There are advantages to receiving an itinerary late and not knowing where you’re going or spending the night. After an unforgettable, astonishingly beautiful drive along Australia’s Victorian coast, my group turned inland onto a winding road in Wattle Hill, and then we were in a driveway attached to what looked like a bunch of Legos. We got out of the van and were enthusiastically told by our hosts that dinner would be ready soon.
Then we went inside the hotel and saw our rooms.
Alkina Lodge is what happens when two award-winning architects get wide open spaces in which to play. For once, I didn’t feel like I was staying somewhere that echoed so many other modern rustic lodges, those middle-of-nowhere boutique hotels with minimalist furnishings that still mirror a Brooklyn coffee shop but with antlers sticking out of the walls or a faux fur rug on the floor.
Instead, Alkina Lodge felt like stepping into someone’s Minecraft puzzle, as if walking into a maze created by folks not interested in asking anyone for permission. Here, you feel like no one can find you though you’re not far from the Great Ocean Road (which lives up to its name) and Great Otway National Park. The exteriors are harsh 90-degree angles, similar to entering an art gallery where you can’t touch anything. First impressions reminded me of a Dwell magazine cover, but give it a few minutes: it doesn’t emerge right away, but there’s a dreamy softness to the place where Australian architects Glenn Murcutt and Wendy Lewin invite you to touch the sky.
The “lodge” is three separate but linked structures, each featuring four bedrooms, with two bathrooms, a living room, a spacious eat-in kitchen, a wood-burning fireplace, a patio with outdoor seating and a grill for barbecuing. There’s also a washer and dryer, which I took advantage of. The three lodges accommodate up to 24 people total, or eight per lodge; we were told it’s a popular choice for retreats and weddings. Guests have the option of having a personal chef on hand.
Murcutt and Lewin built the eco-friendly Alkina just over a decade ago, using handmade bricks, and positioning north-facing sky windows to generate solar heating. There is no air-conditioning, but instead, a built-in ventilation system that draws from nearby Southern Ocean breezes.
Cooling off wasn’t an issue the November night I slept there. Though the summer solstice was another seven weeks away, the day had been chilly, and I needed a space heater in my room, which was at the far end of one lodge where my entire bedroom wall was comprised of windows looking out to where kangaroos occasionally hopped across the property. Darkness was encroaching, and we didn’t spot any critters. Instead, the night sky filled with stars, the outside spilled into my bedroom, the windows became an illusion. I kept touching the glass to be sure it was still there. I felt like I was camping in a puffy, queen-sized bed perched on the edge of the earth, with this magnificent view I could enjoy ensconced in the softest 500-thread count sheets money can buy. The last time I’d felt this way, I was in a giant nest along California’s Big Sur coast, though there, I was quite exposed to all the elements.
Australia is a big country with so much unspoiled landscape guarded by sweeping ribbons of velvety sky. Big is what Australia does, and Murcutt and Lewin tap into this, bringing the surroundings indoors, understanding that there are many of us who want to connect with nature but don’t want to invest in all the proper gear or freeze while sleeping beside wildlife. The architects’ focus is their homeland, and they want you to appreciate this sense of place, directing your attention to Australia’s vastness, even when you’re using the toilet or taking a shower. Stargaze from a Villeroy & Boch bathtub placed below sky windows. Look up and look out. Like other things about Australia, the bathroom was huge—almost on par with a Manhattan studio apartment. On a long shelf sat a large jar filled with bath salts as well as a large rubber duck, because a soak in a fancy tub is all about setting the mood. There’s even a switch that changes the lighting to a disco nightclub blue, adding a dramatic flourish.
For a bathtub junkie, this experience put the Alkina among my all-time top five for being everything absolutely awesome. It wasn’t a copycat of anything. After days and miles of flying, driving, even riding a dusty camel in the Outback, nothing erased all that muscle tension that comes from constantly being on the go more perfectly than soaking in a giant, warm bathtub. The tub itself likely rivaled the cost of my in-state college education, but when you’re lying there letting existential thoughts come and go—who cares? Murcutt and Lewin want guests to luxuriate privately, as if you’re having a conversation with nature no one else can hear, and in that bathtub, in those woods, just 14 miles from the regal Twelve Apostles and that throbbing Southern Ocean, I had what I can only call a 21st-century Henry David Thoreau moment. I was communing with nature without being in it. That may sound wimpy to outdoor enthusiasts but it’s totally true. I could hear nothing but my own breathing yet see everything. No other hotel has ever dished that up before.
On top of all this, the food was delicious. It’s all local, seasonal, organic this and that. Staying somewhere stunning on the other side of the world led me to eat chorizo and brie with abandon. Seduction does this, but I also knew we had a coastline hike to the Twelve Apostles ahead of us; calories would be burned.
Someone cooked our dinner, and then in the morning, we were on our own. The refrigerator and cupboards were stocked with staples, from granola and yogurt to pastries and jam, so you can fix yourself breakfast, brew some coffee with the Nespresso machine everyone now seems to have, reflect on your evening and savor your morning all at your own pace while in your pajamas. No one hovers over you to make sure you’re happy. This is refreshing. The Alkina Lodge leaves you alone. It’s like staying at a rich best friend’s house and your rich best friend is still sleeping off the booze.
Alkina Lodge beams thoughtfulness with every detail. However, I have one complaint, although incredibly minor: Why are architects and designers obsessed with the color white? I get that it’s a clean color that gives the impression of expansiveness. Alkina Lodge isn’t all white (objects that were black or red were usually for sitting), but the walls and these long, singular hallways that are the main thoroughfare of each lodge are all white with white doors that blended into one another. I was only able to find my own bedroom with ease because it was at the very end of this long, white corridor. During my one-night stay, I lost count of how many times I accidentally opened a closet door or my roommate’s bedroom door when I was trying to find a bathroom door or the door to the laundry. The white hallway and its many mysterious doors became a guessing game. If you share a lodge with someone, it helps to be a bit of an extrovert because the doors all look alike and it’s hard to predict what you might walk into—it could be someone lying naked in the bathtub dumbfounded by the enormity of the sky.
The author stayed at Alkina Lodge as a guest of Visit Victoria.
Feature image credit courtesy of Alkina Lodge.