(This was 10 years ago, some things may have changed)
Named for the beautiful palm lined beaches along the city’s picturesque coast line, Palm Cove in Northern Queensland is one of Australia’s most popular holiday resort areas. Just a short 15 minute drive north of Cairns International Airport, this oasis on the Coral Sea boasts beautiful hotels, scenic drives and a long list of area attractions. Palm Cove has just about everything that a family or couple could want in a getaway haven – warm, sunny weather, beautiful resorts and spas, lush tropical scenery and ocean views that just won’t quit. For this reason it’s not surprising that this quaint little beachside hamlet has become one of the most popular places in Australia to get married. Palm Cove instantly turned on the charm with everything you want in a beach town: quaint coffee shops and stores, a few good pubs, great restaurants and a palm-tree lined beach. The enormous Paperbark trees that line the main street and meld with shop fronts, give the strip a unique character that also struck us. We stayed at Hotel Grand Chancellor. Set in over 3 hectares of lush tropical gardens, Hotel Grand Chancellor welcomes you to the tranquil seaside village of Palm Cove, gateway to the Far North Queensland’s top heritage attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.
The resort was a perfect spot for a relaxing holiday, featuring 2 swimming pools, restaurant, bar, alfresco dining, massage, beauty and hair salon, games room and is within 5 minutes walk to the beach. The weather of course is nice and warm, the pace much slower than in Brisbane, and you are definitely closer to nature than on your average day.
We dropped our bags and with the sun warming up we retired to a shady sun lounge beside the lagoon pool. Oozing beachside chic thanks to pastel colours and lush tropical gardens, plantation shutters that screen wide open terraces, ancient melaleuca trees that filter the tropical sun and an adults only lagoon pool make Hotel Grand Chancellor a romantic hideaway made for lovin. Chilling out poolside, it’s a bit early for a cocktail but persuaded by a long tall mojito packed full of refreshing mint leaves – it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
We then took a Wander along the path that dips and dives around the coconut palms it’s pretty obvious how this place got its name. Because we’re still feeling a little giddy from the chocolate tart sugar rush we decide to count the palm trees lining Palm Cove’s Esplanade. Easily distracted by music and a sandwich board advertising Happy Hour cocktails, we give up at 37. After a few drinks we headed to Nu Nu’s. Nu Nu’s is the best restaurant in Palm Cove. It’s probably the best restaurant in North Queensland. It’s definitely the only one that has absolute beach frontage so we planned ahead and made reservation weeks before we arrived. Nu Nu’s makes regular red carpet appearances on ‘best of’ lists so we’ve come with high expectations. We allow Chef Nick Holloway to unleash his creativity and surprise us with a 7 seven course tasting menu.
The next day was market day. Once a month during the dry season cars are banished and market stalls take over the beachfront. It’s absolutely one of the best days to linger in Palm Cove. We spend hours poking through the stalls picking up a trinket here, some handmade soap there. A freshly squeezed mango and lime juice clears away the cobwebs from last night’s over-indulgence. We wandered, we shopped, and we ate a little more. We chilled out on the grass and people-watched. A swim in the ocean followed by a walk along the beach was a soothing balm to shopping and eating. Then another swim, walk, eat, and repeat. In the afternoon a massage was called for. I left to play a round of golf, while Kim enjoyed a 90 minute hot stone massage and some foot pampering. Its a few hours since our last meal so it’s definitely time to indulge again. After last night’s Nu Nu feast we took it easy with a casual BBQ on the beachfront. Early night was in order.
After a lie in and a late breakfast we were picked up from our hotel at about 11.30 for our day trip to Kuranda. The trip was run by Glenn a very nice chap and there were only 7 other guests, the coach journey took about 40mins along the beautiful sea coastal road to the Skyrail Station just outside Cairns. The Skyrail system was installed above the protected rainforest over a distance of about 15km with the tallest tower being over 40m high. There were 2 stops enroute to Kuranda Village, these being for rainforest board walks and a waterfall lookout point. It was a strange feeling gliding over the tops of the trees, but the views were sensational.
We arrived in Kuranda village which is located upon the Atherton Tablemountains, this village was known as the hippy village, who were credited with the successful fight to save what was left of the rainforest. Kuranda is a lovely little village in the rainforest at the top of the mountain about 300 metres above sea level. The main street is only a few hundred metres comprising of cafes, restaurants and shops hosting arts and crafts. The village has 3 lots of markets, a Butterfly Sanctuary, Bird world, Koala Gardens, mini crystal museum (with a full-scale dinosaur skeletal replica), mini put put golf and much more.
We left Kuranda by the scenic train which took 1 hour and 45 minutes weaving through the mountain rainforest with a short stop at the Barron Falls. We weren’t very impressed until we reached some local communities where the properties looked very good.
The next day I thought what better way to experience the Aussie bush, rainforest and spectacular views than on horseback with Blazing Saddles. The horse-riding trails meander through beautiful bushland and rainforest, allowing you to get in amongst nature and experience it firsthand. Blazing Saddles began operation in Jun 1992. Proprietor Peter Trout, a very experienced horse handler, relocated his half-day horse riding adventures from Mungalli Falls on the Atherton Tablelands, to Palm Cove which is an incredibly beautiful and diverse place only 20 minutes north of Cairns. In December 2005, he moved again to a bigger ranch just west of Kuranda west of Cairns and now since 2012, they operate on a property at Yorkeys Knob only 10 minutes from the Cairns City and Northern Beaches. It was the first time Kim rode a horse. She handled it okay, but you could see the fear in her face the whole ride. She came good towards the end and is looking forward for another go. Dropped back off at the resort we chilled the afternoon away in the spa and pool with many of cold ales.
The next day we explored the Great Barrier Reef. We woke up early, as we had to be at the pier by 7:30 to check in. We will be exploring the reef with a local company called Seastar. We ended up choosing them because they had the best reviews on Trip Advisor and they have a relatively small boat. We loaded the boat and found out that there are 36 of us plus 5 crew on the boat. Once we were loaded on the boat and they have done the safety briefing we were off. It’s well over an hour to the first place we will be snorkeling at. We get the choice to do an introductory dive for an extra $75 each but decide against it. The first stop is an area of the reef near a small island that is a bird sanctuary. The birds are small black birds. We have no idea what they are but they are loud and annoying. We didn’t come here to see birds!
We dropped anchor and we get a view of the underwater playground we are about to explore. But first we have to go through another safety briefing. I think this tour caters to a lot of people that don’t know how to swim and aren’t really familiar with the water. They are pretty strict about where you can and cannot go and what signals to give if you are having trouble and need to be rescued. I have snorkeled many times before so I wasn’t too worried about needing help. We hopped in the water as soon as we can to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
The ocean is very clear today. It is not windy at all and we have great visibility in the water. As expected, we see thousands of fish of all sizes and shapes. We also see what appears to be a stingray drifting about. We swam around for about an hour observing the fish and the coral and the large clam shells. It’s funny to think that all of these coral are actually living creatures. They really look like rocks or plants. Seastar tells us that coral is actually clear and that the beautiful colors come from algea and plants that attach to it. Whatever the reason is that these things exist they look pretty cool. We snorkeled around in the water for about an hour before heading back to the boat.
After a lunch of chicken wings and pasta salad we move to our second snorkeling spot. This spot is about 15 minutes away and is a true ocean reef – as in there is no land nearby. Once we hopped in the water we realize that this spot is way better than the first spot. The reef here is crazy. It’s huge and full of colorful coral and fish. Some parts are so thick that they almost reach the ocean surface, making it tough to swim by. Then all of a sudden the reef will stop and we will be in clear blue water looking for the next reef.
We are in the water for just over an hour, thinking about heading back to the boat, when Kim spots a turtle. We swim to catch it but didn’t get too close – we don’t want to startle him. But this turtle does not seem prone to startling. He is eating away and doesn’t seem to care about us at all. He’s quite big, probably because he eats a lot. We look around for his friends, but he is all alone today. He swims around eating and coming to the surface for air and we follow him around for about a half hour. After we say goodbye to the turtle we head back to the boat. We have snorkeled nearly three hours today and we are quite tired. Back on the boat it’s time to head back to the city after a successful day on the Great Barrier Reef. Back to resort for a Barbie and night swim.
The next day we headed into Cairns. We walked down to Cairns Central first. Cairns Central is one of the biggest shopping centres in the far North Queensland that offers an extensive variety of shops and services. We found marvelous fashion and charming novelty items to special products and services. We then headed to The Pier at the Marina. The Pier was home to a number of excellent fashion and specialty shops where you can found special gift items for families. Kim indulged in shopping for some stylish clothes and accessories.
