Merely mention Tropical North Queensland and most people salivate in anticipation. The region is not just about the adventures you have when the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest ¬- two World Heritage Listed areas - collide, it is also home to superb taste sensations and some of the nation's favourite food trails. Here we start in Cairns and find 24-hours' worth of good nosh before venturing to pastures and plates further afield.
DAY 1: CAIRNS
8.00 am: Breakfast at Candy Cafe Bar, Grafton Street Cairns
Wake up and begin your journey with a surprisingly healthy breakfast in a café that pays tribute to old fashioned nursery rhymes and kitsch 1970s décor. Open from 7.00am until 2.00pm, even Goldilocks would love the Three Bears Porridge with fruit, honey, double cream and walnuts. If you are kicking on for a second day, try our other favourite, Re:Hab Café in the Boland Centre located in Lake Street (open from 7.00am to 10.00pm). The French toast with banana, icecream and home-made coconut jam will fuel anyone's idea of a tropical adventure.
10.00 am: Rusty's Markets, Grafton Street Cairns (weekend only)
What began with just six stalls back in the 1980s, is now a throbbing market with more than 180 stallholders selling everything from cheese to tropical fruit, wine and Asian food. Beware though, Rusty's, as it's affectionately known, is only open from early Friday morning through to Sunday afternoon. So if you hanker for fresh produce outside the weekend hours, pop into Jonsson's Farm Market close to the airport where a fourth generation farming family sell fresh produce and last minute gifts like Daintree Chai Tea and locally made chilli paste.
11:00 am: Caffeind, Grafton Street
After the hustle and bustle of Rusty's Markets, stroll next door and take it down a notch at Caffeind, an eclectic laneway coffee shop easily spotted for its wall of colourful graffiti. If you are here for lunch, nab the drunken chicken and follow it with a cup of the superb coffee. Who knows, if you like the brew that much you could even sign on for one of their coffee appreciation courses. (Open from 7.30am - 3.00pm daily)
Afternoon: Half-day Tropical Adventure Options
Okay, you didn't come to Cairns just for food. Surely! Spend the afternoon on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and float above the rainforest canopy to Kuranda before returning via the cute-as-a-pic Kuranda Scenic Rail, a heritage steam train that navigates tight turns and passes a gushing waterfall. First class foodies will not miss the special 3.30pm Gold Class return train service which serves sparkling wine and canapes for an additional $48 per person.
Tip: At the top of the range, there's a myriad of touristy places to visit but we say leave time for the Kuranda Rainforest Coffee in Thongon Street where locally grown beans are hand selected and roasted on site daily. Belinda, the owner, is passionate about good coffee and is sure to recommend the cold drip style served on ice. If you are feeling peckish, Le Petit Café in Therwine Street does a great French Aussie hybrid crepe. No merde! This one has kangaroo prosciutto, bush tomato chutney with egg, cheese, and cherry tomato ... all for just $16.
What to buy at the Heritage Markets: Okay, it's a bit odd, but if you want something that's bound to create a chuckle or two back home, head to The Kangaroo Shop and pick up a kangaroo fur bikini (Is that a rookini?) to stand out on the beach this summer.
7.00pm: Salthouse Restaurant, Pier Point Road Cairns
Easily the coolest spot in Cairns, at some point in the weekend evening Salthouse Restaurant located at the end of the pier will morph from an elegantly casual alfresco restaurant into pumping night club by the sea. Kick back and inhale the salt air while chomping down on tender calamari and catch-of-the-day seafood. Our other choice is Ochre Restaurant in Shield Street where native bush foods pop up in an unusual way. Try the emu and vermicelli spring rolls followed by kangaroo terrine with pickled kakadu plum. What's that skip?
DAY 2: ATHERTON TABLELANDS
Since the early 1970s, Cairns has been Australia's pin up for long languorous getaways, where trips to the reef go hand in hand with pina coladas. But if you climb the impressive range that sits behind the town, you'd be surprised to find rolling hills, populations of fat, happy cows and verdant coffee and cane farms. Welcome to farm country, where the local residents (both two and four legged types) are earthbound, artistic, laid back and ready to crack a chat. This is the perfect 48 hours of grazing on the Atherton Tablelands.
