Trekking into a walk-in campsite with a tent and provisions for fire-cooked meals on your back can definitely be a romantic experience. But if you’re after intimacy and seclusion that is a little less rugged, accommodation in scenic areas often escalates from under-the-stars to five stars, with not much in the middle.

We’ve scoured the country for short stays and experiences that feel special but not extravagant, within a few hours of every capital city.

NSW: Bioluminescence and a boutique hotel

Where: Blackheath, 1 hour’s drive west of Sydney (2½ hours by train)

Glow-worm colonies in the Blue Mountains
Glow-worm colonies in the Blue Mountains. Photograph: Leelakajonkij/Getty Images

What: The Kyah – which opened late in 2021 – has used a pastel palette and a restrained eye to transform an old motel into something far more stylish, retaining a twist of 70s nostalgia. In an area known for four-poster beds and lavish lace curtains, it’s sleeker and more affordable than many of the other big hotels around.

The on-site restaurant Blaq sources mainly from producers within the region, an approach that extends to the wine and cocktail list. Blackheath also has a handful of excellent cafes and one fancy dinner spot (Ates) in town too.

In the evening, go on an adventure to discover glow-worm colonies in the Blue Mountains’ sheltered canyons and gullies. For a few weeks a year, usually in late December, there are even courting fireflies around.

Price: From $420 for a two-night stay in a king room at The Kyah plus $14.95 for a downloadable Blue Mountains Glow Worm and Firefly Discovery Guidebook.

Tasmania: A Kombi van on a Clydesdale horse farm

Kombi Kamp in Tasmania’s Huon Valley
A restored 1975 Kombi called Frida offers a taste of van life, without the commitment. Photograph: Kombi Kamp

Where: Huon Valley, just over an hour’s drive south of Hobart

What: Ten minutes’ drive from Cygnet and Huonville, a restored 1975 Kombi called Frida offers a taste of van life, without the commitment. Parked beside a pretty creek, the owners will decorate it to a theme of your choosing – all varying shades of hippy – upon request.

The farm has several private waterholes for warmer weather (though diving into bodies of freezing water is a Tasmanian tradition), and there’s also a hot outdoor shower. There’s an extensive outdoor set-up including a deck, fire pit, and a kitchen with a potbelly stove, with a cook-it-yourself breakfast also provided.

Price: $497 for a two-night stay at Kombi Kamp.

South Australia: Bushland and wine, just outside the city

Where: Aldgate, half an hour’s drive southeast of Adelaide

What: Surrounded by tall trees, Cladich Pavillons’ three glass and corrugated steel rooms strike a balance between big windows and a sense of privacy. They’re right in the middle of an excellent wine region, too.

For big estate tastings try Sidewood and Shaw and Smith, while experimental, natural drops from smaller producers can be found at Summertown Aristologist. Meanwhile, Applewood distills craft spirits, and the McLaren Vale is off to the south.

Wine vinyards in the McLaren Vale
South Australia’s excellent wine region. Photograph: moisseyev/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If your idea of romance runs more toward chocolate boxes than wine, then the early German settlement of Hahndorf is just 11 minutes down the road. The area has several farmers’ markets too.

Price: Approximately $480 for a two-night stay at Cladich Pavilions.

Queensland: Sunrise, sunsets and a groovy pink hotel

Where: Coolangatta, 1¼ hour’s drive from Brisbane (under 2 hours by public transport)

The Pink Hotel, Coolangatta, WLD, Australia
The Pink Hotel looks like a Wes Anderson film on the outside and an episode of the Real World: Miami on the inside. Photograph: Michael Tomkinson/Destination Gold Coast

What: Get your kitsch kicks on behind the white sands of Coolangatta Beach at a hotel that looks like a Wes Anderson film on the outside and an episode of the Real World: Miami inside, complete with an Astroturfed rooftop bar.

Nearby, Eddie’s Grub House has repeatedly picked up nods for having the Gold Coast’s best burgers despite not technically being on the Gold Coast. Within a short stroll, both Kirra Lookout and Point Danger offer that east coast rarity: sublime sunrise and sunset views over the water.

