{ DES­TI­NA­TION AUS­TRALIA }

Or­pheus Is­land off the coast of Townsville has had a shiny facelift

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HE­LEN MCKENZIE

NO, no, no, was the re­sponse from Chris Mor­ris’s fam­ily to his sug­ges­tion they buy Or­pheus Is­land Re­sort, off the Queens­land coast near Townsville.

The fam­ily com­pany, Colo­nial Leisure Group, started in the ac­com­mo­da­tion busi­ness 10 years ago with Vic­to­ria’s Port­sea Ho­tel and now it has 15 pubs, in­clud­ing the Botan­i­cal in South Yarra.

A brew­ery in Mar­garet River, a cas­tle in Bri­tain and the re­de­vel­op­ment of the home of The West Aus­tralian news­pa­per, Print Hall in Perth, are also part of the group’s prop­erty port­fo­lio.

Mor­ris, who founded the hugely suc­cess­ful Com­puter Share (a firm that tracks and de­liv­ers share­holder en­ti­tle­ments), ex­plains the fam­ily’s re­ac­tion by say­ing with a laugh, ‘‘It’s gen­er­ally thought that own­ing an is­land is even sil­lier than own­ing a boat.’’

In Fe­bru­ary 2011, two weeks af­ter the is­land’s sale was set­tled, Cy­clone Yasi hit and the Mor­ris fam­ily must have felt tempted to ( at the very least) give Dad a de­cent eye roll. Nearby Bedarra and Dunk is­lands were wiped out. West-fac­ing and more shel­tered, Or­pheus also copped a bat­ter­ing: the pool and gar­den were trashed and large trees up­rooted, but the 1960s cy­clone- proof build­ings were largely spared, sus­tain­ing dam­age to roofs and win­dows.

Just over a year later, the rebranded Or­pheus Is­land Great Bar­rier Reef is ready for ac­tion — or make that in­ac­tion, de­pend­ing on your state of mind.

We buzz in by he­li­copter from Townsville air­port. It is a blue-onblue kind of day, all sea and sky as we take in the sur­round­ing Great Bar­rier Reef is­lands; they look like gi­ant step­ping stones. Man­ager Ben Cowen greets us and we are soon at the cen­tral pavil­ion, slurp­ing on the wel­come drink of young co­conut, basil and wa­ter­melon granita with a splash of Mal­ibu. Tastes like is­land life.

Af­ter lunch of crispy duck Ba­li­nese salad with co­conut dress­ing and Sichuan-style bugs with rice noo­dles, we have to start think­ing about din­ner. The tide is out and chef Arie Prabowo, from Java, tells us it’s the per­fect time to find large oys­ters; in no time we have a buck­et­ful.

With skip­per Paul at the helm, we mo­tor off on a sun­set cruise. When we reach Yanks Wharf, Paul tells us it was a de­mag­netis­ing sta­tion for US ships dur­ing the war in the Pa­cific. The Amer­i­cans laid mines in the sur­round­ing wa­ters. Mines are ac­ti­vated by mag­net­i­cally at­tach­ing to ves­sels (that is the func­tion of the spikes), so in or­der not to be blown up by their own­mines, the ship hulls had to be de­mag­ne­tised.

Th­ese days, Yanks Wharf is a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for ro­man­tic pic­nics. Or­pheus has a flotilla of small dinghies avail­able for put­ter­ing about and Paul claims there have been a num­ber of down-on-one-sandy-knee mar­riage pro­pos­als.

On a rocky point on the other side of the re­sort, we scout for gi­ant clams. The lat­est clam count sug­gests there are about 3000; a breed­ing pro­gram es­tab­lished in the 1970s and mon­i­tored by sci­en­tists from James Cook Univer­sity has helped save them from ex­tinc­tion. They had reached dan­ger­ously low num­bers, hav­ing been heav­ily har­vested for the Asian mar­ket for their sup­posed aphro­disiac qual­i­ties.

