Where would you have travelled overseas in the past two years if there were no restrictions? The possibilities are endless. But what experiences would you have missed in this vast, beautiful, and often rugged backyard we call Australia? Abandoning all plans for overseas travel, we set our sights on one of the lesser-known Queensland destinations – the sunny, secluded, and luxurious Orpheus Island Lodge.
Accommodating only twenty-eight guests and 27 staff, Orpheus is an all-inclusive, private lodge with luxurious villas and suites, just a few steps from the tropical reef.
Situated just 79 kms from Townsville, Orpheus Island stretches across 11km of the pristine, tropical Coral Sea. As part of the Palm Islands within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, Orpheus Island offers secluded sandy bays, swaying palms, one thousand hectares of National Park, rocky headlands and stunning reefs.
Orpheus Island is accessible from Cairns or Townsville via a short and beautifully scenic chartered helicopter flight – all personally organised by the Orpheus team. If restricted baggage of 15kg per person is an issue, a ferry option is available.
From the moment we landed, we felt like VIPs. Indeed, this Island has attracted the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Vivien Leigh, Mickey Rooney and Elton John (who, as rumour has it, donated a grand piano). As we lightly touched down on the Helipad, our bags whisked away, we were warmly greeted by the Orpheus Manager and team, who guided us through the beautifully coastal main pavilion bar and alfresco-style dining area to a relaxed lounge area. Sipping on our glasses of champagne (or beer if you prefer), and nibbling on a fruit and cheese platter, we were introduced to Head Chef, Paul Wilson, while the Manager explained the layout of offerings. If you are like me, when I hear all-inclusive, I do wonder what that really means. On Orpheus it means everything! Well, almost. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, bar fridges stocked with quality champagne, beer, whites, reds and spirits, including their very own Northern Escape Gin. If you manage to work up an appetite between meal sittings, there are large glass cookie jars, filled with delicious snacks, bar chips and even a speciality cocktail on two of the evenings around the infinity pool.
What is not included are some bespoke experiences, such as deep reef fishing, scuba diving, the day spa or a curated boat trip to nearby Hinchinbrook Island. For an additional cost, Orpheus also offers an extensive cellared wine list and a personally curated six course degustation experience called Dining with the Tides, on the secluded Pier.
In our well-appointed, spacious villa, overlooking the Coral Sea, we arrive to a personal welcome note, perched aside a bottle of Jansz in an ice filled champagne bucket, and a delicious fruit and cheese platter. The bar fridge is stocked daily, including special local touches, like Charlie’s Chocolate and tropical dried fruit, sparking water and herbal teas, set out each evening before bed. A laundry service is offered daily.
On Orpheus Island you can choose to do very little, like relax by the infinity pool or sway in a hammock with a drink and book hand, or a lot, including snorkelling, fishing, scuba diving and hiking. As part of the package, Orpheus offers a daily experience for all guests. We chose the snorkelling and fishing. Other days, we chose to take our own, personal dinghy out to explore the surrounding bays and try our hand at fishing. We took one of the kayaks for a relaxing paddle around to Sandy Bay and also ventured out on a challenging walk over the Island to rugged, beach stoned Picnic Bay, where the staff enjoy snorkelling (it looked a little too rough for us novice snorkellers). A shorter, more relaxed walk up to a viewpoint on the Northern end of Orpheus Island is the other walking option.
One good thing about accommodating only twenty-eight guests, is that you get to know the other guests and share in some of the activities. We went sailing with Amber and Alex, and went fishing with Melody, Jonathan, and their adorable children. Yes, Orpheus Island accommodates families. While that may be a deal breaker for some, we thoroughly enjoyed the children’s wonder at all the amazing marine life, including taking a break during dinner to wander out to the Pier to marvel at the harmless reef sharks, gliding through the water below.
Food is a serious business at Orpheus Island Lodge. So serious, in fact, that the menu is printed with your names each night. Head Chef, Paul Wilson, focuses on sustainability, with a menu based on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients from the Island’s thriving vegetable garden. Prior to Orpheus, Paul worked at Denmark’s acclaimed Geranium, a three Michelin-starred restaurant, ranked nineteen in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list as well as Canberra’s herbivore restaurant, Monster Kitchen and Bar.
The Orpheus breakfast is a laid-back affair, with a fresh smoothie, fresh juice, barista coffee and tea, seasonal fruit, and a pastry, as an entrée to the a la carte menu. The Spanner Crab Omelette was delicious, and a constant supply of fresh eggs are sourced from the Island’s very own chicken coop.
Lunch is served in the relaxed pavilion area and features an enticing tapas menu, inspired by different countries around the World including Asian, Spanish, Italian and Australian dishes. For a more personalised lunch, you can request a gourmet picnic hamper to enjoy while you are out exploring the nearby bays by dinghy.
Dinner is served in the alfresco dining area overlooking the Coral Sea, with soft, Hampton style torch lanterns providing a beautiful ambience and tranquillity. It is a relaxing, four course degustation with a focus on unique dishes from locally sourced produce. If you are lucky enough to land a fish, Paul will cook it up for you. We savoured Coral Trout with avocado, wasabi and tapioca, Lamb Belly with broad beans and blueberry, local seafood Bisque and a Mud Crab and Parmesan Doughnut. Dessert was delicious and delicately plated, a stand-out being the Chocolate Hazelnut and Pedro Ximenez, a white Spanish wine grape.
Our Orpheus Island experience was further enhanced by the friendly and attentive staff that not only catered to your every need, but remembered your name, and you theirs.
Orpheus Island Lodge offers a variety of packages including the Orpheus Experience (stay four plus nights, receive 10 per cent off), Babymoon, Exclusive Use (book the whole Island!) and the longer Reef, Rainforest and Outback package. While it is tempting to linger a little longer to take in one more magnificent sunset, with everchanging hues of yellow, red and gold, we chose a five-night package, and it was just the right amount of time to enjoy all that Orpheus Island offers.
(Stel’s email address and phone number for bookings)
Orpheus Island Lodge Snapshot
Cost: Approximately $1575 per night.
Helicopter Transfers: $800 per person return.
Best time to travel: The drier months from May to August.
Wi fi: Telstra provides a strong network.
Highlights: Quality of service, accommodation and food and the stunning views.
Lowlights: Sandflies were vicious on the last two nights, mainly, we were told, due to the recent heavy rainfall. While insect repellent was available to all guests, more mosquito coils around the dining room, pavilion, bar, infinity pool and pier would have helped to avert this uncomfortable distraction.