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Far North Queensland
As we descended towards Cairns airport, we were overcome by the stunning vistas framed by our airline porthole. The vibrant colours and glistening water danced to rhythmic spectrums of blues and turquoise. At that moment the excitement escalated. We exchange glances and although unspoken, we can tell our expectations have arrived at the same location. If the arrival is this inspiring, we can barely wait for the coming experiences in Far North Queensland.
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Wow…oh…wow… As soon as we stepped off the plane the humidity hits us like a tropical monsoon. It felt slightly foreign, Australia is a country renowned for stifling dry heat, This tropical clime seems more fitting in the south-east Asian or Central American. But why complain, we’d arrived in the tropics, so we had better get used to it.
Far North Queensland is a sparsely populated area. Nothing like Europe or the United States. We had decided very early in the planning that getting to and from many of our adventure activities would be best served by a Rental Car. After picking up our bags we made our way to the car rental desk to receive our keys for a Nissan X-Trail. We requested this car specifically because it has more storage space compared to many mid-size SUV. It is a good tip to research your rental vehicles ahead of time, then when booking ask for it specifically. Many rental companies will give you the “Or Similar” line when booking, so follow up with request emails. If you do not get the car you want on check-in, labour the point and you may be able to talk your way into an upgrade.
We programmed our destination into the GPS and hit the road. As FT’s foot hit the pedal, we thought of the words of William Least Heat-Moon
“Be careful going in search of adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find.”
William Least Heat-Moon Read
Daintree, Far North Queensland
A 4.30pm arrival meant we would not make it to our destination, the Daintree Wilderness Lodge, in time for dinner. From some limited research and advice from friends, we opted for a dinner in Mossman. We made this decision based on the understanding the most places north of the Daintree River crossing (ferry) shut early on week nights (or do not open at all early in the week). In retrospect, we should have stopped in Port Douglas, because most places in Mossman were shut, or at the very least their kitchens were. Luckily we stumbled upon Sizzling Meals, a local Indian Curry house. Although very modest in its decor fit out, the menu featured some tasty Indian fast food classics and the service was very quick. Perhaps not the perfect feast for a road trip, but great when you’re in a hurry to hit the road again.
Dusk had settled in and the night sky was rolling in with ominous foreboding. We knew the road ahead would be a challenge, especially at night. We high-tailed it back to the car and fired up the GPS again. Thankfully, we arrived at the Daintree River Ferry very quickly and boarded. The Ferry is 50km north of Pt Douglas and operates from 6am to midnight seven days a week (except holidays). But be ready with cash if you plan to board outside of business hours. Their EFTPOS service only operates between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. We missed the view at night, but we knew this journey across the river was both a literal and symbolic disconnection from the modern world.
As expected we started on our journey through the ever-meandering tropical roads. A wise traveller knows when to take it slow, to ensure a safe arrival. We pulled into the Daintree Wilderness Lodge and we were excited to see the accommodation, as always. But it would have to wait until first light to take it in fully. The lodge is managed by a family and so the front desk does not operate 24/7 like many hotel complexes. We had notified them of our late arrival and they left a note, keys, flashlights and bug repellant for us. All vital elements when navigating an eco-lodge at night. We tried to keep the noise down as we paced the boardwalk to our individual cabins. There is something about being surrounded by the silence of the rainforest (or not so silent, but you know what we mean). As a visitor from the city (big smoke), one feels guilty imposing a racket on mother nature. After much lifting of bags and huffing of unfit lungs, we settled into our cabins ready for a good night’s rest in preparation for the following day’s adventure.
Waking up to the gentle sound of rain pattering on the corrugated iron roof was delightful. As we all gazed up through the full-length skylight (sunroof) above our beds, it was hard to not be overcome by the wonderment of the oldest continuously surviving rainforest in the world (approx 165 Million Years Old). For that moment, it truly feels like, it is just you and your partner immersed in nature.
The Daintree Wilderness Lodge is conveniently located near many of the Daintree’s best sites. Surrounded by the Daintree National Park and located half way between the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation. Built in the early 1990’s the lodge is managed by a couple who also live on site and provide all the services to their guests.
The Queensland government is purposefully limiting infrastructure development in the Daintree National Park. This means the region has no mains supplied power, sewage system and limited cell phone coverage. By limiting the infrastructure they aim to deter major development that could threaten the integrity of the ancient rainforest. Therefore, the Lodge relies on diesel generated power stored in batteries. In the interest of responsible power usage, lighting and cooling systems are all high efficiency. To maximise the battery life visitors are encouraged to limit power usage during non-power generating hours. A fun fact a hairdryer will use up to 2500 watts in one use whilst the entire lodge uses only 3000 watts in one night.
Check out our Daintree Wilderness Lodge Review.
Arising we headed to the CYCAD restaurant for the breakfast included in the room rate. Upon arrival, we were greeted by our lovely host Sirli. On offer was a cooked breakfast, fresh seasonal local fruits, toasted muesli. Everything was served quickly, was simple, fresh and a great preparation for the day.
Luckily for visitors, the lodge has a nature walk on its property. What better way for us to start our rainforest adventure than a leisurely stroll in search of some local flora and fauna. There is a sign posting as you depart the restaurant that shows what to look out for. Make sure you keep an eye out for their very own Hope’s Cycad which is estimated to be over 1000 years old. An ancient tree, more familiar to dinosaurs than humans, the Hope’s Cycads (Lepidozamia hopei) take 100 years to grow just 1 metre. Despite hearing much scuttering in the undergrowth, our sightings were limited to local flora. None the less, the fungi and abundant fruit covering the undergrowth, bring pops of colour to the almost dichromatic greens and browns.
Upon completion of our walk, we set off to explore deeper into the Daintree Wilderness. After half an hour of negotiating the many bends in the road, we arrived at Cape Tribulation. 110km north of Cairns, Cape Tribulation is a headland named by Explorer Lieutenant James Cook. After he had narrowly escaped running aground on a reef just east of the cape, only to hit the endeavour reef 4 hours later, Stating:
“…the north point [was named] Cape Tribulation because here begun all our troubles”
It was still tropically warm and sticky so we took a walk along the sand and up to the Cape Lookout. To our left stood the UNESCO World Heritage Daintree Rainforest and to the right, the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef, Australia is truly blessed to have such wonders on their doorstep.
Myall Beach and the Dubuji Boardwalk were also worthy stops on our schedule. It was especially interesting to see all the Soldier Crab holes and balls that covered the beach. The patterns they create make the beach look like a huge aboriginal dot painting.
Having skimmed over some of the brochures at the lodge earlier that morning, we were pumped to do the Jungle Surfing Canopy tour. Well, 3 of us were keen as mustard, Moosh was a little nervous but with minimal persuasion, we managed to lock her in as well. Time to be monkeys in the treetops! The tour goes for about 2 hours and you ‘fly’ through 6 rainforest canopies, platform to platform, on their guided zip line. Sounds amazing right? Yes indeed, it undeniably was! We had booked for the 2:30 session and so had some time to kill. What better way to do this than with beer and food? On a recommendation, we headed off to lunch at Whet. We ordered 2 salads and 2 barramundi burritos and relaxed on the deck with fans cooling us down. It didn’t take long for the food to arrive and it was delicious. This place is rated one of the best in the area, and we can testify to that! If you get a chance, stop in and grab yourself a bite to eat (and a beer of course….just sayin’). Although our bellies were satisfied, we felt the need to try some more local tucker. We swung into a roadside diner (outdoor seating only of course) to try a plate of 3 sliders, Emu, Croc and Roo shared between 3.
