Sheraton Mirage Resort, Port Douglas: The new-look Aussie resort located between the Daintree and Great Barrier Reef

"Port Douglas is back!" exclaimed the town mayor Julia Lieu, kicking off the speeches at a poolside party held to relaunch the sprawling pile that will be forever linked to 80s entrepreneur Christopher Skase.

More than 300 VIP guests gathered to dance, watch fireworks and toast the new-look resort that put the town on the map and became a playground for celebrities and fat cats in the decade of excess.

However in the noughties, the hotel – the area's biggest employer – fell out of fashion and into disrepair. And the party under the stars this balmy night in August represents a triumph for the many locals who lobbied for its renovation.

Whether the re-opening will be the key factor in dragging the far north Queensland town from the tough post-GFC years back towards economic prosperity remains to be seen.

But hopes are high in town – judging by dozens of excited comments on Mayor Lieu's Facebook page – with the modernisation symbolising a renaissance to everyone from the restaurateurs to reef tour operators.

"In the '80s and '90s Port Douglas was the place to be, " says  Lieu.

"We have a history of welcoming celebrities here, the Clintons came and lots of Hollywood stars. A lot of films were made here, the place was pumping. But we had a tough time during the GFC and tourism numbers went down.

"There has been talk of bringing the Sheraton back for years, this is something people up here have wanted for a very long time."

See also: The most fun week on Hamilton Island

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Beyond the entrance, the cavernous foyer of old is still the size of a football field but its signature green Italian marble columns and sense of flashy extravagance are gone.

However with a budget of $43 million, it was always going to be a grandiose project. The more-is-better philosophy clearly informed the approach to the famous pool that attracted so much attention in the past.

Now there are 41 new lagoon edge rooms and 12 lagoon edge suites which have swim-up balconies; each room has new ladder access to the giant two-hectare saltwater lagoon. Divided into 16 pools, it's still the main attraction here.

Nothing in the building was left untouched by renovators – furniture, fixtures, floors, walls, and paint.

The dated 30-year-old peach palette of the 294 guest rooms has been replaced by a chic neutrals-and-white scheme, with an attractive minimalist approach to styling – warm timber, black and white historic photographs of the town and elegant canopies over the beds are nice touches. My en suite, however, remains in a time warp with a raised triangular spa bath in the corner and marble from top to bottom.

New dining options include a new poolside alfresco deck where guests can also have breakfast.

Meanwhile a few things still feel dated – the Ocean Breeze bar menu doesn't appear to have had an update, we couldn't find any modern cocktails and the pool bar itself seems to have missed out on a renovation.

There has been a modern eye on the sandy-edged lagoon though – the '80s crowd would have enjoyed the new VIP cabanas. No doubt today's guests will be just as impressed with 26 private poolside daybeds where bar service and meals are delivered for a price. (There is a $150 minimum spend requirement).

See also: Australia's most underrated tropical paradise

There were a few small teething problems with service during our visit where the care factor ranged from 5/10 to 0/10 on one or two occasions.

With a workforce partly made up of travellers passing through town, it's an issue for many businesses here which traditionally rely on "the busy season" between March and October for its customers and staff.

In many ways it's surprising Skase picked this spot with direct access to Four Mile Beach to build a hotel – a sign on the path to the beach  warns of "Dangerous rips and wild surf". The sign caused much nervous giggling from opening party media hailing from Singapore who immediately snap-chatted pictures of it to their followers at home.

The hotel owners may have spent $43 million on a mega-facelift, nabbed Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to officially cut the ribbon, flown 22 local and overseas media to the party and put on fireworks, but it's mother nature who outdazzles everything here in tropical far north Queensland.

It's the reef and rainforest on the hotel doorstep that pulls visitors to this stunning shore sandwiched between two great natural wonders on this planet – the Daintree, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, and the largest living thing on earth, the magnificent Great Barrier Reef.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

sheraton.com/portdouglas.

GETTING THERE

Qantas or Jetstar have daily flights to Cairns from Sydney and Melbourne with one-hour transfers to Port Douglas available through the hotel.

STAYING THERE

Standard Mirage rooms from around $299; lagoon edge room including breakfast from $429.

Angie Kelly travelled as a guest of Sheraton and Quicksilver.

OVER AND UNDER THE SEA

It's not every day you get the chance to fly in a helicopter in the morning and a submarine after lunch.

The facilities offered by Quicksilver on its popular day trip from Port Douglas Marina to Agincourt Reef have had a million-dollar cash injection with the well-known floating platform undergoing its first refurbishment in 21 years.

Improvements include new shade structures and a new floor on the platform that plays host to more than 400 people every day of the year. The Quicksilver 8 boat itself has also had a facelift.

Five lifeguards and two marine biologists are on hand for the day's diving and snorkelling activities, with expert commentary also underpinning a semi-submersible sub experience where we see the marine life of the underwater world up close.

A second platform a short boat ride from the diving pontoon doubles as a chopper landing pad – GBR Helicopters run 15-minute joy flights over Agincourt Reef throughout the day. As great days go, this is hard to beat.

See also: The hole that is one of the world's most incredible swimming pools

See also: Queensland: It's more than just bogans

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