Warning! The itinerary below is F1 fast. If your holiday allows it, kick into tropical time, slow down and spend an extra night at Bushland Cottages or Eden House Retreat in the small village of Yungaburra, giving you time to have a drink at the pub and then check out the bohemian designer clothes at Global Freestyle and one-off locally crafted homewares at Artistree Gallery. If time is short, strap yourself in for fast food, Tableland style.
8:00 am: Cairns to Yungaburra (67km, 70 mins)
The Gillies Highway is not a road for the faint hearted, with heady turns and narrow roads, but the views during this 67 km trail and are certainly worth every tummy flip.
9:15 am: Lake Barrine Teahouse
Wash down the drive with a 45 minute cruise around the pristine lake starting from Lake Barrine Rainforest and Wildlife Cruise and Teahouse followed by freshly made scones slathered with double clotted cream. Worried about your weight? Don't be. You can always walk off the calories with a 6.5km hike around the lake or a short stroll to the 1,100 year old Twin Kauri Pines. The Teahouse is open from 08:30 am-2.00pm daily (season depending) while cruises depart at 9:30am sharp! Make sure you check the website for times first.
Fifteen minutes further along is the quaint one-pub town of Yungaburra, and the perfect place to stop off for a cool brew at the grand Queenslander pub that lords over the lake. It's too early for a beer with this schedule, but there are a few coffee shops in town.
11:30 am: Gallo Dairyland (7km, 7 mins)
Ice cream that comes with a whiff of poo! There's no hiding where the milk comes from to make the award-winning dreamy cheeses sold here . From the moment you turn off the highway, you can see - and smell - the 500 or so resident bovines lowing happily in the 1000 acres of rolling hills. Check out the cheese making factory and sample the products. If you are up for something robust, the local blue cheese is my pick of the lineup. Time your visit for the 3.00pm milking of the Fresian Cows. Gallo Dairyland is open from 9:30 am until 4.30pm.
1:30 pm: Falls Teahouse (3km, 34 mins)
Whoever said you can't have too much Devonshire Tea, has not been to Atherton Tablelands. The Falls Teahouse, on Theresa Creek Road at the turnoff to the picturesque Millaa Millaa Falls, serves Devonshire Tea and some darned good lunch too. If you want to slow the tour down, park yourself overnight in the original Queenslander federation house and enjoy a misty morning and a walk to the falls. Open daily from 10.00am until 5.00pm.
Or continue on to Mungalli Creek Dairy (another 9km, 9 mins at Brooks Road), known for its gluten, preservative and colour-free range of products and a brood of what is possibly the “most blessed free range chickens in the world”. Here you can taste fresh milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs or stay for lunch at the Out of the Whey Cheesery & Teahouse and sit in the shadows of Queensland's tallest mountain – Mt Bartle Frere.
Tip: Try the Davidson Plum Yoghurt and taste the jammy flavours of a native fruit with freshly set yoghurt. Open: 10.00am - 4.00pm daily (except Christmas).
3.00 pm: Tarzali Lakes Aqua Culture Centre (10 km, 9 mins)
Jerky takes on a new flavor here with freshly smoked and barbecued barramundi, crocodile and chicken, all created by third generation butcher and smokehouse master, Dave Hoffman. This laid back 40 acre aquaculture centre is stocked with 500,000 fish and the signboard guarantees you can even spot the elusive platypus, particularly if you stay until sundown. Tarzali Lakes is open 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, five days a week (closed Monday and Friday).
4:00 pm: Rose Gum Wilderness Retreat (43 mins, 30 km)
Okay, so you wanted a real food trail? Well, here it is. Rose Gum Wilderness Retreat is a former dairy plunked in the midst of a newly generated rainforest which means that every stay comes with an orchestra of cicadas and a splash of primary colours as native birds dart around. The 11 tree-top cottages offer floor to ceiling glass doors that open up onto a breathtaking rainforest canopy, making this retreat the modern version of Tarzan and Jane's tree house.
