A TALE OF TWO SPAS

In Cairns and Port Douglas, scrubs, rubs, wraps and rolls are more pop­u­lar than sun­bak­ing, finds Susan Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Ttable­lands, the se­ri­ous re­sort-goer heads an hour north along the twisty coast-hug­ging high­way to Palm Cove or Port Douglas.

Both sea­side en­claves are home to Sea Tem­ple re­sorts, also man­aged by Mir­vac and of­fer­ing glam spas; the Sea Tem­ple Palm Cove has just joined The Aus­tralian ’ s Travel & Tourism Awards Win­ners’ Cir­cle for win­ning the Qan­tas Fre­quent Flyer ho­tel part­ner cat­e­gory for two con­sec­u­tive years.

But I am Port Douglas-bound and, still slip­pery and hap­pily weak-kneed from the Cairns In­ter­na­tional spa ex­pe­ri­ence, I sink into near-obliv­ion in one of Sea Tem­ple’s swim-out rooms.

There is in this de­scrip­tion of swim­ming out the sug­ges­tion of es­cape by breast-stroke but clearly it’s not a case of break­ing free as this is a room with a se­ri­ous loi­ter­ing fac­tor.

The apart­ment-style ac­com­mo­da­tion is a cool and spa­cious haven of white-dressed beds and bright cush­ions, Asian-in­spired furniture and prints; it is de­signed for guests to spread out and well-equipped with a full kitchen and laun­dry. From the cov­ered ter­race, en­cour­ag­ingly pro­vided with more furniture of the ly­ing­down variety, it’s just a few steps into the palm-bor­dered la­goon pool with its wa­ter­falls and bridges.

It’s al­most like hav­ing a pool of one’s own and to be able to slip into the wa­ter — with­out the carry-on of O spa or not to spa: that’s hardly a real dilemma when it comes to a north­ern Queens­land re­sort hol­i­day. A rub, scrub, wrap or roll is as much part of the get­away menu th­ese days as a sit on the beach (lath­ered in sun­block and un­der straw hats so wide they make som­breros look like side plates) and a swim in the sea.

At Mir­vac’s Cairns In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel, a spa­cious city prop­erty with a re­furb planned, a su­per $2.5 mil­lion spa has opened on level two with 10 treat­ment rooms, in­clud­ing a cou­ples’ salon and a Vichy shower room, and a re­lax­ation area with ot­tomans, big saucer chairs, waft­ing cur­tains and maid­ens bear­ing trays of herbal teas and sliced fruit. It’s very stylish in­deed and a sig­nal that Mir­vac is se­ri­ous about an over­all ho­tel up­grade here.

Pevonia Botanica prod­ucts are used for su­per-nour­ish­ing fa­cials plus se­lected items from Li’Tya, the Aus­tralian man­u­fac­turer that bases its creams, lo­tions, masks and balms on bush in­gre­di­ents and Abo­rig­i­nal reme­dies. So whether it’s hav­ing one’s feet ex­fo­li­ated with desert salts and smoth­ered with a na­tive pep­per­berry mask or suc­cumb­ing to a top-to-toe marine mud wrap, this spa is all about pam­per­ing.

While Cairns is a splen­did gate­way to the Great Bar­rier Reef and up to the leav­ing the room, find­ing a pool­side chair, then re­al­is­ing the sun­block and som­brero are still back in said room — is heaven in­deed.

My only com­plaint about Sea Tem­ple Port Douglas is that you can’t swim to the spa: now that would be some­thing to boast about. The re­sort’s menu of 30 ther­a­pies is based on Elemis prod­ucts and there are treat­ments with names as de­sir­able as ex­otic mois­ture dew and herbal laven­der re­pair, all ad­min­is­tered in eight creamy-white private rooms that smell of ginger, lime and rose­mary.

My mother made do with a life­time of Oil of Olay and had en­vi­ably smooth skin when she died in her 60s. She cov­ered up in the sun but loved the muggy trop­ics as the hu­mid­ity, she al­ways said, mois­turised the skin and kept one look­ing younger.

