after the date found on sandstone concealed in one of the home's decaying fireplaces.
When Emirates purchased the property from the Webb family, 1832 was in disrepair, walls were crumbling and sandstone paving had worn thin. They were quoted $4000 to demolish the building. It would have been a good deal. Instead they spent two years and $2 million restoring it.
They collected, kept and re-used most of the materials found on the site. What would have seemed like junk to most people - old petrol cans, rusted feeding troughs and even an old worn Driza-Bone found on the site - have been crafted into incredible light fixtures used in the main reception and dining room.
1832 is now the pride of the resort and houses the kitchen garden. Guests can wander through popping raspberries and tomatoes into their mouth, admiring the pumpkins sprawling across the ground. The freshness of the produce produced here and the resort's dedication to locally sourcing produce means that the food is packed full of flavour.
Food at Wolgan Valley is for the most part, included in the bill - so there's no guilt about taking another serve. The chefs have produced a menu with such divine and delicately balanced combination of flavours that it will leave even the most extroverted guest speechless. Once again, it's the small things that make the meals so incredible like the four tiny sprigs of dill in the deconstructed white forest cake which lift the flavours to epic levels. But then wait until you see the cheese room.
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa is located 179km (three hours by car) west of Sydney between the Gardens of Stone and Wollemi National Parks in the Blue Mountains. Private helicopter journeys to the resort can be arranged.
STAYING THERE: Emirates are currently offering a Summer Temptation package which is available until March 31. The package includes two nights in a luxury Heritage Suite with private swimming pool and verandah, gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, all non-alcoholic beverages, a select range of local wines and beer with meals, and two on-site nature based activities per day for about $800 per person per night, twin share.
PLAYING THERE: Hop on the complimentary mountain bike and explore some of the 1600 hectares of private nature reserve filled with kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos and wombats. Wildlife safaris run daily from the main homestead. Heritage tours of the 1832 homestead can be arranged at the resort as can horse trail rides, fly fishing, glow worm tours and a regional food and wine tour.
The writer stayed as a guest of Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa.