October 27, 2022
24 mins Read
In a place like Burleigh Heads, which offers the saltwater attractions and beachside mellowness that many coastal escapes do, the quality of accommodation can be persuasive. Which is why the Anna Spiro-designed Bon Sol has been instrumental in putting it on the map.
As Australia’s doyenne of design, Spiro (the mastermind behind Halcyon House) knows how to distil the essence of place into the space between walls and forge an aesthetic worth travelling for. The sheer association of her name with a restaurant or hotel catapults an establishment to the top of the proverbial hot list.
Set in a brutish block of flats typical of the Gold Coast’s architectural vacuum of the 1960s–1970s, Bon Sol is an inconspicuous oasis. But inside, Spiro’s incomprehensible ease at blending diametrically opposed prints creates a mystifying serenity.
Bon Sol is attracting travellers to Burleigh in droves, but it’s the suburb’s burgeoning food and drink scene that is enticing them to stay longer.
Hatted Labart is a sleek bistro serving exceptionally executed fare in a beautifully inviting setting. Rick Shores offers absolute ocean-side dining that’s both polished and delicious, while the Burleigh Pavilion is bringing back the Gold Coast’s halcyon days in the restaurant space above it. And head to Rosella’s for imaginative cocktails, natural wines and fun, on-theme bites.
On a clear, breezy June night in 1770, the Great Barrier Reef’s coral talons tore into the hull of the HMS Endeavour forcing it ashore. The layover, intended to take mere days, would become one of the most momentous in the history of modern Australia.
Today, Cooktown is a bustling, self-sustaining country town. Tourism is its bread and butter. There are long stretches of empty beaches, bushwalks in the nearby national parks, a thriving birdwatching scene, and world-class fishing – all totally independent of the Cook legacy. But with this year marking the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in Australia it’s a legacy that continues to divide Australians.
Cook has become a polarising figure in Australia: to some he’s a tool of empire and condemned the First Australians to a dark fate; to others he’s a hero and legend of naval lore. But as Nick Davidson, captain of a sunset river boat cruise with Riverbend Tours puts it, “We don’t romanticise what happened here,” Nick says. “It’s just something to learn from.”
And the learning continues at The James Cook Museum with a comprehensive and refreshing take on the Cook saga: a clear account from an Indigenous point of view. The museum also covers Cooktown’s subsequent history as a gold mining town, missionary zone, and strategic base against the Japanese advance during the Second World War.
At the Cooktown History Centre, Alberta Hornsby describes the Indigenous relationship with Cook as complex: “Many elders in my mob won’t talk about Cook, but I think we need to better understand what went on here.”
When asked if she feels being tied so closely to Cook has obscured Cooktown’s identity, Alberta shakes her head. “If we stop talking about Cook, we’ll never move past the narrative that Indigenous people are surrounded by negatives,” she says. “We aren’t.”
In fact, 2020 might be the start of a second wind for the Cook conversation. “It’ll be the first anniversary where we can speak about our side of the story,” Alberta says. If we’re ready to reevaluate the events of 1770, perhaps we can learn from Cooktown’s legacy as a site of peace and mutual respect.
Staying there: Hillcrest Guest House
Cairns, best known for its reef and rainforest, is ready to take flight again thanks in no small part to Crystalbrook Collection’s renovation of the city skyline with its new accommodation offerings, all of which have been designed with distinct personalities and sustainable luxury in mind: there’s the Riley, a ‘live in the moment’ resort; the Flynn, ‘a social butterfly’; and Bailey, ‘a thoughtful and arty’ option.
There’s now a frisson of excitement about the city and a confidence that can be felt everywhere from the bohemian stretch of Grafton Street, where colourful hippies converge for lattes at Caffiend, to the green fringes of the city where Tanks Arts Centre utilises former Royal Australian Navy fuel tanks as performance spaces.
