June 25, 2020
Driving two hours from Queensland’s Gold Coast to Spicers Peak Lodge (some guests opt to helicopter in to take in the spectacular Scenic Rim views), I zigzag up the 12km driveway from the Cunningham Highway, passing cattle, creeks and cockatoos before reaching the property.
I’m greeted at the door by Martin Hamilton of the Spicers team, who sits me down near the stunning bluestone fireplace and invites me to treat the Lodge as my home for the next two nights.
Marin talks me through my itinerary (a mixture of nature and nurture) and explains how the all-inclusive Spicers experience works.
The Scottish stones used to build the Lodge fireplace originally came to Australia as ballast in ships in the early 1900s. Some of the guest rooms also have fireplaces built from these same stones so there is an unmistakable and seamless architectural link throughout the building.
So too with the interior design. There is a natural, understated flow, from room to room. Nothing looks out of place. Everything is designed to be used. You can tell that so much thought has gone into the little things like the collection of books in your room that touch on so many topics that you will definitely find something to capture your imagination.
The Turner family started building the Lodge in 2002. It took two years from the time local Warwick builders Ian Crann and Peter Bradfield sunk the first of 200 piers three metres into the mountain top, to the opening in Easter 2004.
The lounge area is the hub. It is where guests gather for a G&T before dinner, or where you might sit by the floor-to-ceiling windows, glass of red in hand, and watch the clouds creeping in over the mountain.
In the daytime, you can’t help staring out the window to watching the hairy highland cows graze in the field below or spot wallabies bounding across the paddock. The views from the Lodge are captivating, and always changing with the seasons.
Just upstairs there is a games room with a snooker table and more comfortable lounge chairs. Every lounge and chair is big; they wrap around you, pull you in, and force you to relax.
Chef Dean Alsford is one of the star attractions at Spicers Peak Lodge. Food is a key part of the Spicers Retreats brand and while the retreat’s chefs often collaborate, they are competitive and they are prepared to push the boundaries when it comes to modern Australian cuisine.
Alsford’s “best of Australia” food philosophy makes The Peak one of the best dining experiences in the country at the moment. Having honed his skills at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Vue de monde and George Calombaris’s Hellenic Republic, Alsford is now on a quest to define exactly what
Australian cuisine is and encourages guests to try his tasting menus to see just how good Australian produce can be.
“If you try a tasting menu, you get the story behind the restaurant,’’ Alsford says.
“You get the story the chef is trying to tell. Up here I want to showcase the best of Australia, the tasting menu is the best way to do that.
“You get the highlights from the ocean, land and sea. Sweet. Savoury. You get all the bells and whistles.”
He says he works hard to find small farmers who are doing something extraordinary with produce.
Sommelier, and assistant general manager, Nivard Nelson has a similar theory when it comes to sourcing wine.
“The wine list here is part of our all-inclusive package. About 95 percent of the wine we serve is Australian. Ideally we don’t want to look at our list from a wine perspective. I don’t look at it from a food perspective either. I look at what works well together. They are all food-based wines but I’ve tried to find smaller wineries that produce high-quality wines.
“It’s about finding the balance between a recognisable name and something that’s comfortable and easy to drink for most people.”
After all the food and drink it’s a good idea to head outdoors and interact with nature. There’s six walks, of various degrees of difficulty, that you can do from the lodge. If you want to be more adventurous guide Melissa Booth can put your fitness skills to the test.
“There’s a whole lot of beautiful terrain out here. You can stay on pretty flat terrain if you want to, but there is also a good degree of uphill to some of the walks,’’ she says.
“On the five-hour hike you are walking along a saddle from one mountain to another. So you are right along the ridge line. The views are incredible.
“The terrain varies from open bushland and cliff lines to super dense, beautiful, lush rainforest at the very end of the walk.
“A lot of people don’t even realise the variety of terrain we have out here. And heading from the bushland, which most people are fairly familiar with, to the rainforest stuns guests. A lot of the mountain summits are incredibly lush rainforests. They are just beautiful. And there’s so many different species of plants that you see here, that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.”
Phoebe also hosts the two-hour sunset 4WD tour. The Lodge vehicles rock and roll their way up steep, narrow tracks towards Ryan’s Lookout where the Great Dividing Range reveals itself under the glow of a sinking sun.
“The weather is always changing out here,’’ Melissa says. “So it can be super moody one minute, and bright and blue the next. I’ll never get sick of coming out to this view.”
As the dark of the night creeps in, we head back to the warmth of the fireplace at the Lodge.
Written by Brian Crisp was the national editor of News Corp’s Escape liftout for five years.