Arriving back at the Jungle Surfing HQ, we were ready to glide through the treetops. This tour is Eco-certified, meaning it is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Non-invasive means (no bolts, nails or constrictive cables) are used to attach the platforms and zip lines to the trees, thus preserving the health of the trees. There really is minimal impact on the rainforest, they built the boardwalk using recycled materials and the banks have been stabilised with re-vegetation. The guides are not only incredibly knowledgeable of the area, but you can hear their passion when they speak. Once we were all geared up, we had to jump on the Human Hamster Wheel, this in itself was a little treat! Fast forward 3 tandem rides and a single ride. On the second to last zip line, they ask you to go upside down, which everyone did except Moosh (she was a little ‘fraidy cat). In all fairness, when you have to let go and lean backwards it is a little daunting, but that quickly makes way for a crazy adrenaline rush. The sixth and last leg is tipped as a race, placed side by side you go fast, racing each other to the end. This went surprisingly faster than what we thought it would, and was the rush we hoped for! Being this high amongst the ‘green’ there is nothing to see but the tops of the trees, however, they even stop you ‘mid-zip’ so you can have a view out to the coral fringes of the incredible Great Barrier Reef (albeit distant). Being strung up 20 metres in the oldest rainforest in the world is something that everyone should do. What an experience!
We had half an hour to make it to the Daintree Ice Cream Company before closing, thankfully it wasn’t too far away and we had plenty of time. But alas, we got stuck behind a minivan that drove as ‘slow…I mean fast…I mean slow’ as a minivan could, and with no safe overtaking points (you need to watch out for the Cassowaries on the straights) we could see our ice cream dream slipping away. Excitedly though, we saw the sign, turned the corner and dashed for the counter. We literally made it with seconds to spare! This place does not sell your typical ice cream flavours, in fact, their flavours are based on the seasonality of available fruits and flavour matching. The ice cream cup came with Davidson plum, wattleseed, mango and soursop. Was it worth the stop? – absolutely it was!
Dinner was booked at the Lodge on this night, so we had a little rest and a refresh, and made our way to the Cycad restaurant. Adjoining the open-air eatery is a large outdoor deck area, where we sat and enjoyed the tranquillity (and wine) before dinner. The night was gorgeous and the ambience was perfect. We really couldn’t ask for it to get any better, admiring the environment we were surrounded by and realising how relaxed we were. Our dinner was complimentary to its surrounding. Delightful and satisfying! Scallops, Barramundi and a cheeky dessert (we could never turn down dessert….).
The next morning we had a little lay in, packed everything up and booked ourselves in for a Crocodile tour on the Daintree River. But firstly and most importantly, we had to stop at another ice cream place, ignoring the fact it was around 10am. Cue Floravilla Ice Cream Factory with 26 flavours (based on seasonality though). A special new flavour they had was aptly named ‘Daintree Rainforest’, a delightful combination of lemon myrtle, coconut, ginger, Daintree organic vanilla, kale and spirulina. Sounds weird….tastes amazing!
We took in a quick stop at the Mount Alexandra lookout and took the time to traverse the Jindalba Boardwalk. Both of these are 100% worth the time, you’ll kick yourself if you miss out! They are located close to the Daintree Discovery Centre.
We arrived at the Solar Whisper Daintree River Cruise Tour location an hour early and managed to jump aboard a tour that was soon to leave, which worked out perfect. Unfortunately, due to the time of year, we did not see any big crocs. The dry season is best for the full visual experience and we were right in the build-up to the wet. We did see a mid-size fella chillin’ in the water and a teeny baby croc on the bank which was absolutely adorable (if that’s the right adjective!?!). The guide was extremely knowledgeable, not only about the crocs, but the Daintree River, the Mangroves and the surrounding area. He also had a boot full of great stories too! The tour was $28 each and although we didn’t see the big crocs we don’t feel we paid too much, as simply getting out on the water and learning about the area was worth it. Solar Whisper is, as the name suggests, a solar-powered boat that is much quieter than conventional boats and significantly better for the environment!
Port Douglas, Far North Queensland.
Off to Port Douglas we go, or better yet to the Niramaya Villas and Spa. We arranged a 2 bedroom Villa after searching the web for unique places to stay. Their website promised big things, we were delighted when it not only lived up to but exceeded our expectations. Walking under the oversized pitched canopy at reception felt like you have landed somewhere luxuriously foreign. The reception host greeted us with enthusiasm, which added to the excitement and energy. After completing check-in and a short golf cart ride to the Villa, we stepped through the gate to our tropical palace. We were given a tour of our fully self-contained accommodation by the porter. With grins from ear to ear we took it all in, exclusive and opulent with all the luxuries, we were thrilled. The architecture has been inspired by Balinese villas, embracing the open-air ethos so fitting for life in Port Douglas. We felt spoilt and knew we would make the most of this for the next 4 days. Nothing was missed when they designed this place so we ran around and took some photos and videos as digital reminders of the luxury.
