Australian News

Luxury escapes: Aussies book Orpheus Island, Hamilton Island, Lord Howe Island and more

High-end travel is surging as direct result of coronavirus, with Australians who feel they deserve a special break post-lockdown trading up and splashing hard-earned dollars once intended for overseas trips on luxury domestic holidays.

Luxury lodges, retreats and hotels are filling up fast for months ahead, with some service providers recording a ten-fold jump in bookings year-on-year.

Luxury Escapes, who package special locations together with VIP inclusions, have booked more than 1000 trips with a nightly rate exceeding $1000 in the three months to September, compared to less than 100 this time last year.

Chief customer officer, Jason Shugg, said strong booking numbers show the Aussie desire for travel is alive and well — a trend reflected across the price spectrum and highlighted by the Go And Get campaign backing domestic tourism.


“The behavioural change we are seeing is twofold,” Mr Shugg said. “People are either upgrading their experiences within Australia or they’re travelling for longer, as this is now their primary trip of the year.

“In the end Australian tourism will be the winner as they’ve got a captive market for the next six to 12 months at least.”

Packages to the exclusive Berkeley River Lodge in Western Australia and Orpheus Island in Queensland sold out within a week and immediate weekend availability at Jamala Wildlife Lodge in the ACT was gone within a day.

Orpheus Island in Queensland.

Berkeley River Lodge in WA.

Demand has kept occupancy at the exclusive qualia resort on Hamilton Island at around 85 to 90 per cent and has led to an increase in flights with a daily direct flight from Brisbane recently added.

Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island has bookings well into autumn 2021 and Tim Stanhope of Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains said the domestic market has filled the gap left by international visitors.

Supplied Editorial Capella Lodge, Lord Howe Island

Capella Lodge at Lord Howe Island.

Emirates One&Only Resort Wolgan Valley in NSW.

The “trade-up” effect is being reported anecdotally at all levels of the travel market, fuelled by those whose incomes have not been impacted by coronavirus and who have saved money by reducing leisure activities in recent months. Janelle Boyd from NRMA Parks and Resorts said a new market of “five-star campers” has emerged, opting for glamping tents and cabins over campsites.

RELATED: Australia’s hot travel deals right now

However it’s at the top end that the figures are most noticeable.

View Retreats, an online travel booking service that focuses on grander properties, reports customers are paying double on this time last year.

“If we look at the average price people were paying per holiday before COVID-19, it was around $1400 to $1500,” said spokesperson Stoewie Van Den Bulk. “Now it is almost $3000. Property owners are telling us they are overwhelmed with enquiries and bookings, they’re taking bookings as far ahead as August and September 2021.”

Jamala Wildlife Lodge in the ACT has also been popular.

Mark and Jacqui Buckley of Avalon on Sydney’s northern beaches had to cancel a family trip to South America this year due to COVID-19. They have turned their focus to exploring Australia and recently returned from a week at Elements of Byron at Byron Bay.

“We loved it so much there we have booked to go again in the Christmas holidays,” Jacqui said. “I’d love to visit The Pearle at Cable Beach in 2021 and Longitude 131 in the Northern Territory.

“Though it was disappointing to have our South America trip cancelled, Australia has so many amazing destinations.”

Join in the #EscapeSnaps celebration of Australia’s best holiday spots and experiences this weekend — part of the Go And Get It campaign to support domestic tourism. Share your favourite memories or future Aussie dream destinations on Instagram and tag and #escapesnaps.

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Local News - Victoria

Simonds Homes executive director Mark Simonds escapes Melbourne lockdown on luxury yacht

Melbourne construction magnate Mark Simonds is the latest Victorian multimillionaire to be granted an exemption to relocate his family to Queensland, after sailing up the east coast on his super-yacht, Lady Pamela.

Mr Simonds, executive director of the ASX-listed Simonds Group, was joined on his 15-day voyage along Australia’s east coast in the 30-metre vessel by his wife, Cheryl, their youngest son, and Hannah Fox, daughter of Linfox executive chairman Peter Fox.

The Lady Pamela is moored at the Gold Coast City Marina while a nurse tests Hannah Fox for COVID-19 on the yacht.

The Lady Pamela is moored at the Gold Coast City Marina while a nurse tests Hannah Fox for COVID-19 on the yacht. Credit:A Current Affair

The Lady Pamela docked on the Gold Coast about 10am on Monday, more than two weeks after leaving Melbourne on August 9, when the city was under stage four lockdown restrictions – the same day that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reported 17 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 394 new cases.

