The first thing I must tell you about The Australasian 1858 is that each of the five guestrooms has two compendiums. The first deals with prosaic matters such as fire alarms and air conditioning operation, but also includes an interesting history of the area and hotel. The second is a beautifully hand-illustrated, extremely detailed critique and commentary of some 170 Australian and Asian films, cult and classic alike, which are available for your in-room HDTV. This directory is the essence of the Australasian – demonstrating wit, attention to detail and a passion for all things, well, Australasian.
I had long coveted this beautiful sandstone hotel on a busy corner of Goolwa’s main street, derelict for so many years. However it could not have fallen into better hands. The six year renovation undertaken by Deb Smalley (the creator of the film compendium and front of house) and Juliet Michell (student of classical Japanese dance and chef) is masterful. The rooms are large, gracious and distinctly asian in style, whilst still maintaining their colonial sturdiness. Deb and Juliet’s aesthetics are evident throughout, from the precious silk kimonos adorning the walls to the shimmering pendant lamps in the sexy dining room.
Each room has its own charming feature, a miniature balcony overlooking the lakes, a luxurious bath on an open platform, or an ornamental courtyard of bamboo fringed pond.
I know I am constantly banging on about attention to detail, but it was serious here. Toiletries are from organic Thai brand Thann, and the soap is my favourite sandalwood scent from Bee and Flower – handwrapped in chinese paper and wax sealed (I often give it as a gift as it looks and smells a million bucks, but it’s actually $1.99 a bar at the back of the local chinese grocer – shhhh.). There is not one harmonious detail, from the mirror-fronted closets to the pleated paper blinds to the Japanese yukata (cotton robes) which has not been carefully thought out.
The rooms are the perfect haven to retire to after a meal of fresh local produce – we enjoyed a salad of Alexandrina pan fried cheddar curd with candied walnuts and pear, slow braised beef cheeks with asian spices and pickles, and an unctuous sweet-sharp lemon tart.
When day comes, there is plenty to enjoy on the Fleurieu Peninsula. Windswept beaches and bucolic pastoral views abound. Goolwa itself is a weekend dream for nature and watersports enthusiasts. It also has an excellent Sunday market once a month selling everything from locally baked dutch biscuits to vintage Tupperware. Nearby Aquacaf, overlooking the lower lakes and their parade of waterskiers and kitesurfers is a mecca for seafood lovers (their greek fish and mussel broth is steamy, briny heaven in a bowl). For retail therapy, head to Port Elliot for a browse through Sarah Taylor’s inspired edit of fiction, design, travel and local area knowledge at South Seas Books and Trading. Sarah also makes a great espresso, but try and drag yourself from the comfy leather couches to Dog Dragon next door for stunning pieces of furniture sourced from the furthest reaches of Indonesia. Didn’t think you needed a carved daybed from Sumba? Think again. And if you can’t fit a daybed in the back of your car, you can surely fit in one of surfing ceramicist Gerry Wedd’s iconic painted porcelain thongs. One the way back, stop at Little Bird for Danish toys, cashmere sweaters, quirky jewellery and original homewares.
Finish your weekend with the happiest ending of all – across the road at national treasure, the Port Elliot bakery you’ll find rows of sugary jam and cream filled Kitchener Buns.