Pool time! Relaxation time, and maybe a couple Moscow Mules time. We made the, not at all difficult, decision to stay in for the rest of the day/evening and enjoy the Villa. “When in Rome” they say… Well, when in Queensland, it is time for a good ol’ traditional Aussie BBQ dinner. The boys headed off to get supplies while the girls enjoyed the pool with cocktails in hand. The dinner was fantastic (even if we do say so ourselves). A good selection of meats, seafood and of course BBQ vegetables for the vegetarians amongst us. It is good to note that cooking a BBQ in Port Douglas humidity does get the body temperature up, but nothing a cold XXXX beer (a Queensland local) can’t quench. With nothing planned for the next day, we happily floated in the pool watching the sunset.
Breakfast was included with the accommodation, so we were up early ready for a coffee hit (or two). The choices were a little limited, much like a slightly extended continental breakfast. They include a toaster, sandwich press, cured meats, cheeses, cereals, muffins, fresh fruit and juice. They also had a nifty little pancake making machine. Not the best pancakes ever, but it impressed the engineer and tech geek alike. The meal more than satiated our appetites and given the temperature a full hot breakfast would have been too much.
We headed down to the Port Douglas main street for some window shopping and lunch. We stopped by St Mary’s Chapel by the Sea, an old timber structure built in 1914 and very popular with local weddings. It was a nice spot to snap a few photos and take in the view. The simple gothic timber architecture took us back to a time when the small port town was not the tourist mecca it is today. At the time Port Douglas primarily served as a distribution and administrative centre for the nearby mining and agricultural industries. Today those industries have almost all moved to other larger ports leaving Port Douglas for us tourists. The stroll down the main street was short, it is not the biggest shopping district, but there is an infectious relaxed vibe, and it really was nice to just wander around with no plans. When we were planning the trip, many people asked us “What are you guys going to be doing up there?” we’d reply, “Not much really, a little rainforest exploration, the Great Barrier Reef and just chilling out”. It is unusual for us, normally we jam packed our trips with activities, but this was a welcomed change.
Court House Hotel was a worthy location for lunch. It has a great covered outdoor seating area, right on the street corner and the many cooling fans, which won us over. It was a relaxing lunch break sitting outside enjoying being with our dear friends, on a new adventure. The food selection was standard pub grub. Not exactly a culinary extravaganza, but the beer was very cold and the Fisherman’s basket was huge, so the Boys were very happy.
We took a stroll down the remaining side of the main street, we stumbled upon an ice cream shop and you know how that goes! Ice cream in had we also took the opportunity to peruse the menu at Nautilus, it looked very interesting. Nautilus is a bit of a Port Douglas foodie institution, so we decided we should go there for dinner one night. Fortunes favoured us as we managed to get a reservation for that night at 7:45pm. Back at our stylish Villa, we had the rest of the afternoon to kill and so we turned on the music, jumped in the pool and enjoyed our, all too temporary, slice of heaven.
Nautilus is a modern Australian restaurant, that pays attention to the finer details ensuring a flawless evening. Port Douglas as a whole is a very relaxed place and they do not want their dining experience to be any different. Therefore, even though it classes itself as elegant dining they have a very relaxed dress code. The outdoor dining area is softly lit with LED and string lights. Setting an intimate mood, whilst allowing you to gaze through the palm trees towards the stars. There is definitely no shortage of exciting menu choices and the wine list is also very good. The Vade’s opted for the 7-course degustation with wine pairing (as you know by now, they have to do the “foodie” experience). The Teslik’s opted from the À la carte menu. Without going into too much detail, the food was incredible. Artfully arranged on the plate, sophisticated flavours danced on our palates. Although the waiters were not having a great night the service was generally good. They were apologetic for a few faux pas that were committed. Nautilus was a great night out. Yes, the price was high, but it was definitely worth every penny. We were also lucky to see the resident bandicoots making their rounds beneath our feet, adding to the wildlife experience that had become synonymous with the trip. Save your pennies and check it out next time you visit Port Douglas. It was back to the resort and into bed, we had a big day ahead of us and we needed our rest.
