Rat-a-tat-tat! My dog and I jump as Borry Gartrell, owner of Borrodell Vineyard near Orange in the NSW central west, looms out of the darkness and raps on our cottage window. Stella, my elderly schipperke, barks and zigzags around the kitchen bumping into things (her eyesight isn’t what it used to be). Gartrell has popped by to drop off firewood and exchange pleasantries; he doesn’t raise an eyebrow at the noisy furry guest because he’s one of a growing number of accommodation providers who welcome pets.
Stella, usually an inner-city hound, proceeds to enjoy a glorious weekend at the high-altitude vineyard, darting between apple trees where fruit still clings to branches in midwinter, tracing the scent trails of foxes and kangaroos while I revel in having a weekend away without any separation anxiety. How times have changed. Australia has one of the world’s highest domestic animal ownership rates, with an estimated eight million pet owners (mostly of cats and dogs), yet we’ve lagged behind North America and Europe when it comes to welcoming pets travelling with owners. But happily for those who don’t want to leave behind much-loved pets while they holiday, now there’s a multitude of options — from caravan parks and country B&Bs to five-star hotels and even ritzy private mansions — that lay out the welcome mat for four-legged guests.
Satisfied guest at Pier One Sydney Harbour at Walsh Bay.
Beyond the front door
Gareth Brock knows a lot about Australia’s pet-friendly options. The Sydneysider’s 2014 book Have Pet, Will Travel looked at what to do when travelling with or without your pet. This year he followed up with Pets on Holiday, a guide to Australia’s most pet-inclusive destinations that lists more than 650 pet-friendly properties. In a sign of the times, Brock’s website (petcheckin.com.au) also has evolved, swinging away from pet boarding options to pet-friendly properties. Pet owners can refine their search by ticking boxes if they require an enclosed yard or need to know if their pet must meet size or vaccination restrictions.
Brock’s interest in where to park a pet began when he went to Europe and needed care for his parson terrier-german shepherd cross, Ebony. The second book evolved from difficulties in finding pet-friendly properties “that weren’t simply pet-tolerant but genuine places that really open their doors to you having your pet with you and where you’re not made to feel like a second-class citizen”. Brock still shudders at the thought of a hotel in Wagga Wagga, NSW, where Ebony’s bed for the night turned out to be an outdoor kennel. “It was a freezing winter and she’s an indoor dog so that was unfair for her,” he says.
It’s one thing to enjoy a pet-friendly stay, quite another to pair that with pet-friendly activities beyond the front door. “We found a lot of cool stuff you can do with your dog, like winery tours and stand-up paddle-boarding and markets,” says Brock. When it comes to favourite places to take Ebony for a weekend, he nominates Culburra and Huskisson on the NSW south coast. “It’s an extremely pet-friendly destination. The beach is amazing and Huskisson has an amazing strip of (pet-friendly) restaurants and cafes with outdoor areas.” Most recently, Brock and Ebony took a jaunt to Hillview Heritage Hotel in the NSW southern highlands, a former vice-regal country escape that offers pet-friendly cottages.
Luxico is an upmarket company with 150 ritzy mansions, penthouse apartments and country estates for holiday rentals. Guests also enjoy hotel-style privileges such as access to a 24-hour concierge. Dog-loving couple Tom and Alex Ormerod started the company in Victoria in 2013, added NSW properties in 2015 and this year spread the service to Queensland. A trio of pet-friendly options includes the Cosmopolitan, a six-bedroom home in Melbourne’s South Yarra with heated pool, spa and in-ground trampoline, and three-bedroom Mosman Cottage in one of Sydney’s more moneyed suburbs. “As part of our on-boarding (signing-up) process (with owners), quite often we see a fuzzball running around and we ask, ‘Would you consider a pet?’ ” says Tom Ormerod. “We also put the pet’s profile to them (to accept or decline as a guest).”
Those who prefer to be greeted by a valet can check in to the Langham, Sydney, where it’s not unusual to see a perfectly coiffured pooch strolling through the foyer with its owner. The luxury hotel’s pet-friendly policy is a legacy from the former management of what was the Observatory Hotel. The Langham retained the pets-welcome idea after taking over the 98-room hotel overlooking Barangaroo in 2014. But the five-star surrounds don’t come cheap as checking in a furry friend adds $120 a night per pet to the bill. Another luxury option, a few blocks from the Langham, is Pier One Sydney Harbour at Walsh Bay (with a $65 cleaning fee per stay). The hotel was the home away from home for celebrity canine Koko, the kelpie that starred in the 2011 movie Red Dog, when he was in Sydney doing the promotional rounds. Eleven ground-floor rooms with direct pier access are designated dog-friendly. The package includes a soft toy, dog bed, minibar treats and a menu of $20 gourmet dinners from in-house restaurant the Gantry.
Sit pretty in the city
The good news for pet owners who need to keep a leash on the budget is the proliferation of mid-range, big-city stays. The 114-room Pensione Hotel Melbourne, on Spencer Street, broadcasts its pet-friendliness with quirky touches such as a bespectacled-dog cushion on the foyer armchair. Another 8Hotels property, the Ultimo in Sydney’s Chinatown, welcomes pets under 20kg. The Larmont Sydney by Lancemore in Sydney’s Potts Point has four pet-friendly courtyard rooms while the Mercure Canberra, a government-built hotel dating from the 1920s, offers rooms with access to an enclosed garden and no size restrictions. The hotel also allows owners and pets to dine together in a cosy nook with a fireplace near the Courtyard Restaurant, as well as in a dining area on the terrace.
Regional and rural hotels are also embracing the pet trend. Vibe Hotel Marysville, in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, claims “no matter the weight, size or breed, if your pet fits through the door we’ll welcome them with arms wide open”.
The lobby at the pet-friendly Vibe Hotel Marysville in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. Picture: Mauro Risch.
On a shoestring
Aussie road-trippers with a pet have long relied on campgrounds, caravan parks and motels for a warm welcome (Stella’s favourite motel is the Big Windmill near Coffs Harbour). Pets are welcome at about 90 Big4 Holiday Parks across the country and at others outside the Big4 network, such as Kioloa Beach Holiday Park on the NSW south coast. Here, dogs aren’t allowed indoors but can stay on your cabin’s (fenced) patio after scampering along the dog-friendly beach out front.
One place in Broome has gone a step further, making it compulsory that guests turn up with a pet. The Broome PCYC, which takes in campers at an overflow park during periods of high demand (June 1 to September 1), has put out a sign saying, “For entry you must have a pet dog or cat”. Park manager Wayne Rowles told ABC News recently the restriction meant he had to keep an eye out for campers pretending to have a pet.
Odd bods all welcome
Yondah Beach House is a three-bedroom, clifftop house set on more than 120ha with 2km of coastline on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula that has won multiple tourism awards. Past guests have brought horses, pet rats and turtles. Dogs also are allowed to roam around inside the house. At Hawley House on Tasmania’s north coast, horses, rabbits, ferrets and chickens have come to stay. The hound-friendly property allows dogs to trot up the spiral staircase to the rooftop bath, which offers water views.
The Hughenden, a Victorian-era mansion that has become a boutique hotel in Sydney’s Woollahra, welcomes cats and dogs but also counts a baby kangaroo among its former guests.