The NorthSite Contemporary Arts Centre is housed within the new Bulmba-ja building, which is a hub for Indigenous arts and includes a dance incubator, JUTE theatre, yarning circle and garden area for Indigenous smoking ceremonies. In addition to Bulmba-ja, creative types should visit the Munro Martin Parklands, which hosts operas and productions in an outdoor performance space.
One of the best eco-friendly experiences to have in the region is to snorkel over the underwater coral gardens planted by Passions of Paradise. Sustainability has informed the business practices driving the operator’s catamaran since it began sailing off the coast of Cairns more than three decades ago.
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway also offers visitors a different perspective on Cairns, from the rainforest fringes of Mt Yarrabah out to the Coral Sea.
From Smithfield Skyrail station, it’s a short drive to Palm Cove. Here, award-winning restaurant Nu-Nu excels at seafood and tropical ingredients and is emblematic of the charm of the tight-knit Tropical North Queensland community.
Back in Cairns, bounce between the Riley, Flynn and Bailey to find some of the city’s best bars and eateries. Dive into Asian eats at Paper Crane, give pasta a twirl at Flynn’s Italian, and head to Pachamama for authentic Latin share plates. Find more eateries scattered along the Esplanade and waterfront. Our pick is the eat-in trawler Prawn Star.
Turn your visit into a road trip by taking one of the four main routes: the Great Inland Way, Pacific Coast Way, Matilda Way and Savannah Way. Take a self-drive tour of the Atherton Tablelands where you can source the freshest organic ingredients for a cup of tea from Nerada Tea Plantation and Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy. You can also visit Mt Uncle Distillery, set on a banana plantation, and Charley’s Chocolate Factory for single-o handmade chocolate bars.
Brisbane is the newly anointed capital of cool thanks to a whole heap of design-driven restaurants, hotels and bars popping up all over the city.
Start the day at Three Blue Ducks. The laid-back Bronte and Byron collective is newly installed in the W Brisbane, serving its signature flavoursome menu using the freshest local produce. Same Same is another addition to the Calile Hotel’s Ada Lane dining precinct, the menu does mod Thai in a space that is light and relaxing.
Howard Smith Wharves has recalibrated the Brisbane dining scene, adding a new vibrancy and quality. Yoko Dining, a Japanese izakaya restaurant and bar has a funky fit-out (to resemble a bento box) and a hibachi grill working overtime in the kitchen. Another recent Howard Street Wharves arrival, Stanley, serves up Cantonese that lets the quality of the local produce used shine.
Find Maeve Wine housed within a grand heritage bank building. The wine menu here concentrates on more boutique producers while the food is European-influenced and designed to share.
Luckily the local hotel scene is keeping pace with the food one, with loads of luxe accommodation options coming online in the last few years; book a room at the super-cool Calile Hotel, the art-inspired Fantauzzo or big names such as W Brisbane, with its sexy pool deck, or Westin Brisbane.
Fraser Island’s 75 Mile Beach disappears completely at high tide, but when the water recedes it morphs into a surprisingly busy road with speed limits and even booze buses during the summer holidays.
Some 400,000 visitors arrive on the island each year and Wayne, an easygoing larrikin who doubles as driver and guide with Fraser Explorer Tours, estimates that 399,000 of those stop at Lake McKenzie. When we arrive, one glance is enough to tell me why. This is a place so absurdly picturesque that it almost doesn’t seem real.
It would be easy to spend days here, but soon we’re back in the car and tackling ‘the roller coaster’, a particularly bumpy stretch of track just outside Kingfisher Bay Resort. The low-rise eco resort hidden in the trees on the island’s western side was built in 1992, just as Fraser Island gained UNESCO World Heritage listing. Accommodation options further afield include Eurong Beach Resort and private homes for rent on the island’s east coast.
At the fine-dining Seabelle restaurant there’s a strong focus on native ingredients, and the Bush Tucker Talk & Taste offers a chance to learn more about them. It’s a satisfying way to end the night and when I get back to my room I fall asleep to a chorus of frogs chirping through my screen door.
