Orpheus Island Lodge

Orpheus Island Lodge occupies an island of the same name in the tiny Palm Island Group, about 30 minutes by helicopter north of Townsville. It was October 2020 and the Queensland borders were shut tight due to the COVID pandemic. As such, travellers were thin on the ground. So luckily for us, it was only a short wait at the Nautilus Aviation terminal, before a sleek red chopper trip whisked us over the scenic Bowle River floodplains and a number of idyllic-looking islets. Our pilot told us that he had seen whales and dugongs earlier in the day so I kept my eyes peeled, but nada.

The moment the helicopter doors opened upon landing, we were hit by a blast of hot air and oppressive humidity. And it was only October! However, the heat was tempered somewhat by the sight of the resort’s stunning infinity pool and smiling management team, bearing slim flutes of sparkling wine and iced water in chilled glasses lined with delicate ribbons of cool cucumber. 

Our north-facing room was minimalist in style and equally crisp – kept that way by a powerful air-conditioner – and a glistening champagne bottle nestled in a bucket of ice. So far, so good.

The resort faces the Australian mainland, and a tree-shaded trail runs behind it up along a ridge so you can take in views of the other side of the island, whose waters are mostly off-limits to guest watercraft due to strong currents.

The path itself is quite steep and rocky at times but quite do-able in thongs and well-marked. If you’re a generous blood donor like me, then I’d recommend applying insect repellent liberally.

Dinner starts at 7pm nightly at Orpheus and this is the part I didn’t expect – the food is exceptional. This is an all-inclusive resort apart from premium bevvies. Perhaps the biggest clue that the dining was going to be good was the number of questions the reservations team put to us about our personal dietary preferences prior to arrival – expect to eat and drink very well indeed!

We enjoyed the romantic Dining with the Tides experience on our final night – which involves six courses instead of the usual four. Served on the pier, under which well-fed juvenile blacktip sharks prowl, this involves an even higher standard in gastronomy and the services of a sommelier.

All other meals – yes I’m still talking about the food – were lavish and just scrumptious. You will not go hungry! Breakfast is a la carte, and you can order any kind of barista-style coffee you like. Yet we never did get to try anything off the morning menu as every morning cuppa comes with a large tasting board bearing a selection of fresh fruit, baked goods and two mini smoothies.

Lunch was themed – we had Thai, Middle Eastern, mod Australian and American (in that order I think – no two days were the same). Menus were personalised depending on your preferences and all diets/intolerances were carefully taken into account. 

Should you wish to spend a half-day away from the resort, staff can pack a gourmet picnic basket. A fleet of small motorboats, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are available for guests to explore on their own. Points of interest nearby include Yanks Jetty, Sandy Beach and a giant clam garden. All aforementioned modes of transport are included during your stay.

While we loved the throngs of colourful fish that hung out under the wooden jetty – which is very hot to walk barefoot on by the way (bring ya thongs!) – it was the clam garden that most impressed us. I don’t think I have ever seen so many healthy iridescent giant clams in one place before.

You don’t need a marine license to drive the 6hp boats Orpheus Island Resort offers, but the channel that connects the resort to the ocean is quite narrow and the water gets really shallow at low tide so go slow! Low tide, incidentally, is when the giant clams are best seen while snorkelling.

We chartered the lodge’s private boat to dive the Outer Reef and our first dive was in an enchantingly colourful coral garden on and around a bommie in the Bramble Reef. Almost instantly, our guide Olivia pointed out a large cuttlefish, who proceeded to blend into its surroundings as soon as it saw us looking.

Realising we could still see it, the cuttlefish propelled itself away and at that very same moment, a huge shark swam right up behind us. As soon as I noticed it, my heart leapt into my mouth and the shark must have been equally unnerved because it flicked its big tail and swam back out into the blue.

My heart was going a million miles and hour so I had to remind myself that reef sharks were harmless. Mostly. But this particular shark had been a bit bold and hadn't the sharks of the Whitsundays acquired a taste for human flesh recently? 

When we surfaced, our dive guide Olivia told us it was a bull shark. Needless to say, I was pretty quick getting back onto the boat and not nearly so enthused about doing a second dive in the same spot.

Said bull shark deciding it was not hungry - only Olivia, our guide, had the presence of mind to photograph it!

The Great Barrier Reef around Orpheus Island is overall in good health! 

During the hottest part of the day, we relaxed in the resort’s hammocks, played pool and chess. Almost all the cold drinks at the resort are free – you just help yourself from the well-stocked bar fridge in the shared lounge or get stuck into your own minibar. There are also unlimited snacks – from Kit Kats and Red Rock chips in your room to freshly baked choc chip cookies (and trail mix if you are so inclined) at the poolside bar. If you like eating, Orpheus Island Lodge is heaven!

Every evening, we hung around in the giant infinity pool watching the sun sink below the horizon. With only 20 or so guests on the island at any given time, you could make new friends or just hang out with your significant other in your own private world.