By Jenny Hewett
Jun 28, 2021
FIRST THERE WAS BOLLYWOOD. Then there was Wellywood (Wellington, Kiwi capital and home to mega-director Peter Jackson). Now, world, let me introduce you to Aussiewood. With the pandemic stalling major film productions in the United States, Australia has become an attractive alternative for moviemakers and their muses.
Proof in point: while I was writing this story, my Byron-based bestie called to tell me of the slightly surreal experience of introducing herself to Matt Damon at a small party for their mutual friend(!) over the weekend. And a few months ago, I found myself having breakfast just meters from Game Of Thrones actress Lena Hedley at a Sydney hotel.
Had it been in L.A., I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. But with major films being produced in the Gold Coast, Northern New South Wales, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, the influx of Hollywood elite to Aussie shores seems to be the new norm. Last year, the Australian government pledged A$400 million to the film industry in order to attract overseas film producers and create local jobs. And as a result, movies including Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder; Gold; Escape From Spiderhead; Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives; Elvis; Blacklight; and Ticket To Paradise have said ‘lights, camera, action.’
We’re talking about some of the industry’s most recognizable names, from those mentioned above to Chris Hemsworth (natch) to Tom Hanks — remember when he and his wife Rita Wilson managed to put an optimistic face on isolation when they had coronavirus in the Gold Coast last year? Well, after a jaunt back to the States he returned to Oz to finish that Baz Luhrmann Elvis biopic.
Also count Zac Efron, Natalie Portman, Colin Farrell, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and George Clooney among those fleeing Hollywood for Australia. And while they might come for the work, they stay for the lifestyle. With little to no COVID, Australia currently offers a quality of life that is being coveted around the world. We’re a relatively sparsely populated massive country with wide-open spaces affording an abundance of gorgeous views and privacy— both rarer commodities in L.A. — and with bucket-list wildlife experiences even a celeb can’t resist. Here’s why Hollywood is moving to Australia, and how you can follow in their fanciful footsteps.
Courtesy of tourismpartners.com.au (2)
Cuddling a koala is a rite of passage for any traveler, even — perhaps especially? — one with star status. At the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in the Gold Coast, staff tell me, “Hemsworth and Damon just pay at the gate like regulars.” Set on 27 hectares of natural rainforest, it houses more than 1,000 different species and a wildlife hospital. Visitors can pat kangaroos and eat brekky with the koalas. For a more bespoke encounter outside Byron, join Go Fish on a kayak to see platypuses in the wild.
The Great Wide Open
A three-hour drive from Sydney, Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley resort sprawls across 2,900 hectares and couples (such as recent guests Natalie Portman and her husband) can explore in 4WDs and enjoy horseback riding and gourmet picnics. Or make like director Ron Howard and escape to one of the national parks in the Gold Coast hinterland. With its double baths, glampsite Nightfall Camp is the ultimate reset, while the off-roading Segway safari at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat is a little bit rockstar.
Courtesy of The Range (3)
They’re buying land, or just doing full-property buy-outs. Why? Think sweeping landscapes, total privacy and few paparazzi. Nicole Kidman booked out the entire ranch to stay at The Range in Coopers Shoot behind Byron while she was filming Nine Perfect Strangers, and so can you. Further north in the lush, up-and-coming Tweed area, Zac Efron has purchased a plot of land in an area that’s famous for its locally grown food. And if you want to hang out in the chateau-style Byron Bay mansion that Matt Damon quarantined in, you can find it on Airbnb for A$7,000 a night.
The Hip Motels
Courtesy of The Pink Hotel (2)
With its eclectic interiors, neon signage, flamingo robes and vintage vinyl players, the Palm Springs-style Pink Hotel in the Gold Coast’s Coolangatta is the Aussie embodiment of retro Hollywood. Push open the ‘Janitor’s Closet’ door on the ground level to unearth a speakeasy exclusive to hotel guests and one drink-slinging, piano-singing bartender. Also new to ‘the GC’ is The Mysa Motel in Palm Beach, a drive-in retro motel with palm-fringed pool and modern rooms.
The food tastes like sunshine in Northern NSW (the Tweed area is set inside the remnants of an ancient caldera), so it’s no surprise that Zac Efron is under its spell. Tropical Fruit World makes a fun-park out of every exotic fruit you can think of. While the family-owned Husk Distillers is pioneering agricole rum in Australia, and their Ink Gin, made famous by Margot Robbie, is Prince in a glass.
For the star treatment, hop on a private food tour with Tasting Plate Tours and visit local farms and hatted restaurants such as Pipit and Paper Daisy. Stop into the new Oyster Shed for a three-tier stack of oysters served to your liking. Or dress for the red carpet at beachfront Rick Shores in Burleigh Heads just over the Queensland border, where fried Balmain bug rolls steal the show. Finish on a sweet note with cinnamon-dusted fried bao with ice cream at Jimmy Wah’s down the road. For breakfast, the Oscar goes to the twice-baked Snickers croissant at Margot Robbie-approved brekky spot Bam Bam Bakehouse in Mermaid Waters.