Port Douglas is the gateway to two jewels in the Queensland crown, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. Since the opening of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort in 1987, this small coastal town, despite receiving an influx of visitors since, has somehow managed to maintain its low-key village feel. However, while its permanent population is only a few thousand, this number can more than double during peak season. This is no surprise, with its beautiful beaches and lush rainforests, Port Douglas is a popular spot for both domestic and international tourists.
There’s no arguing that the location of the Sheraton Mirage (just metres from the golden sand of Four Mile Beach) is the best in town – but, over the last few years, the resort had started to show its age. On a recent visit, I was thrilled to see it had undergone an extensive refurbishment, the first phase of a complete overhaul. Gone is the dark green marble flooring of the 1980s, and in its place, a beautiful timber composite floor whitewashed in beachy shades of grey. The white bamboo furniture with vintage-inspired tropical print cushions gives the lobby a casual Queensland feel. The feeling of the reception is light and bright and complemented perfectly by the new café bar and lounge. The feeling of the tropics is refreshing and continues through the entire resort.
Past the lobby, a second lounge area has a sizeable and comfortable couch built in along the wall and a large wall-mounted television. To the side sits the grand piano atop a platform surrounded by water – the perfect setting for a relaxing drink later in the evening.
Feast, the main dining restaurant of the resort, is downstairs on the ground level. With open cathedral ceilings and glass walls the sunshine pours in and the surrounding lagoons make you feel like you could well be dining on a small island. Weekends feature the famous seafood buffet; prawns, bugs, oysters, sushi, salmon, clams and more. Also included is a hot buffet featuring lamb shanks, ribs, curries and soups and a separate dessert station.
For casual dining try Ocean Breeze Bar which is located poolside. Swim up to the bar or order from your sun lounge. The menu features sliders, salads, burritos and of course hot chips. They also have a kids’ menu, so everyone is well catered for.
The hotel’s 294 guestrooms have had a complete makeover featuring driftwood timber tiled floors and canopied bed heads. The colours are a warm fusion of greys and whites. My swim-out room gave me direct access to the saltwater lagoon swimming pool without even having to walk out of my front door.
The property is expansive, set on 147 hectares with two hectares of swimming lagoons and an 18-hole golf course. Spend the afternoon in one of the 26 new private poolside cabanas perched at the edge of the lagoon, complete with a personal waiter, or walk through the palm trees to the sands of Four Mile Beach. It’s a gentle 20-minute walk to the town along the beachfront, or alternatively, there is a return shuttle that leaves approximately every 30 minutes from the hotel reception.
Visiting the closest town to the Great Barrier Reef means that a boat ride out to the reef is a must. Although it was raining when we first left for our tour of the outer reef with Quicksilver Cruises, within minutes the sun came out and we had beautiful sunshine for the rest of the day. Quicksilver’s large three-level catamaran is spacious, speedy and had us to the outer reef in about 1.5 hrs. On the journey out there we were kept occupied with morning tea and informative reef presentations by on board marine biologists. Once there, the boat docks alongside a large pontoon where you will find snorkelling gear, diving equipment, an underwater observatory and a semi-submersible submarine tour. A generous lunch buffet is included. Optional activities include scuba diving, ocean walker helmet diving, marine biologist guided snorkel tours, and scenic helicopter tours.
The opportunity to view the reef from a helicopter was too good to pass up, so I signed up for the 10-minute flyover with GBR Helicopters. A small boat whisks you over to a floating helipad in the middle of the reef, and from there it’s up and away. All six of us in the helicopter shared equally spectacular views. From the air, the perspective is completely different and we were able to see dozens of green sea turtles on a shallow reef close by.
Afterwards, back at the pontoon, it was time for a snorkel with Sam, one of the marine biologists. A small group of us swam alongside as he pointed out giant clams, a huge Māori wrasse, several species of tropical fish and a cuttlefish. Soon it was time to head back to shore, and afternoon tea was served on the ride back. It had been a full day of activity on the reef and I was looking forward to that glass of wine at the piano bar.