Home com­forts

A lux­ury Queens­land is­land re­sort

Paradise - - Contents -

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.

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).

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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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