Port Douglas: Sleeping beauties
Author: MICHELLE ROWE AND BELINDA SO
Photography: prue ruscoe
Hotels usually boast about staff-to-guest ratios, but at this new Port Douglas resort they talk pool-to-guest ratios. And it's about one to five. Spare a thought then for the pool man at Pool. He has 16 to maintain, including a 185 metre-long kidney-shaped number holding 1.6 million litres of water. And as anyone who's ever had a pool in their backyard knows, while diving into one on a sizzler of a day is heavenly, looking after it is slightly more fun than scrubbing coral spawn from your bathers (more on that later).
Pool offers a sleek, minimalist living space for those after tropical cool, not kitsch. Opened last October, its 71 suites range from two to four bedrooms - the smallest being the size of your average inner-city Sydney apartment. A pool is a necessity in Port Douglas, because swimming at the local beach may leave you prey to saltwater crocs or, during stinger season, box jellyfish. And then there's the bi-annual coral spawning, which turns the meal-pond Pacific into a mess of reddish, fishy smelling scum. No wonder having your own private pool is the accessory du jour. At Pool, one may surmise that a big chunk of the $40 million development budget was spent installing those 16 swimming holes. Swim Up Suites each have their own terrace and access to either the main pool or a 25-metre lap pool overlooking a reed-lined creek, while its Sunset Suites are fitted with private plunge pools.
Each suite - themed with highlights of orange, olive, maroon or eggplant - is completely decked out with a full kitchen, flatscreen LCD television in the living room and main bedroom, Bose iPod docking stations and other conveniences such as a washer and dryer. Bathrooms have tubs big enough for two and a separate shower. There is housekeeping and 24-hour room service, and an on-site chef who will cook for you in your suite, if you desire - yep, it's pretty swish, the best of apartment living and hotel pampering combined.
Design group Carr, headed by Sue Carr (responsible for the interiors of Adelaide Hilton and Melbourne's Westin, among others), came up with Pool's all-white fit-out and Space Furniture provided the trimmings - from the B&B Italia beds to the Kartell storage units and Ghost lamps. The bathrooms are kitted out with L'Occitane products - the verbena body lotion is restoratively soothing after a day in the sun.
All the rooms at Pool face west to catch the pink and purple ripple of dusk as it settles over the nearby mountain ranges - and offer the perfect vantage point from which to watch the twilight migration of fruit bats across the sky. Sunset hour is what Pool is all about - it's really a euphemism for cocktail hour, and your private terrace is the bar. In the corner of each room is an aluminium rifle case, more installation piece than mini bar. The 'ammunition' contained within includes martini glasses, a cocktail shaker, swizzle sticks, Simon Johnson olives and bar miniatures. It's the brainchild of Rob Potter-Sanders, manager of Apotel, the team behind Pool. In fact, most of Pool's quirky touches are his, including the signs under sofas which read, 'Yes, we have cleaned under here'.
The vibe at Pool is low-key - Rip Curl boardies, white Chesty Bond singlets, Dunlop Volleys and Diesel sunnies are the uniforms for the ever-helpful staff, who are always willing to drag your Yves Klein-blue daybed around. For a lazing-by-the-pool kind of getaway, it doesn't get much better than this.
And if you're in Port Douglas on a full moon when the coral is getting jiggy with it and the sea smells like prawns left in the sun, there is no better place to be than by the pool at Pool.
Peppers Balé Resort Port Douglas
With a gentle breeze wafting through the pavilion-style retreat, lush landscaped tropical gardens and a private plunge pool within diving distance of the master bedroom, you could easily think you've woken in a beautiful coastal resort on the Andaman Sea.
It's only when an Aussie accent cuts through the South-East Asian reverie to ask whether we would like the pool temperature adjusted to a more ambient level that one is reminded this is not some boutique escape nearer Bangkok than Bundaberg, but actually one of Port Douglas' newest - and arguably its best - luxury retreats.