A dingo fence keeps Fraser Island’s most notorious residents out of the complex, but today I’m on the lookout for some offshore visitors instead. From July to November each year, humpback whales stop in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay on their migration up (and down) Australia’s east coast.
The island acts as a giant windbreak so there’s no swell as we head out to the Great Sandy Strait and it doesn’t take long before we spot two obliging juveniles that lift their heads above the water (a ‘spy hop’) and roll over to expose their white bellies.
Not to be left out, a nearby pod of dolphins frolics and dances as the sun glitters off the water and turns it into the world’s biggest mirror ball.
Fraser Island is 250 kilometres north of Brisbane and ferries leave from River Heads or Inskip Point. Once there, travel is only possible via 4WD so you’ll need your own vehicle and experience driving on sand, or you can sign up for a tour.
The titan monolith – Ngarrabullgan, or Mt Mulligan – jutting out of Tropical North Queensland’s outback landscape stretches 18 by 6.5 kilometres, making it almost 10 times the size of Uluru. Although Mt Mulligan (located only 150 kilometres west of Cairns) sits beyond the modern consciousness of most, radiocarbon dating suggests Indigenous Australians inhabited the mountain as far back as 37,000 years ago, making it the oldest dated site in Queensland.
Despite its historically low visitation, a new luxury resort is helping to put Mt Mulligan on the map. While many guests choose to take a 35-minute helicopter ride to Mt Mulligan Lodge from Cairns, we’re taking a scenic route closer to the ground, driving two hours from the picturesque Atherton Tablelands.
The nondescript entrance to the lodge suddenly appears to our left and we swing in to see a low-set building surrounded by the quiet of the bush. Mt Mulligan towers in the immediate background behind a row of eucalypts. Adorned in stone and timber, the lodge has a rustic, natural look that melds with its surrounds.
The rooms smell of timber and have a dark, earthy colour palette that seemingly draws the outside in. As I step onto the balcony to admire the deep, corrugated bathtub, a wallaby appears from behind a tree and leans into the weir to drink.
There’s no need for a TV with such a beautiful show of nature on the doorstep; not least the majesty of Mt Mulligan, which peeks between the trees. Out of respect to the Djungan people – the traditional owners of Ngarrabullgan – the mountain cannot be climbed. However, there are plenty of other things to do.
As part of the accommodation package at Mt Mulligan Lodge, a daily tour is offered to guests. This includes cattle mustering at the Mt Mulligan Station, a trip to the heritage-listed Tyrconnell gold mine, morning walks around the lodge’s 28,000-hectare property, and kayaking on the glassy weir. Those with a taste for barramundi can have a shot at fishing for dinner. For times in between, there’s an inky black pool with mountain views and a scattering of lounges and deck chairs for settling down with a book. With a maximum of 16 guests at any time, the exclusive lodge puts relaxation at the fore.
While iconic outback rail journeys The Ghan and the Indian Pacific are both bucket-list items for most Aussies, consider adding the Savannahlander – a 1960s ‘silver bullet’ railmotor that rattles once a week through the Queensland outback – to that list.
A somewhat informal and eccentric experience, with nary a starched white tablecloth in sight (instead leather seating, timber trims and plenty of character), this rail journey departs Cairns every Wednesday for the wet tropics area of the Kuranda Range and on through the Savannah country until it reaches the old gold-mining town of Forsayth; the carriages trundle along an old railway line that once carried prospectors pursuing gold, copper, marble and gemstones in these parts.
With different permutations of the journey available, ranging from day trips to overnighters and longer, guests can mix and match to create their own custom experience. Choose a four-day rail journey to get the most out of this unique experience, adding on side trips to Cobbold Gorge, the Undara Lava Tunnels and Chillagoe-Mungana Caves.
Hamilton Island is home to a raft of accommodation options including holiday homes and the breezy Palm Bungalows as well as world-class luxury resort qualia. It’s well placed for exploring nearby Whitehaven Beach, and is the only spot that offers an exclusive adventure to the newly opened Heart Island: a luxury and sustainably designed pontoon located in the neighbouring lagoon to Heart Reef.
