Visiting Australia's most romantic destinations, especially in bushfire- and drought-affected areas, should be close to everyone's heart right now.
New South Wales
Regions hardest hit in southern NSW, south-eastern Victoria and around the ACT border need the most love at the moment. While some areas are still badly affected by the fires, most have been given the all clear and roads, restaurants, hotels and cellar doors are open and ready to embrace the return of tourists. Like the rain, which inspires new growth, your dollars spent will be the new lifeblood of many local economies. With Valentine's Day just around the corner, it's time to impress your true love with a romantic escape that gives back to fire- and drought-ravaged regions by having a weekend away where you dine locally and stock the car with local food and wine to take home. Areas that should be on your romantic radar include the Blue Mountains, Port Macquarie, Yamba, Byron Bay, Bermagui and Mollymook. Or for a true wine escape head to the wine-making regions of Mudgee, Orange, Cowra, Lovedale, the Southern Highlands or the Shoalhaven.
To truly get away from everyone, head to The Camp at Yelgun, 30 minutes' drive from Byron Bay, in the Northern Rivers. Get up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean and break open the bubbles as the sun sets behind the mountains. Tagged as an "earth-friendly" getaway, the solar-powered bell tent has a composting toilet, warm-water shower, kitchenette and a queen-size bed.
South of Sydney, renew the romance at Cupitt's Estate which is tucked behind the hills of Milton and Ulladulla on the South Coast and offers a boutique winery, brewery, fromagerie, restaurant and wedding venue with cottage accommodation. While it is perfect for couples, the 100-year-old renovated slab cottage can sleep up to four people, and features an original stone fireplace, full kitchen, antique furniture, BBQ, dining on the deck and a verandah that takes in extraordinary views over the vineyard to the Budawang Range and Burrill Lake which were scorched by the fires. Or take a winery tour then enjoy the sun setting over the lake as you indulge in dinner at the family-run Cupitt's Restaurant.
There are two Bannisters venues in Mollymook, including Bannisters By The Sea on the headland where couples can canoodle by the infinity pool overlooking the coast or enjoy a relaxing massage before a romantic dinner at Rick Stein's signature restaurant. Meanwhile, Bannisters Pavilion in Mollymook village is the place for cocktails and ultimate luxury on the coast with a stay in one of two penthouses, one with forest views, the other with a stunning double-sided fireplace.
Further south, have a romantic weekend away at Lincoln Downs resort in Batemans Bay. Sporty couples can get hot under the collar while enjoying the recreational amenities including an outdoor pool, tennis court and fitness centre. Eat your heart out at the resort's Briars restaurant before retiring to your luxury room, which includes a spa tub.
Head for the hills for a little mountain romance as Thredbo has reopened. Jane Corben of Jindabyne Yoga Shala hosts a three-night yoga and wellness retreat that will have you at nature's heart, high in the sky amongst the Snowy Mountains. Staying in the heart of Thredbo's charming village, your weekend away includes mountaintop sunrise yoga among the giant boulders, guided hikes, meditation in the snowgums, healthy meals and snacks, and a quiet session on the banks of the Thredbo River. (Book through thredbo.com.au).
Also in Thredbo, you could opt for a luxury stay at Silver Nanook, the latest addition to Nanook's villa offerings on the mountain, set in a prime position near the Village Square.
Or dine at The Denham hotel, where the stunning backdrop of the Snowy Mountains awaits at the Terrace Restaurant where classic dishes are accompanied by fine wines and fantastic cocktails.
In the Blue Mountains, there are any number of charming B&Bs (check out those in the Mountain Whispers Collection), guesthouses and grand hotels like the Hydro Majestic and the Carrington hotels. Why not visit Honeymoon Lookout overlooking the wilderness in a 1929
LaSalle vintage car (available through bmlimo.com.au)? Or perhaps gaze out from the Three Sisters over the vast Jamison Valley and feel like you're the only two people on Earth. Step back in time, to enjoy a modern romantic meal at the hatted Wintergarden Restaurant at the Hydro Majestic or the two-hatted Darley's Restaurant at Lilianfels where you can also spoil each other with spa treatments.
The bushfires have devastated many fruit growers and winemakers with smoke tainting this year's harvests. But people are returning to many of the areas to help in the rebuild, including Batlow where the cider festival will be held as usual in May. While it escaped mostly intact, the Hunter Valley has reported a drop in visitor numbers - a great excuse to revive the romance with some of the country's best wines.
