Silky Oaks is widely recognised as Australia’s premier rainforest destination. Located only 20 minutes from Port Douglas, in the hills behind the sugar town of Mossman, it’s perched on the side of a narrow river valley (the upper reaches of the Mossman River) surrounded by ferns, eucalypts, orchids and literally hundreds of rainforest plants. Driving to the resort you cross the wide and fertile floodplain of the Mossman River, which is covered with sugar plantations. The road rises into the hills and, after only a short, winding drive, the resort is reached.
Silky Oaks is located on 80 hectares of rainforest. The place oozes an ambience of tropical rainforest tranquillity. No matter where you go in the resort there is ambient music interrupted only by the squawking of birds.
All this “pristine” rainforest tranquillity has evolved in recent times. The Silky Oaks Lodge concept was created as recently as 1985, when the hoteliers Moss and Theresa Hunt bought the 80 hectares, which, like so much of the rainforest of North Queensland, had been heavily logged in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It wasn’t until after 1993, when P&O Resorts purchased the property, that 200 endangered native rainforest species were reintroduced. Inevitably these new plants attracted many of the fauna from the surrounding national park so that today, at least in theory, Silky Oaks can boast 74 species of mammal, 150 species of reptile and amphibian and 330 species of bird.
The basic design of Silky Oaks is a central lodge which houses the administration, the open air Treehouse Restaurant, a lounge/bar and the one television – a plasma model – on the entire property. This really is an attempt to get people away from the modern world. There are no televisions in the rooms – only CD players and radios. The Central Lodge is situated high above the Mossman River and is surrounded by trees and rainforest. Behind the lodge is the swimming pool.
The timber cabins (each room is a separate cabin) are located on either side of the Lodge. There are a total of 50 cabins in the complex: 45 tree houses and five river houses – and that indicates their location, not their style. Tarzan take note – there are no houses in trees. Each has basically the same design, with a balcony which provides a rainforest outlook (the river houses also offers a view of the Mossman River) along with chairs and a hammock. The main bedroom is a large, simple timber room with both air conditioning and ceiling fans. There is a bathroom with a good-sized spa bath, a substantial shower with a rain showerhead, and beautifully thick towels. Access to each cabin is by sealed paths which are edged with ferns, orchids and exotic plants. Room prices range from tree houses in the rainforest for $340 per person twin share to the river houses which are $410 per person twin share.
No room is more than a two-minute walk from the Treehouse Restaurant, which is a wonderful open space where meals all have a distinctly Mod Oz feel to them. Easy access to local markets ensures that, in season, the menu is laden with fresh tropical produce from the surrounding region. The prices include a tropical breakfast and a four-course table d’hote in the evening. Smart visitors ensure they book a table with views over the river for the evening meal.
Just remember that it rains a lot here, particularly in the summer months. The area receives an average of 2500mm rainfall each year. Most of that rain falls between December and April, but that wouldn’t stop everyone from visiting Silky Oaks during those months. If you want to know what life in a rainforest is like, there’s no better time than February, when the entire region experiences reliable daily rainfall and often cyclones add to the excitement. Just expect to get wet – although every room has umbrellas and the idea of lying in the hammock on the balcony while the rain tumbles down will appeal to a minority of people.
Although it’s located inside a rainforest, Silky Oaks is serviced by all the main tour providers in the region. It’s therefore easy for reception to arrange trips to the Tjapukai Cultural Theme Park, SkyRail and the Kuranda experience, and they can arrange with Quicksilver for tours to both the Outer Reef with its submersibles, snorkelling, diving and underwater viewing platforms and the glorious Low Isles, a group of uninhabited coral cays where a yacht from Port Douglas sails and a small group of visitors can picnic, snorkel and view the coral. These tours leave the Lodge at 8.20am and return at 5pm. The Australian Natural History rainforest tour to Cape Tribulation organised by Australian Wilderness Experience is another excellent excursion. The tour costs $225 for the day.
There are a number of activities around the Lodge. They include guided and self-guided tours through the rainforest and up to the Mossman Gorge. There are dawn cruises on the Mossman River which are particularly attractive to birdwatchers. There’s an hour-long Mountain Trail from the Lodge up to some giant rainforest trees and there are Night Spotlight Walks, which offer an opportunity to see possums, pythons, birds, flying foxes, lizards and tree frogs.
Silky Oaks does not permit children under the age of ten, and those over ten are confronted with no children’s menu and no specific facilities for them.