Overview: A luxurious nature-oriented destination property
Strengths: Location, rooms, approach to service
Drawbacks: Some generally minor service lapses, flies
Part of the “Christmas in Australia 2013” report.
Just less than thirty-six hours after we left our house and having flown JFK-LAX-BNE-HBA, we landed in Hobart. Our arrival into Hobart was a bit bumpy, but without issue.
Two representatives from Saffire were waiting for us in the small arrivals hall, both named Peter. One looked after the lounge and the other would be our driver. They had two trollies, and took care of all of our bags. They also had water and muffins to greet us.
We arranged through the hotel for a small van (a Volkswagen) to carry us and our bags. The van also had a little enclosed trailer, where they put the luggage. With the driver’s approval, my son also climbed in the trailer for a few seconds . In but a minute, we were off.
Tasmania has no divided highways. Our journey of just shy of 200km was entirely on winding, two lane roads through the countryside. The drive took a little more than two hours. Peter, our driver, was very nice. I enjoy looking at the beautiful countryside, particularly in locations that are different from home. My kids share the same enthusiasm, but for about three minutes. Thankfully, they and my wife were able to snooze a bit on the ride up to Saffire.
Finally, at about 3pm local time, 38 hours after we left our home, we made it.
We were greeted at Saffire’s front door with a beautiful view and some bubbly wine and fruit juices. After a few minutes of taking in the view and unique architecture of the lodge, we were shown to our room. There were no check-in formalities and we were simply handed our keys, which was appreciated.
The hotel has 20 rooms, lined up in an semi-continuous, uneven row of rooms in front of, and separate from, the main lobby building. You need to walk outside to get to the rooms, but there was a covering the entire way. Should the weather be inclement, you could probably stay more dry than not (depending on the wind). Our room was one of the farthest, and it was not a three minute walk to get there from the main building.
We reserved their largest room category, a full one bedroom suite. We were assigned to Room 2. In addition to a divided bedroom, the suite has one and a half baths, a dining area, a living area and a small but complete kitchen. All of the furnishings were of very high quality. There were two small courtyards, one with some raked sand, pavers and a sofa which you entered the room through and one with a very small pool. (Four of the rooms have pools, rooms 1 through 4.) The pool was almost too small to photograph!
Owing to 38 hours on the road, we arrived in various degrees of ripeness. our first course of action was to take showers. Reminiscent, unfortunately, of our ill-fated stay at the St Regis Bahia (Puerto Rico), there was no hot water in the tub, shower or sinks. A call to the front desk brought Michael the engineer to our room within 15 minutes. It seems we may have called during the staff holiday party, however, as Michael said he was enjoying a drink when we called. (I suspect it might have been his second! 😉 ) He said he tested the water outside, and indeed it was “plenty hot.” He said he suspected the cause of the problem was a faulty valve in the room, which he went to replace. The valve was in the ceiling right above the open part of the clothes wardrobe, so, together, we moved our belongings away from the area. Michael was a friendly bloke, and we talked about golf and other topics while he worked. He plays off of a nine handicap. He appreciated that I was an American that had been to Barnbougle Dunes previously. (http://barnbougle.com.au/ – not covered in this report, but worth a trip!)
Still ripe from 1.5 days of travel, we left Michael and went for a walk down on the beach. The beach is reasonably nice, though even nearing the peak of summer, too cold to go in the water.
When we returned, indeed the water was hot. Michael had returned our items to the open wardrobe, below where he changed the valve. Before I jumped in the shower, something (experience with plumbers?) told me to remove all of our clothes from the wardrobe. This proved fortuitous, as when I got out of the shower (which stayed warm), there was a steady flow of water from the valve into the wardrobe.
We laid down some towels, my wife and kids took quick showers and we went up to the main lodge for some pre-dinner drinks and canapés. We called reception before we left and (politely) asked them to come back and fix this problem properly. The second time appears to have gotten the job done properly.
Beyond the plumbing dramas, everything in the room was in very good condition and of high quality. Few costs were spared in the design and fitting.
(Apologies – I didn’t get a chance to take room photos before we “invaded” the room!)
There were drinks and snacks in the refrigerator which were complimentary.
There was a tiny pool in the room’s courtyard. It was not even three feet deep, but the kids enjoyed frolicking in the water a bit each day. The hotel does not have a common pool.
Whereas the pool wasn’t a strength per se, the views from the room were incredible.
Walking back to the lodge from our room…
The property has a comfortable outdoor sitting area near the main lodge.
There were lots of artistic touches around the property.
The main lodge is set with a generous seating area (enough to accommodate all guests at the hotel) on the mezzanine level. The seating area had a food and drink service area off to the side.
Being after 5pm, drinks were being served, along with a variety of nibbles. Everything from some variety of local oysters and other savory to fresh cherries was available. Perhaps two dozen wines were available, the vast majority from Tasmania. Cocktails, beers and juices and sodas were available, too. Everything is included with the room rate and I enjoyed sampling several wines that I would not have otherwise ordered.
Most of the food and wine was sourced locally…some on-property.
The lodge’s wall of windows provided expansive views of the bay and nearby mountain peaks. Service was very friendly. There were binoculars and board games available to keep you occupied if needed. Our kids, remarkably after having traveled for over 1.5 days, were in good spirits and actually seemed to enjoy the view.
Dinner was served in the dining room, Palate, just on the other side of the mezzanine level. Again, many of the dishes were entirely locally sourced. The service was friendly, though perhaps a bit slow at times. Though I didn’t note the menu in detail, the menu was nearly all locally sourced and of very high quality. While perhaps not worthy of a Michelin star, the preparation was very nice.
