A luxury guide to Cairns
The words ‘Cairns’ and ‘luxury’ might seem like an odd couple, but the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef is so much more than thongs and sarongs.
Sure, most luxe seekers choose to base themselves further down the Queensland coast in places like The Whitsundays or the glittering Gold Coast, but nowhere knows more about kicking back, slowing down and soaking in the good life than Tropical North Queensland.
If you find yourself in Cairns looking for a little luxury, familiarise yourself with these swanky spots to eat, retreat, relax and repeat.
Much like brunch, Happy Hour in Cairns is a legitimate time of day. So when the clock chimes… well, whatever time you deem appropriate, make your way down to the Pier for an aperitif at Salt House. Take advantage of the private dining room if you and your crew would prefer to slurp your oysters and clink your Cliquot away from prying eyes.
Up the ante for supper by reserving a table at Cairns’ highly acclaimed restaurant, Tamarind. Inconspicuously hidden away inside the Reef Hotel Casino – but world’s away from the blackjack tables – Tamarind is everything you’d expect from a hatted restaurant: constant and courteous service, starched white tablecloths, and adventurous yet comfortable dining options.
Borrowing flavours from the local region and its neighbours further north, Tamarind’s seasonal menu weaves a tropical tapestry throughout its a la carte and set tasting menus. Think freshly caught reef fish with coconut gel, or macadamia baklava with local figs and honeyed mousse.
Nipping at Tamarind’s heels for the best restaurant in the Tropical North is Nu Nu – recently awarded the title of Regional Restaurant of the Year in the 2017 Queensland Good Food Guide.
Set against a parade of palms in Cairns’ Northern Beaches, Nu Nu takes the best of the Tropics and puts it on a plate with a modern flourish from head chef Nick Holloway (who you might recognise from recent guest appearances on MasterChef Australia).
It’s worth taking a spin out to Palm Cove just for a violet-sugar-rimmed cocktail at Vivo, even if you’ve already planned to indulge in the fine French fare on offer at local inner-city institution C’est Bon, or enjoy a bit of pageantry on a plate starring native and foraged ingredients at Ochre.
Luxury doesn’t always mean putting your feet up. Sometimes it means planting your toes firmly into the sand and stretching your way to nirvana with a private class at Hartig Yoga, or surrendering yourself to a fully immersive retreat in Mission Beach with Cairns Beaches Yoga.
If you’re all set for clarity of the body and mind, there’s no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than by taking a helicopter joyride to a deserted sand cay in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Seriously, can you think of a better Sunday session than sipping champagne at sunset and feeling like the only people in the world? Perfect proposal alert!
Having a private aerial chauffeur like GBR Helicopters whisk you out to the reef or over the rainforest canopy is one way to live the high life (pun intended); another is to float among clouds as dawn breaks over the Atherton Tablelands on a private hot air balloon ride, complete with bubbly and breakfast on the beach when you return to earth.
From the sky to the sea, immerse yourself in the World Heritage wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef by embarking on an intimate reef excursion, whether you want to captain your own luxury super yacht or let someone else take the helm on a charter boat.
Make your way portside and the Super Yacht Group will happily sail you out to the reef or even up to the Torres Straight Islands. For something slightly smaller but no less luxurious, climb aboard Cairns Charter Boat Company’s beautiful 61-foot vessel – the Rainbow Princess.
Why share a diving class with a motley crew of strangers when you can explore a whole new level of luxury for your reef rendezvous by spending a night on the open water with a liveaboard experience.
Then, when the time comes to wash away the salty satisfaction of your Sunshine State vay-cay, treat yourself to a pamper session at the plethora of Palm Cove day spas – each treatment more indulgent than the next.
The only spot of stress in your day will come from having to choose between a cream coconut wrap at Peppers Beach Club and Spa, high tea and a ‘feet retreat’ at The Alamanda Spa, or Vie Spa’s epic aroma-fusion treatment.
Being a city on the water’s edge means it’s never too difficult to find a room with a view in Cairns, whether you choose to pull up in an Esplanade-facing sub-penthouse at Vision, the boutique dwellings at 201 Lake Street, or any number of inner-city hotels within an AMEX’s throw of DFS Galleria’s high-end (and duty free!) shops.
While it’s tempting to blow the budget on private yachts, you’re going to want to save some cash for your rendezvous with Louis, Dior, Chanel, Ralph, and the rest of the luxe brand fam at the Galleria. The ultimate souvenir has to be a pair of Uggs and some exquisite Australian opal bling.
When it comes to catching Zs in style up in the Tropical North, big brands like the Shangri-La, Pullman and Hilton are pretty failsafe, but for next level luxury you can’t go past a penthouse.
A little ways from the waterfront, the 5-star Harbour Lights complex ticks all the boxes, whether you’re planning a special getaway for the whole fam or just appreciate your space. Spacious apartments here won’t break the bank, and the full-sized kitchens are particularly handy if you’re considering hiring a personal chef.
If kicking back poolside, cocktail in hand, is more to your taste, there’s always Palm Cove. Cairns’ Northern Beaches are wedding and honeymoon central and accommodate accordingly with spas and suites aplenty.
Dip your toe into the good life at your private plunge pool, Alamanda style, or make the most of private beach access at the Pullman Sea Temple Resort & Spa.