The thrill of anticipation woke us from our slumber. The moment we had all been waiting for was upon us. It was the Great Barrier Reef day!
An early morning pick up at 7.30am had us on our way to the marina and ultimately the Great Barrier Reef. After much researching of reef tour companies, we decided on Wavelength. They are the second longest running reef tour company and some reasons for our choice were;
- Smaller group tour of 48 ppl max. (which may seem a lot but not when compared to the 90-400 that other tour operators can take!)
- They don’t frequent the Low Isles (where a majority of companies go).
- They take groups to exclusive reef sites that are leased exclusively by Wavelength. Read more on their website.
Conditions were perfect, calm waters and a gentle breeze. We were taken to the Opal Reef, St Crispin and Tongue Reef. It was Stinger season so they equipped us with stinger suits (yes some Jellyfish can give you a nasty tickle). These suits were dual purpose, they protect against the stingers and the smiling sun! It was a hot day and without the suits, our skin would have most certainly taken on a painful crimson hue, even with sunscreen! They provided sunscreen formulated to be safe for coral and sea sickness tablets. The Reef is a delicate eco system, it has already been ravaged by climate change induced bleaching and regular battery from the containerships using it as a pathway for global trade. The least visitors can do is avoid adding to the assault, by wearing damaging chemicals and abide by the tour company rules. The tour includes a morning snack, lunch and afternoon tea, with plenty of cold water to keep us hydrated. It took about 2 hours to get to the first site, during which the resident marine biologist gave an in-depth talk on all the species that can be found on the reef. She willingly answered all the questions the group had, proudly doing her part to educate tourists on the critically threatened wonder of the world. Cutting through the water en-route to our first reef we saw dolphins playfully darting around the boat. Flying fish shooting from the water to avoid predators and the coastal rainforest vista disappearing behind us. It became obvious the impending adventure was going to be an experience of a life time.
As we neared the first destination our excitement was peaking. Stinger suits on, safety procedures learnt, it was finally time to jump in the ocean and explore. The water was so clear and felt even calmer without the wake of the boat. It truly was a perfect day for snorkelling. We spent an hour at each site, with guides taking smaller groups of 10-12 to key spots. We found Nemo and a GIANT clam amongst other natural treasures. It was hugely beneficial to have the in-water tours. Without them we would have snorkelled around with only a hope and pray to find the incredible gems we saw. It‘s the little things, that make a tour really special. The attention to detail that separates the “big box” tours from the more intimate small group tours. Sure, it is often a little more expensive to go with the smaller group. But you must weigh up the value of the experience vs cost saving. We always choose value over bottom line price. Wavelengths had a photographer take photos whilst we were in the water. This was a great touch, it allowed us to spend our time looking at sights and not fumbling with our cameras. Plus as an added bonus they took a portrait of us as we swam. The photos were shown on their screen for viewing on the journey back, with all photos taken that day and extra reef hero shots available on a USB stick for $25. Trust us when you see the photos you are going to want a copy too.
It is difficult to put in words how incredible the experience was. The Wavelength team are so passionate about the reef, their knowledge is vast and their ability to convey it was inspiring. Not only did we see and swim amongst all the beautiful fish and coral but we also learnt about how our life choices impact the ocean. We felt so fulfilled and enriched, seeing the reef for yourself is a great experience. But sharing the experience with your friends is all the better. This was, undoubtedly, another Four Friends adventure of a life time ticked of off the list.
