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June 7, 2006

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                     Orpheus Island

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G’day from Australia! This week we end our trip Down Under in style (to access past stories, here’s a link to the archives). We first travel to exclusive Orpheus Island, then fly to Brisbane for the night before heading back to the U.S. If you want to come for the ride, jump on board. The seaplane is ready for takeoff, the tropical drinks have just been poured, and the fish are waiting to be fed.

From the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, my seven journalist friends and I drove an hour south to Cairns. We dropped off our rental cars, then boarded an 8-passenger Orpheus Island Cessna Caravan seaplane (operated by Nautilus Aviation). The weather did not look great, and we were all a bit nervous, but the pilot did an excellent job of avoiding the storm clouds so our 55-minute flight was smooth. Seaplanes are the only way to Orpheus Island -- from either the Cairns airport (118 miles north) or Townsville airport (50 miles south). Flights are ridiculously expensive: $780 AUD ($591 USD) roundtrip per person from Cairns, $450 ($341 USD) from Townsville. But because there are so few secluded tropical islands left in the world, the steep prices are almost expected.

Orpheus Island lies 15 miles off the coast of northeastern Australia. It’s quiet, rustic, 7 mile long, and comprises 3,380 acres. Surprisingly, it’s not named directly after the Greek mythological figure, but rather the Royal Navy Ship "Orpheus" that wrecked off the coast of New Zealand in 1863. The majority of the island has been designated a National Park, while the surrounding waters are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The only resort on the island (also called Orpheus Island) is for adults-only (15 and over). There are just 17 small -- but comfortable and stylish – rooms, as well as 4 large suites. All 21 rooms have been refurbished, and boast spotless bathrooms and Molton Brown toiletries. You won’t find any telephones, televisions or other outside distractions in your room. People come here to relax and get away from the real world (many guests are on honeymoons, or celebrating significant birthdays or anniversaries). The closest communication systems are the free computer and the single telephone found in the internet kiosk. But you seldom see anyone using them.

There are 16 eager (and mostly young) staff members for just 42 guests. You won’t hear them using power tools, and the maids won’t disturb you -- they clean your room only when you are at breakfast or on an excursion, then a second time during dinner. There are plenty of things to do, which guests are briefed about by general manager Ann Anderson. She greets everyone upon arrival, then escorts them into the open-air living room for the usual hotel paperwork -- and an unusual welcome of cool, refreshing towels and colorful tropical fruit drinks.

There are two swimming pools, a tennis court, billiards table, workout room and two bars. At the latter I met a Johnny Jet reader (how cool is that?) from Colorado. He loved the island, and has been a return guest for many years. I learned that he and most other guests can be found either in the dining room, on the beach or taking part in one of the complimentary activities. These include feeding the mullets (carp-like fish) in the morning, hiking with Jenny (the head gardener), and taking out a catamaran, canoe, kayak or even Orpheus 1 to a deserted island, and snorkeling to a variety of nearby reefs (one is full of giant clams). You should’ve heard my reaction when a friend pointed out a lion fish just below me on our reef trip. Snorkeling was a little uneasy for me because as you see in the video below, while walking along the beach I spotted all kinds of baby sharks and manta rays. Out in the open water, I realized that if there was a baby shark nearby, a big mama had to lurk around the corner. Then the theme music from "Jaws" popped in my head. Soon I had no choice but to swim as fast as I could back to the boat. What a wuss! Do you think it’s too late to sue Steven Spielberg for his 1975 movie?

The evening’s entertainment on Orpheus is so simple that it’s perfect. It consists of cool breezes, board games and 7-course dinners (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). I felt like most of my three days on the island were spent around the dinner table. That was fine with me, because the food at Orpheus (all three meals a day are included) is some of the best in Australia. The chef prepares a new menu daily, with emphasis on seafood and exotic delicacies (including plenty for landlubbers like me). Main dishes range from "plump sea scallops tossed with an angel hair of spring onion, chili and water chestnuts" to "carved cardamom crusted loin of pork." The resort is also famous for its extravagant picnic basket lunches, which can be taken to a deserted beach or on a reef trip.

