Don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I love more than driving onto the grounds of a six-star resort to the unique symphony of two small children violently vomiting in the backseat. “Are we there yet Muuum?” My five year old moans as she lifts her head from her sick bag, the twists and bends of the three-hour long journey from Sydney too much for her little stomach to take.
I don’t respond – partly because the stench emanating from the back is encouraging me to decorate the steering wheel with a Jackson Pollock of my own, but mostly because a lovely man from Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa (wolganvalley.com) is fast approaching our car which has stopped at the electric gates decorated with the resort’s Wollemi pine insignia.
Considering the resort charges a starting rate of $2050 per night, I suspect he’s not used to the sort of clientele who would think nothing of casually pulling up and laying out a technicolour yawn by way of a greeting. “Erm, my daughters are car-sick” I admit sheepishly as I clutch one full-to-the-brim sick bag in my hand. And then to my absolute horror, he smiles warmly, reaches in and takes the bag, accepting it as though I’d gifted him a Tiffany Box. “No problem at all madame,” he says. “We hope you enjoy your stay.” And then he presses the button on the gate and lets us in. HE ACTUALLY LETS US IN.
And as we drive the (not inconsiderable) drive towards the main property, I look around at my girls in the back, both of them covered in a delightful concoction of this morning’s cereal and milk and I can’t help but think this is one of those times in life when you really feel like you’re winning, your kids remain the ultimate leveller.
When we get to reception, we discover other guests have used the property’s helicopter service and choppered in like rock stars and I can’t help but smirk. Yeah, you might have had a helicopter but I’m the one standing there covered in three people’s vomit so who’s the rock star now, ammiright? But I digress… Now the resort, based on the spectacular Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa in the United Arab Emirates, could easily be one of the country’s most luxurious properties – think 4000 hectares teeming with native wildlife, world-class amenities and erm, celebrities under every nook and cranny (Michael Clarke hired the whole place out for his 2012 wedding to Kyly Boldy), but unlike most luxury lodges which tend to have a strict ‘No kids under 16 (or similar)” policy, families with small children are not only welcomed, but enthusiastically catered for, but in a way that doesn’t scream, ”Hey y’all! We’re a family resort! Come and let your kids run around the pool in their grundies”. No. This does not happen at Wolgan.
After a seamless check-in process where my five year old is given a fruit platter and my four-month-old is cuddled by a conga-line of cooing staff, we are escorted to a waiting golf cart and driven down to our Heritage Suite, one of 36 such properties dotted around the estate. Our driver mentions bicycles are available for adults and kids and that we should make use of them and my husband laughs. I once cried after cycling downhill through a vineyard because I am pathetic and he’s never let me forget it. “Mmm perhaps,” I murmur.
There are many ways one could describe the suites at Wolgan Valley without resorting to profanity but I am not that gifted a writer. So I will instead show you a series of images, like this.
And then I will say Holy Moly.
Our suite is quite possibly the most gorgeous room I’ve seen, but immediately I’m horribly confused. There’s a sandstone double-sided fireplace, an indoor pool (heated year-round to a positively balmy 27 degrees) and a rain shower under the stars, but these are all geared towards loving your partner in all manner of creative ways and not necessarily conducive to a stay of the family variety. And in another life where we are not covered in vomit, we would totally do that but in this? Well fortunately there are other discoveries.
“Mum!” screams our five year old as she brandishes the coloured pencil and sketchpad set laid out for her on the foldaway bed erected next to our King (which incidentally is so tall I suspect we will need to pole vault onto it). Looking out into the blue-tinged gulleys, she is clearly struck by inspiration and sits to sketch as we sigh over the rolled up towels and cakes of soap placed on the corner of our baby’s portacot. When I mention it to our driver on the way to the pool, he looks at me like it’s not a big deal and I realise to them it isn’t. It’s just the way things are done here. Be cool everybody.
Like most parents checking into a resort, our first port of call is COFFEE and happily, what’s on offer poolside at the Country Kitchen makes our nerves jangle in a good way that would make junkies themselves bust out a Broadway musical. We pop in for a couple of cups as well as a mouth-watering antipasto platter before throwing ourselves into the (heated pool) where pool noodles are discretely hidden away for ‘quiet and responsible’ use (“There’s a certain expectation that the kids who come here will know how to behave” says one staffer when pressed on the issue). We then adjourn to the spa which is hidden from the rest of the property. So hidden in fact that I am astonished when a waiter arrives with a tray of mineral way – two of them in kids cups. “I thought you might enjoy these in the tub,” he tells us as we help ourselves to the welcome beverages. I get out and towel myself off, convinced Wolgan has luxury snipers positioned on roof and treetops, all of them at the ready to be of service at a wink of an eye.