LEAF restaurant doesn't disappoint either. Bradley, one half of the live-in management team, happens to have blue-ribbon kitchen credentials and is a former chef with Hilton and Sofitel hotels. Beware! Servings are huge and the local scallops come with lashings of pureed cauliflower. Like everywhere on the Atherton Tablelands, you can walk that off, this time on nine kilometres of marked trails. Amblers should book in for a morning guided wildlife tour to feed the Rainbow Lorikeets and the world's smallest roo, the Musky Rat-Kangaroo.
DAY 3: MAREEBA BOUND
10:00 am: Tolga Woodworks (35km, 49 mins from Rose Gum Cottages)
Stop for a cup of fresh brew and shop for hand-crafted and designer homewares made from recycled local timber and steel. Located on the corner of Kennedy Highway and Tostevin Street, Tolga Woodworks is open daily from 9.00am to 5.00pm.
11:30 am: Mt Uncle Distillery and lunch (16km, 13 mins)
It has to be the cocktail hour somewhere! Sandwiched between rows and rows of banana trees in a picture-perfect plantation, Mt Uncle Distillery on Chewko Road, Walkamin is a stylish café built from local timber and the ubiquitous corrugated iron. Open for lunch or coffee, most people are drawn here for the local liqueur – including the FNQ Iridium Gold Rum that took out a Gold Award in the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition in 2014. (Open 7 days 10.00am till 4.30pm.)
1:30 pm: Coffee Time, Mareeba (27km, 21 mins)
Did we tell you that Australians love their coffee? Set your GPS for Mareeba, home to Skybury Coffee (open 9.00am to 4.00pm daily), Australia's oldest producing plantation nestled in one of the nation's richest food bowls west of Mareeba. Alternately, try Coffee Works (open 9.00am until 3.00pm), a riot of crazy colour and activity all housed in a massive industrial shed. Here, you can discover the history of the coffee machine, take a plantation tour and taste a flight of coffee. And if you are not into coffee, there's also chocolate, liqueurs and teas.
Tip: For the perfect gift, we say buy the “Flavours of Australia” gift pack featuring local Black Mountain and Queensland Blue beans roasted on site and flavoured up.
4:00 pm: Port Douglas (91km, 75mins)
Tropical North Queensland is billed as the only place on the planet where two heritage listed areas collide: it's where the world's oldest rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. In the middle of that is Port Douglas the swanky, celeb filled town that has a long list of hotels worthy of a post card or two back home. There's the contemporary Executive Retreats homes, the fun and funky QT Hotel and the family friendly Mantra properties.
But, if you truly want to be in the middle of all that natural “carnage” then book a few nights at Thala Beach Lodge. The world may be “mashing” all around you, but the only thing you will experience here is bliss. Located on a pretty summit just ten minutes' drive south of Port Douglas (overlooking the beach where Natalie Imbrulgia married), this privately owned resort is home to Ospreys restaurant where the battered ocean barramundi with scallops and prawns is worthy of the last supper.
DAY 4: FEASTING ON PORT DOUGLAS
Prized for being a gourmet getaway as much as an A-lister's holiday spot, you only have to spend five minutes at The Iron Bar hotel at Port Douglas to hear a story or two about local encounters with Hollywood superstars like Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, and Tom Hanks. Not to be outdone, the town has been given the presidential nod. Nautilus Restaurant proudly displays a famed photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton dining there midterm while waiters at Salsa Bar and Grill will tell you how the former Pres was interrupted midway through a fish dish to learn of the September 11 attacks. There's lots to chew over while you are in Port Douglas and Mossman. In fact, there's enough to keep you eating for at least three days.