A joint investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and A Current Affair can reveal that Mr Simonds and six other passengers and crew were not permitted to disembark on Monday until they were tested for COVID-19.

Medical staff boarded the boat about 4.30pm on Monday to conduct the testing, but it remained unclear if those on board the Lady Pamela would be required to serve the mandatory 14-day quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

The Simonds family owns a property on the Gold Coast, while Ms Fox is expected to be reunited with her family, who have leased a property at Palm Beach since July 1.

Last week, The Age and A Current Affair revealed Mr Fox had moved with his wife and two other children to the Gold Coast based on a rule allowing truck drivers to enter the state, despite a ban on most other Victorian visitors.

Mark Simonds and wife Cheryl on board the Lady Pamela while moored in the Clarence River at Yamba on the weekend.

Mark Simonds and wife Cheryl on board the Lady Pamela while moored in the Clarence River at Yamba on the weekend.Credit:Nine

Queensland Health only granted an exemption for the Lady Pamela to enter Queensland waters on Sunday night, according to police sources.

Queensland Health was contacted for comment.

Since last Wednesday, the boat had been moored in an inlet in Yamba, on the NSW north coast, where the Simonds family were seen swimming in the Clarence River and drinking on deck, while a crew member was dispatched to bring supplies.

Queensland Police had monitored the progress of the yacht over the past fortnight as it meandered up the coast, stopping on at least five occasions.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said the public health advice for Melburnians was clear.


“You should not be travelling interstate unless it is for a permitted reason and you must comply with the rules that your destination state or territory has in place,” the spokeswoman said.

“Regardless of the mode of transport, metropolitan Melbourne stage four restrictions apply to all metropolitan Melbourne residents.”

The directions allow people to leave their home for the purposes of moving to a new home, or to leave Victoria to reside in another state.

Mr Simonds declined to comment.

At the time of the Lady Pamela’s departure, Premier Daniel Andrews commended the community for complying with strict lockdown conditions.

He also warned that: “No Victorian has the right to say, ‘Oh well, I think I can do something no one else is allowed to do.’ “

As the boat departed Victorian waters, Ms Simonds posted a photograph of the coastline on social media with four emojis of a thumbs down symbol, a face wearing a mask and two suns.

The boat and its well-heeled passengers later docked in Eden and Jervis Bay on NSW’s Sapphire Coast.

On August 15, the vessel dropped anchor in North Arm Cove and Corlette near Port Stephens, before again stopping in Coffs Harbour.

Mr Simonds began his career as an apprentice carpenter in the early ’70s, following in the footsteps of his father, Gary, who founded the construction empire in 1949. Over the past 70 years, Simonds Homes has built more than 50,000 homes across the country.

The business was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2014 and ranks as the nation’s fifth- largest home builder, according to the Housing Industry of Australia.


When Melbourne was placed on stage four restrictions on August 2, Simonds Group, which has been a long-time sponsor of the Geelong Football Club, posted a message of support on the company website.

“At Simonds we stand together with the rest of Victoria and remain committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19. We also understand the key role we play in the state’s economy and the responsibility that comes with this for our customers, our staff and the wider community,” the messsage said.

Mr Simonds and his father both live in sprawling mansions on Yarradale Road, Toorak, which back onto the Yarra River.

In 2003, he was granted a permit by Stonnington Council to add a new entrance foyer, four-car garage and a mooring wharf on the river’s edge.

But in 2013, Mr Simonds rankled neighbours when he also included an outdoor bar, covered eating and entertainment area, inbuilt trampoline, storage sheds, an elaborate jetty and a Greco colonnade – none of which were included on the planning permit.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered Mr Simonds to demolish parts of his extension within 98 days and pay $80,000 in legal costs for Melbourne Water and Stonnington Council.

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Australian News

Melbourne City FC escapes to Hunter Valley to keep A-league season alive

The Hunter Valley, known for its serene landscapes and vineyards, is the last place you might expect to find an elite soccer team from Melbourne.

But the coronavirus pandemic has forced many to pivot, including top sporting teams, which have had to desert their home state and seek refuge elsewhere so their season can continue.

Among them is the A-League’s Melbourne City Football Club.