Daydream Island has 280 rooms and suites and three restaurants and bars to choose from and its Living Reef: an eco-friendly and educational coral lagoon that wraps around the property and offers opportunities to encounter baby stingrays, spot starfish and sea cucumbers and discover more than 100 unique species of marine fish.
The iconic private island resort Hayman Island offers the choice of 168 pitch-perfect rooms, suites and villas that blend artfully with the resort’s tropical gardens, ever-beckoning pools and panoramic seascapes, in addition to five distinct dining experiences. It places you on the doorstep of Langford Island, Blue Pearl Bay and Hook Island.
The first 100 per cent solar-powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian Retreat occupies a secluded three-hectare patch of Long Island, that’s ensconced by rainforest and reef. A boutique eco experience for up to just 20 guests at a time, it offers a locally sourced custom menu, an Ayurveda inspired spa, morning yoga sessions, paddleboarding and kayaking.
There are several options for beach camping on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the archipelago, including right on the fringe of Whitehaven, with 10 campsites nestled behind the beach among lowland vine forest and eucalypt woodland. You can beach camp in other spots in the Whitsundays National Park, including several sites on rugged Hook Island.
The Whitsundays are the only place in the world where you can rent a multimillion-dollar yacht without a licence. There are plenty of bareboating options to choose from, where you’ll essentially hire a houseboat with friends or family to languorously explore the secluded bays and beaches of the Whitsundays’ 74 islands. There are also plenty of tours and skippered boats to choose from; Cruise Whitsundays is a good place to start.
Eco Barge Clean Seas Inc. has been running the Whitsunday Marine Debris Removal Program for over a decade and has removed more than 179,000 kilograms of marine debris from the waters. And those wanting to contribute can volunteer on one of its barge trips.
Jarramali Rock Art Tours might have only been operating for three years but the ground it covers, the Quinkan rock art sites found in the sandstone escarpments outside of Laura in Tropical North Queensland, is eternal.
Depart from Cairns or Port Douglas in a 4WD or fly in via a scenic helicopter ride from Cairns or Laura. Choose between a day trip or a one- or two-night experience, camping in what the family-owned operator describes as ‘five-billion-star accommodation’.
With a Kuku-yalanji traditional owner as your guide, you’ll learn about nature, heritage and spirituality and emerge with a true understanding of where you’ve been. Jarramali Rock Art Tours was established by Johnny Murison, who is a descendant of a Kuku-mini woman named Rosie Maytown Palmer.
Rosie became part of the Stolen Generations when she was snatched from her mother’s arms at five years old. Part of the reason Murison started his tours was because he wants people to “walk into our past, recognise, acknowledge, respect and feel the pain my old people went through. Then perhaps we can walk together into a brighter reconciled future,” he explains.
Townsville will soon lay claim to the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), the only museum of its kind in the southern hemisphere. MOUA will act to highlight reef conservation, restoration and education on a global scale, sharing the stories of the region’s First Nations people and providing plenty of creative inspiration in the process.
The museum will comprise a series of four intriguing installations designed by world-renowned underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor; its inaugural installation Ocean Siren is already located at The Strand on Townsville’s foreshore. It rises emblematically from the water and is modelled on Takoda Johnson, a young Indigenous girl from the Wulgurukaba tribe. An environmental conversation starter, the sculpture changes colour in response to live variations in water temperature.
The second installation, on the John Brewer Reef two hours’ boat ride from Townsville, is deCaires Taylor’s first-ever underwater building. Coral Greenhouse is populated with 20 ‘reef guardians’ that propagate the coral; the actual fabric of these sculptures is made up of stainless steel and pH-neutral materials, which instigate natural coral growth. The museum stands in the shallows, so you’ll be able to snorkel or dive to view it.
The remaining two installations, set for completion next year, will be located at Palm Island, some 65 kilometres out from the mainland, and at picturesque Arthur Bay at Magnetic Island.
