Escape to Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge, an island tree house in far north Queensland for a taste of extreme arboreal luxury.
It’s to be our luxury escape, a little sanity break from the tiny caravan we’re currently calling home as we trip around the Australian countryside. No matter how much you love someone, living in such a confined space has its limits.
It is therefore with lofty expectations and high spirits that my husband and I board the ferry from Cardwell across to Hinchinbrook Island on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of north Queensland. We’ve chosen Hinchinbrook over Queensland’s many other islands largely because of its reputation as a rugged wilderness area. Hinchinbrook covers nearly 400km2, all of which is national park, making it the world’s largest island national park.
It’s totally undeveloped except for the Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge, a small low-key resort on the northern peninsula, Cape Richards. The resort offers some older self-contained beach cabins, but it was the tree houses that caught our eye. Linked by a series of wooden walkways, these lofty cabins sit above the main lodge area, nestled among the treetops, with views over the island and pretty Orchid Beach below. Our caravan safely stored, we’re looking forward to life in a tree house for the next few days.
As we approach the island the sheer scale of the landmass is impressive. Steep forest-covered granite mountains rise dramatically from white beaches and mangrove-lined shores. The island’s highest peak, Mount Bowen, stretches into the overcast sky, clouds clinging to its upper slopes like white fairy floss on a stick. A brisk wind chops the water and, encouraged by our enthusiastic and informative skipper, we keep our eyes peeled for resident dugongs.
Our first impressions of the resort unfortunately aren’t quite as good. We’re greeted pleasantly but after the obligatory “welcome drink” the young lass showing us to our much-anticipated tree house can’t actually seem to find our cabin. We walk back and forth along the boardwalk exchanging nervous glances as she flits between the different tree houses searching for our room number. In the end my husband bolts up a rather steep set of stairs and yells down that he’s found it.
Upon entering our tree house, any problems we’ve just experienced quickly fade into the background. We’ve managed to score one of the best on the island and grin at each other as we climb to our high cabin through rocks and tree trunks. The tree house has been built to blend with the environment and a large boulder forms part of the bedroom wall, while the wooden balcony is shaped around the surrounding trees.
There are timber floors and glass windows form the front wall of both the bedroom and the comfortable lounge area, making the most of the vista. Admittedly the building is a little rundown and in need of some TLC; a few doors and windows don’t work properly and for the money we’re spending (the price of a high quality hotel room) we’d expected a little more polish. Nevertheless, the location and novelty factor make up for the shortcomings.
While on the island, when we aren’t playing in our tree house, we embark on some great rainforest walks which empty onto deserted beaches, watch the prolific local bird and animal life, relax in deck chairs on Orchid Beach and make the most of the resort canoes. We also take a guided hike to Nina Peak – one of the island’s lower and more accessible mountains, accessed from beautiful Ramsay Beach (reached via a boat trip from the lodge). It’s a worthwhile climb with wonderful views and a fantastic spot for a picnic at the top.
Our friendly guide, Wilson, adds to the experience with his extensive knowledge of the island and surrounds. In the evenings we more than replenish our energy at the resort restaurant. A full meal package at Hinchinbrook is pricey, so not wanting to totally crack the budget we’ve brought food across with us for breakfast and lunch, and indulge in meals out at night. The food is exceptionally good, from creative entrees to wonderful mains featuring freshly caught fish and, my favourite, decadent melt-in-the-mouth chocolate desserts. The meals outclass the restaurant service, which is adequate but nothing more.
Before we know it, it’s time to return to our more humble living quarters and we board the ferry back to Cardwell. Overall we’re glad we chose Hinchinbrook. The island is a true retreat, rich in natural beauty with plenty to offer outdoor types. Plus, if you decide to spend a little extra, you can play in a tree house designed just for grownups.
Where: Hinchinbrook Island Wilderness Lodge. Off the coast of Cardwell, north Qld.
Best months to go: Dry season, May-Sept, the resort closes during the wet season from Jan 14 to April 1.
Cost: 1-bedroom Tree House $350 per night, 2-bedroom Tree House $410 per night.
Phone: 1800 777 021