First stop… Cairns
The best way to explore any city is on foot and there is no better way to cover more ground than heading out for a run. Not only does it shake off any stiffness or jetlag I may feel from my travels, but it is amazing what you find when you hit the cruise control on a run winding through local neighbourhoods. This is often how I come across a fabulous restaurant, a interesting shop (that I head back to later when I have freshened up), or even a boutique hotel that has not been on my radar. No matter the destination, to me it is all about location, and Cairns is no exception.
I knew I wanted to be close to the Esplanade Boardwalk and with The Riley being just steps away it checked that box. I soon realized that the idyllic Palm Cove, is the place to be. The main road is packed with small intimate boutique style accommodations, eclectic coffee shops, a wide variety of beautiful restaurants all overlooking the serene ocean and stylish clothing stores. Some noteworthy restaurants in the region are Vivos offering fine pasta dishes and freshly caught seafood and Nu nu with its unique menu, recognized in Gourmet Traveller as Regional Restaurant of the year.
On to Port Douglas…
In keeping with the importance of a well-located accommodation to call “basecamp” we chose The Coconut Grove. Situated in the center of town you do not need a car to get around as it is within walking distance to many shops, restaurants and of course the beach.
Port Douglas is an easy base from which to conduct daily touring. We spent half a day hiking Mossman Gorge with its breathtaking scenery and natural rock pools. Casually meandering through the stunning rainforest with our private guide, the walk took us over two and a half hours to complete. A highlight for our girls was swimming in the rock pools.
Some of our favorite restaurants in Port Douglas include Salsa, Melaleuca and the fabulous little bakery on Grant Street, where our days started with freshly baked pastries, strong cappuccino and a daily green juice.
Our final road trip destination… the Daintree.
En-route to the Daintree we passed numerous sugar cane fields. The tropical climate is ideal for growing sugar and it was fascinating taking in the lush greenery that seemingly engulfs this part of the country.
One of our favorite experiences was visiting Alan and Sue at their unique and beautiful botanical garden. On arrival Alan sat us down and told us their story, how their project, 35-years in the making, all began. As we listened to his stories from his trips around the world, Sue fed us an array of delicious fruits, many with names I had never heard of.
To create their ethno-botanical garden, they have spent time traveling to tropical regions around the world. Visiting rainforests and indigenous cultures learning about the various plants that they continue to use for food, spices, shelter, medicine, cosmetics, fibres, oils, dyes – basically their everyday needs. Alan and Sue emphasize the link between humankind and plant life. Their goal is to educate enough young people on the importance of saving the rainforests around the world. They are a fascinating couple to spend time with, one could happily spend a few days on their property and we look forward to sending our clients their way.
We continued to the Daintree Eco Lodge, tucked away deep inside the Daintree Rainforest. You rise in the morning to the birdsong of hundreds of different species and with just a screen between you and the rainforest, it truly is a beautiful little spot. Their food was great, staff lovely and the rooms perfectly adequate.
If you are not heading to one of the private island resorts, we highly recommend a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef. On the boat trip, you snorkel the pristine untouched reef at two different locations each offering an extraordinary array of marine life and coral species including sea turtles which are found in abundance over the reefs. The charter boats carry anywhere from 12 to 25 people. When we have a small family group traveling together we prefer to hire a private charter to ensure you have all the added flexibility in planning your activities for the day and we love throwing in a private lunch on one of the islands.
A must-do activity, and an unexpected highlight of our trip was snorkelling the Mossman River. Three and a half hours of pure fun with the chance to see turtles, fish, water dragons, colorful birds, electric blue butterflies and if you are lucky, platypus! Even small kids can journey down the river on large river sleds. We caught a few very tame rapids, enough to get the kids excited and did not see one other soul the entire time.
The boat cruises along the Daintree River are part and parcel of “things to do” meaning that there are several boats and companies providing river cruises. If we include this on our clients trips we will recommend a late sundowner cruise as it is a much quieter time to be on the river, and the boats we always book for our clients are smaller enabling you to access the narrow gorges and venture away from the main channel. We often include beverages of your choice and delicious appetizers, so you can search for the great big crocs in comfort and style.
Within the Daintree there are lots of cafes and restaurants mostly serving typical café-style food and drink and attracting predominantly backpackers. We opted for a private lunch in the tropical rainforest, which was amazing! Our hostess kept our glasses filled with chilled wine and served up a platter of fresh tropical fruits for dessert. After lunch we all dove into the stunning natural rock pools to cool off and digest our gourmet meal.
Our final few nights were spent at Cockatoo Retreat. Our delightful host, Carmen was on hand to attend to our every need and our guide Cathy cooked a delicious meal fit for royalty (as most restaurants were closed for dinner due to Covid). I believe that one of the best ways to integrate into a destination is to understand and appreciate the local culture and that is why we often choose the smaller boutique owner run properties over a large hotel. Over our meal with our hosts we learned so much about the trials and tribulations, the history and the culture of the Daintree.
One thing we learnt for sure, Daintree residents are very proud of their lifestyle and surrounding environment and by the sounds of it, they certainly do not have any plans to go changing. We for one hope they maintain this perspective and look forward to returning for another holiday in the future to find things exactly as they were!