There are many varieties of wildlife, including birds, bandicoots, green tree frogs, spiders and snakes (green tree and boas). But I wasn't frightened of the snakes, like I was in the Daintree Rainforest. The difference may have been that this place wasn't surrounded by jungle. And this was the first place I even saw a snake -- a sea snake at low tide on my walk just before departure. I thought it was an eel, and I almost helped it out when it quickly swam away from me but got stuck in a small tide pool. It’s good I didn’t help it, because I found out later it was deadly. Gulp!

The rooms were bug-free, but there were some mosquitoes. I learned a great tip from Jenny the gardener on how to keep them away. She uses baby oil, and takes vitamin B every day.

I really enjoyed my stay on Orpheus. Of course, I wish I had one more day (don’t we always?). The island has a warm, tropical climate year ‘round, with an average temperature of 85° F (29° C). The resort needs a bit of an upgrade, including adding a spa or even just a masseuse to justify its high prices: $720 AUD ($541 USD) per person per night, $850 AUD ($639) for a suite. At those prices you’d think drinks would be included – at least non-alcoholic ones -- but they’re not. Surprisingly, the guests I spoke to didn’t seem to care about any of those things. All they wanted was to get away from the rest of the world, and have peace and quiet, delicious food, and fun adventures. They sure came to the right place. Orpheus Island: tel.: 61-7-4777-7377; e-mail:

Departing: My gang and I boarded the seaplane and flew 20 minutes to Townsville. The flight was smooth and very scenic. From there we jumped on a Qantas 737 to Brisbane. The flight took only an hour and a half, and included a snack.

Who would’ve thought that after all the incredible places we stayed on this trip, the Brisbane Marriott Hotel would have the most comfortable bed? You have to love Marriott’s new "Revive" bed. It’s got 300-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a white downy duvet and seven feathery pillows. It’s so comfortable you don’t want to get up. That’s not good, because this 5-star hotel caters mostly to business travelers. Pleasure travelers like me appeared to be there just for a quick pit stop en route to somewhere else. The 28-floor hotel is located near the corporate and financial heart of the city, overlooking the Brisbane River. The 267 rooms (4 are suites) feature plush marble bathrooms, with a bath separate from the shower. The hotel has a fine restaurant, and supposedly one of the best day spas (I had no time to experience it -- I was there for only 16 hours). High-speed internet access cost $10 AUD ($7.50 USD) an hour, or $25 AUD ($18.70) for 24 hours. Rack rates start at $215 AUD ($161), but you can find lower rates on the internet. Ahem… try Brisbane Marriott, 515 Queen St., Brisbane, Queensland 4000 Australia; tel.: 61-7-3303-8000.

I was in Brisbane only for the night, because I was flying back to the States the next morning. Instead of eating dinner in the hotel, we took a short taxi ride to the Boardwalk on the South Bank. This place was made famous during the 1988 World Expo. There are all kinds of things to do, with plenty of shopping and restaurants. We ate at the River Canteen, located right off the Boardwalk. They serve creative local dishes, like pan-seared kangaroo loin and Moreton Bay bug cannelloni, but the best part was the great view of the Brisbane city skyline that served as a backdrop. River Canteen, The Boardwalk, South Bank Brisbane; tel.: 61-7-3846-1880.

Before my long flight I took an early run/walk along the river and through the Botanical Gardens --along with hundreds of other early risers. Brisbane gave me the same laid-back feeling as San Diego. It took a while to check in for my flight to Los Angeles, and go through customs and security. Once through those lines the terminal was bright and airy, with plenty of places to spend my left-over Australian dollars. I opted for some overpriced candy bars and a couple of nice bottles of wine as gifts. A Qantas pilot helped me pick them out. He said that Australia is one of the few places in the world where you can still buy great wine at a good price.

I flew on a two-class 747-400 (the Sydney flight has 3 classes). I was upgraded to Business Class, and I couldn’t believe how empty it was. The only person in my entire row was a really nice visually-impaired kid. He sat across the way, with his well-behaved seeing eye dog.