08:30 am: Breakfast at QT Bazaar
Okay, so if you are staying in Macrossan Street, then the good thing about Bazaar restaurant at QT Hotel is that the three kilometre beach walk will work up the perfect big breaky appetite. The vibey crowd at QT do mornings so well that this place is worth walking for.
So how do you describe the menagerie of flavours on show here? Well, imagine a hawker centre with a European twist. It's like one bustling marketplace with cured meats hanging from the rafters and food stations serving freshly made smoothies and piping hot doughnuts - among the usual suspects like made-to-order bacon and eggs. In other words, it's pretty legendary.
10:00 am: Kuku Yalanji Cultural Habitat Tour (tide times dependent)
Want food from the source? Then kick off your shoes and join Linc and Brandon Walker as they sweep you into their ancestral home for a spear fishing trip to remember. Walk the mangrove swamps and tidal flats on Cooya Beach and collect molluscs, crabs and cockles using little more than a spear and your bare hands. Remember, whatever you catch you get to taste later on the balcony of the boys' aunts - served with a splash of native chilli sauce. This is a no-frills tour, but one that will leave you with a greater appreciation of the culture of Australia's first people.
TIP: Make sure you call ahead as tour departure times depend on the tide times.
1.00pm: Croc Pie at Mocka's Pies
Try croc meat at one of Port Douglas' institutions: Mocka's Pies. This cheap and cheerful bakery located in Grant Street just off the main road has reached almost legendary status over the years. The pies are certainly not gourmand. But they are hearty and meaty and at just a smidgeon over five bucks a piece, they certainly won't break the piggy bank. Less adventurous foodies can always opt for the old fashioned beef and chicken if they don't want croc or roo pie.
Tip: If croc pie is on your bucket list, get there early as they sell out fast.
3.00pm: See (sea) food with Reef Sprinter
Okay, you'd be laughed out of your social media account if you visit the Great Barrier Reef without taking least one selfie with Nemo. So, for those short on time, we've got the tour for you. Reef Sprinter is a fast and furious way to snorkel the inner fringing reef around the picturesque Low Isles, just fifteen full-throttle minutes from Port Douglas. The covered rubber duckie jet ride takes you out and back in two hours and includes at least 90 minutes of snorkelling around some of the prettiest bombie sites anywhere on this planet. Don't for one moment think you are shorting yourself on significant creatures either. While there, I spotted giant purple clams, a swathe of graceful soft corals, colourful Angel fish, a few clownfish, and a one metre reef shark that had me dog paddling back to the boat faster than Kieren Perkins.
In this town, there are just two places to see and be seen at sunset. The first is On The Inlet a casual seafood noshery that gets my vote for the best laksa outside Asia. Here, the 5.00pm bell is a clarion call to George, a 250kg giant Grouper that pops to the surface for his nightly feed. At four times the size of the average woman, this fish has no signs of leaving his post (And, why would he? He's on a free nightly buffet here.) The other spot is the Courthouse Hotel, a grand old dame on the corner of Macrossan Street and Wharf Street that serves up chilled North Queensland bitter with a side of live music. For best views, pop upstairs and watch the sun set over the neighbouring park.
7:00pm: Evening dining
This is food town and there are a myriad of places to try. For a night out with a fairy tale tone, dig into the budget and head for Flames of the Forest to dine on native game meats while sitting under the rainforest canopy and listening to tribal tales. For a fancy night out, Harrisons (pictured) is the name dropping venue, bagging Port Douglas' only chef hat and serving up French cuisine in a stunning Queenslander venue. A little more casual, but no less delicious is downtown Italian restaurant Bel Cibo.
DAY 5: MOSSMAN
09:00 am: The Junction Cafe, Mossman (12 mins, 8 km from Port Douglas)
Let's do the time warp again! Head back to the 1950s in this kitsch café located in the tiny sugar town 15 minutes from Port Douglas. Drink your coffee from mismatched vintage tea cups, using milk from cows just up the range. The menu is simple with all the usual breakfast and lunch suspects, but it's on their blackboard where the chefs like to show off. Think house-smoked ocean trout with orange, fennel and tamarind dressing. The Junction Cafe is open 7.00am till 4.30pm Monday to Friday, and 7.00 am - 12.00pm Saturday.
10:00 am: Janbal Gallery (4 mins, 700m)
There's no food here, but you can feast on traditional art. Local Kuku Yalanji man, Binna, is both artist and curator at Janbal Gallery in Mossman. Aside from his brilliant creations - all up for sale - Binna also hosts painting classes where you can create inspiring dot art on a local bean pod.
TIP: Binna is hearing impaired and all art classes must be booked online in advance.
10.30 am: Sweet Farm Tours
Old MacDonald may have had ducks and cows on his farm, but I don't recall him singing about sugar cane and cocoa. At Sweet Farm Tours, Gerard Puglisi, a fourth generation farmer will tell you anything you want to know about life on a Queensland cane farm. Spend an hour with him - and with 1800 cocoa trees - and tap into more than 90 years of family farming knowledge. Touch cocoa pods, learn why cocoa and sugar work well with cane, and then taste one of the end products - chocolate from Daintree Estates. The farm is located on the edge of the Daintree Forest and is open from Tuesday until Saturday 09:30 am - 4.00pm.
12:30 pm: Treehouse Restaurant, Silky Oaks Lodge (5mins, 3.1 km)
Imagine if Tarzan had shacked up with Jamie Oliver, rather than Jane X, and he set up a modern Australian restaurant in a treehouse that overlooks the world's oldest rainforest. What he would have created is the Treehouse Restaurant at Silky Oaks Lodge where stunning dishes match the breathtaking rainforest surrounds. Chill out on the verandas, try crocodile soufflé and absorb the tranquility of the Mossman River, knowing that these natural spring waters have taken millions of years to bubble up through the world's oldest landscape.
If time permits, squeeze in a swim in the river Julia Stone style or thoroughly relax with a spa treatment at the resort's Healing Waters Spa. Just remember that this place is pretty swanky and you have to dress to guest standards. That means no thongs and smart attire is essential for lunch and dinner.
3:00 pm: Mossman Gorge Centre (3 km, 5 mins)
If it was good enough for Brangelina's brood, then it's good enough for you. Join local indigenous guides for a 90-minute Dreamtime walk through the spectacular Mossman Gorge and connect with the lives, cultures and beliefs of world's oldest living people. Enjoy bush tea and then check out the art work created by the local artists. Open from 08:00 - 6.00pm, guided tours are 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 3pm daily.
7:00 pm: 2 Fish in Port Douglas
If you are going to spend a few days in a one-time fishing village, then it makes perfect sense to dine in that village's best fish restaurant. And when you are in 'Port' (as the locals call this town), that restaurant is arguably 2 Fish, located in the Coconut Grove Complex in Macrossan Street. Dine in the breezy alfresco space or head inside to feast on seafood so many ways. There's tiger prawns, Moreton Bay bugs, blue swimmer crab with pipi linguini, and my personal fave –spotted trout reef fish coated in crispy beer batter and served with chunky chips.
9.00 pm: The Last Supper
Want to leave this magical place with a Hollywood bang? Then do it the Matthew McConaughey way and party hard at the rustic Ironbar in the centre of town. Mr McConaughey spent his 37th birthday here while filming Fools Gold and rumour has it he shouted the entire bar. That's not expected. But sheesh, you would certainly make a friend or two.
Tip: If you don't want to venture the food highway alone, then sign up to Brett's Outback Tasting Adventures for Indigenous interpretation of jams, fruits, and damper, a stop at De Brueys Winery, Mount Uncle Distillery, Coffee Works and Emerald Creek Ice Creamery. Brett's tour ends at a secret farm for a platter of Gallo Dairies' cheese and a choice of wine from Queensland's Sirromet Winery or the local Great Northern Bitter. This is an adult's only trip and costs $159 all inclusive. The tour operates Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 9am to 5:30pm.
Word Count: 3722
Author: Tourism and Events Queensland
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