News & Reviews Rest of the World Australia Review: One&Only, Wolgan Valley

Wolgan Valley

Pre-sales

A very simple, quick and professional conversation regarding transfer times and pricing, resulting in them confirming they will pick us up at 9am and give us an early check-in on our room at 12.  No complaints, until I checked out and realised they charged us the incorrect amount for the helicopter transfer, but what’s $400 AUD between friends anyway?

Getting there

From Sydney, 3 hours via car or 50 minutes via helicopter, Wolgan Valley is so remote that not even the phone reception can reach here.  Already feeling the anxiety rush over me, I quickly checked the Internet speeds on arrival and found they were significantly better than I’m able to receive in my central London office, which is both a wonderful sign for Wolgan and a terrible sign for London.  The helicopter was priced fairly, so I would recommend using it, not least of which due to it being run by Sydney Heli Tours, meaning we were kindly treated to a view of the Sydney Harbor on the way home.  If I knew this I could have saved some decent money by avoiding Park Hyatt, Sydney and just staying elsewhere.

Helicopter views

Helicopter views

Helicopter tour view

Helicopter tour view

Setting

Australia.  The Outback.  The kinda place they had in mind when developing anti-venom.  Wolgan Valley has been transformed from an old cattle farm into a world class resort, all for the bargain price of $130m of investment, courtesy of Emirates and now One&Only.  Just the road leading into the resort cost over $4m, which actually seems a bargain when you experience its seemingly never ending twists and turns, that impress with the stunning scenery, that take you into the heart of the resort.  Every few minutes we spotted more and more wildlife, all of them apparently living the dream with acres of space.  Twas the life.

Rooms

All of the Heritage Villas are identical 1 bedroom suites at 83sqm, meaning your variety is only in where you are located.  Notice how I call it a suite?  That’s cos at 83sqm, I’m not letting them get away with calling it a villa.  The suite is a good size and has some excellent touches that are all demonstrated during the rather excellent and thorough tour.  Between the private pool, glass ceiling Amanzoe-esq shower, fire place, outdoor sitting area and wardrobe space, it begins by feeling like an excellent offering.  I found the overall design to work so well on first sight, but it started to fall apart the more time I spent in the room.  In the end, it was clear that this was a good quality junior suite; one that just happened to come with a pool.   When you realise there are no doors between the bedroom and living room, the facade begins to fade.  If it’s impossible to not disturb your partner if one of you wakes up before the other, you defeat the purpose of what a suite is.

Heritage Villa entrance

Heritage Villa entrance

Heritage Villa

Heritage Villa

Heritage Villa

Entrance/living room

The temperature dropped to -1C on both nights, yet the bathroom is covered in cold, unheated paving. It would seem common sense that underfloor heating would be included in a resort which, for once, I am not exaggerating when I say has temperatures that drop to freezing.  Then just as I was in love with the bathroom having doors that open, the toilet sprung up with a sliding door (oh, the memories of Amangiri return) that creaks like the floorboards of a haunted house. And it’s right next to the right-hand side of the bed, so good luck having any dignity after that.

I did not use the suite pool. They consider heated to mean 26C. I consider that to be slightly cooler than the temperatures experienced during the sinking of the Titanic. It would have made so much more sense to be a plunge pool; a heated plunge pool. The main pool is not heated either, but fortunately they have a Jacuzzi hidden away behind it that brought much joy to my life.

The main issue I had with the suite though was the lack of privacy. It was possible to look into any of the suites that you were walking past and if you were to walk behind any of the suites – something very likely to happen, as this is the purpose of the resort – then you could find yourself looking into the bedroom. You can of course pull all the curtains and blinds, but then you may as well just lock yourself in your cupboard at home, rather than trying to experience the countryside. You may also find nicer food in your cupboard. Speaking of which, the room was carefully fitted with blackout blinds everywhere, but then the front door had some flimsy see-through sheets that let all the light in. With no door between the front door and the bedroom, they may as well just left the roof open to let even more light in.