A squad of 40 left the city behind and made their way to Lovedale New South Wales, where they have spent the past few weeks in training about 30 minutes’ drive away in Maitland.

Centre-back Harrison Delbridge said it had been a challenge to be away from his fiance and friends, who were in lockdown.

A close up of two soccer players walking with matching jackets on carrying backpacks
Harry Delbridge (right) and Josh Brillante (left) both said it’s been tough to be away from their loved ones while they’re in lockdown.(Supplied: Melbourne City FC)

“I’ve got family in the US as well, and they’re in places that obviously haven’t handled it as well.

“And I’ve got older parents that are at risk, so it’s tough worrying about them and being away from them.”

One of the newest recruits, goal keeper Tom Glover, said it had been a strange time but the team was managing it well.

“A lot of us have travelled and played overseas in national team tournaments; that’s kind of what it is now,” he said.

“It’s a tournament and you’ve kind of got to look at it as six weeks with the end goal of winning the premiership.

“We had a bit of momentum before that break, so that kind of stopped things, but we’ve started where we left off, so it’s definitely on a personal note been a good season for me.”

A goal keeper reaching out for a soccer ball in front of the goals
Goalkeeper Tom Glover pictured training this season, the first time Melbourne City has finished as high as second on the ladder.(Supplied: Melbourne City FC)

The City play their final game of the regular season tonight at Kogarah against Western United, but they’ve already secured their spot in the semi-finals next week, where they will bid for a ticket to the decider on Sunday, August 30.

The player to watch for many fans will be midfielder Josh Brillante.

After captain Scott Jamieson made the difficult decision not to return to the Hunter Valley hub after the birth of his first child, Brillante was last week thrown into the captaincy.

And he could be the one to lead his team through the finals.

“I think everyone has their role in leading, especially during this time, everyone needs to step up.”

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Australian News

Escape’s Tyson Mayr reveals miracle operation to save koalas

Tyson Mayr and canine sidekick Bear caught the attention of animal-lovers across Australia as they saved stricken koalas from the summer bushfires.

Now the wildlife warrior’s own heart has been captured — by a koala who is about to get a prosthetic leg from America in a world-first operation.

The little creature, called Triumph, is among hundreds at Friends of Koalas, a volunteer-run organisation in Lismore, NSW.

Mayr, wildlife activist and Escape’s newest contributor, has worked closely with the volunteer-run organisation rescuing and rehabilitating over 400 koalas a year. It’s a cause that he says, has become his full time focus. “Growing up on a farm you develop a special affinity with wildlife, and when the big fires came through, it was my natural instinct to help out the animals,” Mayr said.

Tyson Mayr is helping to rehabilitate koalas post-bushfires. Picture: Foxtel/Binge

“Right now there’s a koala that’s about to receive a prosthetic leg from America, and it will be the first time this sort of procedure has taken place. The work they do is remarkable and you still get that cuteness overload.”

Over the summer, the devastating impact to Australia’s wildlife caused by bushfires sent shockwaves around the world.

Mayr witnessed the damage first hand after his family’s farm came close to succumbing to Queensland’s Darling Downs fire in November 2019.

As a result, Mayr was desperate to get involved in the recovery efforts, and soon he was introduced to his new furry colleague, Bear — a rescue dog who became the hero and star of his own documentary.

Bear the Koala rescue dog. Picture: Supplied

The series, Bear: Koala Hero, now showing on Lifestyle on Foxtel/Binge, follows Bear and Mayr as they scour through burnt-out bushland in southern Queensland in search of koalas. “Meeting Bear restored my hope for the future of koalas,” Mayr explains.

“He’s this regular goofball dog that suddenly becomes this focused, accurate and efficient character. He has the most important job in the world and it’s remarkable to watch.”

Wearing socks to protect his paws, the heroic blue-eyed Border Collie-Koolie cross is one of the five pooches that make up the Sunshine Coasts University’s Detection Dogs for Conservation program, which assists with conservationist protect endangered wildlife.

You can find Tyson Mayr’s first column in the newly relaunched Escape magazine inside today’s News Corp papers.

Escape cover this Sunday.

Binge is Australia’s new streaming service offering the best drama, entertainment and movies from the world’s best creators. New to Binge? Get your two week free trial, sign up at

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Local News - Victoria

Camping industry heats up as Victorians plan regional winter escapes

Mr Signorini, his wife, son and eight other cyclists will head north by train to explore the Whroo area on their bikes, about 150 kilometres north of Melbourne, between Shepparton and Seymour.

