Crazy for Couran Cove
Can a family of five stay at a five-star resort on a less than five-star budget? Actually, it’s really a 3 ½ – 4 ½ star resort and in fact is winner of the 2001 Queensland Tourism awards for its category of accommodation but hey, some poetic licence should be allowed.
Anyway, here’s a definition of hell – three children, the back seat of the family car, one late night too many and a family bonding drive of 2000km…extended over several days. And heaven?
The aforementioned mutinous offspring disappearing at destination’s end, reappearing at infrequent intervals for food and liquid sustenance.
But let’s backtrack a little. Rewind a few months and picture two mothers escaping their responsibilities for a well-deserved girls’ weekend. We-e-ll things didn’t go entirely to plan – even 4-star resorts are entitled to bad hair days.
Suffice to say the resort invited the whole family to return with a view to mending fences. But after all, when it comes to family holidays, Murphy’s law well and truly operates – if it can go wrong, it will.
So there we are, at the Runaway Bay ferry terminal, the jump-off point for the resort, just north of the Gold Coast proper. Test number one – is it possible to check in an embarrassingly high number of boxes, bags and other sundry necessary items? (the Grisewolds, eat your heart out!) Excitement levels are high, parental tensions more so.
We’ve already engaged that morning on the Great Australian Road Trip Pastime – repacking the car after an overnight stay! Do bags breed in the dark? Why don’t they fit in?
Graham, at check-in, keeps an admirably straight face, then relenting reveals that the upper limit is 34 pieces! I justify to myself that, ‘anyway, we’re on a mission and some of the bags contain basic food items, tennis racquets, boogie boards and other essentials, not forgetting liquid refreshments for the adult members of the party!’
We already know that all accommodation on the island has either kitchenette or kitchen facilities and past experience on family holidays has taught the wisdom of bringing at least breakfast foods. The island does have a well-stocked General Store, but as all items come over by ferry, there is a premium on prices.
The other option offered by the resort is a pre-paid meal card where all meals are included at any of the four island restaurants, with two courses per meal – great value for healthy appetites or families of growing teenagers and a huge break for the family chef. But I digress.
A fast 15-minute ferry cat ride across the Broadwater lagoon reveals the resort marina and it sparkles in the morning sunlight! Single and double story weatherboard villas (looking like nothing so much as adult cubby houses), painted in nature colours of sand, sea, eucalypt green and earth red, surround the marina and inner lagoon.
If your fancy is for bush rather than sea, there are the freestanding nature cabins, constructed of pressed plantation board in soft neutral colours, with deep screened verandas. These are nestled in the undisturbed banksia forest on the far side of the lagoon.
When the ferry shuts down, the most striking sound, is the absence of sound, urban, that is. It is so quiet – its impossible to believe that there can be as many as 1100 guests on the property in the high season.
Because all baggage comes by ferry, expect a short delay before entering your rooms; it’s wise to pack swimmers towels and so on to bring as hand luggage. There’s much to do and take in while waiting –there is a short introduction to the resort’s facilities and later in the day the orientation walk is highly recommended.
One of the charms of the resort is that wallabies roam freely – the rangers explain that they’re not encouraged or discouraged but that guests are asked not to feed them to protect their health.
Try telling that to Big Red, a sly red wallaby not into ‘nature tourism’. He’s figured out the best place to be is near the pool.
To the delight of a group of children, he sidled up to their pusher, sneaked out the zipped-up cooler bag and extracted a packet of sandwiches – all with consummate ease. Poolside waiters cautiously shoo him away; Big Red treats them with disdain, making it clear who’s boss!
Speaking of the poolside area, you think politics is sneaky, low-down and dirty? That’s nothing compared to the great Banana Lounge Battles conducted at any Queensland resort – Couran Cove, we see, is not immune to supply v demand imbalance.
Over dinner we plan tactics – should we set up an overnight campsite or rely on establishing a beachhead at dawn? We go with the latter.
At 6.30am, the forward scout is sent out, armed with beach towels, to the agreed best position. And only just in time – platoons of purposeful mothers and grannies sweep all before them, marshalling shade umbrellas, lounge cushions and tables. Later at midmorning there is some wonderful people-watching as families manoeuvre for prime position, or covetously eye pre-staked lounges.
For those families more actively inclined, or lacking the necessary fortitude to hold position against all comers, the main way to get around the widespread resort is by bike.
Even those who haven’t been on a bike in 30 years succumb to the lure of safe riding tracks. There aren’t too many places for kids these days where they can ride and explore in complete safety around a village-like path system.
Apart from foot, the sugar train is the other available form of transport, making regular hourly runs to and from the patrolled surf beach, 2.5km across the island. Not keen on bike riding? What about tennis, kayaking, lawn bowls, bocce or basketball? And then there’s the dawn bird life walks, interpretive rainforest walks or nocturnal-wildlife spotting.
The Kites Kids Club operates for children aged 3-12 years old – they appeared on the beach one afternoon with some amazing kites they’d made.
If you feel like running against Cathy Freeman, there’s a covered running track with electronic timing! And many of the activities are free or cost a nominal amount. Not only that, but a selection of balls, tennis racquets, boogie boards, surf boards and other items are provided so there is no need to BYO.
When you realise that Ron Clarke had a hand in the development of the resort and that some of the Olympic teams stayed here pre-Olympics, the quality of the equipment becomes self-explanatory. To complete the whole-body experience, the Spa and Total Living Centre offers every kind of massage and skin treatment you could wish for – compulsory for mothers!
Staying at Couran Cove provides an experience different to the usual Gold Coast holiday. The ferry runs regularly to the mainland, so that if guests want to they can venture out to the theme parks, but quite frankly, why would you want to?
And as for Murphy’s Law? Resoundingly defeated on this occasion by a resort that is family friendly. It’s simple - pristine clean air and peaceful surroundings, space to get away from others, (whether beach or bush) and a multitude of activities that are healthy and active, for all ages from toddlers to teens and beyond.
Five days later, a rejuvenated family liked each other again, road trip long forgotten. But next time…we’re flying!!
by Jennifer Kernahan
This article was first published in September 2001.