Shuttled back to our Villa oasis and right back in the pool. Let’s be honest can you ever have too much swimming? We booked dinner at the Rasa Restaurant onsite at Niramaya. It was pretty quiet and we were a little nervous after reading some mixed reviews. Remember you can’t believe everything you read online. We ordered wine, oyster shots and seafood, otherwise know as Queensland resort staples. As the waiter walked over our eyes almost popped out of our heads like a Warner Brothers cartoon character. The seafood platters were HUUUGE, but not only that we had 2 to get through. So Four Friends One World took to the task. Good food, good wine and great company, what more could we need on our second to last night together. We returned to the Villa satisfied, the boys reclined on the lounge while the ladies prepared for bed, then the urgent call came from Sherri in the Vade’s bedroom… “Vade, you better get here now, we have a visitor” she stated. Frank and Anthony looked at each other, “what could that mean” they thought. As they rushed to see, Sherri pointed out a large Green Tree Frog that had taken up residence in their room. Now the Vade’s are well versed in Green Tree Frogs, having had a couple pets when they lived in Australia. After a little chasing around the room and much laughter Anthony had it firmly in hand and took it outside to a nearby tree by the lake. We were in the tropics after all and walls were a little optional at this villa. It really completed our wildlife experience for the day, and signaled time for bed.
Our last day in the tropics, we decided to visit Mossman Gorge. A final rainforest immersion. The day was particularly hot and humid, all were feeling it, especially the Vancouverites. Fortunately the forest canopy gave some reprieve from the sun. They offer an optional guided Dreamtime walking tour to gain a deeper understanding of the flora and fauna found in the rainforest. However, we opted to do the self guided Rainforest circuit track. A 2.4kms round trip (not including the 460m each way to/from the Shuttle drop off). The walk was quite easy, however the humidity did make it a little harder. Be smart and take lots of water and wear closed toe shoes! (unlike some of the other tourists we saw there!) All walking paths are clearly marked and maps can be found upon entry to the Visitor Centre. Keep an eye out amongst the tree tops for the massive epiphytes (Staghorn and Elkhorn ferns) that latch on to other trees. If you feel like a dip you can jump in one of the rivers watering holes. However the river is not recommended for those who are inexperienced swimmers, fast flowing currents can present a challenge and have taken many novice swimmers off guard. Be sure to take heed of the signs that tell you if it is safe to swim that day, flash floods happen, no one is stronger than Mother Nature. We highly recommend the Mossman Gorge for all those visiting Northern QLD and it’s only 40mins out from Port Douglas and worth the small entry fee.
For lunch we stopped by a local Port Douglas Club called the Tin Shed. After a quick sign up visitor process we sat down for some tasty Aussie style burgers, Fish, Beef and Vegi versions. The beer was cold and the view was great! Then we went to another Bar for a quick cocktail, just so we could say we did the rounds in Port Douglas. No ice cube (stone) unturned is our motto.
For our last night together, we decided to relive our Mexico adventure with a little Mexican themed dinner. What we planned to be a humble and simple meal actually turned out to be quite an elaborate affair. Anthony jumped into action and made some Pico de Gallo after charring and peeling some Jalapeños. “We couldn’t find Habanero” Anthony said in a tough voice. This wouldn’t be our traditional last night of drinking and tomfoolery, we were all exhausted from the day’s activities (and from the week we had) but we made the most of the afternoon anyways. It is a little strange, that on a trip during which we spent more time than usual relaxing, we felt the most exhausted? Perhaps we will have to return to our usual activity overload on the next one!
The Vades left at 4am the next morning to make their way back to Canada. Moosh and FT weren’t due to leave for another 15hrs so enjoyed a little lay-in, went to the Port Douglas markets on the foreshore lawns, and then made the drive back to the airport. It was much nicer doing the drive during the daylight for both scenery and safety reasons!
This holiday was amazing for so many reasons, North Queensland really is a very special place! We recommend all our friends take the time to explore all that it has to offer. The Great Barrier Reef is on borrowed time. As the climate continues to warm the negative effect on the reef is accelerated. The sad truth is the longer you wait to see it, the less likely you are to get the full experience.
We make a big deal of our globe trotting. We pride ourselves on how much of the world we have seen. Ironic that four Aussies have not explored our motherland as much as the rest of the world. No matter where you are in the world, Australian born and bread or non-aussie and curious, we encourage you to get out and see what Australia has to offer. It is a land like no other and a life would not be complete without seeing the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.
Get the full itinerary here