It had been fifteen years since my last visit to South Straddie, so when I received an invitation from Couran Cove Island Resort’s new management to visit as their guest, I jumped at the chance.
It’s been 16 years since the resort first opened. A pet project of Ron Clarke (before he was Mayor) and his philanthropist friend Chuck Feeney, the original development was marketed as a rather exclusive affair. Feeney poured some $280 million into the resort, propping it up until it finally fell into liquidation in 2011. Two years later it was bought by Craig Dowling and re-opened under the Ramada brand, part of the hospitality giant Wyndham Hotel Group.
CEO John Muntz said when he first inspected the facilities; it looked like they’d stopped working just a few hours ago. “In the kitchen there were chopping boards just sitting there, with knives next to them ready to go,” he said.
Thankfully, the original development has stood the test of time. Built from sustainable materials, and designed to blend in with the natural environment, the resort’s 352 units are still in fantastic condition. And you’re spoilt for choice: studio apartments, one bedroom suites, two bedroom lagoon lodges and four bedroom villas are dotted throughout the resort’s lush 150 hectares.
Many of the resort’s original sustainability principles are still intact and it is a fairly low-impact holiday. As well as processing its own waste and sewage, the resort’s grounds include 12 kilometres of walking and cycling tracks through stunning and mostly intact coastal bushland. There are also kayaks and bikes available for hire.
The ferry terminal at Hope Harbour is under renovation, slated for completion in June. But just over half an hour after leaving, you’re stepping off that boat into a sparkling marina.
As you step off the ferry, there’s no mistaking you’re in a coastal paradise. From the pavilion style open air reception, the boat-house looking apartments, the timber gangways and strong pastel colours, you’ll soon realise that things don’t happen at a cracking pace at Couran Cove. And you probably won’t care.
With 40 people arriving by boat all at once, check-in can be a bit lengthy. But it’s breezy, the lobby is well appointed, and if you’re lucky there’ll be wallabies who decide to come and greet you when you arrive. Oh, and there’s also a bar.
Once we were checked in, we met new CEO John Muntz for a guided tour. On the back of a golf buggy we zoomed from the marina to the surf beach, through rainforest, passing dozens of guests out on bikes enjoying the afternoon or meandering barefoot to the resort’s sparkling pool (I highly recommend the Midori Spice if you find yourself there at happy hour).
We joined some other guests for pre-dinner drinks, watching the sun’s colours shift across the marina, then were treated to a degustation dinner at The Restaurant, sacrificial guinea pigs for Executive Chef Chris McIntyre who was testing new menu items.
The deconstructed beetroot with goat cheese and candied pistachio nut, our first course, isn’t something I’d ever considering ordering off a menu. Until now. Wow. To think you could do so many things with a beet.
And the courses kept coming. Tuna seared with dukkah, crispy skin pork loin with warm lentil and kale salad, pan friend scallops with pickled fennel, duck breast with pear tarte tatin. And to top it all off, a white chocolate brulee with dark chocolate fairy floss and praline ice cream.
Previously Executive Sous Chef at Palazzo Versace and Atlantis The Palm in Dubai, Chris joined us between each course to introduce his offerings, and I can’t help but feel he’s really enjoying this job and this is reflected in the diversity of the menu and the quality of the food.
A quick scan of online review sites makes it obvious that the resort has had some teething problems since re-opening 12 months ago. John Muntz says that reopening the resort after a lengthy period in caretaker mode has had its challenges.
“Due to the enormous infrastructure here, there have been a number of hidden surprises.”
He says that they’ve worked hard to refurbish the resort back to its former glory, revamping accommodation, restaurant facilities, the rainforest boardwalks and leisure infrastructure.
If you go
- Be sure to understand what you’re booking. There are privately owned apartments and houses on the island and if you book through a third-party website you may be booking one of these.
- It costs nothing to visit the island as a daytripper. The ferry costs $30 per person ($15 for kids 4 – 12) and boaties can moor at the marina for $50 per day or $100 overnight. Boaties receive half that fee back in food and beverage vouchers.
- Like any natural environment, you’ll find all sorts of interesting creatures. Including mozzies and midgies. Take insect repellent or wear loose fitting light coloured clothes to avoid being hammered.
- While on the island, take a sea plane ride over the Gold Coast’s stunning waterways. We were the guests of Peter, from Cloud9SeaPlanes. He’s kept busy with dropping people at remote beaches for marriage proposals, romantic picnics and the usual joy flights. You’ll see him cruising around the resort looking for victims, I mean passengers. It’s a unique perspective on the GC and you will not regret taking the flight.
Samantha Morris was a guest of Couran Cove Island Resort for her visit to the island.