Boutique hotel Orpheus Island is a secluded, totally private stay (largely because it can only be reached by helicopter) in the Great Barrier Reef, with just 14 bungalow-style rooms, all within a shell’s throw of a white-sand beach. Start each day with an alfresco breakfast, then grab the hotel’s free-to-use snorkelling gear to spy on the surrounding reef’s colourful residents or spend some time having any remaining semblance of tension pummelled away in the spa; the hotel also arranges daily guide-led activities (free for guests). This family-friendly stay has plenty for active little Smiths too; babysitters can be hired at short notice, the oceanside infinity pool has a shallow end, and the restaurant’s skillful chefs can whip up child-friendly fare as well as four-course feasts. It really is your own little world.
Get this when you book through us:
A welcome bottle of Australian sparkling wine and chocolate-covered strawberries
4pm, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, noon.
Double rooms from $988.14 (AU$1,455), excluding tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include a Continental buffet breakfast and à la carte dishes, all meals, selected Australian wines and beers, one daily activity, unlimited use of motorised dinghies, paddle boards, kayaks, catamarans, snorkelling equipment and light fishing
For an extra dose of romance with your evening meal, ask to ‘Dine with the Tides. Don’t fret about the phrase – your experience will be far more ‘Sha-la-la kiss the girl’ than ‘sleeping with the fishes’. You’ll get a private meal for two at the pier.
The hotel is closed annually from mid-January to 5 March.
At the hotel
Beach; spa; boutique; free-to-use motorised dinghies, watersports equipment and fishing gear; laundry services. In rooms: flatscreen TV, iPod dock, Bella coffee machine and Li’tya bath products.
Our favourite rooms
For a private outdoor terrace, complete with alfresco dining area, lounge space and a cheeky, freestanding bath tub for two, spring for the South Suite. If you’d like to be as close to the infinity pool as possible, go for a North Beachfront Suite (you’ll get a terrace too).
The saltwater, outdoor infinity pool has uninterrupted ocean views. It’s unheated and there’s a shallow end for family-friendly dips.
With a name meaning ‘rest and peace’, Gwandalan Day Spa doles out as-promised pampering. Indigenous herbalism and aromatherapy traditions are used in tandem with with modern massage techniques to restore balance and wellness. Choose from mud wraps, massages and facials, all of which feature sustainable Australian brand Li’tya spa products.
In addition to your beach wear, you’ll want to bring your hiking boots: the island is a National Park, complete with a James Cook University research station.
Due to the lay of the land (and helicopter-only access), Orpheus Island may not be suited to guests with mobility issues.
All ages are welcome. Extra beds or and cots (free) can be added to rooms on request, and babysitting can be arranged for AU$50 an hour, with one week’s notice.
Always mindful of its potential environmental impact, Orpheus Island treats and recycles all waste water, uses solar panels to heat water, and grows most of its vegetables and herbs on site (fish are caught locally too).
Ask for a table on the deck, so you’re just that bit closer to the ocean.
Cast off those Castaway looks in favour of smart tailoring and ocean-hued beach dresses.
Chef Daniel Main and team stay on their toes at Orpheus Island Resort Restaurant, serving up daily-changing four-course dinners. Menu items include pickled and torched salmon, snapper with rhubarb and chutney, freshly-caught tuna with white-soy pearls and yuzu butter, and curry-spiced venison. Save room for desserts, such as citrus-curd-topped almond shortbread with ricotta ice-cream or Mexican dark-chocolate mousse with sour-cherry sorbet. Course-by-course wine pairings can be added to any meal for an additional cost. Themed lunches change daily; mix it up with Japanese beef gyudon and green-tea desserts one day, lamb koftas with couscous and rosewater-infused pistachio ice-cream the next. Continental and à la carte breakfasts of seasonal fruits, freshly-baked breads and made-to-order egg dishes are also served in the restaurant.
The island is your bar; order drinks from the main dining area, your poolside perch, your beach towel laid out over the sand. Specialties include Fowles farm-to-table wines, minty-fresh mojitos, and zingy grapefruit spritzes.
Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am, leisurely lunches from 1pm to 2.30pm, and decadent dinners from 7pm to 8.30pm. The bar is open from 7am to 10pm.
None officially, but flag down a helpful member of staff if you find yourself growing peckish; they’ll help you out in no time.
This waterfront resort is set in an unspoilt stretch of the Great Barrier Reef, on an island fringed by coral.
Due to the island’s wonderfully remote nature, it can only be reached by helicopter. Fly from either Townsville (AU$295 a person each way, AU$990 for private one-way transfers) or Cairns (AU$725 a person each way, from AU$2,475 for private one-way transfers). All helicopter transfers are subject to availability. Due to payload restrictions, there is a luggage limit of 15kg a person, preferably packed in a duffel bag – which hotel can provide – so that it can be stacked in the storage compartment. Anything guests don't need on the island can be left in a locked room at the hangar.
