Orpheus Island: An Undiscovered Foodie’s Paradise

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I’m lounging in a boho style hammock, with a coconut cocktail precariously perched between my legs as I watch the sunset and listen to the sound of palm trees sway in the wind and waves crash upon the shore. The silhouette of Hitchinbrook Island looms on the horizon, effortlessly sinking into the ocean beyond. There’s a couple of honeymooners enjoying a bottle of champagne on the beach while sun seekers chill on deck chairs, soaking up the final rays of the day. If this isn’t paradise I don’t know what is!

Located just 80km north of Townsville, Orpheus is a secluded tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef, stretching over 11km of pristine turquoise waters and 1,368 hectares of National Park. The journey to the island is a highlight in itself. Guests can only reach the island by helicopter from Townsville (30 minutes) or Cairns (60 minutes). Despite severe storm warnings further south, we are blessed with a delightfully clear spring day to arrive on the island. Our slight nerves of flying quickly dissipate as we fly over the sparkling waters of the Coral Sea and World Heritage-listed Marine Park. “Did you see that turtle?” our pilot shouts excitedly. We fly lower to investigate, and see the shadow of a turtle’s fin quickly vanish into the reef below.

Nestled on the western side of the island in Hazard Bay, Orpheus Island Lodge accommodates just 28 guests, which gives it a secluded private island feel. It has all the modern luxuries of a five-star accomodation, but retains a refreshingly laid-back vibe to help guests immediately feel at home. The main pavilion houses an alfresco restaurant, bar, reading room, spa and a 26-metre infinity pool, which melts seamlessly into the Coral Sea beyond. The newly renovated south suites have a beachcomber chic aesthetic and are beautifully light and airy. My favourite room is the bathroom, which is equipped with a double-headed shower and an outdoor bathtub. But to be honest, there are no bad rooms here, and each is just a stone’s throw away from the water’s edge.

Whether it is captaining your own dinghy, going snorkeling, discovering the local clam garden or kayaking through the mangroves, there’s so much to see and do on the island. Orpheus is the perfect location to explore the magic of the Great Barrier Reef and get up close and personal with the underwater world. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to swim alongside green turtles, manta rays, bull rays and reef sharks. Alternatively, for some indulgent rest and relaxation, visit the Gwandalan Day Spa and enjoy a manicure, ocean wrap or a massage under the palms.

In the afternoon of our arrival, we are more than happy to chill out by the infinity pool and do nothing at all, but my explorer side pulls me in the other direction and we hop on a paddleboard and do some kayaking. The tide is good today, so we take a small boat out to the clam garden where clusters of giant clams are lazing on a sandy seabed, revealing a kaleidoscope of gold, yellow and green.

Orpheus Island Lodge is one of Queensland’s best-kept food secrets, priding itself on the quality of its local produce and sustainability practices. We go on a tour of the kitchen garden with Orpheus’ very own gardener and landscaper, Jen, who has been on the island for 18 years. ‘Imperfect produce is the best produce’ she says proudly, showing us through the sustainable kitchen garden brimming with all the fruits, vegetables and herbs under the sun, all of which she refuses to spray. Jen shows us a nearly ripe Black Sapote (Chocolate Pudding Fruit) and cracks it open for us to try, revealing a chocolatey, sticky and sweet flesh within. After working in Arnhem Land she has become particularly passionate about Australian native ingredients, which have become integrated with the menu at Orpheus.

Head Chef, Daniel Main, has crafted a highly dynamic menu, which heroes local produce, in all its glory. With experience in super yachts and fine dining restaurants throughout the world, Main is particularly inspired by his surroundings and enjoys the challenges and rewards of daily changing menus and working in remote locations. It’s great to see the paddock-to-plate philosophy being practiced in their own backyard. The contemporary fusion style menu takes diners on a journey around the globe, showcasing different countries and their cuisines. Menus are tailored according to the likes and diets of the guests and is personalised to their preferences. Each day the food offering is created from scratch to ensure they keep to their rule that no guest receive the same meal twice during their stay. Seafood is definitely a focus with the daily catch being a regular star of the show.

The next morning we wake up bright and early and go on a short hike across the island to Picnic Bay to work up an appetite, and, of course, watch the sunrise. Breakfast is served in the open-air restaurant where we are treated to a breakfast board adorned with fresh fruit from the kitchen garden, yoghurt, pandan puddings and freshly baked croissants, followed by a choice from the a la carte menu.

Lunch (also served at the main pavilion) is a casual affair with a tapas style menu hand picked by the head chef. On our visit we enjoy Mexican with plenty of charred corn, quesadillas stuffed with chicken and spices and chilli corn carne.

But the real treat for diners happens at dinnertime where Main’s talent really shines. Guests can enjoy either a four-course dinner in the open-air restaurant, or experience their signature Dining with the Tides six-course degustation experience served under a starlit canopy on the jetty.

We enjoy our final night with dinner by candlelight on the jetty. It’s a feast for the senses, and each meal tells a story to stimulate the mind and palate.

To start, we feast on seared salmon, which is teamed with crushed peas, green apple, horseradish buttermilk and black pudding macadamia crumb, while a char grilled octopus is plated to perfection, a sauce nero splattered like graffiti over the base of the plate, punctuated with romesco, potato fondant and florets of broccoli.

The beef cheek is the ultimate crowd pleaser and is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It’s exciting on the palate – full of flavours such as celeriac hummus, cauliflower almond salad, spiced beans and fermented tomatoes. A pork tenderloin is a gorgeous play in colour, cooked to reveal a nice rosy flesh, which combines beautifully with purple cabbage, brussel sprouts, sauerkraut and a mustard molasses cream.

We finish with a milk sorbet with honey custard, lavender shortbread, rhubarb, caramelised milk and lemon sherbet. The lavender is beautifully balanced and does not overpower the dish, allowing the rhubarb and honey to harmonise equally.

We wrap up our final day, captaining our very own dinghy to Sandy Beach and Yanks Jetty to have a chef-prepared gourmet picnic hamper on the beach. After a swim and a snorkel, we retreat under the shade of the jetty and feed some tropical fish our leftover prawn heads and they happily oblige. It was a little rocky on the way back but we manage to navigate to shore, just in time for our helicopter’s arrival. I hear the helicopter looming in the distance, and feel like running to the hills to hide in my new-found paradise. It seems like all dreams do have to come to an end…

Lisa Holmen

I’m an Aussie girl currently based in Melbourne. After spending my early years in Adelaide, I moved to Melbourne in my early 20s and a few years later moved to the big smoke in London.

The lure of beaches and good coffee eventually lured me back to Melbourne, a city I am now happy to call my “base”. Although I am always on the look out for my next travel adventure.

Ever since I was a little baby, my mother tells me I have always been obsessed with food. In fact there are not many foods I do not eat. Often described as a fat girl trapped in a thin person’s body (well at least for the moment while my metabolism is still relatively fast) I love all things food related and have a particular appreciation of pretty sweet things like cupcakes, whoopie pies and brownies.