Forecasts show the weather will be close to freezing most mornings, but he doesn’t foresee it being an issue and is excited to sit around a campfire at the end of a long day of cycling.

“We’ll get up, pull on the layers and pop beanie on our heads. By mid-morning, it will be around 8 degrees. It will be alright,” he said.

Mr Signorini usually takes around seven camping trips a year to cycle and has been for decades.

He said he’s noticed a “pent up demand of people just wanting to get out and do things”.

On the road again, the Signorini family are heading to country Victoria for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.

On the road again, the Signorini family are heading to country Victoria for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.Credit:Eddie Jim

Mark Purvis, managing director of Aussie Disposals, has made a similar observation.

“There are a lot of people locked up in their homes just dying to get out and do the things they love,” he said.

Aussie Disposals – which sells everything from tents to gold prospecting equipment and military fatigues – was forced to go into voluntary administration this year and close as many as 12 of its 36 stores after being hit by the twin impacts of the January bushfires and COVID-19.

A lot of business was lost when the coronavirus-induced lockdown wiped out campers’ plans for the Easter long weekend. But the current sales boost has started to make up for what was lost for the surviving stores, Mr Purvis said.

Aussie Disposals caters for the entry to mid-level camping crowd, Mr Purvis said, and he expects a lot of first-time campers to walk into to his stores this year in search for an alternative to international travel.


“We’re really happy to be a part of what we think is going to be a great period of people travelling within Australia,” he said.

He said the awful bushfire season and the coronavirus lockdown had been “a real wack” for regional business.

Many of Aussie Disposals’ stores are in regional areas and he is imploring visitors to support their economies in any way they can.

“Drop in and buy groceries, fill up with fuel or just buy a T-shirt off a rack,” Mr Purvis said.


After a worrying few months, Big4 Phillip Island Caravan Park reopened last Monday.

Operator Miguel Del Rio said the phones were ringing hot on their first day of trading.

“You don’t know how wonderful it felt. The girls in the office were ecstatic,” he said.

Bookings haven’t fully recovered. But, with a few days to go, self-contained tourist cabins at the site are sitting at 75 per cent capacity for the long weekend.

They are still required to keep their communal cooking and showering facilities closed so bookings for their powered campsites are still a little lacklustre.

However, they’re hopeful for the future and will be upgrading their facilities over the next few months in preparation for the busy September school holiday period.

Travelling in Victoria

  • There is no restriction on the distance you can travel, or where you can stay.
  • There is no time limit on how long you can stay, but people are urged to use common sense.
  • Hotels and motels are open, but no communal facilities should be used. Guests should practise social distancing and good hygiene.
  • Campgrounds and caravan parks are open, but no shared cooking facilities and showers should be used.
  • Outdoor barbecues can be used, but visitors should clean the barbecue and surrounding spaces before and after they use it.
  • Toilets at an accommodation facility can be available for shared use. Operators must ensure these facilities are cleaned at least twice a day.
  • Saunas and spas remain closed. Pools can reopen, in line with the density requirements.

For more information visit the Health Department’s website, here.

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Local News - Victoria

Surfer punches shark near Bells Beach and escapes with stitches

The 23-year-old said he'd be back out in the surf.

The 23-year-old said he’d be back out in the surf.Credit:Graham Blade

“I’m not going to just ditch this guy, most people would do the same thing.”

Mr Nacass escaped with lacerations to his leg, which required stitches, but is keen to get back out in the water.

“I really want to go back soon,” he told Nine. “Just when my leg, it’s OK. I’m going to go back to surf soon, I’m OK.”

The terrifying ordeal happened to be caught on camera by Graham Blade who was filming from a look-out.

“I actually saw it pop up behind him and knew it was real,” Mr Blade said.

The footage shows the shark following behind the pair while they frantically made it to shore.

“We’re paddling in, you can see the shark behind, I didn’t know it was still there,” Mr Sedunary said.

He wasn’t deterred to go back out for a surf, either.

“When you’re out in the water, you know sharks are out there. I’m pretty keen to get out there this afternoon. Get back out on the horse, as they say.”

The Department of Land, Environment, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria have been contacted.

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