Current Issue #488

Distinctive Dwellings: South Australia's hit holiday accommodation

Distinctive Dwellings: South Australia's hit holiday accommodation

For those discovering South Australia it’s all about eco-friendly lodgings over brandname resorts, as bespoke accommodation is now available across the state to bring guests closer to nature.

To maintain their desired bucolic lifestyle in a secluded pocket of McLaren Vale, vignerons Dudley Brown and Irina Santiago-Brown realised they had to share it with others. They have added accommodation to their Inkwell Wines property as a means of supporting their sustainable winemaking business, and were determined that sustainability would be a key aspect of their expansion, to reflect their organic viticulture and winemaking practices. They therefore used adapted shipping containers as the basis for a combined cellar door tasting room and accommodation block that sits comfortably in the landscape and has a minimal environmental footprint – while also fulfilling their essential criteria of offering the experience of residing among the vines.

“Drawing from our own wine travel around the world, we know that the personality of the accommodation really shapes the quality of your visiting experience,” Santiago-Brown says. “Accommodation needs its own distinctive personality – its own sense of place.”

Such awareness signals the dawn of a new era for intimate accommodation options in South Australia. While this state doesn’t have clusters of big luxury hotels or expansive resorts, the push for more tourism activity is giving rise to a new wave of bespoke private accommodation that brings guests closer to nature in eco-lodgings, off-the-grid cabins hidden among Adelaide Hills gum trees and glam tents flanking Coonawarra vineyards. It proves that small packages have big appeal, provided they are distinctive, sympathetic with the environment and constructed with intelligence.

For Brown and Santiago-Brown, it took considerable time for such fulsome ideas to gestate – four years, and three sets of plans, moving far away from their original vision of a California Bungalow, intended as a riff on its location at California Road. The eventual look provided by shipping containers punctured with big glass windows, along with bespoke timber furnishings by Willunga craftsman Daniel Gibson, has given the three en-suite bedrooms an elegant outlook over the vineyard, complemented by a common courtyard with dining setting and fire-pit.

“The accommodation fits neatly into our sense of lifestyle,” Brown says. “We want to be able to entertain in a certain style, because people approach wine tourism from many angles and have so many different levels of expectation. We understand that, so have tried to allow the visitor experience to work on different levels; people can choose social or private, indoor or outdoor wine tasting areas. It’s a statement about diversity, and it’s a sign of where future travel and accommodation in our wine regions is heading.”

A similar theme is being replicated in natural bushland. Michael Lamprell opened CABN, in October 2017, promoting an off-the-grid experience in the Adelaide Hills – if only for short-term getaways. The elegant self-contained timber box, measuring only two-and-a-half by six metres, sits concealed in the belly of 70 hectares of natural scrubland at Longwood, owned by a friend. Despite having only limited solar power and gas bottles, CABN has creature comforts – modest heating and cooling, mini fridge-freezer, stove, shower and a composting toilet – but no wi-fi.

Hotel California Road at Inkwell WinesIt’s a key philosophical aspect of the CABN getaway, which Lamprell says has received an overwhelming response. “Some customers say their brief respite from a hectic, plugged-in city environment has made them question their daily lifestyle,” he says, identifying that customers are far more varied in age and profile than the sophisticated young urbanites he initially thought would be CABN’s target audience.

“The people coming to this are keen to engage with the experience rather than be seduced by a famous accommodation brand,” Lamprell says. “They may have booked because they like what they see through our marketing, but once people arrive, they really get it. It has a different type of person engaging with the outdoors, in a way that they are comfortable with.”

Placing portable small cabins in the wilderness is an idea set to expand quickly. Lamprell is partnering with private landowners and national parks for two other CABN locations to be launched before the end of this year, in McLaren Vale and another in the Adelaide Hills. He is also consulting interstate, having completed a pilot trial for Parks Victoria in early August (now awaiting assessment before possible funding approval), and talking with the Queensland government to look at potential CABN sites. “I’m getting an enquiry every day from landowners or people wanting to collaborate. I can’t keep up with all the interest, so there’s a long distance for all this to go.”

Hillocks Drive Ocean Pods add a dash of drama and comfort to the coastal camping experience, and has found that Instagram exposure can make instant heroes of gorgeous sites. Situated in rugged bushland, with magnificent views overlooking Butler’s Beach at the foot of Yorke Peninsula, the cosy pods are self-contained, deco-influenced metal and fibreglass huts that have a low environmental footprint by using solar power, rain water and recycling waste. Guests are even encouraged to cook outside over controlled campfires from late April to November.

The two pods at Hillocks Drive currently available for hire (a third is under construction) are simplistic and remote, but that’s the point, reminds proprietor Pam Bennett, so no apologies are offered for their spartan simplicity. “It’s not pretending to be anything more than comfortable camping,” says Bennett, explaining that the accommodation is there to celebrate the view. “It still leaves me breathless when I stand alone out here.”

She has protected the integrity of the site, as no trees were removed to make room for the lodgings. She has even borrowed from the local environment to create the pod’s distinctive look, using white sand from Butler’s Beach in the composite floor, and choosing a vivid exterior colour that mirrors the adjacent ocean blue.

“The pods replace some broken down caravans that were on the space previously, and they are infinitely nicer, but haven’t changed the reason why you’re here. It’s to live outside, and only come inside when it’s time to shower or sleep.”

Most pod customers are older campers who have grown weary of hauling a caravan or pitching a tent, but young urbanites are coming for a taste of unvarnished nature, too. “Out here, you get immersed in nature and beauty, in a way that people who haven’t ever camped don’t yet know about. It’s a game changer for some visitors.”

A popular new accommodation locale doesn’t have to be an architectural marvel – but it does have to celebrate its site in a creative way. Coonawarra winemaker Sue Bell has done this with a cluster of glam tents she has erected behind the old GlenRoy shearing shed that she has transformed into Bellwether Wines, her work site, tasting and functions room, organic produce garden and unique accommodation option.

Bell purchased the 150-year-old limestone shed beside the Riddoch Highway to give her boutique wine brand a physical presence, but beyond creating a distinctive wine experience for visitors, she also figured that the site’s grand 500-year-old gum trees would provide a beautiful frame for an idyllic camp site.

The Bellwether property now features six spacious Bell tents on raised timber platforms (each tent featuring iron-framed queen-size beds), along with powered camping sites, all serviced by a stylish bathroom compound (compete with a claw foot bath) and the recent addition of a sheltered camp kitchen.

“Who’d want to sit in a motel room when you can have this,” declared a beaming Bell over early morning coffee in the communal dining space, as a fireball sun climbed above the adjacent gums and vineyards. “This spells out very clearly to any visitor why this place is special.”

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