G'day from Australia! This week we end our trip Down Under in style (to access past stories, here's a link to the archives). We first travel to exclusive Orpheus Island, then fly to Brisbane for the night before heading back to the U.S. If you want to come for the ride, jump on board. The seaplane is ready for takeoff, the tropical drinks have just been poured, and the fish are waiting to be fed.
DAINTREE TO ORPHEUS ISLAND
From the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, my seven journalist friends and I drove an hour south to Cairns. We dropped off our rental cars, then boarded an 8-passenger Orpheus Island Cessna Caravan seaplane (operated by Nautilus Aviation). The weather did not look great, and we were all a bit nervous, but the pilot did an excellent job of avoiding the storm clouds so our 55-minute flight was smooth. Seaplanes are the only way to Orpheus Island -- from either the Cairns airport (118 miles north) or Townsville airport (50 miles south). Flights are ridiculously expensive: $780 AUD ($591 USD) roundtrip per person from Cairns, $450 ($341 USD) from Townsville. But because there are so few secluded tropical islands left in the world, the steep prices are almost expected.
Orpheus Island lies 15 miles off the coast of northeastern Australia. It's quiet, rustic, 7 mile long, and comprises 3,380 acres. Surprisingly, it's not named directly after the Greek mythological figure, but rather the Royal Navy Ship "Orpheus" that wrecked off the coast of New Zealand in 1863. The majority of the island has been designated a National Park, while the surrounding waters are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The only resort on the island (also called Orpheus Island) is for adults-only (15 and over). There are just 17 small -- but comfortable and stylish - rooms, as well as 4 large suites. All 21 rooms have been refurbished, and boast spotless bathrooms and Molton Brown toiletries. You won't find any telephones, televisions or other outside distractions in your room. People come here to relax and get away from the real world (many guests are on honeymoons, or celebrating significant birthdays or anniversaries). The closest communication systems are the free computer and the single telephone found in the internet kiosk. But you seldom see anyone using them.
There are 16 eager (and mostly young) staff members for just 42 guests. You won't hear them using power tools, and the maids won't disturb you -- they clean your room only when you are at breakfast or on an excursion, then a second time during dinner. There are plenty of things to do, which guests are briefed about by general manager Ann Anderson. She greets everyone upon arrival, then escorts them into the open-air living room for the usual hotel paperwork -- and an unusual welcome of cool, refreshing towels and colorful tropical fruit drinks.
WHAT TO DO
There are two swimming pools, a tennis court, billiards table, workout room and two bars. At the latter I met a Johnny Jet reader (how cool is that?) from Colorado. He loved the island, and has been a return guest for many years. I learned that he and most other guests can be found either in the dining room, on the beach or taking part in one of the complimentary activities. These include feeding the mullets (carp-like fish) in the morning, hiking with Jenny (the head gardener), and taking out a catamaran, canoe, kayak or even Orpheus 1 to a deserted island, and snorkeling to a variety of nearby reefs (one is full of giant clams). You should've heard my reaction when a friend pointed out a lion fish just below me on our reef trip. Snorkeling was a little uneasy for me because as you see in the video below, while walking along the beach I spotted all kinds of baby sharks and manta rays. Out in the open water, I realized that if there was a baby shark nearby, a big mama had to lurk around the corner. Then the theme music from "Jaws" popped in my head. Soon I had no choice but to swim as fast as I could back to the boat. What a wuss! Do you think it's too late to sue Steven Spielberg for his 1975 movie?
The evening's entertainment on Orpheus is so simple that it's perfect. It consists of cool breezes, board games and 7-course dinners (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). I felt like most of my three days on the island were spent around the dinner table. That was fine with me, because the food at Orpheus (all three meals a day are included) is some of the best in Australia. The chef prepares a new menu daily, with emphasis on seafood and exotic delicacies (including plenty for landlubbers like me). Main dishes range from "plump sea scallops tossed with an angel hair of spring onion, chili and water chestnuts" to "carved cardamom crusted loin of pork." The resort is also famous for its extravagant picnic basket lunches, which can be taken to a deserted beach or on a reef trip.
WILDLIFE ON ORPHEUS ISLAND
There are many varieties of wildlife, including birds, bandicoots, green tree frogs, spiders and snakes (green tree and boas). But I wasn't frightened of the snakes, like I was in the Daintree Rainforest. The difference may have been that this place wasn't surrounded by jungle. And this was the first place I even saw a snake -- a sea snake at low tide on my walk just before departure. I thought it was an eel, and I almost helped it out when it quickly swam away from me but got stuck in a small tide pool. It's good I didn't help it, because I found out later it was deadly. Gulp!
The rooms were bug-free, but there were some mosquitoes. I learned a great tip from Jenny the gardener on how to keep them away. She uses baby oil, and takes vitamin B every day.
BOOKING ORPHEUS ISLAND
I really enjoyed my stay on Orpheus. Of course, I wish I had one more day (don't we always?). The island has a warm, tropical climate year 'round, with an average temperature of 85° F (29° C). The resort needs a bit of an upgrade, including adding a spa or even just a masseuse to justify its high prices: $720 AUD ($541 USD) per person per night, $850 AUD ($639) for a suite. At those prices you'd think drinks would be included - at least non-alcoholic ones -- but they're not. Surprisingly, the guests I spoke to didn't seem to care about any of those things. All they wanted was to get away from the rest of the world, and have peace and quiet, delicious food, and fun adventures. They sure came to the right place. Orpheus Island: tel.: 61-7-4777-7377; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org