Wonderlust Escapes: Inside mystery Australian holiday experience

Nothing hits quite as well as a good, well-executed surprise.

And as an adult — those moments come around few and far between.

A surprise birthday party, for example — love. A surprise charge on your credit card bill — obvious hate.

So when I was invited to experience the ultimate in a ‘surprise holiday’ of sorts at one of the most beautiful corners of NSW, where everything from the location, to the accommodation, dining and even activities were curated into an itinerary through a single questionnaire — I was intrigued.

For me, letting go of the reins entirely when it comes to a long weekend away isn’t exactly the most cathartic thing to do (control freak, cough).

What if they chose a dud restaurant? Or I’m placed on a boring, billion-hour tour? What if, god forbid, there’s no down time to burn through a cocktail list?

Dubbed Wonderlust Escapes, this full-service travel company promises guests the ultimate in mystery getaways based on specific wants and demands from the traveller.

If you’re a foodie, the best restaurants in town are made a priority. Love a bit of adrenaline? They’ll ensure ample time is dedicated to raising your heart rate. Maybe you need a bit of down time? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time allocated to doing your own thing as well.

Essentially, it’s as much or as little as you like — without the pain of calls and emails and juggling an itinerary yourself to lock in things to do and see ahead of your holiday.

How does a Wonderlust Escape work?

After providing some suitable dates, it’s time to get down to business — but not for me, my job is to sit and wait for all the details surrounding the weekend.

Guests are required to fill out a bunch of questions about how they typically travel, the reasoning behind the trip, loves and hates while abroad, as well as where they’d ideally like to go, favourite foods, and past memorable experiences.

For me, I was chasing a few days of ‘Zen’. A few foodie experiences, obviously some wine and plenty of downtime.

I’d opted for their ‘surprise’ package — which meant that after answering a pretty hefty list of questions, specifying my loves and hates of past holidays, the waiting game of where — and what I would be doing — began.

Waiting for the itinerary to land brought about its own sense of excitement, and about a week prior to the weekend, I was told where I’d be going.

Bangalay Luxury Villas on the NSW south coast.

Surrounded by nature, a heated pool, footsteps from the beach and an incredible restaurant on site — every box had been ticked with this hidden sanctuary.

As a booming corner of the east coast rivalling the likes of Byron Bay, Shoalhaven Heads and nearby Gerringong, Gerroa and Berry play as the perfect spot for a weekend away or something a little longer.

Stepping foot on the property, I was escorted to my villa which overlooked the adjoining golf course. A chilled bottle of wine was waiting, as was a toasty fire and some local treats to help me settle in for the next two nights.

I’d received an ‘itinerary’ of sorts in my inbox, which specified how the next few days would look — where I would be dining, having a drink and when I’d be enjoying that much needed down time.

Dinner was booked for both nights at Bangalay’s award-winning onsite restaurant, which offers a relaxed, coastal experience using plenty of Australian and native ingredients. They make a mean cocktail, which you can have plenty of given you’re just footsteps distance from bed afterwards.

Showcasing not just what the accommodation dining experience had to offer, but also the wider region — on day two of the surprise getaway I had a table reserved at Crooked River Winery overlooking the vineyard.

Nestled just 20 minutes north of Bangalay and just past the historic township of Berry, this gorgeous winery dishes up a delectable two-course menu with wines to match.

You can’t go past the pan roasted fish of the day (they had Barra during my visit) alongside the pressed Octopus Terrine with pickled cucumber, heirloom tomatoes and an ink cracker.

The drive throughout Gerringong and back into Berry gives you ample views even from the freeway. I’d mentioned how much I love a scenic roadtrip, and the snaking trail along Crooked River Road towards Gerroa served up plenty of coastal meets country views.

You can’t visit the region without slipping into the famous streets of Berry, where there’s plenty of boutiques, bakeries and bookshops to keep you entertained for a lazy afternoon.

As hoped, the itinerary had allocated plenty of time for me to explore the region and do as much or as little as I liked.

Would I hand over the holiday reins again?

As someone who can be a little OCD when it comes to planning a weekend away, I was a little sceptical about how well the answers to the questionnaire would tick all my boxes.

Thankfully, every item and request was nailed throughout the two night, three day stay.

Plenty of good food, ample downtown, some great wineries and a sprinkle of luxury accommodation with the all-important year-round swimming pool.

And the best bit? I hardly had to lift a finger.

This journalist visited Bangalay Luxury Villas as a guest of Wonderlust Escapes

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