World’s First Carbon Neutral Hotel

There’s a sense of deep humility, sitting at the bottom of a canyon gazing at the sandstone cliffs.

The setting sun paints a picture of copper, gold, and burnt umber, across this heritage-listed haven in the Blue Mountains.

We’re in Wolgan Valley, two and a half hours’ drive west of Sydney, staying in understated luxury at the famed Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa.


Established by Emirates in 2009, this is the world’s first carbon-neutral hotel.

However, when General Manager, Joost Heymeijer, arrived, the 4000 acre property was an “environmental disaster”.

“The land was overrun by feral animals, the farming techniques had ruined the land, there were noxious weeds,” Heymeijer says, shaking his head.

Thus began years of “reverse engineering” to bring it back to its original state.

The work is paying off: Wolgan Valley boasts the biggest wombat population in New South Wales; and there’ve been sightings of the near-extinct spotted-tail quoll. There are thousands of kangaroos, wallaroos, wallabies and even a small population of rare albino wallaroos.

This philosophy extends to the building materials in the 40 Federation-style villas modelled on the original homestead, which dates back to 1832.

Much of the structural timber comes from a disused railway bridge outside Orange, while the lighter timbers are from the property.

“We didn’t cut any trees down,” Heymeijer says, proudly.

All the furniture was made in Tamworth or Bathurst by local artisans: every piece tells a story.

The door handles at the imposing entrance come from a broken-down tractor; a slice of a 650-year-old tree is an enormous clock.

Produce for the superb degustation menu is sourced within 100 miles (160km) of the resort, with a philosophy of “seasonal, regional, and organic”.

I take our seven-year-old daughter, Grace, to see the impressive kitchen garden, heaving with watermelon, zucchini, tomatoes, leeks, beans, broccoli, and every herb under the sun.

(It puts my limp rocket to shame….)

The all-inclusive wine is also sourced locally, from Orange and Mudgee.

Autumn is the best time of year to visit, with warm days and cool nights.

In the mornings, the mist looks like a large doona lying across the valley.

It burns off to reveal a bright, blue-sky day – ideal for a dip in the infinity pool, or a gentle bike ride.

If you’re a bit shy about going out in your bathing suit, there’s a lap pool in every villa.

At night, it’s cold enough to snuggle up with a glass of red wine in front of the fireplace.

This is the perfect resort for a romantic weekend, a getaway with girlfriends, or a family break.

“Really, this is the biggest scout, or guide, camp on earth!” Heymeijer laughs.

“We try to teach children about bushcraft, and wildlife, through our Junior Ranger programs.”

On the stunning sunset tour, my son Taj and Grace spot hundreds of wallabies, kangaroos, and wallaroos which, the field guide says, “Are not a cross between the first two”.

“The early explorers just weren’t very creative with names!” he laughs.

On our last morning, the kids take part in the conservation program, planting native trees.

To expand this, Joost is setting up a Wolgan Valley Conservation Society, asking local farmers to set aside a percentage of their properties for conservation purposes.

“Maybe, over 10 years, we can say that we’ve preserved an iconic part of the Blue Mountains,” he says with a smile.

Now I understand why Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa has been named Best Hotel in Australia by Tripadvisor for two years running.

This is the epitome of intuitive luxury, surrounded by nature’s majesty.