Wrotham Park Lodge dismantled & moved to NT

Wrotham Park Station was sold in mid 2009 and Wrotham Park Lodge was sold by General Property Trust (GPT) to Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) afterwards. IBA has entered into a partnership with Anthology, owner of several other remote luxury resorts (Wilpena Pound, SA; and three in Tasmania – including Cradle Mountain Huts).

In November 2009 the Wrotham Park Lodge buildings were dismantled, loaded onto roadtrains and moved to storage in Darwin. When the wet season has well and truly gone the Wrotham Park buildings will be reassembled and added to, to create a new luxury resort called Wildman Wilderness Lodge located beside the Mary River in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The Mary River site is located relatively close to the excellent bitumen road traversed by thousands of Australian and overseas tourists driving between Darwin and Kakadu National Park. Unlike Wrotham Park Lodge, which was in a genuinely remote location, only accessed by road by those not fazed by the prospect of a relatively lengthy trip on a very non-touristy road not known for great signposting. The Wildman Wilderness Lodge is planned to be completed next year (Feb 2011) and it will be a seasonal resort, like Wrotham Park; closed during the most humid and wet months of December, January and February.

I have no doubt the new resort will be a great place to stay and a fabulous spot for viewing the marine plain landscape and wildlife – particularly crocodiles, which the Mary River is chock full of. It really is an absolutely beautiful location.

However it is very sad to see the Wrotham Park Resort vanish. It was the only resort of it’s kind in Australia – a five-star resort perched on the fringe of a huge cattle station, which was not in any way dependent on tourism income to survive. This is quite different to the average Australian farm-stay, mostly a ‘cottage industry’ which has been set up purely to supplement farm income, with accommodation usually located a rock’s throw from owner/manager residences on smaller properties and farms. The few large cattle stations that offer accommodation for paying visitors are almost invariably found on places that are very scenic but very agriculturally marginal. There were rave reviews on various travel websites from well-travelled and fastidious guests who clearly enjoyed their stay at Wrotham Park Resort, and labelled it a truly unique experience – worth the expense and often worth revisiting or extended stays.

The Northern Territory’s Uluru, Kakadu, Litchfield National Park etc are all extremely beautiful places but exceedingly touristy, just like the reef and rainforest areas surrounding Cairns in north Queensland and Broome and El Questro in Western Australia’s East & West Kimberley regions.

Whereas Wrotham Park Lodge catered for small numbers, was a long distance from the station buildings in a remote setting, and it was of a calibre that would appeal to people up the top of the decision making tree – i.e. it was a unique opportunity to provide some inside into remote rural life to those who otherwise wouldn’t consider heading bush, and it was owned by companies who targetted their marketing into that direction. Wrotham Park Lodge was ideally suited to the increasing numbers of travellers seeking to more meaningful travel experiences, i.e. to gain a better understanding of the place they are visiting, (in this instance, life one of a handful of the largest cattle stations in the world), rather than the superficial view at your average tourist mecca where you are just one of thousands and you’re flat out meeting a local.

A resort on the Mary River is likely to be a much greater money earner for IBA than a lodge as remote and small as Wrotham Park Resort, however when it comes to indigenous employment, there’s plenty of demand for indigenous job creation in this part of far north Queensland, with around 1,000 aboriginal people living at Kowanyama (downstream, on the Mitchell River). The only employment opportunities around Kowanyama are on cattle stations, whereas there are far more tourism and mining employment options for indigenous residents of north-eastern NT.

Wrotham Park Lodge was ahead of its time and I am sorry to see it go – the world needs more meaningful travel experiences, not more of the same.

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