Worth getting out of bed for
The sandy white beaches of Hazard Bay are a short walk away from the resort, and the surrounding coral reef is a snorkeller’s dream. During your stay at Orpheus Island, you’ll have free use of kayaks, paddleboards, motorised dinghies and a catamaran, so make the most of your time by spending it in open water.
Snorkelling and diving day trips can also be arranged; there’s a vibrant outer reef just an hour’s boat ride away. Check out what that day’s free activity is: past guided adventures include snorkelling trips to Curaçao Island, treks around Orpheus, and leisurely beer tastings. If you’d rather stay dry for a bit, lace up your hiking boots and head to the James Cook University Island Research Station, which gives educational tours. After a more leisurely afternoon? Ask staff to pack a picnic hamper and take a motorised dinghy out to a secluded beach.
How much can you say about paradise? As our trip to Orpheus Island Lodge proved, you can say rather a lot…
The dreamy island getaway, tucked into the inner reef of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, is only accessible by chartered helicopter. Mr Smith and I flew into Townsville Airport – two and a half hours from Sydney – and were welcomed onto a private chopper on a landing strip near some army Chinooks.
A crescent slice of white sand signals our arrival, and we descend onto a beach helipad that overlooks Hazard Bay and the resort’s white timber jetty. We’re greeted by an all-smiles team of staff who walk us past an impressive infinity pool overlooking the beach, fringed by palm trees and the 14 guest villas.
In the main pavilion, we’re sat down with champagne and explained the array of all-inclusive activities available. There’s certainly a lot to do – although most of it leans on the distinctly sporty side. There’s snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, early morning yoga and hikes out into the bush. Then again, barring a nearby scientific research institute, the resort is the only concession to modern human existence in a 1,368 square kilometer national park. It almost seems rude not to indulge in the surroundings.
I was worried that this secluded luxury resort could feel off-puttingly ostentatious, but Orpheus wears its prestige lightly. Our one-bed villa was decorated in laidback beach style – all whitewashed walls and white linens – though the details whispered of sophistication beyond your average beachside shack. A Nespresso machine, organic Li’Tya toiletries, T2 teabags and a fully-stocked fridge of soft drinks, local beers and an impressive array of Australian wines all awaited – plus a thoughtfully curated basket of fruit, cheese and crackers in case our helicopter ride left us hungry.
The resort itself is tiny by all-inclusive standards – don’t expect to find hulking swimming pools or a choice of eateries here. In fact, you can probably walk from one end of the resort to the other in 20 minutes flat – but the intimacy is part of its charm. The similarly tiny number of guests means that we often had the run of the place to ourselves, and only shared the pool with, at most, two people at a time.
Breakfast and lunch are all served on an outdoor deck overlooking the bay; dinner is by candlelight in another part of the pavilion, also with views out to the ocean. Diners longing for choice may be disappointed by the limited variety on offer – you can choose your breakfast off an à la carte menu, but the tapas-style lunch and degustation dinner are decided by the chef based on locally sourced seasonal produce and whatever the nearby fisherman bring in.
Expect a lot of seafood – all delicious – and to indulge your tastebuds’ sense of adventure. (Ever tried a Byron Bay bug? It’s a kind of lobster it turns out). You might even spot some whales from your dining spot – we narrowly missed seeing a baby humpback cruising through. If you’re lucky, a chef may even reward you with a nighttime feed of the day’s leftovers to the reef sharks in the bay – totally harmless creatures, but awesome to behold at mealtime.
There is a small spa here, manned by one therapist who offers a dizzying array of treatments. You might easily spend your days getting foot massages and lazing by the pool, sampling the complementary wine and beers (cocktails are also on offer for no more than you’d pay in an upmarket Sydney bar), but Orpheus Island rewards the adventurous. We commandeered one of the motorised dinghies for guests and boated over to a nearby beach for snorkeling, gawping at giant clams and corals as we swam.
Each day also brought a new activity for guests – we opted for a guided snorkel tour and were transported over to a further-out reef, where we spotted stingrays and some spectacular humpbacks breaching the water.
You can also pay a little bit extra to have what the resort calls ‘island escapes’, including private charters to nearby shores. We chose Pelorus Island – an even more remote parcel of land that Orpheus have developed into a truly private experience. As in, they will drop you off for the morning or afternoon with a picnic hamper, whatever you wish to drink and leave you there on the sand. There’s also PADI diving, fishing trips and helicopter tours – but not much beats having a private beach all to yourself.
For an all-inclusive resort manned by what seems like an infinite army of staff who all know your name, you never feel too smothered or over-scheduled – you can pretty much do your own thing, sometimes to your own peril. (Did I almost strand the dinghy on some rocks when the tide came out? I’ll never tell.)
The only things I wouldn’t want to repeat are the sunburn and insect bites. If I had to do it all again, I’d just remember to slather myself in Le Tan sunscreen and insect repellant from the poolside bar (because this paradise is practical, too).
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