Check out hidden Froggy Beach wedged between Snapper Rocks and Point Danger and take a surf lesson together with a mate at Greenmount Beach.

Price: From $268 for a two-night stay in a King Room at the Pink Hotel, which leaves plenty of budget for $55 beginner surf lessons plus burgers and drinks.

Northern Territory: Glamp and float through Kakadu

Where: Yellow Water Billabong, three hours’ drive west of Darwin

Cruise boats travelling along Yellow Water Billabong at sunrise.
Swoon over the wildlife on a Yellow Water billabong cruise in Kakadu. Photograph: Tourism NT/Salty Wings

What: Kakadu national park may sound like a big-ticket trip, but during the wet season prices drop significantly, making it more feasible for a quick escape. In a couple of days, you can swoon over the birdlife on Kakadu’s Yellow Water billabong cruise and cool off at Maguk, Motor Car or Moline falls.

Savour colour-saturated sunset vistas over the flood plains at Nawurlandja lookout and admire the Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) rock art site before sultry nights in your glamping tent (don’t worry, it has ceiling fans and air conditioning) at Cooinda Lodge’s outback retreat. Conditions change quickly during the wet season, so always check park websites and local signage for closures.

Price: From $358 for a two-night stay at Cooinda Lodge’s Outback Retreat and $164 for a 1.5-hour Yellow Water cruise for two. Note that prices can more than double during the high season (June through October).

ACT: Caves, a thermal pool and an atmospheric lodge

Where: Yarrangobilly, 2¾ hours’ drive south-west of Canberra

What: Discover the surprisingly romantic stalagmites, stalactites and other delicate decorations of the Yarrangobilly Caves in Northern Kosciuszko national park. The gigantic South Glory Cave is magical, with light streaming through a hole in the top. Dress warmly to explore the caves, but bring swimsuits to soak in the warm-but-not-hot thermal pool.

The rugged karst landscape offers great wildlife and bird watching, and the beautifully restored 1917 heritage Yarrangobilly Caves House makes an ideal base.

Price: $317 for a two-night stay in a queen room at the self-catering Caves House. Cave tour prices vary from $22-$38 per person. Jersey and Jillabenan Caves are currently closed due to flooding. The free thermal pool is closed until 9 April due to maintenance works on the track.

Victoria: A little taste of France

Where: Avenel, 1½ hours’ drive from Melbourne (and the same by train)

Bedroom in the Victorian Harvest Home hotel.
The Harvest Home hotel offers soul-warming food and comfortable beds. Photograph: Harvest Home Avenel

What: The affordable French provincial inn offering food that warms your soul, comfortable beds and big gulps of country air is a rarity in Australia. But the two-storey, slightly bohemian Harvest Home hotel fits the bill, with six character-filled rooms, complimentary breakfast, a pretty garden, a swimming pool and an open fireplace when the weather turns chilly.

Enjoy the likes of goat’s cheese tarts, risotto primavera and mouth-watering eye fillet with a thoughtful selection of central Victorian wines on the terrace, veranda or inside. Check out the Ladies Who Shoot their Lunch range of wines at nearby Fowles Wine.

Price: Starts at $398 for a two-night stay with full breakfast at Harvest Home. Mains at the restaurant are priced around $30.

Western Australia: A secluded cottage near sublime beaches

Where: Yallingup, 2¾ hours’ drive south of Perth

Deck of a cottage overlooking a serene valley
A Wildwood Valley cottage, just five minutes’ drive to the surf. Photograph: Olivier Marill

What: The romantic jackpot: a serene, secluded studio cottage with a large bath, wood-burning stove, and glorious vistas.

It’s just five minutes’ drive to the surf at Smith’s Beach and just a little longer to the dreamy aquamarine waters of Bunker Bay, while the entire smörgåsbord of Margaret River wineries is laid out to the south. At the end of the day, watch surfers and dolphin on the famous Yallingup surf break as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.

Price: Approximately $460 for a two-night stay in the Honeybee Cottage at Wildwood Valley Cottages.

Susan Gough Henly

The GuardianTramp

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