As the sun sets on the main­land, be­hind Hinch­in­brook Is­land a pair of white ea­gles soars above, mud­dling my thoughts of Amer­i­cans, ro­mance and aphro- disi­acs. It must be din­ner time.

If chef Prabowo were a foot­baller, you would say he has played his socks off in pre­par­ing tonight’s de­gus­ta­tion feast. (The anal­ogy is per­mis­si­ble only be­cause he was pre­vi­ously at that well known apres-AFL at the MCG haunt, the Botan­i­cal Ho­tel.)

The six cour­ses in­clude lo­cally caught snap­per bran­dade ravi­oli with laksa emul­sion and to­biko dust, and a dessert of ba­nana curry with yo­ghurt sor­bet. Prabowo mas­ter­fully com­bines flavours and cre­ates an amaz­ing menu based on his back­ground in In­done­sia, his ex­pe­ri­ence in Mel­bourne, and foods within his grasp on the is­land. He says it’s all about the three Ss —sweet, sour and salty — but he’s also on a mis­sion to create an Or­pheus sig­na­ture cui­sine and to make the food a high­light for guests. I don’t tell him he has al­ready achieved his game plan as he may head off, look­ing for an­other match.

Next morn­ing, de­ci­sions have to be made. Ac­tiv­ity or in­ac­tiv­ity?

Snorkelling, div­ing, fishing, mess­ing about in dinghies, or mov­ing be­tween the lounges be­side the black-tiled in­fin­ity pool and the ham­mocks hang­ing be­neath the palm trees? I ac­com­pany the snorkelling and div­ing en­thu­si­asts, act­ing as boat bal­last and re­cip­i­ent of their fishy tales.

A lone cloud has dulled the vis­i­bil­ity but not the plea­sure of the warm wa­ter and the feel­ing of im­mer­sion in na­ture off un­in­hab­ited Cu­ra­coa Is­land.

The af­ter­noon of­fers lazy is­land plea­sures and a chance to en­joy the newly re­fur­bished vil­las. Mine is a two-roomed af­fair with king­size bed, linen fab­rics, adobe walls and white wooden trim, giv­ing a beachy Hamp­tons feel without an ob­vi­ous nau­ti­cal theme. On hand are Dain­tree Es­sen­tials prod­ucts, loose-leaf tea, plunger cof­fee, iPod dock, DVD player and a choice of air­con­di­tion­ing or ceil­ing fans. Each villa has a pri­vate deck and wa­ter views.

The day closes all soft peach and or­ange. The wa­ter is so still it is like an end­less bolt of silk strewn with rip­ples.

On our last morn­ing, cul­ture calls in the form of Tom Martin from Palm Is­land, who takes us for a walk­ing talk around nearby Fan­tome Is­land. Here we see the re­mains of a lep­rosar­ium run by Fran­cis­can nuns from 1939 to 1973. The story Martin tells is one of alien­ation, iso­la­tion and hard­ship.

In­dige­nous peo­ple with lep­rosy from across Queens­land were re­moved from their fam­i­lies and shipped to this lonely lo­ca­tion. His grand­mother is buried here, and while it feels like a sad place, Martin says he likes to bring his fam­ily here to fish and camp and tells us that on a quiet day you can hear the old peo­ple talk­ing in their lan­guage and it makes you feel good they are look­ing af­ter you.

In the 10- seater plane from Palm Is­land to Townsville, there is time to con­tem­plate Or­pheus Is­land and the re­gion’s mul­ti­lay­ered his­tory. It’s an­other blueon-blue kind of day as we fly over those step­ping-stone is­lands. He­len McKenzie was a guest of Or­pheus Is­land Great Bar­rier Reef.

Snorkelling in the pris­tine wa­ters off Or­pheus Is­land is just one of the wa­ter-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties avail­able to guests

Guests en­joy a sun­set camp­fire on the beach

In­done­sian chef Arie Prabowo has cre­ated an amaz­ing menu

A newly re­fur­bished villa

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