Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks clearly hasn’t appeared at the Sheraton Grand Mirage in Port Douglas lately (understandable given that the idiom dates back to 1534). Renowned for its sprawling 147 acres, saltwater lagoon pools and lush tropical gardens, this iconic resort, originally built by Christopher Skase in 1987, evolves with the times through the creative thinking of Marketing Director Deb McDiarmid .
McDiarmid has launched several initiatives that connect guests much more closely to their surroundings in Far North Queensland – immersive local experiences that go far beyond the hotel’s golf course and spa – beautiful as they are. .
Start with a rum masterclass at the Daintree Bar, where friendly Mark Watkins, of Mt Uncle Distillery in Atherton Tablelands, details how freshly squeezed sugarcane juice is fermented and distilled to create its gold medal-winning spirit. You will taste three different rums accompanied by snacks; if you can get your hands on a Cane Cutter cocktail (a mix of Iridium dark rum from Watkins, agave, martini rosso and bitters), do it.
Continue the theme with dinner at Feast, whose menu pays homage to the Italian cane cutters who arrived in the region over 100 years ago. Executive chef Belinda Tuckwell, who some may remember from her time at Noosa’s Ma Mensa, offers outstanding antipasti (much of it from the nearby Smokehouse), house-made casarecce, mussels with ‘nduja, pesce aqua pazza and a classic tiramisu, with a monthly sharing menu also available.
Meanwhile, the resort’s beachfront location on Four Mile Beach allows guests to get directly involved in Marriott Bonvoy’s Good Travel program of meaningful travel and giving back to the destination you visit. . Hannah Kennedy, a marine biologist from the nonprofit Tangaroa Blue Foundation, explains, in a somewhat depressing way, how marine pollution (primarily plastics) affects ocean ecosystems.
After a beach walk cleanup, participants enter their findings into a nationwide database that researchers use to devise plans to reduce litter affecting the nearby environment and the Great Barrier Reef. A great conservation activity for older kids and teens too.
If more sybaritic pleasures await you now, retreat poolside for another McDiarmid vanity: Sunset Sessions. These include exclusive use of a west-facing cabana, a bottle of champagne, a platter of Mediterranean bites including seafood, prosciutto, cheese and olives and, last but not least, a DJ playing the chilling sounds of Ibiza at sunset.
For your final indulgence, reserve a table at Harrisons, the resort’s gourmet restaurant. Briton Spencer Patrick, who for many years was head chef at three of Marco Pierre White’s London restaurants, leads the team, his wealth of knowledge showing on the plate. Patrick’s menu is a clever combination of British influences, local ingredients and smart cooking. Don’t miss its charcoal bread with malt butter and molasses; scallops with ink aioli; the grilled pork chop with muntries and currants or the Brick Lane shoulder of lamb with Madras spices. Another unique experience that shows that this Port Douglas landmark has many other tricks up its sleeve.
Trudi Jenkins traveled courtesy of Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas.