A luxury Queensland island resort
The first things you notice are the photos. They line the richly rendered white walls of Orpheus Island Resort, black-and-white images clearly from a different time.
In them, a startlingly pretty young woman poses against a variety of backdrops. One photo has her high on the island, sun hat dangling from her hand, and Orpheus’s coral bays in the background. In another, she’s posing with a couple of locals, sitting in a giant clamshell. A third has an indigenous man gently clutching the wrist of a young Hollywood actor, Robert Mitchum, instructing him how to handle a boomerang.
The images are fascinating. Blown up large and displayed in the resort’s public areas and rooms, they convey a sense of the past, and of home. Of lived-in comfort.
This, you soon realise, is Orpheus’s parlour trick. From the moment your helicopter lands at the far end of the resort’s expansive garden, you feel like you’re being welcomed not into a hotel, but into someone’s home. You don’t use your key at Orpheus because you hardly need to. You don’t need to swipe anything or tell anyone your
There are 28 staff at Orpheus to look after the 28 guests.
room number because just about everything – food, drinks, activities – is included. Gone are all those moments of friction that remind you that you’re staying at a hotel. It’s hard to overstate how this adjusts your mindset.
It’s in the service too. We wouldn’t know general manager Ross Penegar from the rest of his staff, except he’s there to greet us as we touch down, grabbing our bags with a couple of suntanned fists.
There are 28 staff at Orpheus to look after the 28 guests, Penegar tells us later, and while that means you never want for anything, it also creates a sense of equivalency between host and guest. It’s egalitarian, friendly, familiar and, most of all, comfortable.
It also means Penegar has the time to sit us down in the lounge with a welcome drink and introduce us to chefs Daniel Main, Aileen Aguirre and Francis Dela Cruz – who check our dietary requirements and chat to us about that day’s menu – before showing us to our room, an airy, understatedly luxe villa on the northern side of the complex with views straight across the garden to the bay beyond.
It’s Penegar who’ll appear again later on the beach, seemingly out of nowhere, prepping us for a paddle-boarding session. He helps us push off and we float out over the reef, catching the easterly breeze towards the mainland, before turning to work our way back to the beach. Orpheus’s lovely, lazy infinity pool and an open bar await us as reward.
Later, a gentle cruise out into Hazard Bay, with champagne and cocktails, doubles as a welcome for new arrivals. It’s also the first time we take stock of the other guests. They’re couples mostly. Two 20-somethings have flown from Los Angeles for their honeymoon. Another pair has travelled from Texas for an anniversary. For a couple of Brits, this is the luxury leg of an extended trip to Australia.
In the twilight, we watch as Penegar somehow summons white-bellied sea eagles from Orpheus’s iconic Clam Gardens, while fellow general manager Jen Fitzmaurice explains the history of the dramatic archipelago of islands that surrounds us.
During the last ice age, it was a mountain range separating the mainland from the sea.
After dark, we freshen up before sitting down to a multi-course meal in Orpheus’s expansive pavilion, tables for two facing out across the torch-lit gardens and the sea beyond.
Chef Main and his team switch up the menu daily. One night you might have Cape Grim beef tenderloin with horseradish foam; the next, pan-seared snapper with bok choy and black fungi. Everything is North Queensland fresh and full of colour, the service precise but unobtrusive.
The next morning, we have a snorkelling date to attend. Fitzmaurice and her team outfit us with flippers and suits, before Orpheus’s dive boat, the Maree
Ann, powers us south, around the tip of Orpheus towards the eastern shore of nearby Curacoa Island, where an extended stretch of reef sits particularly close to the surface. Fitzmaurice take us into the water, the high mid-morning Queensland sun shining on the coral below.
It’s like entering another world. Floating along with the gentle current, we dive to inspect giant brain corals, elephant ear sponges and all sorts of bizarrely shaped anemones. Parrot fish zip this way and that, while more timid sea creatures peek at us from inside deep crevices. We team up with other guests, pointing out each and every hyper-coloured creature. When motioned back to the boat, we hardly want to leave.
That same reluctance strikes in the afternoon, when we hear the
blades of the helicopter cutting through the tropical air. Our time at Orpheus is almost up.
Penegar and Fitzmaurice walk us to the helipad, fast friends among the other guests waving from their hammocks. We don’t want to say goodbye but Penegar reminds us that a return visit is barely more than a flight to Townsville away. See you soon, Orpheus.
Island luxuries ... the pool bar at Orpheus Island (above); tasteful interiors (right). "You feel like your'e being welcomed not into a hotel, but into someone's home."
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Breathtaking ... snorkelling on a fringing reef at Orpheus Island (right); salt and pepper squid with wasabi cream, served at the pavilion where tables face out to sea (far right).