Bedroom.

Bedroom.

View from bed

View from bed

Bedroom.

Bedroom.

Bath. Watch out, watch out, there might be a Peeping Tom about

Shower

Shower

Shower glass ceiling

Shower glass ceiling

Sodashi bathroom amenities

Sodashi bathroom amenities

Wardrobes

Wardrobes

Private pool

Private pool

Outdoor/indoor sitting area.

Outdoor/indoor sitting area.

Amenities

Whilst they own an immense amount of land, the resort itself is solely focused around a single main building, albeit one that seems to smell like it was sprayed by a perfume factory.  The rooms smelt great; the main building smelt great; the outdoors smelt great.  Smell Rating of Pretty Great.

Main pool

They may have enough trucks to start an invasion, so you’re unlikely to ever wait for any activity, but otherwise Wolgan Valley is somewhat sparse on amenities.  Sure, they may be here, but with so much space on offer, I could not help but feel more could be offered.  The main building is the home of the reception, bar, 2 restaurants, gift shop and outdoor seating and balcony areas.  Just past that is the main pool, although it is not possible to heat it, so people watching was a fun past-time, as anyone who even attempted a toe in there was promptly put off.  Hidden behind the pool was a jacuzzi that they somehow failed to mention on the tour, as if it was somehow irrelevant, but to me it is always one of the highlights.  There is a small spa area that is separate to the main spa, that contains a sauna, steam room, plunge pool and gym.  The facilities are not what you’d deem ostentatious, but it would have been nice if they could at least have provided slippers and robes, so you’re not walking into the cold with only a towel as company.

Lounge/bar area

Lounge/bar area

Spa

It was only on the last day, during the great Internet Famine of 2016, that we decided to go to the spa.  The Internet went down for over 11 hours.  As bad as this may sound, it was even worse as I was a mere 15 minutes into watching the iPhone 7 launch event.  This made it the first time in nearly 15 years that I had to watch the actual news to get the news.  I had to actually converse with people and came to realise how much I hate myself and everyone; I started to understand and lose knowledge all at the same time; I could feel my soul evaporating.  With nothing left to do but explore, we ended up going for a tour of the spa and then felt it rude not to try a treatment, which of course all used Sodashi products.  Having seen the rest of the resort, I already had preconceived thoughts of what the spa would look like, but it far exceeded all of those.  It’s like it was designed by someone else, as it’s so far in advance of the rest of the resort.

Spa room with view

Spa room with view

Spa waiting room

Spa waiting room

Activities

If ever there was a time to enjoy nature, you think it would be here.  Yet you’re better off finding it via yourself, rather than their dull itinerary of options.  We went on the 6pm/stars/nocturnal animals tour, but there were so many animals just lazing around at the resort that we would have been better just sitting in our room.

The area that I found most disappointing was areas of penny pinching, which really seem schizophrenic as they offer so much value elsewhere. It’s like buying a Ferrari, the garage throws in a years supply of petrol without you even asking, then they bill you for the car keys. So you have a free mini bar, free movies, food included, free wifi, once again a huge range of free gifts (I don’t know why this keeps happening to me, but I’m happy with it) and a great attempt at our stay list. Yet then they charge $25 if you want the food delivered to your room. This may be standard in a lot of city hotels, but for a remote resort that appeals to a lot of international customers who will be tired on arrival, it grated me somewhat to be charged for it. Then their selection of activities is particularly limited, with the barrel firmly scraped to offer anything free. There are 3 billed activities where you can do as a group, yet upon doing one of these on the first night, we subsequently cancelled the other 2, as I did not see the value, even if it was only $100. We spoke to another couple on the first night on the tour and the too cancelled all their subsequent activities. This then leaves you with no real choice but to go with their bespoke, private tours. $275 for a hike – they can certainly take a hike at that price, but I will not be with them.

