Turon Gates Country Resort is such a well kept secret, not even Google Maps knows where it is. It sits on the western foothills of the Blue Mountains, just northwest of Wolgan Valley, on the road between Lithgow and Mudgee. The drive from Sydney is two and a half to three hours, depending on traffic. When you turn off the Castlereagh Highway onto Upper Turon Road, your GPS will declare you’ve arrived. You have not.
Instead, take a right when the dirt road forks, drive across cattle grates, through paddocks, past signs that declare emphatically ‘This road passes through private property’. Eventually things start to get hilly. Look up, and you might catch a white bellied Australian kestrel hovering above you. Look behind you as you gain altitude and you might see a wedge-tailed eagle winging across the plain below. At this point, you’ll be navigating the curvy ridge of a steep hill; while you don’t need a four wheel drive, you’ll be happier if you’ve got one. Your phone will lose signal. Eventually you’ll wind your way along a creek to a sign that says ‘Manager’. Drive past ducks, chickens and free-roaming chestnut horses to a cottage surrounded by greenery. It looks like it was cut out of a European fairy tale and dropped into the Australian bush.
This is Soren and Sonya Lunoe’s house (yes – if you’re wondering, they are DJ Anna Lunoe’s parents). If you’re lucky, their well fed cattle dog Tara will totter out to greet you with a friendly bark. The couple have owned the Turon Gates property since 1973, and they have the abundant fig and apple trees in their garden to prove it. Over the past four decades, they’ve slowly built the site into a solar-powered eco resort, acquiring more land and building up the campsite, stables and cottages. The crystal-clear Turon River runs through the property, making it an excellent spot for trout fishing.
Turon Gates is a DIY kind of place – you bring your own food, and get a better rate if you supply your own linen. After a proper cup of coffee, or a generous pour of house wine (as in whatever wine they have in their house), at the main cottage, you’ll be sent on your way with instructions for how to get into your home for the night. There are six one-bedroom riverside cottages, and eight two-to-three bedroom cabins set into the mountainside. At present, the property has just one glamping tent, but there are plans to build more.
‘Tent’ isn’t quite the right word for Turon Gates’ glamping. Set on a raised platform, the structure is more like a canvas cabin. The floor is heated using hot water, pumped beneath its tiles, so even in the chilly mountain winter the tent stays warm. There’s a hot shower with excellent water pressure, a flush toilet and a real, comfortable bed. But the tent’s greatest feature is its expansive deck, overlooking the river below, and a rocky escarpment above. At $170 a night, it’s some of the best-value glamping we’ve encountered. Just a little way upstream, there’s a swimming hole, which you may find yourself cohabitating with a platypus. The cabins on either side of the tent are over 50 metres away, so there’s a good sense of privacy. Next to the tent, there are facilities to build camp and cooking fires when the season allows. Soren and Sonya can supply you with the wood. In the tent’s kitchen you’ll find pots, pans, crockery and utensils, though you will need to bring your own ice for the esky.
In the morning, king parrots, lorikeets and currawongs will compete to be your alarm clock. If you obey their wishes and wake up early, you can watch as the sun casts dappled shadows over the highs and lows of the property – Turon Gates is a hilly place, and the light changes constantly. Walking tracks wind all over the area; but if you want to get really romantic, do as we did on our visit and book yourself a horse ride. You’ll cross those gorgeous streams – which turn gold in the sunshine – and those that are already schooled in the equine ways can even swim their steeds through the river.
On public holiday weekends, Turon Gates tends to book out very far in advance; any other time, a month’s notice will typically be enough to get you a reservation. Though you can elect to stay for a single night, you’ll probably be happier with your life choices if you linger a little longer. Places this tranquil are hard to find, and even harder to leave.