I don’t know what she would have made of the spa fan­dango of the 21st cen­tury and per­haps would not have seen much mer­ri­ment in pay­ing $175 for, say, a 75-minute tri-en­zyme resur­fac­ing fa­cial.

But she loved to look good on hol­i­days and al­ways found a beauty salon for a wash and set (and a com­bup for spe­cial nights). Maybe we haven’t come so far af­ter all. Her salon vis­its were about me-time as well, al­though her gen­er­a­tion didn’t ac­knowl­edge it and wouldn’t have known their chakras from their corsets. She would ap­prove of ladies ly­ing down and be­ing waited on and not be­ing re­quired to cook din­ner and do the wash­ing on hol­i­days.

So per­haps it would be the kitchen and laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties in Sea Tem­ple gue­strooms that would ap­pall her. There’s no way she’d have packed an apron and her laven­der iron­ing spray along with the sun frocks, san­dals and stash of nov­els.

I feel the same about self-cater­ing and make ef­fi­cient use of Sea Tem­ple’s la­goon-view main restau­rant; the cui­sine is fresh and in­ven­tive, with lots of reef and es­tu­ary fish.

Pan-fried bar­ra­mundi gets an ori­en­tal makeover with tem­pura of soft-shell crab, pick­led green pa­paya and pomelo salad and chilli peanuts. There’s a sweet trop­i­cal twist to the dessert menu, with co­conut creme brulee and rum-roasted ba­nanas or mango and pineap­ple jelly served with kaf­fir lime cream and meringue. All de­li­cious and served with style in a high-ceilinged room open to the breeze.

This 194-room re­sort — fea­tur­ing stu­dios, two and three-bed­room apart­ments, pent­houses, vil­las and golf course-fac­ing res­i­dences with private plunge pools — opened in mid-2006. It’s a swish, well-de­signed prop­erty on a trop­i­cal Coral Sea-bor­dered es­tate at the south­ern end of Four Mile Beach and about 5km from Port Douglas’s Macrossan Street hub.

Golfers ap­pear to love it to shreds; its golf and coun­try club fea­tures an 18-hole course ranked in the top six links-style cour­ses in Aus­tralia.

Staff mem­bers are young and en­thu­si­as­tic and there’s plenty of un­der­cover park­ing for guests (a rental car is the way to go; there’s much to ex­plore in Port Douglas and its sur­rounds) and a stream­lined flow of fa­cil­i­ties.

Built around a mas­sive and me­an­der­ing la­goon pool, Sea Tem­ple’s two­s­torey blocks of rooms (those on the sec­ond level have ac­cess to rooftops with bar­be­cues, sun­decks and spa tubs) spread in wings from the soar­ingroofed and open-sided re­cep­tion area.

Un­der­stand­ably, given the size and safety of the 3000sq m la­goon, Sea Tem­ple is all about wor­ship of wa­ter and is a pop­u­lar fam­ily hang-out. Dur­ing my visit, there are ju­nior swim­mers pad­dling past, muck­ing about with wa­ter wings and beach toys, and a lot of laugh­ter in the air. Par­ents ap­pear on the steps of swim-out rooms and call their chil­dren in for tea. And then call them again. And again. Were she still here, draped in a ba­nana chair, in com­pany with Agatha Christie and Daphne du Mau­rier, that’s some­thing my dear Mum would find very familiar. Susan Kuro­sawa was a guest of Mir­vac and Tourism Queens­land. ■ www.mir­va­cho­tels.com.au ■ www.cairnsin­ter­na­tional.com.au ■ www.queens­land­hol­i­days.com.au

Best taken ly­ing down: A mag­i­cal mo­ment of ma­nip­u­la­tion picked from the menu of 30 treat­ments at the Sea Tem­ple Re­sort & Spa in Port Douglas, left; go­ing with the flow in the Vichy shower room at the Cairns In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel’s new $2.5 mil­lion spa

So cool: Sea Tem­ple, Port Douglas

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