On its website, Wolgan Valley declares itself to be suitable for children over the age of eight, but truthfully facilities are available for younger ones. Horse riding is available for kids aged 5 -15 but we elect to have the ‘Horse Experience’ which is where little ones under the age of five meet the property’s indulged equines (so indulged they have weekly massages) and learn how to safely interact with them before feeding them carrots and apples through the safety of a fence. This is completely at odds with my child’s inner city existence but she soon gets a feel for it.
This is followed by a bush art session with a dedicated field guide. Together they go out walking through the property collecting twigs, bark and leaves before settling down to a mammoth pasting session to create serious artwork worthy of a spot above any mantle. This works for me, because while she’s off happily sticking bark on paper and my husband and baby enjoy the pool back in our room, I treat myself to some downtime at the super-chic Timeless Spa, before retiring to the cheese and wine tasting room to eat myself into oblivion (all meals and drinks are included in the tariff).
If we had more hours in the day, she could have also pencilled in a Junior Rangers course (perfect for those who need to learn basic bush survival skills such as searching for emergency Dom Perignon and salmon blinis before the sun goes down). No, wait…
An although I would have loved nothing more than for my five-year-old to spend her afternoon firing arrows into the wilderness, I must admit to being thrilled at her choice of one of the resorts signature wildlife tours, The Wolgan Wildlife and Sundowner Tour. Kicking off from the main homestead an hour before sunset, guests are ferried about the grounds for a solid hour and a half as you take in the multitude of kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos which are at their most active at this time of day. The field guides know their stuff and go out of their way to make their smallest passengers comfortable, but be warned that the ride is incredibly bumpy in parts and if, like me, you take a baby along with, you will spend the entire evening worrying about shaken baby syndrome. Our five year old? Loved every minute! The tour concludes for everyone else with a relaxing glass of sparkling and canapés but for us, with our baby screaming through witching hour as my husband Lee and I take turns speed eating and drinking.
Fortunately, things calm down by dinner time and we head on over to the Wolgan Valley Dining Room, located in the main lodge. During breakfast and lunch, the restaurant has panoramic views from all angles, but in the evening once everything goes dark, it turns out you just have to “settle” for the brilliance of all the polished silver and sparkling crystal. You can go a la carte or opt for the nine-course degustation menu. Now this is the part where most parents would just accept their limitations and go for the quicker option. Call me ambitious, or just plain stupid, but I end up eating mine well into the night with my five year old asleep in my lap and my right foot madly rocking baby to sleep in her pram. Hard work yes, but worth every mouthful.
Eventually the kids are snoring in their respective beds and it seems Lee and I finally have the suite to our adult selves. Do we break out the baby oil and have ourselves a party? Not quite. But we do launch into machine-gun enjoyment of everything our room has to offer to fit within our four-hour window of ‘adult time’. Quick! Lets first cuddle in front of the fireplace and talk world events (You hate Scott Morrison? I hate Scott Morrison too! See? We’re made for each other!). Oh My God! Let’s empty this bottle of wine and skinny dip in the pool! Ok, now I’ll pretend you’re not using the bathroom while I flick through the range of artfully fanned international magazines before we eat out the contents of the mini-bar. The only thing you need to know? We wake up in our fluffy robes surrounded by chocolate wrappers and bottles – not unlike honeymooners really.
The following morning, we check out with heavy hearts. “And how was your stay little Miss” asks the concierge as he helps my daughter with her bags. “The problem with this place,” comes the response, “is that I just love it too, too much.”. Our sentiments exactly.
Need to know
Where: Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa, 2600 Wolgan Road, Wolgan Valley, Lithgow
Cost: From $2050 twin share per night, includes all meals, beverages and two on-site nature-based activities per day.
Room: Separated with dividing wall to split sleep/living quarters. Portacots and foldout bed provided.
Internet: Included and frankly, it would want to be.
Pool: Heated and deep in places. Care should be taken.
Meals: A kids menu is provided but the chef is also happy to whip any special requests at a moment’s notice.
Going up: The attention to detail can’t be beat – although the scenery comes close.
Going down: Order the degustation menu with sleepy children by your side at your own peril.
For further information, visit www.wolganvalley.com
DISCLAIMER: The writer was a guest of Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa