Tucked into a quiet corner of the Great Barrier Reef, far from the tourist charters and day trippers, Orpheus Island Lodge is one of the country’s most exclusive getaways. Secluded, small, all-inclusive, the only dress code is to wear your swimwear and stay in it. This is a laid-back luxury at its best.
Traveller: Lisa Perkovic
Room: South Suite
Address: Orpheus Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland
Date: October, 2023
Best for: Top-notch laid-back luxury hidden away in the Great Barrier Reef
Make your way to the helicopter desk at Townsville airport, and the logistics end there. On the island, the team takes care of the rest. Walk 20 steps from your suite to the sand and hop into a kayak to work up an appetite for breakfast. Decide you’d like lunch on a private jetty, and your dinghy will be prepped with a gourmet meal, a bottle of bubbles and your snorkel gear before you know it. With just 14 rooms and a maximum of 28 guests, there’s no whim too small from a staff who can’t seem to believe their luck working in paradise.
Sweeping in over the Coral Sea, we spot the lodge’s infinity pool from the air first. Tucked between palm trees and manicured lawn, it’s a siren call on a hot, steamy day. Dotted alongside are the 14 rooms and main dining pavilion. This small footprint is hidden away from the world. The international heliport perches on the shoreline, so within minutes of touchdown, we have sparkling wine in hand and are off to change into our swimmers.
The Signature factor
The on-demand dinghy service unlocks self-serve private dining, beach trips and snorkelling. The Marine Activities team pre-pack your snorkel gear (each guest gets their own for their stay), fresh towels, beverages and, depending on the time of day, brunch, lunch or even a cheese plate. After a five-minute boating basics and safety briefing, you’re off. There’s a laminated map of the best snorkel spots and safety instructions, but the rest is up to you.
Tucked into the southern side of the main pavilion, our South Suite is nestled between lush tropical gardens. Peaceful and private, there’s an open plan living area and king bed with a chic coastal aesthetic, but the deep outdoor bathtub is the piece de resistance. Bath salts and outdoor bath products are lovely instead of ducking inside for shampoo mid-bath.
North Beachfront Villas look straight across the gardens to the Coral Sea. You won’t want to shut the curtains as the sun dips below the horizon spectacularly. A similar configuration to the other suites but with an interconnecting lounge room, these villas are perfect for families or couples travelling together.
On my plate
Properties in the Northern Escape Collection all have the same commitment to showcasing the best of the region, and here, on the edge of Tropical North Queensland, even being on a tropical island doesn’t stop them. With a Chef’s Hat under their belt, the kitchen team is adept at catering relaxed gourmet meals from a combination of local seafood, a small vegetable garden, the resident chickens, and a weekly supply run.
Tapas-style lunches change daily, from Mexican bean salad and tacos, with churros for dessert, to Middle Eastern slow braised lamb and couscous salad with baklava and yoghurt sorbet. Degustation dinners kick off with housemade sourdough and iced cantaloupe with Sichuan tea. There’s Chef’s famous prawn French toast with black garlic and mushroom, a Hibachi sirloin served with lion mane and fermented peppercorn, and for dessert, raspberry parfait so soft and creamy I’m still dreaming about it. The team will pair each dish with included Australian wines, but you can opt for upgraded international vintages.
Highlights from the mini-bar
Orpheus Island Lodge is all-inclusive, and the same wines and beers stocked in the main bar self-serve fridges are loaded into your mini bar. A post-dinner nightcap goes down a treat with the QLD-made chocolate bar stored in the fridge. There are also chips and cookies in case you’re hungry. At turndown, locally sourced hot chocolate and loose-leaf teas are thoughtfully laid out.
Gwandalan Day Spa almost blends into the greenery at the resort’s southern end. It hardly needs a soundtrack, with the local birds and insects going about their day. Inside, I’m blissed out quickly with a 90-minute relaxation massage while other guests rave about the facials. Gwandalan means ‘peaceful rest’ in the Aboriginal language – you’ll have that in spades during a three-hour Spa Dreaming, one of the Signature Ceremonies. Body scrub, mud wrap, facial, hair mask, foot massage – it’s a head-to-toe experience.
Whether it’s the pool, the kayaks, hobby catamarans, or stand-up paddle boards, days usually centre around the water. There are board games and a billiards room for those needing additional entertainment. A few conference calls happen in a quiet corner of the main pavilion where there’s wifi. For extra special occasions, book in for Dining with the Tides, a private dining experience on the end of the jetty. The six-course degustation with matching wines is a meal to remember.
You won’t be going far when you’re on the island, with daily activities including nature strolls, low tide walks, snorkelling and fishing. Surrounding bays and islands offer sheltered snorkelling and beach walks. Venture further afield with an add-on Bespoke Experience – a day tour out to Hinchinbrook Island, fishing charters and scuba diving are a few on offer.
Daily activities rotate, so jump on the snorkelling excursion if it pops up during your stay. The team is comprised of passionate zoologists and marine biologists who are happy to point out rare species and share facts about local marine life.
When you’re this close to nature, there’s always a price to pay. If mosquitos like you, take the team’s advice and use the plentiful bug spray at dinner time.
With yoga mats in each room, a daily yoga or stretch class would be a nice touch and help work up an appetite!
I wish I could take home…
I do get to take home my Orpheus Island insulated water bottle – guests are each given one to use during their stay, a sustainable practice that makes for a nice souvenir. From the boutique, though, I wish I had room in my bag for a bottle of Northern Escape Collection’s Pure Pelorus sugar cane spirit, which goes down a treat with tonic water.
Where to find it
A daily helicopter run from Townsville is timed nicely with afternoon check-in. Guests can charter a private helicopter. Cairns helicopter transfers are also available.