The plane was fitted with Qantas’ brand-new cocoon-style seats that turn into Skybeds. Qantas boasts they are the longest business class sleeper seats in the industry. Each comes with a built-in back massager. Every passenger gets a L’Occitane amenity kit filled with lotion, lip balm, ear plugs and eye mask. Each seat has a 10.4" TV screen with 12 new-release movies, 6 TV shows and 10 video games. All can be started and stopped at any time. There is also an AC power outlet for anyone who wants to work (like me). The flight attendants were very cool, the food (dinner, late -night snack and breakfast) were quite tasty, and my seat was comfortable. However, it didn’t go completely flat, so it was a bit difficult to sleep. But the 12-hour flight was still a dream -- sort of like my trip Down Under.

Now that I’m back and I just finished seeing this Tourism Australia commercial (click here) on the Travel Channel that features a beautiful bikini-clad girl on the beach asking "Where the bloody hell are you?" I’ll tell you where I am. Sweetheart, I’m home -- wishing I was still in OZ.

Here’s a 2-minute Johnny Jet Video of my trip to Orpheus Island and Brisbane. With high-speed the video takes about one minute to load; with dial-up, please allow up to three weeks.

Next week we travel to a destination in the United States. Here’s a hint: It’s 2,475 miles from Los Angeles.

Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip


Drive To Cairns


Sea Plane To Orpheus


Orpheus Island


My Room


Friendly Staff


Feeding The Mullets


Deserted Island






Picnic Lunches


Flight to Townsville


Townsville To Brisbane


Brisbane Skyline


Brisbane Marriott


Cool Building


River Canteen


See My Shadow?


Qantas Business Class


Flight Attendants


Just After Takeoff




Next Week



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  • I doubt whether I'll ever get to Australia so this was really informative, with the facts and details. Always enjoy the pictures, also. David J – Fremont, Nebraska
  • Great newsletter this week. The video was also especially nice with the pics and inserts of video --I liked the porch with running water sounds, nice touch. From the looks of things y'all were having WAYYY too much fun! (Is that possible? BTW-I don't think too many folks would have slept well with that monstrous spider in their 'dreams'. Carolyn F - Roseville, CA
  • Thanks for the rundown on Cape Trib. I spent my last honeymoon at the Coconut Beach Resort, VERY HOT in February. No bugs although we had a lot of huntsman spiders at the Outward Bound school outside Canberra, and I slept with the covers over my head! It's Tim Tams. Betty Austin - Fort Mill, S.C.
  • We really enjoyed your Where's Johnny Jet story this week, especially the part about the spider (I don't do spiders!) We do like the places you picked to stay. Jeannie F - Cornwall, PA
  • Australia truly looks amazing. Ann F. - Brunswick, GA
  • Hi Johnny Jet, LOVE your short video and great stories. My husband and I visited Austrailia about 2 years ago. Had the BEST adventures ever..Your story and video brought back great memories. The Great Barrier Reef was incredible! Unfortunately we did not get to go west any further than Uluru and plan a return trip. Did make it to Tasmania though…hope you get to go. Stay at the lodge on the Frecine Peninsular and see Wineglass Bay!! Not to be missed. Happy Journeys you lucky guy!!! Betty Greenspan - Sarasota, FL
  • Enjoyed the newsletter. Terrific video. Been there done most of that! Jim S - Lacey, WA
  • What a great overview of your trip to the Daintree and Cape Trib! My husband I attempted to go there in February but we were rained out as Cooper creek was more like a river and blocked off the road to the Cape. Glad I got to see Cape Tribulation even though I could not be there in person. Many thanks. Marianna M - Gatineau, Quebec
  • Your travel letters are awesome!! Especially the video clips and webcams! What a way to almost experience "being there". Makes me want to hop on the next flight! Especially the Australia one. Keep up the good work! Sandra K - Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
  • I got very excited when I saw your article about Ayers Rock on the Frommers Web Site. I will be traveling there in November and I am very much looking forward to the experience. However, I was ultimately disappointed by the descriptions of the accomodations. While I was happy that you stayed at the most expensive place there, I was disappointed that you did not give more information on the other accomodations. All you did was say that there were 2 and 3 star hotels - that would meet everyone's budgets - and then on to Voyages Longitude 131. Would it have been so hard to describe other accomodations in detail - with pricing? David S - Minneapolis, Minnesota REPLY: Thanks for the feedback! We really appreciate it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time (or space) to write about all the accommodations at the Ayers Rock Resort but I did provide a link to a more detail look. I hope this helps:

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