Far North Queensland proved the perfect holiday destination for Peter Dewar and his family.
How time flies. Baby bear is fifteen, going on “I’m all grown up”. So coming up with a Goldilocks holiday for all the family seemed as fanciful as a fairy tale. Hope was fading of a just-right itinerary when someone thought of wilderness and sea. Far North Queensland’s brand of rest and adventure was calling.
Rest and renewal
Simply stepping off the plane in Cairns is healing as a sauna of warm tropical air hits. On the road we pass cane fields where rail carriages are piled high with harvest. With green mountains as backdrop, the scene is a reminder of how spectacular Australian landscape can be.
Silky Oaks Lodge is located in the Daintree National Park where our luxurious rainforest home sits elevated on stilts among green canopy. Mossman River gushes below. Internet is limited; we’d be lonely as we while away hours in our treetop verandah if it weren’t for the sound of insects and songs of birds. After only one night, either the trees and wily greenery have grown, or we’re sinking into the rainforest’s mystique.
The Daintree is the oldest living rainforest on earth. We discover this humid, fertile labyrinth inspired the Hollywood movie Avatar. Just as we’re told of its importance to the indigenous rainforest people. “In living memory, Aboriginal women came to the banks of the river beside us to give birth,” whispers our early morning yoga instructor. If sacred spirits truly exist, odds on they’d choose this address.
We spend our days navigating through rainforest jungle on trails more suited to mountain goats. Or canoeing and swimming in the nearby billabong. By nightfall, we’re both tired and feeling pampered.
Everyone agrees on one particular holiday indulgence: fine food. The open-air Treehouse Restaurant vista awakens our taste buds. Looking out through greenery at the river below, lunch is interrupted by an exotic butterfly. Dinner, and we’re entertained by night forest sounds.
So much for rest. With 40 other passengers, we board our cruise ship Coral Expedition 11 for a four-day treat to some of the best snorkelling and diving destinations along the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, living together in a compact berth is its own adventure. Bathroom times, lights out and who’s stuff gets stored in what corner – up for negotiation.
The World Heritage-listed reef is a made up of thousands of coral cays stretching north nearly two thousand miles. We travel to Cooktown, where Captain Cook sought refuge after HMS Endeavour was damaged. Then on to Lizard Island. From the island’s peak, Cook saw a path through treacherous reefs to open sea.
The real action is below the surface. Colours of the rainbow are in retreat. While grey coral sections of the reef resemble a post-apocalyptic world, the subterranean landscape is alive. Over 1500 species of tropical fish call the Great Barrier Reef, home. Yes, there’s big fish to encounter, but the cruise’s marine biologist and dive master open our eyes to a busy, miniature world. The UNESCO World Heritage site is teeming with smaller, colourful marine life.
Steve’s Bommie is one of the Great Barrier Reef’s best dives. Day three, at sunrise, we tumble backwards from a boat into warm tropical waters. Our small group floats underwater around the rocky, four storey-high pinnacle jutting from the sea floor. Sun rays breaking through the surface create an ambient blue amphitheatre with fish as the spectacle.
There’s no talking. While the lonely sound of breathing through a regulator is all to be heard, plenty of finger pointing is going on: A shark! Look at the school of trevally. Is that a barracuda? The dive master prods what looks like a piece of coral and a stone fish swims away. After 40 weightless minutes underwater, we re-surface, smiling. In moments, we’ll be free of our weight belts and tanks bursting with excitement.
First-time divers are led through basic skills, and in all but the deepest dives, join in. Most on board stick to snorkelling, or tours in the glass bottom boat. In shallower waters, there’s still plenty to see.
A holiday of experiences stretching our senses as well as fitness turns out a salve for teenage angst. We arrived home fresh, feeling as though the break had been weeks-long, curious about where our next trip might take us.
Photos: Esther Blanco and Mia Dewar.
*The Dewar family visited Far North Queensland in September 2016 at their own expense.