Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort review, Gold Coast: Icon of the '80s gets a major revamp

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Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort has undergone various transformations since it first launched, to great fanfare back in the late 1980s, with the help of superstars Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra. Sanctuary Cove is in the north of the Gold Coast, above Surfers Paradise. The gated community is filled with villas and apartments used by both holidaymakers and permanent residents. Located adjacent to three separate golf courses, including the renowned The Pines, it's not unusual to see the locals zooming about on the roads in golf carts. Even the local supermarket has dedicated cart parking. It's also home to a large marina where huge and expensive yachts can be gawked at.

THE LOOK

On the edge of the titular cove, the resort's 251 rooms suites are in wings spread out from the central lobby building. Intercontinental took over the expansive property in 2012 and during the pandemic it underwent a $6 million renovation, including updating the colour schemes to blue, olive green, grey and white and replacing all the furniture. The light, bright decor is befitting its Gold Coast location.

The "Grand House" - home to reception, a bar and the resort's two restaurants - with its high ceilings and timber beams, manages to walk the line between the grand hotel entries of some of the Intercontinental's city properties and the more casual feel of a resort. Its impressive stained glass windows look on to the Italian-style fountain terrace that leads down to the private pool and artificial lagoon. The latter is perfect for kids, with shallow waters and soft sand along its edge.

THE ROOM

All rooms offer either a view of the lagoon, the gardens or the marina. While "garden view" rooms typically offer less of a lookout (and lower rates as a result) at this property you're likely to find yourself transfixed by birdlife or even kangaroos outside your window (we saw three during our stay, including a mother and joey). My room is one of the "Queenslander" suites - a 66-square metre space that features a living area with couch, dining table and a desk that doubles as a TV cabinet and minibar. The bedroom features a king-size bed and there's a large wardrobe between the bedroom and living area. The bathroom is spacious with a separate bath and shower. As we're staying with two kids, a nifty feature is that the couch is actually a sofa bed, so the kids can go to sleep early while we can stay awake a bit longer in the bedroom (where there's a second TV).

FOOD + DRINK

There are several dining options on the property: the fine dining Fireplace; the casual Cove Cafe and the Veranda Restaurant and Bar. There's also a pool bar that also does food, though it's closed during our visit. The hotel also does a high tea (bookings essential).

Fireplace (perhaps inaptly named as it sits underneath the two large fireplaces in the lobby, rather than adjacent to either) offers modern Australian fare with the occasional Japanese twist - oysters, for instance, are available natural or baked with a miso sauce. A chargrill menu features various steak cuts ranging from 150 gram fillets up to a monster 1 kilogram tomahawk. Despite being the hotel's fine dining option, they are surprisingly well set-up for children, with a kids menu and high chairs. Upon arrival the waiter brings our two kids activity books with stickers and crayons, which help keep them occupied during the meal.

A buffet breakfast is served at Cove Cafe and it has all the usual offerings you'd hope for, including eggs cooked to order and an omelette station. I find the bellwether for a good breakfast buffet is the help-yourself scrambled eggs - here they're hot, light and fluffy. A good sign.

OUT + ABOUT

If you're into golf,  guests can play The Pines for $150.The Arnold Palmer-endorsed course is set on 101 hectares of pine forest and is popular with native birds and more of those local kangaroos.

It's a relatively short journey from the marina to South Stradbroke Island by water taxi ($125, see covewatertaxi.com.au ). The 1800-hectare conservation park is home to beautiful beaches, surf breaks and great fishing. With no cars on the island, it's a quiet escape from the bustle of the Gold Coast.

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THE VERDICT

Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort offers laid-back luxury in a secluded setting. The lagoon and the dining options mean you can easily spend days here without feeling the need to leave the property.

ESSENTIALS

Rooms at the resort start from $359. See sanctuarycove.intercontinental.com

Highlight

The lagoon is a great, kid-friendly alternative to heading to the beach.

Lowlight

If you're looking to explore the region beyond Sanctuary Cove, you will probably require a car (though the water taxi is also an option).

The writer stayed as a guest of Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort.