The love story of Australia’s Spicers Peak Lodge
Leading luxury travel and food writer Mary Pratt, founder of The Caviar Spoon, stepped into the hinterlands of Australia to explore Spicers Peak Lodge.
Back in 2001, Jude Turner saw her baby being born. Except her baby was Spicers Peak Lodge, the first of the Spicers Retreats. The generously sized lodge was originally meant to be a possible dream home—something meant, perhaps, for a large family or JR Ewing and the clan in a Dallas-esque way of living.
It all started with the love story of a backpacker and a bus driver in London. *swoon*
Sometimes we need to give you the story to get you in the vibe. And this is one of them. (If not you’ll always wonder why on earth there’s a red phone box in the middle of the fields!!)
Jude Turner grew up in Warwick, Queensland, before heading off for the adventure of a lifetime to London. A casual ride on a Top Deck Tours bus led to a conversation with the driver who also happened to be the owner. The driver/owner’s name was Graham Turner, who would go on to become the CEO/Chairman of Flight Centre…but he more commonly goes by the name of Skroo!
The two hit it off, discovering that they were both from Queensland and that Graham lived locally in Stanthorpe. As the ditty goes, first came love, then came marriage! They travelled around and she began putting together a book of the hotels they visited along the way, noting the things that made her tick and the things that, well, didn’t. In 1981, the two returned to Brisbane where Graham then set up Flight Centre Travel Group and in 2001, Jude’s dream began turning into a reality.
Spicers Peak Lodge is 1,100 metres up, perched atop a mountain and nestled within 8,000 sprawling acres in the Scenic Rim. This particular lodge is special because it was the first of the Spicers Retreats and the only one built from the ground up. Incorporating all the things Jude liked about the hotels she’d encountered during her travels. Jude made sure that Spicers Peak Lodge incorporated everything she liked about the hotels encountered during her travels was a hotel that felt like home.
Mission accomplished. This location has been the measuring stick for the rest of the Spicers Retreats and they now have a portfolio of boutique “home” hotels that have been made with love and individually designed.
There are a total of seven properties—five in Queensland and two in New South Wales—along with the upcoming Spicers Potts Point in Sydney, scheduled to open in March 2017.
Brand Presence and Identity
Spicers isn’t about snatching up properties willy-nilly and quickly developing them. They’re very deliberate, waiting until they find a place that’ll fit into the Spicers family whilst ensuring that respects are paid to the surrounding area and audience. They might be commercial but they also aren’t shy about showing their true love for the countryside. As huge environmentalists, Spicers also offers eco-adventures like the 4-day Scenic Rim Trail hike that takes you through the incredible beauty of the Scenic Rim region. Oh, and be prepared to see Pra again, Spicers, because I will be back next year to do this hike, deadly snakes be damned (there’s a story to this)!
Jude has a passion and flair for design so she is hands-on with each property and works with her team to make sure each place aligns perfectly with the surroundings, including all of the art collections. For example, Spicers Hidden Vale was once an old working cattle station, hence the rooms and cottages having names like ‘Angus’ or ‘Wagyu’. When you stay at Spicers Sangoma, you’ll notice the African influences in the chandeliers and special bricks that were procured at an eye-watering cost!
The devil’s in the details and it’s evident the group’s values are never compromised over a few dollars. That’s likely what makes this brand so special to customers and staff alike!
Getting There & First Impressions
The +/- 2 hour drive from Brisbane to Spicers Peak Lodge will take you past retro-looking coffee shops and bakeries which gradually melt away into the glorious hinterlands where it’s all grass, hills, cattle, and sunshine!
Make sure you’re in a 4WD vehicle because there’s still a 20-minute drive up to the lodge when you reach the base of the mountain. You’ll know you’re officially Mother Nature’s guest when you have to stop the car because the road is being casually blocked by a large Eastern brown snake, which is apparently responsible for the most snakebite deaths in Australia! Eek! Just try not to mistake it for a harmless tree branch like Pra and crew did at first…
Luckily we survived this wildlife encounter, chalked it up to a true Aussie experience, and continued on our way.
(By the way, you can always have Spicers pick you up if you don’t have 4WD. Just sit back and enjoy the ride!)
As you head to the Main Lodge, keep an eye out for Skippie the (not real) kangaroo armed with a Nikon D80, waiting to cheekily greet you to Spicers Peak Lodge.
Welcome to your home away from home, set against a beautifully green rolling mountain range, where you can mingle, relax, eat, and indulge in general merriment.
In the Main Lodge, the sofas in the central communal area beg for you to curl up on them as you enjoy the gigantic open fireplace. The entire atmosphere here is pleasantly classic and familiar and when I immediately commented just how at home I felt, I almost got a high-five from the team! It turns out this is exactly what Spicers Peak Lodge is all about.
When you’re hanging out in the main lodge, take a few minutes to flick through the photo album. It documents every aspect of the build, from brainstorming on architecture and design to the actual construction. (Mind you, building this place was no easy task. Everything had to be flown up or hauled in by tractor and there was absolutely nothing at the top—no electricity, no water, nada!) You’ll see how much love, passion, and dedication have been poured into the property.
Staff & Service
Throughout my entire stay at Spicers Peak Lodge, I felt nothing but a very special love that came from both the staff and the design of the place. Your arrival is celebrated with champagne and there’s not a check-in desk in sight. Spicers fleeces and country wear replace crisp hotelier outfits, and instead of a typical formal orientation, Felicity (the assistant general manager) casually chatted with me over a cup of delectable coffee. She just oozes hospitality and humility, and is the ultimate brand ambassador for Spicers!
