Palm Cove, one of the Northern Beaches, lies about 20 minutes north of Cairns in Far North Queensland. Although there are some top class hotel and restaurants there, it hasn’t yet been ruined by development and retains a very casual, laid-back vibe. It was a great place to spend a week relaxing and visiting nearby towns and attractions.
We were booked in at the Mantra Amphora, with an apartment facing the central pool area. It was a fantastic apartment with huge open plan kitchen and living room, and a balcony with table and chairs, perfect for breakfasts, since we prefer to eat in.
The pool itself was rather warm, as they tend to be in the tropics, and the Jacuzzi was almost unwarranted given the heat and humidity of the climate in December. The resort had a restaurant that was always well patronised, but we found others that suited us better.
The bulk of the commercial properties lie along Williams Esplanade facing directly out to the Coral Sea. All along the Esplanade the foreshore is fringed with tropical gardens and palm trees. The magnificent melaleuca (paperbark) trees have been cleverly incorporated into the landscape design of various hotels, shops and restaurants. Even the road itself is laid-back with traffic islands and carefully placed curves and speed humps to keep the traffic at snails’ pace.
We tried a number of restaurants and cafes for breakfast and dinner. Our dinner at Nu Nu Restaurant, just a short walk along the beachfront, was beautifully presented and inventive in its use of ingredients, but the serves were a bit small considering the price. The staff were friendly and helpful and the view from the outside deck right on the foreshore of swaying palms and ocean was magnificent, even as dark settled, with the moonlight playing on the sea in the distance.
The other restaurant worth mentioning was the Lime and Pepper at Peppers Beach Club. They served a fantastic tasting platter for two at a very reasonable price. Along with a couple of cold beers and a Mojito, this was really sufficient for us both as dinner. All it needed was an ice-cream to follow as we walked along the esplanade and out to the pier to enjoy the cooler breezes and evening lights along the foreshore.
One aspect of a tropical beach holiday most people anticipate is to swim at any point along the magnificent white sandy beaches. Because of the protection afforded by the Great Barrier Reef, the waves are modest and the water is shallow for some distance out. However, the reef also brings with it the problem of the stingers — quite dangerous jellyfish known as the Box jellyfish and Irukandji jellyfish. These have long trailing tentacles that can sting you even if you are some distance from the body of the creature. Stings are extremely painful, causing scarring, nausea, abdominal and joint pain, and hospitalisation is required for treatment.
Not surprisingly, along the beach we found containers of vinegar for first aid and signs warning of the expected presence of stingers at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, this is right during the summer months. To combat this, the towns along the coast provide swimming enclosures made from a floating barrier with nets reaching the sand, which keep out the majority of stingers and their tentacles.
The signs also note that crocodiles have been known to appear along the coast, particularly if there are estuaries with mangrove swamps nearby. It’s no wonder overseas visitors have the opinion of Australia as a very dangerous place! Apart from a trip out to Green Island, where we wore stinger suits, we stuck to swimming in the hotel pool!
Palm Cove is also the proud owner of a top class golf course — Paradise Palms. Hubby made sure to get in a round one morning before it became too hot. It is a beautifully manicured course and club house with its own resort next door.
About an hour’s drive north of Cairns, up the Captain Cook Highway, on a promontory between Dickson Inlet and the Coral Sea, you will find my favourite tropical north Queensland town, Port Douglas. Here there are exclusive resorts, award winning restaurants, beautiful galleries and boutique shopping, all within easy reach of the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. It combines the sophistication of a top resort town with the relaxed village life typical of northern Queensland.
As you turn off the highway you pass the Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary, manicured golf courses (which have the occasional crocodile making water hazards live up to their name!) and luxuriant tropical gardens belonging to some of the top resorts. When you reach the end of that street, turn right in to Macrossan Street and check out the fantastic wide Four Mile Beach. The view from the Flagstaff Hill Lookout is worth the short climb on foot.
Back north along Macrossan is the heart of town — a shopper’s and a gourmet’s delight, with bars, pubs and some of the more eclectic accommodation options. This is a place you can easily while away a few hours. The Ironbar Pub will also entertain you at night with its cane toad races!
At the end of the street is Anzac Park, at the mouth of Dickson Inlet, where every Sunday morning the markets display a wide range of art, crafts, souvenirs and fresh produce. At other times the quaint little St Mary’s by the Sea Chapel provides the setting for those wanting a tropical wedding.
Further along you will find the Marina Mirage, which combines a shopping and dining complex with a busy marina for boating enthusiasts and visitors to the Reef. Late in the afternoon, this port is teeming with tourists disembarking from catamarans that have taken them to either the Low Isles, the nearest point of the Reef, or to Agincourt Reef or one of the outer reefs. Also there, On The Inlet, as its name says, is a popular seafood restaurant with its own resident 250kg grouper, which comes in for feeding every afternoon.
Since our holiday in the area coincided with our wedding anniversary, we chose to dine at 2Fish, one of the town’s best restaurants. The food and wine were exceptional. We started with a couple of share platters, moved on to wild barramundi and yellow fin tuna and finished with chocolate truffle cake. Yum!
Other places we visited during our week away were Kuranda, Green Island, the Mossman Gorge, the Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation — all accessible within a day trip from Palm Cove.