Luxury diaries from the Daintree Rainforest and Mossman Gorge
Until only a month ago, if someone had told me that I would be visiting the Australian rainforests, I would have probably scoffed in utter disbelief. Rainforests in Australia? Really?
It’s like someone telling me about a tropical forest in France, or a snow-capped mountain range in, say, Singapore. In my mind – and during my previous vacations in Australia – I had always pictured it to be the country of the great outback, with endless plains of rugged landscapes, verdant woods, indolent cows mooing in sprawling farms, beautifully laid-out cities, picturesque coastlines and idyllic bays.
So this time, I was poised to uncover a side of Australia that was completely unknown to me. And I was going to do it in complete luxury.
I chose the charming coastal town of Port Douglas – at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef in Tropical North Queensland – as a base from which to explore the region. The 900,000-hectare historic Daintree Rainforest, the oldest in the world, is a short drive away.
The Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage listed site and is estimated to be over 140 million years old. Interesting bit of trivia: This is the only place in the world where two World Heritage sites sit right next to each other – the Daintree and the Great Barrier Reef. It really is impressive.
Ultimate luxury accommodation: Silky Oaks Lodge
Since I was on a luxury trail of the region, I thought it would be nice to go ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping, in case you were wondering). And there couldn’t be a better address for this than the uber-luxe Silky Oaks Lodge.
A 20-minute drive from the Port Douglas coast, Silky Oaks is a luxurious eco-lodge, spectacularly located at the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. In fact, the lodge is so remotely located that you don’t even get cell phone reception (and there’s no TV either, so it’s just you spending quality time with nature).
My stilted, treehouse-style accommodation was entirely open on one side, with a gorgeous view out on the shallow river. The enormous treehouse had a balcony and a giant spa bathtub, both overlooking the rainforest. And the best part of the balcony was the hammock, where I sat ensconced, taking my afternoon nap.
That evening, I stepped down from my treehouse, took a swim in the chilly, clean waters of the river, with my feet on the pebbled bed. This was followed by a guided rainforest walk along the riverbank and through the forest surrounding the lodge. The Healing Waters spa – which uses an exclusive range of Sodashi products – is a haven of peace and tranquillity, at the far end of the lodge, with treatment rooms opening out into the forest.
Rainforest by night: Flames of the Forest
If you think the Daintree Rainforest is spectacular by day, try visiting it at night. Picture this surreal scenario: you drive for about an hour, on a dark road, deep into the rainforest, with only your headlights to guide you, and no cell phone reception. You really are in the middle of nowhere and cut off from the rest of the world.
Just when you are beginning to fear this sense of remoteness, you pull up into a jungle clearing, feebly illuminated by a few fire lamps, with the deafening sound of crickets, insects and nocturnal birds as a background. This is the Flames of the Forest dining experience, which was one of the highlights of my trip.
After sipping on a glass of bubbly, right there in the forest, under the starry sky, we were led to our dining table in the open air. Thus began an evening of great food (I even got to sample crocodile and kangaroo) and wine. And the evening was hosted by an Aboriginal local, from the Kuku Yalanji tribe, who talked us through the history of the region, shared mystical anecdotes about his childhood, told us about Aboriginal traditions and even played the didgeridoo. It was magic under the moonlight!
Mossman River – Mossman Gorge – Cape Tribulation
The next morning I was up early for Down Under Tours to come pick me up at Oaks Resort Port Douglas – where I moved after Silky Oaks – to spend another day discovering the rainforest at closer quarters. The beginning of the day was the most interesting, with a boat cruise down the Daintree River, surrounded by rainforest on both sides.
As we cruised down the river, keenly listening to our skipper’s insightful commentary on the flora and fauna of the rainforest, the only thought that seemed to be plaguing everyone’s mind was, “Are there crocodiles in these murky, muddy waters?” In response, our skipper, steered us upstream, stopped by a sandbank and asked us to look to the left – right there, was a wily, estuary crocodile, sunning itself on the bank, blissfully unaware of the shrieks that it had elicited from all of us. I, for one, cannot bear the idea of being so close to a crocodile, but for whatever it was worth, I was in Australia, and this was indeed my ‘crocodile moment’.
Later that day, we drove through the thick rainforest all the way to Cape Tribulation, which is where the rainforest meets the beach, possibly one of the world’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Cape Tribulation was named such because Captain Cook’s ship ran aground just off this cape and that’s where he thought all his “troubles and tribulations” began.
The virgin beach of Cape Tribulation is a must-see. I recommend you walk to the far end, right up to the Kulki lookout point, where you can actually have a perspective of the rainforest and beach coming together.
Finally, it was time to drive back along the coastline, meandering through the rainforest towards Mossman Gorge, which is, well, a deep gorge, with rocks, rapids and a river gushing hurriedly through. As you walk towards the Mossman Gorge on the stilted wooden walkway, cutting through the forest, you will actually have the sensation of being in the lap of mother nature.
Kuranda Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway
The famous Kuranda rainforest is situated just 25 kilometres outside Cairns. In this case, getting to and from the rainforest is probably as spectacular an experience as the rainforest itself. I began by taking the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, from the bottom (Cairns, that is) all the way to the top, arriving in the tiny rainforest village of Kuranda.
If you want to indulge, book the Diamond View gondola (with a glass bottom) and you won’t regret. As the cable car (Skyrail, in this case) climbed higher, the scenery became overwhelmingly beautiful. Through the glass-bottom and windows, I could see the lush rainforests below me and the blue Coral Sea and the Cairns coastline below and behind me.
I even glided over the stunning Barron Falls. It was magical. The Skyrail offers you two pit-stops along the way, where you can get off your gondola, and follow a guided walkway through the rainforest.
Once you are finally at Kuranda, this tiny little ‘village in the rainforest’ has lots to offer in terms of entertainment, food and shopping.
Later that afternoon it was time for me to make a symbolic journey, back down to reality from idyllic Kuranda to urban Cairns. And here’s where I experienced what was arguably THE best part of my luxury trail through the Cairns region – the Kuranda Scenic Railway.
This GORGEOUS, narrow-gauge train line runs from Kuranda’s quaint, almost Victorian-style railway station, to downtown Cairns in about 90 minutes. This historic train dates back to 1891 and today, this is a great way to experience the landscape of the region in one of the world’s most unique train journeys.
The ultimate luxury here would be to get a ticket in Gold Class, where you board an elegant, wooden compartment, settle into cosy leather upholstered armchairs and take a journey back in time. As the train chugged downhill at its own pace, the charming Gold Class train attendants served us macadamia nuts (from the Daintree, in case you were wondering), a cheese platter, wine, mango sorbet and tea. We made a stop along the way, at a panoramic viewpoint, where the train staff ensures you get off to soak up the moment. It really was something straight out of a movie.