They are the epitome of relaxed luxury. The service is unpretentious and friendly and the staff truly embrace their role of making sure you feel at home. That means if there’s no one around and you fancy a gin & tonic, you can help yourself at their honesty bar.
I have to give a big shout-out to the team at Spicers because they all had the natural ability to become your friend whilst making sure you had the most amazing stay. There wasn’t a single “No, I can’t do that”. It was all about “can” and “will” and from meeting a few of the staff, it seems like they’re all living the dream.
In fact, the vibe was very similar to what I experienced at Richard Branson’s Necker Island which left me feeling absolutely delighted (because you know how much I loved that place!).
There’s internal mobility between the properties and Spicers embraces that same entrepreneurial spirit that makes up Virgin, filled with adventure and opportunity whilst doing good stuff for others and the environment. This goes beyond a job and is more of a passion that the staff just happen to get paid for!
Where You’ll Sleep
My room was a beautiful 40 sq. m. area of bliss in the Main Lodge. There was a well-stocked fridge and a mean coffee machine; a cracking size bed with pillows that swallow you up; fireplaces both inside and out if you fancy cosying up on the deck. The massive tiled bathroom housed a fabulous walk-in rain shower, gorgeous Appelles creams, Bemboka towels, and wedding gowns and slippers which ended up in my hand luggage because they were so comfy! Every element helped make it feel like home. (The video above is a tour of the entry level Loft Suite; I didn’t get a great video but I stayed in the Lodge Suite which was on the lower level and with doors that opened right out onto a deck and that lush green grass!)
At $1,000+, staying here does require some deep pockets and the acceptance that some things are indeed worth saving up for. But it’s also worth remembering that everything is all-inclusive so once you’re here, you won’t have to open up that wallet again!
The Main Lodge holds two loft suites plus eight rooms which are split between two wings. Then there are two private lodges, armed with all of the delights plus kitchenettes and plunge pools on the deck. Located just far enough from the Main Lodge without being inconvenient (it’s a 3-minute drive), these lodges are definitely worth it for those wanting that secluded romantic vibe!
Wherever you choose to sleep, Spicers Peak Lodge is a happiness hub ideal for couples, friends, mini-mooners, and wildlife enthusiasts. It’s also for those guests who venture onto one of the Spicers hiking trails which involves staying at the Lodge and at one of the most jaw-dropping glamping areas called Spicers Canopy. The Canopy Eco-Lodge is gas- and solar-powered and the ten safari-style luxury tents are kitted out with proper beds, fine linens, polished floorboards, and Spicers-branded bathrobes. Luxury camping at its finest!
Where to Dine
All of your meals can be enjoyed at The Peak Restaurant which has both indoor and outdoor terrace seating. You can order a la carte but why not embrace the 3- or 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings? With seven chef hats across the Spicers group, you know they take their food seriously.
Chef Tomasz heads up the kitchen and let me just say this. I ate every course, drank every paired wine, and refused to leave behind even a morsel. The pork was out of this world and (here comes a bit of Pra trivia) as an ex-pig farmer’s daughter, I’ve eaten a fair bit to know! On top of that, the menu changes daily.
He’s not lacking in global experience and it shows. At the tender age of 17, he studied under Polish chef Pawel Oszczyk at Hotel Le Regina in Warsaw. He followed his passion for cooking to Switzerland and then all throughout Australia, working at establishments like Albert Park Hotel and Il Solito Posto before landing at Spicers Peak Lodge.
The only thing about the restaurant that left me longing was the seating. I wish they had matched the tables and chairs to the comfy, cosy vibe that permeates the rest of the lodge. But really, other than my personal preference on design, I have nothing but delicious things to say!
Where To Unwind
Spa Anise wholeheartedly embraces the meaning of simple luxury. With just three rooms and two therapists, it’s low-key but sophisticated. There are also the most incredibly comfortable chairs that will make you want to stay forever. My stresses had all but melted away as soon as I arrived at Spicers Peak Lodge but I still decided to indulge in a massage. I didn’t know it was possible but I left feeling even more relaxed than I already was!
There are endless options for non-spa-goers, too. Do some sun salutations with a morning yoga session, hang out by the pool, or play a game of tennis. There are also guided nature walks or a longer 5-hour hike that takes you on private trails through the mountains and forests. And then there’s my favourite—a 4WD experience up to Ryan’s Lookout armed with a couple of glasses and a bottle of chilled Veuve Clicquot! This experience was one for the books—sipping on some bubbles whilst overlooking the most beautiful scenery!
I can’t write about Spicers Peak Lodge without mentioning the Wedding and Events function of the property. Felicity has a tight grip on this department and is a well-oiled machine who takes on every aspect of wedding planning—transport, rooms, flowers, music, hair, makeup, whatever you need. She’s got you completely covered to ensure you have an unforgettable experience. Events here can accommodate from 60 to 120 people max, which is probably the perfect party size to take advantage of all that the Lodge has to offer.
If only Pra could have stayed just a few more days! Start stashing away into your ‘Spicers Savings’ and pop this place on your ‘must visit’ list. It’ll be worth it to Spice your life up!
Spicers Peak Lodge, Wilkinsons Rd, Maryvale QLD 4370, Australia