Other Townsville highlights include the Reef HQ Aquarium which allows you to explore the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet; hiking Castle Hill, a heritage-listed pink granite monolith; the cafes along The Strand at Townsville’s beach foreshore; dinner at two of Townsville’s award-winning restaurants, Bridgewater and JAM Corner; and a swim at Little Crystal Creek, located an hour’s drive north out of town.
Rising up to 1200 metres above sea level, Queensland’s Granite Belt region is home to some of Australia’s most dramatic scenery and offers surprises at every turn of the New England Highway between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield. Here, some absolute highlights of the southern end around Ballandean.
With its 11,800 hilly hectares of unique rock formations and hiking trails, Girraween National Park and neighbouring Sundown National Park offer some of the most rewarding walking locations. An alternative for a walk to see spectacular balancing boulders is at Bald Rock National Park adjoining Girraween, accessible from the NSW side of Tenterfield (entry fee applies). Here you’ll find the largest exposed granite rock in the southern hemisphere.
Close to Girraween at Wyberba there’s a small cluster of wineries. David and Lori Broadbent offer a range of reds and whites including a highly awarded reserve sagrantino at Balancing Rock Wines. Pyramids Road Wines focuses on low-volume handmade wines with a big range of grape varieties, with reds like mourvèdre and petit verdot prominent. Girraween Estate have won top awards for their shiraz cabernet and chardonnay. And they also produce fruit-driven, crisp and refreshing sparkling wines.
It’s not just about the wines of the Granite Belt. You’re very welcome to rock up to a brewery or distillery if that’s more your fancy: there are several choices including the boutique Brass Monkey Brew House, the closest to Ballandean; Granite Belt Brewery (with pub-style food, and comfortable cabin accommodation so you don’t need to drive).
Not far from Castle Glen you’ll find a spot called Donnelly’s Castle. You can squeeze through crevices in giant granite rock boulders, walk on top of them and enter into cave-like openings. The famed bushranger Captain Thunderbolt once used this rocky outcrop north of Stanthorpe as his hideout and it’s a hidden gem.
Now it’s time to pack your Esky full of the region’s fresh organic food and artisanal, hand-crafted products including, Sutton’s Juice Factory for natural juices and handmade apple pies; Ashbern Farms for strawberry picking and ice-cream; Stanthorpe Cheese for a great selection to accompany your wine purchases; Mt Stirling Olives for fruity, cold-pressed extra virgin oils; Jamworks Gourmet Foods for jams and relishes made from local produce; Anna’s Candles for soy-based scents; and Washpool Farm Soaperie for natural products and soap-making workshops.
Top-notch accommodation options include the Girraween Environmental Lodge, Wisteria Cottage and Girraween Country Inn.
The traditional country of the Yugambeh people, with World Heritage-listed rainforest and six national parks spread over an area of some 4000 square kilometres, driving Queensland’s Scenic Rim offers up scenery and surprises aplenty.
Start the journey by driving just over an hour from Brisbane to the small village of Harrisville to arrive at Summer Land Camel Farm. It’s the largest commercial camel farm outside of the Middle East, with more than 550 animals, many having been ‘rescued’ from Central Australia and brought here to breed and produce nutritious, organic dairy products: milk, yoghurt, cheese – including a wonderful Persian feta – and a highly awarded skincare range.
If it’s sheep cheese you prefer, your next stop should be Towri Sheep Cheesery in Allenview. Here Carolyn and Dallas Davidson will proudly introduce you to their 350 specially bred sheep and the award-winning hand-crafted cheeses.
Accommodating 12 guests in boutique comfort from late July, the Stables here will be available to book out in their entirety for a weekend of milking sheep, making cheese, cuddling lambs and collecting fresh eggs from the property’s chooks.
After all that cheese you’ll be in the mood for a few tempting vintages. The Scenic Rim is renowned for its prize-winning wineries where you’ll find a variety of styles, including some excellent fortified wines; the port at Bunjurgen Estate is particularly moreish.
