Snuggled by rainforest and reef, it's not hard to see why Bill and Hillary once hung out at this grand resort, writes Ellie Hutchinson
Opulent is the only way to describe the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort situated in a prime location on Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas. The resort is nestled between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest. A leisurely, one-hour drive from Cairns along a scenic coastal road brings you to this getaway, from where you can explore these two World Heritage-listed marvels.
This once-sleepy fishing village benefited from a tourist boom when Cairns Airport opened in 1984, followed by the only five-star beachfront resort, the Sheraton Mirage, in 1987, and Marina Mirage (now the Reef Marina complex). Port Douglas quickly became the destination of choice for celebrities and the wealthy from around the globe.
The Sheraton Mirage was founded by Christopher Skase and his wife, Pixie. Locals and returning international visitors will be familiar with tales of their squandering and partying. They created a dazzling playground for the rich and famous and their celebrations and celebrity escapades are infamous.
In 2016, the property underwent a $43 million transformation adding luxurious features from LED and infrared lighting, to developing the first keyless entry technology system in Asia/South Pacific. This enables Starwood Preferred Guests to use their smartphone as a key to their rooms through the SPG App — talk about effortless travel.
Set against a magnificent backdrop of the Great Dividing Range, the Atherton and Mareeba Tablelands and the Daintree Rainforest, the Sheraton's interiors evoke and stay true to the style and feel of Tropical North Queensland with beach-inspired design, ceramic-tiled flooring, floor-to-ceiling marble in the bathrooms, plantation shutters and Juliet balconies. The neutral tones provide a modern, bright, light, and refreshing decor that flows through all room types. Choose from second- or third-floor rooms overlooking beautifully landscaped, lush tropical gardens, or a lagoon-edge room with direct balcony access into your own slice of the two acres of swimmable lagoons. For active travellers, there are tennis courts, a fully equipped gymnasium and the 18-hole golf course at Mirage Country Club, which is just a short golf-buggy ride away.
The resort is an Instagrammer's heaven. The swaying palm trees lining the white beach and the cobalt-blue lagoons surrounding the powder-pink hues of the grand property are complemented by the gold accents found on the pillars, lights and mirrors. One of the best spots to relax is in one of the 26 chic, white cabanas at the lagoon edge from where you can swim up to the Ocean Breeze pool bar for a cocktail, or order bar snacks direct to your sun loungers on the pool decks and the man-made beaches. Comfy daybeds and bamboo seating are available and private terraces have ringside views of the pools and ocean. Connecting bridges and walkways create free-flow space enabling you to take in the splendour of the huge resort, which comprises 294 rooms plus more than 100 private villas. It's not hard to see why it was once a hang-out for Bill and Hillary Clinton and A-listers George Clooney, Matthew McConaughey, Rod Stewart and Rachel Hunter.
The lobby bar is a great place to chill out after a day of exploring. The airy space has high ceilings, marble, chandeliers and memorabilia, including antiques and statues left over from Christopher Skase's heyday. Black-and-white photos depicting the gold rush, logging, farming, the Sugar Wharf and the Rex Lookout contrast beautifully with the modern, colourful nature scenes, including those of the reef and wildlife, which also line the hallways and rooms.
The Sheraton Mirage is not all fabulous style and no substance; it offers friendly, relaxed service (if sometimes a little laid-back for a super-efficient and overenthusiastic Virgo).
Sunrise is not to be missed; tie in an early morning walk/run up to the Flagstaff Lookout and find fellow early risers walking, kayaking or participating in yoga on the beach.
Be sure to try the paired concept menu in the Daintree Bar and Lounge where local produce and globally inspired cuisine fuse to create a beautiful tapas-style paddock and seafood-to-plate concept. The small plates are expertly matched by fine wines and local craft beers. Breakfast at Feast Restaurant is great fun. Order from the chefs at the open, interactive kitchen, choose from omelettes, fresh juices, and tropical fruits and don't miss the Sheraton's croissants. Just like the abundance of freshly shucked oysters found at the seafood buffet on Friday and Saturday nights, this place is addictive.
Checklist: Port Douglas
from Auckland to Cairns direct between April to October, with one-way Seat fares from $349.