Too much of a good thing

When Darius Sanai won a luxury, all-expenses-paid holiday to Australia, it sounded like a dream come true ...
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The Independent Travel
I n New York, there is a travel agency so exclusive that its services are rendered only by invitation. For an enormous sum, and equally huge fee, a simple phone call ("We're thinking Europe and maybe Polynesia this year, presidential suites everywhere, arrange it would you?") will see to your bookings in any of the world's best hotels. As long as you are a rock star or Long Island billionaire.

I am perhaps $100m short of having the required funds to join that agency. But a few weeks ago, I was allowed membership into the club just for a couple of weeks. Not literally, of course, but as a competition winner. My partner Sam and I became the gobsmacked beneficiaries of a well-worded tie-breaker after buying a pounds 40 pair of shoes.

The prize? We would fly first class to Australia where we could choose our itinerary for a week at any price. We would then spend a second week on Queensland's Hayman Island, one of the most luxurious private island resorts in the world. Just in case that was not enough, pounds 1,000 spending money would be thrown in for good measure.

As temporary rock stars, Sam and I naturally chose all the hotels with five dollar signs after their names, and a few days later there we were: sitting by the picture-window of our suite at the Sydney InterContinental. The rooms had three TVs and a Denon hi-fi system that I could not afford to buy in my lifetime. When we ordered room service, a waiter came and set the table in the middle room of the suite, and decorated our meal with roses.

The next morning, Sam had to dissuade me from spending the entire pounds 1,000 spending money on hiring a Porsche to drive us to the Hunter Valley and Blue Mountains, our first two destinations. In the end, I reluctantly settled for a BMW convertible, the three-day rental for which still cost as much as a cheap return ticket from London to Sydney. If you're going to be a rock star you have to make an effort. Every time we arrived somewhere in the silent cabin of the BMW and opened the roof with an electric whisper, hotel doormen became the friendliest breed in the world.

We began to attune to rock-star life. At Lilianfels, a country-house hotel in the Blue Mountains, I discovered that adding bubble bath to your in-room Jacuzzi creates a mountain of foam taller than a person, which eventually avalanches over on to the marble floor. Rock stars trash hotel rooms; wannabes like us leave puddles on bathroom floors and feel guilty.

Next stop was the Casanova Loft Suite at a hotel called the Casaurina Country Inn in the Hunter Valley, chosen by us because Fodor's had referred to its "unparalleled luxury". The accommodation was on two floors, with a four-poster bed above and living and dining-rooms, wood-panelled and furnished with antiques, below. We walked to dinner through a vineyard and were provided with seafood jambalaya in a pool of flaming brandy. Afterwards, the button popped off my chinos as I started to experience one of the side-effects of being rich. How do these people keep thin?

The highlight, though, was yet to come: the week on Hayman Island, the mere mention of which had elicited stunned awe from the most brutally down-to-earth Australians. This was the pin-prick island hundreds of miles from anywhere, where guests sipped pounds 250-a-bottle Penfolds Grange Hermitage round a piano in a French restaurant decorated with Persian carpets and Ming vases.

On arrival, we found that our room (outrageously) had no Jacuzzi, but did manage a view across the Pacific to distant tropical islands. We also found a map showing Hayman Island as a forested point sticking out of the water, roughly the size of Hyde Park. The hotel resort at the southern end was the only human habitation. To reach the beaches and coral-reefs on the north side, you could walk along a jungle trail, braving snakes, scorpions, sunshine and humidity - or call reception and arrange for a motorboat. We chose the latter (obviously).

The boat arrived on the beach outside our room, and the driver, a slim brunette in a bikini, handed us a cooler-box filled with smoked salmon, champagne, ciabatta, Perrier and other essentials for an afternoon on a desert island. In another bag were two complete snorkelling kits, also complimentary. After a 10-minute whizz across clear blue waters, she deposited us on the empty beach and asked what time we'd like a lift back. A couple of hours? Fine - and she handed me a mobile phone wrapped in a clear waterproof case. If there was anything else we wanted (more champagne?) we should just dial 5. I later tested this out. "Hello, Mr Sanai, how may I help you?" came the reply from room service. He seemed disappointed when I told him we didn't really want any more champagne.

For the staff of Hayman Island, no miraculous feat of service was too much. Once, while lounging by Pool Number Three, I mentioned to Sam that I'd left my sunglasses on the breakfast terrace, a 10-minute walk away. One minute later, a waiter appeared bearing the sunglasses on a silver tray. Another evening we went to play tennis on one of the six all-weather courts at the jungle's edge. A young woman bounced out from nowhere with rackets, new balls and shoes, a jug of iced water and two fresh towels. Into the bargain, the curlews were screaming and the cockatoos were howling overhead.

Where were the ball-boys? Good question. We were beginning to tire of people fawning on us, assuming we couldn't begin to do anything without the help of the concierge and assorted staff. Even when we asked directions to, say, an outside bar, the staff were obviously under instructions to walk us there. Useful perhaps for "les lucky few", as the French call them, but we began to feel like striking out alone.

On our return to Sydney we had an even bigger suite in the InterContinental, with a wraparound view of the ocean on one side and the harbour on the other. This time there were two VCRs and a video library, as well as three TVs. It was enough. We ran outside for dinner, but I was now feeling like a rock star going out in disguise. The waitress was unacceptably rude, and the barman totally ignored me for two whole minutes. No wonder rock stars have personality disorders.



Return flights from London to Cairns with Malaysian Airlines cost from pounds 524 per person. Return flights from Cairns to Hayman Island with Qantas cost from pounds 258 per person. One week at Hayman Island's luxury resort, based on two sharing, costs pounds 98 per person per night for b&b in a standard room, or pounds 151 per person per night room only in a beach-front room. Contact Travel 2 (tel: 0171-561 2222).


Contact Australia Travellers Guide (tel: 0906 070707; calls cost 60p per minute).