We decided to head to the Cairns Wildlife Dome, which is a spectacular all-weather wildlife exhibit, encased by a 20-metre high glass dome on the prominent rooftop of The Reef Hotel Casino, right in the heart of Cairns. You can immersed yourself in a rainforest environment whilst parrots, cockatoos, lorikeets, and other birds native to the Wet Tropics region fly freely around, with the opportunity to observe free-roaming rainforest wallabies and view bettongs, curlews, frogmouths, kookaburras, frogs, turtles, pythons, crocodiles and lizards.
We took a free guided tour and animal presentations, providing an interactive Getting on late in the afternoon we headed to Marina Point, next to the new Cairns Yacht Club facilities. We earlier made a booking for dinner at Salt House, which is a unique dining, bar and entertainment venue offering a panorama of the ocean, marina and city on the waterfront in Cairns.
Salt House has been designed by renowned Sydney designer Michael McCann of Dreamtime Australia Design and the fluid space allows uninterrupted views of the changing colours of the ocean and mountains that encircle the city.
After dinner we walked the main street in the opposite direction of the boat habour. The restaurants are busy and everyone is sitting outside. The weather here allows for outdoor dining all year round. Even in the wet season, all the outdoor areas are covered so people can still sit outside and watch the rain pour down. There is a really lively vibe in the air and we love it. Everyone is friendly and looks like they are having a good time. As we wander down the street we see the lights of the Esplanade. There are colored lights everywhere. They light the trees red, green, and blue. A simple thing like this just makes the place so attractive.
Eventually we find the Cairns Night Market. This has a food court with cheap meals and tons of little shops with very affordable prices. We wander around the night market and even buy a few things. It’s just so damn cheap! We headed back to the resort late.
The next day was a sleep in, and breakfast by the lagoon. We pretty much chilled by the pool all day because being our last day we booked into the Tjapukai experience for dinner.
The evening came and we went to a place called Tjapukai, an “indigenous cultural experience”. We were there for the Night Fire event.
The evening started with champagne and canapés in the foyer. There were slices of kangaroos on small pieces of toast topped with spicy beetroot and then my favourite, little boats of sweet potato covered with slow cooked emu.
The entertainment started with a welcoming ceremony where music was provided by a didgeridoo player and someone using two boomerangs as a percussion instrument. This was accompanied by authentic Aboriginal singing and dancing.
Following the welcome we were taken to a large auditorium. Here the lights were dimmed and the dancers performed traditional dances honouring the cassowary (a large, almost extinct, flightless bird) and the kangaroo. They also acted out the hunting of a kangaroo. Then it was time for the fire lighting ceremony. For this the audiences were called on to participate. We were split into two teams, each with a different part to sing and an accompanying dance. I wish I could say that I remembered either the song words or the dance. As we were singing and dancing one of the Aboriginal hosts was using a notched fire stick to create a fire in a pile of dry grass. The way he made fire was very similar to a technique I learned in the scouts and was fascinating to watch.
Once the fire had been made, we were led out over a bridge where torches were lit with the flame. Then it was the group’s turn to make fire by the lakeside in the cool evening air. We danced and sang again and a couple of volunteers we called upon to light the fire.
Once the fire had been made we were taken to the restaurant for a world buffet meal. The food was very nice but we were quite disappointed for three reasons. Firstly the advert had said that the food would be prepared in an underground oven and taken out in front of us. This was an experience we were really looking forward to. Secondly, aside from roasted kangaroo there was very little authentically aboriginal food. We enjoyed eating Asian salads and European desserts but we were hoping for something more typical of the culture we were trying to explore. Finally, the group was small and we had all been singing and dancing together so it would have been great to have eaten together and to have shared our meal with the indigenous singers and dancers, however we were seated at intimate tables as couples. We felt the evening was somewhat let down by a lack of thought about the centre-piece meal.
After we had eaten there was a short closing ceremony of singing and dancing from our Aboriginal hosts and then we posed for photos with them. The Night Fire celebration was over and we were led out though the gift shop. Back to the resort and get ready to leave for Brisbane. Holiday over back to work.