The 80s icon gets a makeover


The Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort has undergone various transformations since its launch, to much fanfare in the late 1980s, with the help of superstars Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra. Sanctuary Cove is on the northern Gold Coast, above Surfers Paradise. The gated community is filled with villas and apartments used by both vacationers and permanent residents. Located next to three distinct golf courses, including the famous The Pines, it’s not uncommon to see locals hitting the roads in golf carts. Even the local supermarket has dedicated trolley parking. It is also home to a large marina where huge and expensive yachts can be admired.


Along the titular cove, the resort’s 251 suites are spread across wings of the central lobby building. Intercontinental took over the sprawling property in 2012 and during the pandemic it underwent a $6 million renovation, including updating the color schemes to blue, olive green, gray and white and replacing all the furniture . The light and bright decor suits its location on the Gold Coast.

The “Grand House” – which houses the resort’s reception, bar and two restaurants – with its high ceilings and wooden beams, manages to distinguish the grand hotel entrances of some of the town’s properties from the Intercontinental and the more relaxed atmosphere of a seaside resort. Its impressive stained glass windows overlook the terrace of the Italian fountain which descends towards the private swimming pool and the artificial lagoon. The latter is perfect for children, with shallow waters and soft sand along its edge.


All rooms offer views of the lagoon, gardens or marina. While “garden view” rooms typically offer less of a view (and correspondingly lower rates) at this property, you might find yourself speared by birds 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 meter space that includes a living room with a sofa, a dining table, and a desk that doubles as a TV stand and minibar. The bedroom has a king-size bed and a large wardrobe between the bedroom and the living room. The bathroom is spacious with separate bath and shower. As we are staying with two children, a nice feature is that the sofa is actually a sofa bed, so the children can fall asleep early while we can stay awake a bit longer in the bedroom (where there is a second TV).


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

The fireplace (perhaps misnamed as it sits under the two large fireplaces in the lobby, rather than next to either) offers modern Australian dishes with an occasional Japanese twist – oysters, for example , are available plain or baked with miso sauce. A grill menu offers different cuts of steak ranging from 150 gram fillets to a monster 1 kilogram tomahawk. Despite being the hotel’s fine-dining option, they’re surprisingly well-appointed for kids, with a kids’ menu and high chairs. On arrival, the waiter brings our two children activity books with stickers and crayons, which help keep them busy during the meal.

A buffet breakfast is served at The Cove Cafe, and it has all the usual offerings you’d hope for, including cooked-to-order eggs and an omelette station. I find the sign of a good breakfast buffet is the make-your-own scrambled eggs – here they are hot, light and fluffy. A good sign.


If golf isn’t your thing, Sanctuary Cove has limited offerings beyond a small shopping street with restaurants, cafes, and various boutiques. If you like golf, you can play at The Pines for $150.

It’s a relatively short trip from the marina to South Stradbroke Island by water taxi ($125, see The 1800 hectare conservation park is home to beautiful beaches, surf breaks and excellent fishing. With no cars on the island, it’s a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of the Gold Coast.


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


Rooms at the resort start from $359. See


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

Low light

If you’re looking for a wider range of activities or shopping, you’ll need to venture out of Sanctuary Cove, which will likely require a car (although water taxi is also an option).

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

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