The staff were very willing to make accommodations for whatever our kids were interested in that evening – be it a sandwich, a cheese plate or other items of their liking on a given day. (“Grilled cheese” sandwiches, however, were a bit lost in translation.)
Skipping dessert, we retired back to our room. Remarkably, we all slept about 9 hours, waking up around 5am. While perhaps earlier than we’d like, it seemed our entire family had very little jetlag; that was lucky.
Our first day, we arranged for two activities – a boat excursion to Schouten Island and some archery time back at the lodge in the afternoon. The boat adventure lasted about 3 hours, and afforded us some remarkable sights – including seals, dolphins and penguins. The hotel sent one of their nature guides – a very nice young lady, an American originally from California. The boat was captained by a pretty funny 50-something Australian bloke. He told some funny jokes, even during the pre-departure safety briefing. “If all else fails – panic and jump overboard!”
The kids absolutely loved the wildlife. In addition to the wildlife, my wife and I really enjoyed the topography.
Perhaps we had a bit of jetlag, as my son decided to take a nap for about 30 minutes on the boat. I appreciate how he listens to, and doesn’t fight, his body’s sleep messages. About two thirds of the way through the journey, we set down the anchor in a sheltered cove for tea and biscuits. The kids devoured the food; the adults were able to enjoy some, too!
We were the only hotel guests on the trip, so it made for a nearly private tour. The captain appeared to have brought a young lady along, too. I would call her a stowaway, but is it really a stowaway if the captain is complicit? She was a young lady from Beijing who seemed to travel the world on a low cost budget writing travel articles for Beijing-based publications. She said she was staying with the captain for three days. At a minimum, she was very nice.
The hotel has a small archery range. Archery was also enjoyable. One of the hotel’s nature guides took us to a small target area, about 100 yards from the front door to the hotel. My son was lucky enough to get a bullseye, which won him a small stuffed animal prize. I nearly shot the apple at the top of the target – coming so close as to knock it off once – but I never hit it square. My dear daughter had to leave due to behavior (her only such instance on the trip).
We spent some time in the pool this afternoon and relaxing in the room. Alas, the pool was a bit cooler than even our kids care for (and they are accustomed to swimming in Long Island Sound!). The temperature didn’t keep them out, just they noted it was cold. One upshot of our arrival plumbing problems was that the engineer left the mechanical room unlocked when he left. There was a pool heater control panel in there, and I turned the pool up a few degrees. (I’m sure the hotel would have done this for me had I called.) The next day, the water was much warmer, which was welcome in the cooler Tasmanian air.
Come 6:00, we again headed up to the main lodge for drinks, some fun and dinner.
Christmas Day was greeted with a “short form” version of gift giving. We had a few do-dads for the kids, which they all loved. For some reason, my wife got my son a whoopie-cushion. He loved it; but of course it popped within the hour. I owed him a replacement upon returning home. We called to have breakfast delivered to the room.
Our mid-morning activity was a hike up the mountain to view Wineglass Bay. Another of the hotel’s nature guides took us on this tour, which involved a ride in one of the house vans for about 15 minutes. The national park had a very nice set of cleared paths, making for a pleasant journey up the mountain (this was more of a semi-steep walk than a hike.)
We enjoyed the now typical evening of canapes and cocktails before dinner. Our children were very well behaved and again took in the view before playing games and having some snacks in the lounge.
Dinner was again very good though the service lingered a bit longer than we’d like.
In order to make our three-flight itinerary over to Kangaroo Island, we had to depart the hotel at 5am. Peter, the same driver who brought us up to the hotel, was to be our driver. Alas, he hit a small kangaroo on the way up and was some thirty minutes late. We made it down to Hobart with a bit of extra time, but less than I’d like. It was difficult to find anyone at the hotel at this early hour to advise us of what was going on with his delay – and we only found out about the cause and updated timing when Peter arrived. I know it is difficult to keep a hotel staffed 24/7 with only 20 or so rooms, but at the prices levied, having a knowledgeable employee on duty at the front desk at all times is a very reasonable ask. It was a bit un-nerving to have no idea if our ride had been completely forgotten while we waited thirty minutes.
Upon arrival at the airport, a hotel staffer (surprisingly not named Peter) greeted the van and assisted us with the check-in formalities. She then escorted us to the hotel’s lounge at the airport. Located landside, the lounge is a nice little respite. There were some Tasmanian wines, little nibbles, televisions, wifi and a shower room. At the appropriate time, the lounge staffer escorted us to the security area and we boarded the first of our three flights that day.
The driving to and from Hobart isn’t particularly efficient. Our one-way transportation need creates two round-trips. They have a Hobart-based individual drive his personal car to the hotel, pick us up and drive us to the airport, then return back to the hotel in their car and pick up his personal car to drive back. (I asked Peter how often they had a passenger for the return journey. He said it was less than half the time.) All-in, that is an 800km day on winding roads. I’m sure the hotel could pay the drivers a fair bit less and save buckets of fuel if they bought one or two extra vans and figured a storage solution in/near Hobart.
There were a few minor service lapses, but overall, the experience was very good. Our room had a fair number of flies in it. These weren’t small ones, but rather large, meaty ones. They were quite loud and a bit of a nuisance. While flies outside don’t bother me, loud ones inside of an otherwise quiet room proved to be a bit irksome. Not so much that I wouldn’t visit again, just something to be mindful of.
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Saffire is certainly one of the top luxury lodges in Australia. It is by no means convenient to get to for most (perhaps none are), but a visit will make for a highly memorable experience. Of the rural luxe properties that I’ve visited in Australia, this one is perhaps the most deep into nature of the lot.
2352 Coles Bay Rd, Coles Bay Tasmania Australia 7215
Telephone +61 3 6256 7888