A year like no other, 2020 has truly served us a mixed bag of challenges.
But while the coronavirus has prevented us from looking out, it has forced us to look in. All our plans for international travel have been thwarted, but it has allowed for us to reconnect with our homelands. Seeing it in a new way. It's a gift of sorts, although it has come through much hardship. But in a year where gratitude is more important than ever, I'm not someone to look a gift horse in the mouth.
With Instagram seemingly a constant stream of rocky Italian beaches and cobbled French streets, it's easy to forget about the natural beauty on our doorstep. We live in one of the biggest countries in the world, and with that comes a landscape that includes deserts, rainforest, tropical islands, sand dunes, snow, grasslands, mountains and of course azure-watered beaches.
The diversity of Australia is a forgotten concept that I was reintroduced to through Lexus. In celebration of the luxury car brand's newest launch, the reimagined IS range, I set out on an Australian adventure. It was a trip down a path less travelled. One that allowed for a rediscovery of the art of the road trip - the quiet beauty of cruising down winding roads amid rolling hills and grey-green bushland.
Our day began at the airport. A helicopter carried us over the rocky coastline of Sydney, hovering above the turquoise waters of Bondi and following the icy crests of the waves South to Cronulla. The white cliffs of the Royal National Park are stark against the ghostly bush surroundings and as we passed Wollongong and the deep blue waters of Gerringong, we took a sharp right and headed inland.
Landing in a grassy clearing in Kangaroo Valley, our first stop was a unique rental property called The Sticks. The enormous and luxurious property is unique in that it melts into the surrounding landscape, working in tandem with the hilly surrounds and not against. It's a place far away from main roads, shops and metropolitan noise. A space for connecting with the beauty of its environment. Floor-to-ceiling windows and uniquely-angled rooms show off the grassy expanses and wildlife of the property. Kangaroos quite literally hop around the grounds. It was a show of just how many quirks we have in Australia. A reminder of how much more of this country there is to explore. How many more wondrous architectural marvels like The Sticks are out there, undiscovered and waiting? And you don't need a plane to find them, just a car.
Another short helicopter trip took us to the heights of Abercrombie Ridge, a place with views of the entire valley. It was here that we began our drive. Our Lexus IS vehicles waiting and ready to take us to an unknown destination ahead. I asked where we were going, but I was told only to follow the preprogrammed GPS. Back in the city where I live, I'm so used to the perfunctory nature of driving, moving from A-to-B and always knowing exact how to get there. How long had it been since I had driven somewhere unfamiliar? How long since I'd ventured out with a packed car and nothing but a map to guide me? In all honesty, it's been about 10 years.
Off we set, with our coordinates programmed into the Lexus IS GPS. Gravel roads led us to the highway, a one-lane snaking road that connects much of NSW. The feeling of the unknown was intimidating but also liberating. Feeling the heavy steering wheel in my hand and driving fast around corners, and in a car that knows how to stick to the road, was a kind of freedom I hadn't felt in a long time.
We passed pastures and livestock. Drove down into the depths of a valley and back up again. Swerving around logging trucks and enjoying the feeling of being able to just drive. Like really drive. I connected CarPlay and switched to one of my more intense playlists: a high-energy somewhat odd mix of Skrillex, The Presets, INXS and Deftones. It took me back to a time in my early twenties where road trips where the only form of travel I had - and even now after all the trips to Amalfi and Tulum, those road trips were still some of the best times of my life.
Of course this was a slightly different experience. Driving a luxurious Lexus IS (I had the IS 350) that can take a sharp corner without breaking a sweat, one with a darn good sound system, all the tech bells and whistles and a fabulously-efficient aircon is certainly not the experience I had at 21. The comfort is on a whole different level. But I am reminded of how much fun and how magical it is to incidentally discover new places in your own backyard.
The GPS eventually guided us to Mayfield Gardens, an elevated plain outside of Oberon that has some of the most stunning botanical arrangements. Gardenias and violets surrounding a pond reminded me of a little slice of English countryside but then around the corner, narrow paths and a red bridge looked like something out of a Japanese cherry blossom garden. I'm struck by how much of my own state, let alone country is still left to explore.
I'm writing this piece from my home in the Northern Beaches lockdown, amid Sydney's second coronavirus wave. But I'm already planning my next escape. Lexus has special relationships with unique hotels across Australia, including the Raes on Wategos, One&Only Wolgan Valley and Jackalope in the Mornington Peninsula. After rediscovering the joy of roadtripping, these places are definitely next on my list.
Mia Steiber travelled as a guest of Lexus.