Part of the Peppers group of resorts and hotels, Balé Port Douglas ticks most of the boxes when it comes to the perfect coastal getaway. It's an easy hour's drive from Cairns airport; is situated far enough out of Port Douglas town to feel completely secluded, and offers high-end food and accommodation with a distinct tropical style not available anywhere else in this tourist town. In short, it's the perfect exotic escape without the language difficulties or the need to waste valuable lounging around the pool time worrying whether you've got the currency conversion rate right.
Balé, which opened in May 2007, was designed by Grounds Kent Architects, the creative force behind the gorgeous Four Seasons Resorts in Bali and the Maldives. Its guest pavilions (marketing-speak has them billed as 'Sanctuaries') range from one to four bedrooms - ideal for families or groups of up to eight - and each can be opened almost entirely to the elements to let in the cooling North Queensland breezes.
Pavilions have a fully equipped kitchen with Miele appliances; sitting room with plasma TV and roomy lounge, separate dining area, plus day beds scattered about the expansive layout (some positioned to capture the midday sun; others cabana-style beside the pool). There's also a barbecue and outdoor entertaining area, two-car garage, and access to a private golf buggy in which to zip around the grounds if 'lazy' really is your holiday watchword.
At the time we visited, 38 Sanctuaries were almost complete. A
total of 76, dotted throughout the 15-hectare grounds, are planned.
Most are privately owned and put back into a rental pool, but not
all. "One owner lives here full-time and five keep their
Sanctuaries as a private holiday home," says general manager Alan
Porteous. Lucky for some.
Although all pavilions are fully self-contained, the food offered at Balé is a good enough excuse to steer clear of the kitchen appliances. Installed in the in-house restaurant, Sassi at Balé, is Abruzzo-born Tony Sassi, who previously ran Sassi Cucina in Port Douglas town.
Sassi, joined by his wife Di, who runs the floor, produces fresh Italian flavours using local ingredients in a bright, airy room adjacent to the resort's main pool (no kids dive-bombing here - they're all back in their Sanctuaries making the most of their private plunge pools) with views over the beautifully manicured grounds. Homemade squid-ink pasta with prawns, basil and lemon; Queensland barramundi with olive oil, lemon and capers, and bugs grilled with a Pernod and chive butter are a few of the well-turned-out offerings from the kitchen.
Like any high-end resort worth its salt, Balé also keeps the spa addict well-sated, offering everything from a caviar facial therapy to Vichy showers and a three-and-a-half-hour couples' 'Intimate Moments' treatment comprising jasmine and frangipani bath, massage, spa cuisine and Champagne, and foot spa. Balé Day Spa's treatment rooms open up to a beautiful rainforest backdrop and have outdoor showers and soaking tubs.
While not beachfront, Balé is within walking distance of the sandy expanse of Four Mile Beach, a palm-lined beauty completely uncluttered by tourists jostling for towel space. You can walk the length of the beach to Port Douglas town. If you're not up to the walk home, shuttle buses ferry visitors between Macrossan Street and the outer-lying resorts, including Balé, regularly throughout the day.
Chances are, though, once you kick off your shoes in your private, poolside cabana and start soaking up the rays in this Asian-style oasis right in our own backyard, you won't be going anywhere for a good, long while.
THE FINE PRINT
Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar all fly to Cairns. Port Douglas is approximately an hour's drive from Cairns Airport.
Peppers Balé Resort Port Douglas
Rates from $900 for a one-bedroom Sanctuary for two people to $1800 for a four-bedroom Sanctuary.
1 Balé Dr, Port Douglas, Qld, (07) 4084 3000, www.peppers.com.au.
Choose from suites with plunge pools, lap pool or swim-up access to main pool. Two-bedroom suites from $295 until April, then from $500. 19-37 Saint Crispins Ave, Port Douglas, Qld, (07) 4084 3400, www.pool-portdouglas.com.au.