CHASE THE SUN

PALM TREES, POOL BARS AND AN IS­LAND PAR­ADISE RE­MOVED FROM TIME – A TRIP TO THE TROP­I­CAL NORTH HAS NEVER LOOKED BET­TER

Central Telegraph - - ESCAPE - WORDS: CHANTAY LO­GAN

Bougainvil­lea spills over white­washed walls fram­ing a fiery sun­set. A pool­side panorama of striped um­brel­las and de­signer deck chairs flows past palm trees to an azure ocean bristling with masts.

It could be a sun-soaked slice of Europe. Maybe Bali.

It’s Townsville. And it’s not what you’re ex­pect­ing. While the trip is a first for me, friends who know the city well are sur­prised by my hol­i­day snaps.

In­fused with en­ergy from the re­cent re­vamp of bench­mark-blitz­ing prop­erty The Ville (by the same own­ers as play­ground for the rich and fa­mous Or­pheus Is­land), the North Queens­land hub de­mands a visit — or a re­visit.

While end­less sum­mer seek­ers have long flown north, the des­ti­na­tion is at its best now, in the milder months. There are plenty of bar­gains to be had on the ac­com­mo­da­tion front, but it’s hard to com­pete with The Ville’s lo­ca­tion and all-in-one at­trac­tions.

And noth­ing beats that feel­ing of a fresh reno, when you’re the first to slide into crisp white sheets or threaten the sanc­tu­ary of the spa bath with way too many bub­bles. That’s ex­actly what my roomy re­sort suite de­liv­ers.

Fit­tingly for a par­adise sat­u­rated in sunshine 300 days of every year, the pool is the piece de re­sis­tance, its in­fin­ity-edged wa­ters lap­ping that post­card view.

Perch at the swim-up Splash Bar or on the sleek semi-sub­merged white deck chairs and you’ll be set. The cock­tails and club sand­wiches come to you, or head into one of the ex­cel­lent on-site eater­ies.

The airy al­fresco-an­gled Palm House is like a de­signer kitchen on steroids, com­bin­ing the cus­tomi­sa­tion of chef-tended sta­tions with the scope of a buf­fet.

I’m en­joy­ing a sunny break­fast in the restau­rant’s palm gar­den when my racy red ride makes its not-so-sub­tle en­trance.

Nau­tilus Avi­a­tion’s im­pes­sive chop­per, which touches down in the re­sort’s “back­yard”, is the ul­ti­mate way to roll when you’re ready to ex­plore fur­ther afield.

We cir­cle the city’s stony sen­tinel Cas­tle Hill, where ath­leisure-decked lo­cals defy the heat daily for pin­na­cle views al­most as good as the ones we’re cur­rently en­joy­ing, be­fore mak­ing our way over the om­bre ocean.

A sea­grass buf­fet grazed by fat dugongs gives way to the bril­liant blue-greens fring­ing Mag­netic Is­land, where tourists go top­less in Bar­bie-pink con­vert­ibles on their way to ex­plore the 23 bays and beaches.

With only a day to play, choos­ing just one spot to spread my towel is tough. In­spired by the black and white pho­tos of bathers splash­ing in retro suits that line my ho­tel room, I set­tle on Alma Bay. It’s easy to be­lieve it hasn’t changed at all.

Chalky gran­ite head­lands col­lide with the clear­est of cobalt wa­ters, the screech of sul­phur-crested cock­a­toos and chor­tle of kook­abur­ras con­tribut­ing to a uniquely Aus­tralian sound­track.

Stretch­ing out on sun-warmed rocks af­ter

a dip, it’s tempt­ing to take a leaf out of the books of the koalas slum­ber­ing in nearby eu­ca­lypt nooks. The whole is­land feels trapped in time, in­ex­orably nudg­ing hol­i­day­mak­ers into its more leisurely timetable.

But nap­ping would mean miss­ing Mag­netic’s magic. The fort walk is one of the best to spot koalas, while ridicu­lously adorable rock wal­la­bies hang out at the Ar­ca­dia pier at dusk. Stum­ble on the but­ter­fly for­est at the right time of year to get caught in a cloud of danc­ing blue tiger but­ter­flies. Long lunches are the only kind served here and a seafood plat­ter on the breezy bal­cony of Bare­foot Art Food Wine fits the bill.

A con­ve­nient 20-minute ferry marks my re­luc­tant re­turn to real­ity and from there it’s just a short stroll to The Ville, or on­wards to­wards Townsville’s fa­mous palm-lined strip The Strand.

I en­joyed the French fu­sion flavours at Michels Restau­rant in town, but my most mem­o­rable meal was closer to home. Back on that bougainvil­lea-draped deck where the dream be­gins, Miss Songs is a new mod­ern Asian restau­rant that would give any in the cap­i­tals a run for their money.

To see what I mean, com­bine the seafood san choi bau and Pek­ing duck pan­cakes with ring­side seats for the sig­na­ture far North Queens­land sun­set. The writer was a guest of The Ville

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