filed25 Feb 2015 fromCarmen Jenner
Lonely footprints on sandy white beaches, swaying sugar cane fields and an outrageously turquoise sea. I’m starring in my very own travel brochure. Far Northern Queensland is the epitome of life in the slow lane and thankfully, I can’t see it ever speeding up.
The beauty continues at Thala Beach Lodge; it’s almost shameless. Located on a private 145 acre peninsula between Cairns and Port Douglas, you’re ideally situated to explore the hinterlands, Daintree rainforest, Cape Tribulation and of course that infamous underwater world. Assuming you can bear to leave your own private oasis, of course. From their stilts, bungalows command vistas of the Coral Sea, forest, jungle and apart from your roommates, the only other companions are birds, butterflies, lizards and the odd possum and wallaby. Simply decorated, the spacious rooms feature all the trimmings with the crowning glory being the private verandahs beckoning a lengthy linger; especially if you’re treated to a tasty seafood picnic hamper.
What makes Thala so unique however is its accreditation of eco-tourism where conservation and sustainability is a top priority and very apparent on arrival. Given the size of the property you’d expect a huge chain resort to have been built but instead you’re greeted with a retreat, in every sense of the word. Built out of sustainable materials the timber bungalows, lodge, restaurant, spa and Herbie’s beach shack (the only structure on the postcard perfect coastline) are nestled into the vegetation. And as I spend the night gazing up at the milky-way from the observatory, my star-studded night includes guests like the “Jewel Box”, Saturn’s craters and the Southern Cross.
Bird watchers will be in their element with the extensive population which includes the Australian Brush-Turkey, ducks, quails, owls, herons, lorikeets, cockatoos, honeyeaters and there’s plenty of kookaburras to make fun of you. All activities are complimentary to guests and joining one of the nature and wildlife walks reveals a how alone you are not. The Coconut Odyssey Tour is also unique while sea kayaking off Thala’s coast promises turtle spotting and sometimes dolphins and stingrays.
Even those not staying at Thala drive from all over the region to partake in the activities and to dine among the treetops and admire the views from Ospreys Restaurant. Seafood is their specialty and try anything with the blood orange sorbet like the crème brulee and convince your dining companions to order (and share) the Indian gulab jamun with saffron syrup and cardamom vanilla ice cream. You can work it off with a late night swim in the pool’s grotto or have your masseuse do the job for you at the day spa.
At some point the outside world will beckon and even though leaving will be a wrench, you’ll be royally rewarded. The best way to tour the region is independently and you can pick-up a hire car from the Cairns airport. A few minutes out of Cairns you’ll notice cable cars creeping up the rainforest clad mountains. Add the Skyrail experience to your must-do list. Leaving from the Smithfield Terminal, the six person gondolas stop at Red Peak Station and Barron Falls Station before arriving at Kuranda, aka “Village in the Rainforest.” Have your camera ready for the stunning rainforest and waterfall views on the ascent and leave plenty of time in Kuranda to explore the galleries, markets, cafes, walking tours, and wildlife sanctuaries. Get a different perspective from the river with a Kuranda Riverboat Cruise and take the steam train back to the flatlands.
If around on a Sunday, head about 30 minutes north from Thala along the windy Captain Cook Highway into Port Douglas for the Sunday markets teeming with hand-made products and local produce; don’t miss sampling the mangoes and sugar cane juice. The Reef Marina in Port Douglas is the place to join a tour to the Great Barrier Reef and there are several companies to choose from. Quicksilver is one of the longest running outfits and the smooth cruise on the Wavepiercer to the pontoon is done in air-conditioned style. Even if you don’t wish to get your feet wet (or travelling with little ones) you can still admire the coral, 1500 species of fish, plant-life and even turtles from the semi-submersible submarine. However exploring the Agincourt Reef, which is the very outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef, by snorkelling, scuba diving or ocean walking with a helmet is really what it’s all about. Return to the mainland in style with a scenic helicopter flight and views to adorn your Instagram feed. Fancy landing on your own deserted island instead? Reef Sprinter will get you to Low Isles in 15 minutes or join a luxury yacht with Sailaway for a full day experience or sunset cruise. For the truly decadent, join Phantom Charters for an overnight stay with your own on-board chef and queue-less swims.
Just out of Port Douglas interact with some of the natives at Wildlife Habitat in the grassland, wetland and rainforest habitats. Cuddle koalas, allow reptiles to slither over you, join the flitting birds on the boardwalks, including the large, flightless cassowary bird which may even join you for a stroll.
If I had all the time in the world I’d grab a sleeping bag and 4WD and just keep going north. But if you don’t have the luxury of an unlimited amount of time or a 4WD about 2 ½ hours north of Cairns or 1 ½ hours from Thala you can still get as far as Cape Tribulation on sealed roads. There is a ferry crossing across the Daintree River able to carry about a dozen cars on one crossing; plus it adds to the adventure as once you cross the river it feels as though you’ve truly left civilisation behind. Just before the ferry crossing is eco-friendly Solar Whisper Wildlife Cruises equipped with a “croc cam” and on-board screens to see what’s really lurking beneath below.
Once on the other side of the river, you’ll enter the Daintree forest and if you’re short on time the Daintree Discovery Centre with its aerial walkways, cassowary circuit, bush tuck trail and canopy tower gives a taste of what all the fuss is all about. After all, the Daintree is thought to be between 110 to 200 million years old with its primitive characteristics some of the most complex rainforest systems on earth.
Hit Cape Tribulation Road north; where the rainforest meets the reef. Park in the little town and take either the Kulki or Dubuji Boardwalks for prehistoric fauna which like something out of Jurassic Park. You’ll end up on Myall Beach; and its sandy white beaches all the way.
Even weeks after my trip, GANGgajang’s song Sounds of Then (This is Australia) won’t stop playing in my head. The song is as iconic as the image of a kangaroo bouncing across the burnt sunset. “Out on the patio we sit, and the humidity we breathe, we watch the lightning crack over cane fields, and laugh and think this is Australia.” It ought to be the national anthem in my opinion. Or at least Far Northern Queensland’s theme song.
I was a guest of Thala Beach Lodge. Originally published in Primo Life, October 2014