Take me there
Info: Check Rural Fire Service website and download the Fires Near Me and Live Traffic apps.
Bushfires are currently impacting Victoria's East Gippsland and High Country regions. However, many parts of the state are unaffected by the fires at this time and are welcoming visitors. Stock up on local produce and put together a life-partners-only picnic basket by visiting purveyors Udder and Hoe's pantry-café in Loch in Prom Country. The rustic providore on Loch's main street features exposed beams and is full of natural light from the incredible full faade of glass windows. Before you leave, visit Olive at Loch for freshly baked goodies from pies and frittatas to country soups, scones, tea cakes and slices.
If you go wild for wilderness, then take a tour with Pennicott Wilderness Journeys and discover the beautiful coastline and unique natural wonders of Wilsons Promontory National Park. Wilsons Promontory Cruises is the latest addition to the award-winning yellow boat eco-tour specialists from Tasmania.
While you're in the area drop in to Waratah Hills Vineyard just outside Fish Creek. Set in a pretty valley overlooking the Hoddle Ranges, the winery is the most southerly cellar door on the Australian mainland and is recognised as one of Australia's best locations for pinot noir.
Stay at nearby Ross Farm Cabin, originally a small dairy farm, that has been repurposed into modern cabins, including the one-bedroom Cabin, the two-bedroom Barn and the three-bedroom Dairy. Each space is unique, and all work largely within the existing farm buildings and feature handcrafted elements from local craftsmen.
At The Grove graze your way through what Gippsland has to offer at this restaurant, bar and event space set within an olive and truffle grove overlooking the Bass Hinterland. It's a unique dining experience showcasing local produce across its seasonal menus and served in a beautiful natural setting with uninterrupted views of the Bass hinterland and beyond.
In the state's High Country region, Mount Ophir Estate is a unique, exclusive property in rural Rutherglen. It offers with 360-degree views of the surrounding area, including the Murray River Basin and the Snowy Mountains to the east.
Nothing says "Aww, isn't that cute?" like a fairy penguin returning home to its life partner in a burrow on Phillip Island. And if your own oceanfront burrow is what you seek then Kitty Miller Bay Bed and Breakfast is the perfect spot for couples to kick back, relax and watch the waves roll in. This private boutique accommodation has direct beach access and is ideal for a weekend away or a mid-week break. You'll be blown away by the stunning coastal views, the tranquillity and the paired penguins.
Take me there
Info: Check the Country Fire Authority website and download the VicEmergency and VicTraffic apps.
Stay:Kitty Miller Bay B&B is just one beach from the world-famous Penguin Parade.
Canberrans are now making the drive to support surrounding towns, such as Bungendore and Braidwood, which were cut off from the coast - and also from passing tourist traffic - by the fires.
Make the journey to Taj Galah for a lovers' weekend away in this charming two-bedroom cottage, set in well-tended informal grounds, on the outskirts of Braidwood. Relax on the shady verandah and enjoy views to the neighbouring fields. For couples wanting a therapeutic facial or body treatment, just ask the owner, therapist Fran Holloway.
Drop in to The George Bar and Dining at Bungendore to indulge in a menu featuring local and seasonal produce, including Bundawarrah Pork from Temora and lamb and beef from Glenlea Farm in Crookwell, as well as wines from the Canberra District.
The views from your lovers' dawn hot-air balloon ride with Balloon Aloft are sure to be spectacular and there's no better time to do it than during the Canberra Balloon Spectacular, held from March 7 to 15, as part of the Enlighten Festival.
Or try a bit of glamping at Mount Majura Vineyard in one of Naked Cubby Co's cute canvas tents, named Fred and Edgar. Take the optional food and wine add-on as you switch off, unwind and enjoy your time amidst the vines.
Take me there
Info: Check ACT Fire and Rescue website and download the NSW Fires Near Me and Live Traffic apps.
Spend With Them
The incredible @spendwiththem initiative has amassed close to 200,000 followers since its instigation by NSW South Coast locals, athlete Turia Pitt and her marketing manager Grace McBride. The Instagram account showcases small businesses in bushfire-affected communities.
The @emptyesky bushfire recovery campaign (35,000 followers and counting) is hoping to help local tourism industries and small businesses recover by encouraging Australians to pledge a visit to a bushfire-affected town - empty esky in tow to fill with local produce.
Give the Bush a Break
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