The last time I felt ripped off from an excursion was at another One&Only, this time in Dubai at The Palm.  Must be one of their USPs.

Food

The problem with full board/all inclusive, is that it either means you’re in a cheap resort that has just as many children as rats, or you’re most likely in a newly established high-end resort that justifies its prices by throwing in a very limited food selection.  There is the new, rare kind that the likes of InialaNorth Island and Laucala have achieved where you can eat anything you want at any time, but Wolgan Valley will certainly not be spoken about in that sense.

The food was unsurprisingly not to be found under the dictionary definition of riveting, with not a single meal giving me the impression of excellence. When the food is included, I need no excuse to eat all day; I want to look forward to every meal and feast, like somehow there’s a miraculous correlation between how much I eat and how many diseases are cured. I like to look forward to meals on holiday, rather than needing them to ya know, not die and stuff. Even with a 2 day stay I was struggling to find anything from the very limited menu that took my fancy.

Further problems were clear when their schedule permits only 1 restaurant open at lunch time, where no outside seats were available and the seating was already crammed in and very close together. If it was only half full and already felt crowded, I would not want to be there at capacity.  The breakfast was particularly lacking, but at least they offer a (limited) buffet to go along with their a la carte offering, even if it did not end up helping much.  Then the penny pinching came in, whereby for dinner you could pay extra if you wanted a different type of steak.  It’s sometimes unfair to review a property during such a short stay and claim that the food is not good, but with such a small menu we were able to have tried 60% of it between two of us in that time.

Service

The service was certainly of a high standard, with a lot of attention going into what we wanted to do and what foods/drinks we enjoyed, so they could tailor everything towards us. It was nice to experience some proactive service again. The GM is omnipresent and Aman-esq in his awareness of everything we were doing, along with his knowledge of the property, laid back attitude and friendlessness.

There were some nice touches here, that I appreciated even more in light of recent laissez-faire service we received.

  • Noticing that I was drinking a banana milkshake and asking if they could prepare me one for dinner later.  As I arrived I had one within a few minutes.
  • Ordered drinks to room and then next day mini bar was restacked and included that drink – some proactive thoughts taking place.
  • The GM being the first of our trip to see if they could do something to help with our jetlag.

Worth Knowing

There are over 2000 Roos within the Wolgan Valley resort, so sightings are not exactly rare.  Save yourself the bother of going on a tour and just walk around for a few minutes instead.

The locals

The locals

Date night

Date night

The Good

  • Excellent spa with chemical-free Sodashi products
  • A outdoor jacuzzi, over looking the stunning scenery

The Bad

  • Poor food offering
  • Penny pinching in some areas
  • Not enough activities outside of horse riding

The Luxurious

  • Amongst the best ways to experience some of the nature within remote Australia.

Conclusion

I had a pleasant stay here and am pleased I came to visit, but even 1 day would have been enough.  The issue I have is constant: I I just did not feel it was worth the price. Where I falls down so significantly is doing a simple comparison to other properties at this price range, even if they may not be considered a like-for-like.  With the travel (car out, helicopter back) and 2 night stay + spa treatment, it cost over $6,500 AUD. The property really is stunning, the service is really good, the spa is a beautiful, but I still did not feel exceptional value here. With a mediocre room, poor food, a lack of free activities or even billed activities that seemed appealing, plus a feeling of being crowded, even when I was told they were at low occupancy, it did not give the exclusive feeling I would have wanted.

I travel the world to experience the best in luxury hotels and therefore do not see Wolgan within the context of how it may excel within Australia, but anywhere else in the world. I would much rather spend ~£4000 at many other places for a 2 night stay.  Value is of course an entirely subjective thing, but for me, whilst Wolgan is a lovely property, I’d have only really felt I received a good deal if it was 30-50% cheaper.

Jacuzzi

Jacuzzi

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 11th Sep '16

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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