This iconic ’80s resort is moving with the times

Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks clearly hadn’t popped up to Port Douglas’s Sheraton Grand Mirage lately (understandable given the idiom dates back to 1534). Renowned for its expansive 147 hectares, saltwater lagoon pools and lush tropical gardens, this iconic resort, originally built by Christopher Skase in 1987, is moving with the times thanks to some creative thinking from marketing director Deb McDiarmid.

McDiarmid has introduced several initiatives that connect guests much more closely with their Far North Queensland surrounds — immersive local experiences that go way beyond the hotel’s golf course and spa — lovely though they are.

Start with a rum masterclass in the Daintree Bar, where the knowledgable, personable Mark Watkins, from the Atherton Tablelands’ Mt Uncle Distillery, details how freshly pressed sugarcane juice is fermented and distilled to create his gold-medal-winning spirit. You’ll taste three different rums with accompanying snacks; if you can get your hands on a Cane Cutter cocktail (a mix of Watkins’s Iridium dark rum, 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 more than 100 years ago. Executive chef Belinda Tuckwell, whom some may remember from her time at Noosa’s Ma Mensa, offers exceptional antipasti (much from the nearby Smokehouse), housemade casarecce, mussels with ‘nduja, pesce aqua pazza and a classic tiramisu, with a monthly sharing menu also available.

Meanwhile the resort’s oceanfront location on Four Mile Beach allows guests to get directly involved with Marriott Bonvoy’s Good Travel program, all about travelling meaningfully and giving back to the destination you visit. Hannah Kennedy, a marine biologist from the non-profit Tangaroa Blue Foundation, explains, somewhat depressingly, how marine pollution (predominantly plastics) affects the ocean’s ecosystems.

After a walking clean-up of the beach, participants enter their findings into a national database that researchers use to devise plans to reduce waste affecting the nearby environment and Great Barrier Reef. A great conservation activity for older kids and teenagers too.

Should more sybaritic pleasures now beckon, retreat poolside for another of McDiarmid’s conceits: 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 chilled Ibiza sounds as the sun sets.

For your final indulgence, book a table at Harrisons, the resort’s fine diner. Brit 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 smart combination of British influences, local ingredients and clever cooking. Don’t go past his charcoal bread with malt and molasses butter; scallops with ink aioli; the chargrilled pork chop with muntries and currants or the Brick Lane shoulder of lamb with Madras spices. Another unique experience that goes to show this Port Douglas landmark has plenty more tricks up its sleeve.

See marriott.com

Trudi Jenkins travelled courtesy of the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas.

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