Meanwhile, Scenic Rim Brewery at Mt Alford specialises in liquid of an amber hue. Try crafty brews combined with a homemade deli takeaway lunch that can be enjoyed at a scenic picnic spot nearby.
Talented chefs here are passionately embracing the area’s abundance of farm-fresh veggies, meats, relishes, jams and of course, the dairy products. Two of the best are Daniel Groneberg, who runs the kitchen at Kooroomba; and Richard Ousby, who is a recent arrival at The Overflow Estate 1895’s pretty lakefront cafe. Be sure to sample the fruits of their labour while in town.
Food and wine are fine, but the real joy of a Scenic Rim visit is the magnificent countryside. From sedate, well-marked tracks, to challenging mountain scrambles, try these on for size: Lower Portals Track (7.4 kilometres/three hours); Mee-Bor-Rum Circuit (720 metres/15 minutes); Mt Edwards Summit Trail (six kilometres/3.5 hours); Rainforest Circuit (1.6 kilometres/30 minutes) and Mt Cordeaux Track (6.8 kilometres/2.5 hours); Palm Grove Circuit (2.7 kilometres/one hour); Curtis Falls Track (1.1 kilometres/30 minutes); Witches Falls Circuit (3.6 kilometres/one hour); and Moran Falls (4.4 kilometres/1.5 hours).
The Scenic Rim brims with stylish locations to rest your head after a long day of indulging: Spicers Peak Lodge boasts top-class cuisine; O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat for great activities and walks; or Nightfall Camp for a unique luxury glamping experience.
Reefsuites, Australia’s first underwater accommodation, is part resort, part aquarium – providing a front-row seat to the watery wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef.
Housed within a floating pontoon, Reefworld, these digs are moored 40 nautical miles offshore from Airlie Beach and your experience begins with a cruise through the Whitsunday Islands.
Once you reach the pontoon, you can snorkel, dive and lounge to your heart’s desire, check out the underwater observatory or even hitch a helicopter ride to Heart Reef. Dinner is under the stars, before it’s time to bed down to see the reef come to life through the floor to-ceiling windows of your sub-marine room (or opt to stay on top of the pontoon in a Reefsleep bed).
Reefworld is the brainchild of Cruise Whitsundays, which works with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to ensure the whole experience is operated with the environment and sustainability front of mind.
From city to jungle, the short but sweet Great Barrier Reef Drive takes in some of Tropical North Queensland’s most famous spots and offers up spectacular coastline along the way.
Begin in Cairns and kick on to Port Douglas, following the coast along the fringes of the Coral Sea and past unspoilt beaches. Balmy, laid-back Port Douglas is the stuff holidays are made of: stroll along Four Mile Beach, take a cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef with one of any operators working out of the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina, and enjoy a gentle punt through mangrove wetlands on the elegant old riverboat, the Lady Douglas.
A portal to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is also the gateway to the Daintree, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, which is estimated to be 180 million years old. Your first impressions will be of Mossman Gorge, north of town, where a Dreamtime Gorge Walk that meanders through the rainforest reveals stories of the Kuku Yalanji culture and traditions.
Stay in luxury tree-house accommodation at Silky Oaks Lodge, which sits overlooking the river in a 32-hectare patch of the Daintree. It’s in the midst of a $15 million makeover that will level up its offering all round when it reopens, including such bespoke adventures as a full-day private safari of the Daintree region, complete with gourmet dining and personal guide.
A narrow road twists onwards from here until it reaches the Daintree River, which you’ll cross on an old-school car ferry. Stop off in Daintree Village, founded in the 1870s as a timber cutting settlement, for some ice-cream from the Daintree Ice Cream Company.
Your journey ends, 35 kilometres north of the Daintree River Ferry, at the only place in the world where dual World Heritage areas collide, with the meeting of the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef. Cape Tribulation is where swirls of creamy white sand and aquamarine waters kiss brilliant green jungle, and is quite simply spectacular. Not done yet? The 4WD-only Bloomfield Track continues to Cooktown from here.
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