Mountain highs

26 Jan 2005 by business traveller

It was so good of them to send the welcome wallaby. As I steered cautiously up another steep curve, feeling thankful it was a rental car that I was putting through this rocky hell, the wallaby appeared from among the trees, stopped for a split second, then hopped away up the mountain.

It had taken me an hour and a half to drive the 140km from Brisbane Airport, and a further 25 minutes just to crawl up the bumpy 12km drive. I was heading for the 9,000-acre Peppers Spicers Peak Lodge, on Cedar Mountain in Queensland's Scenic Rim.

Peppers is owned by Graham Turner, founder and owner of the international Flight Centre travel empire. Graham's wife Jude was responsible for the design of the £2 million lodge, after being inspired by the stylish lodges she'd seen in New Zealand and South Africa. Peppers has high ceilings, huge fireplaces and wall-to-wall glass to maximise the remarkable views. The fireplace in the dining room is over six foot high; you can actually sit in it and read. The walls and ceilings are decorated with rich timber and some of the oldest Scottish bluestone in Australia. The suede and leather sofas, armchairs and coffee tables are scattered with hard-backed design books.

There are only 10 double suites at Peppers Spicers, all with their own private terraces, slatted blinds, fireplaces, L'Occitane toiletries, DVD and CD player and large, comfy beds. One of the rooms ? called the star-gazers suite ? has a glass ceiling over the spa bath, and for business meetings there are two minimalist conference rooms with natural light and stunning views across the mountains.

The lodge is managed by Peppers Retreats and Resorts, and run by newlyweds Belinda and Mark Stapleton. Mark, 40, is an experienced (and unusually agreeable) chef who was executive chef at the Sydney Opera House before joining the Merivale Group, one of Sydney's bar and restaurant operators, and later the Australian Wine Centre. It was here that he met Belinda, who oversees everything outside the kitchen. They live next door to the lodge, but are always on hand if you need them.

Peppers Spicer is billed as a ?gastronomic lodge? and meals are definitely a high point, with (weather permitting) breakfasts on the terrace, lunches by the pool and evening meals in the grand dining room (all food and drink is included in the rate, so you'll have to watch your waistline). Guests can choose to eat on their own, join a large dining table with others or eat on their private terraces.

Dinner on the first night was a fabulous eight-course tasting menu, including a warm tomato soup topped with goats curd and basil oil, spiced tuna on a tomato, cucumber and peanut salad, and roasted lamb loin and mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto with vegetable spaghetti. Mark caters the menu to his guests' tastes and as soon as I told him I was a lover of fish, it featured more heavily. He also noticed that I loved his home-baked bread, so the portions got worryingly larger and larger.

After meals, we'd all get chatting over a few glasses of wine and soon I felt like I was staying with some very hospitable and wealthy friends. A couple of times, I had to stop myself offering to help clear the table. I'd forgotten I was a paying guest.

The resort is 1,130m above sea level and has a pleasant, temperate climate. When it's 29 degrees in Brisbane, it's only around 24 here, and the nights get quite chilly most of the year. Even on the hottest summer days, there is usually a cool breeze across the infinity edge swimming pool and sunken tennis court.

Activities include bushwalking, mountain biking, four-wheel drive tours, and walks of varying lengths, and if you're worried about getting lost, Mark will give you a two-way radio so you can keep in contact. Mountain bikes are free to guests ? as are the gloves and helmets (you'll need them) ? and horse riding can be arranged at an extra cost. There are no distractions from the tranquillity; the lodge is as remote as you can get without feeling totally cut off from the outside world. Mobiles don't generally work, but then, being in touch with the office would defeat the object of coming to a wilderness retreat.

On my final morning, I awoke to find the lodge completely shrouded in cloud, something that isn't unusual here. Within 20 minutes or so, the dawn sun had burnt away the clouds and I felt safe to venture out. As I made my way down to the walking track, a wallaby hopped out from among the misty haze. I like to think it was the same one, coming to say goodbye.

Rates start at $375 per person for a twin share, fully inclusive of all food and beverages. For bookings, call 61 7 4666 1083, email[email protected]or visitwww.peppers.com.au.

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