I was wondering if it ever got any better than this as I lay under the luxurious vichy shower being gently washed by slowly rotating jets of warm water. Having already been scrubbed and rubbed, massaged and soothed with tropical oils and fragrant lotions I was lost in euphoric thoughts as the scent of exotic ylang ylang, cedarwood, rose and chamomile awakened my senses once again.
As with many other prime spots in the world, northern Queensland offers visitors to the area exotic spa treatments that make a de-stress holiday in the tropics very appealing. Although not quite on the scale of some of the luxurious options in Europe, Thailand and Bali, these places give every reason for visitors to Cairns to extend their itinerary of reef trips, rainforest expeditions and crocodile farms, to include some personal indulgence along the way.
The Spa of Peace and Plenty on Dunk Island was my first stop. Along with the family holiday, the rounds of golf and tennis, the swimming and sailing and endless eating of a typical resort holiday, I enjoyed a massage and body rub, a hair masque and the gentle warmth of my ‘Floral Rain’ treatment. For blokes there’s a more masculine option using less fragrant oils, and for couples there are romantic packages with massage, a spa bath with exotic oils and sprinkled rose petals, and a bottle of bubbly. The on-site Kids Club came in very handy right at this time, and I felt I never wanted to leave.
But, there are other things to do around Cairns that did call me away.
For sun-seeking southerners, far north Queensland holds many possibilities. It’s a truly tropical destination with warm temperatures and clear sunny days right through the winter months. Summer is warmer again, and wet. But if you haven’t been to Cairns for ten years or more you could be excused for wondering if you had arrived in the same city.
Although the wide tree-lined streets and old two-storeyed corner pubs still remain, the city now bristles with multi-storey resort and international hotels. The streets are full of tour buses and charter operators ferrying the thousands of people every day who travel out from their hotels to join trips to the Great Barrier Reef, the World Heritage rainforest areas to the north and the white water action to the south.
The Esplanade, in my mind one of Cairns’ greatest assets, had a huge $27 million makeover some years back that included a large saltwater swimming lagoon and beach and a street development in the lower end of Shields Street. The rebuilt Reef Terminal at the end of Spence Street has brought the whole reef tour industry under one verandah.
Cafes and award winning restaurants spill on to the pavements and line the Esplanade with the choice of just about every international cuisine ever invented. Perrotta’s at the Cairns Art Gallery is one of the local hits and, from my experience, make some of the best coffee in town. Reading the Weekend Australian over a latte at Perrotta’s is always a treat. Mondo at the Hilton is a nice laid-back café right by the water on Trinity Inlet, and the Ochre Restaurant in Shields Street has all sorts of local Aussie foods.
Following food, another sense that is easily satisfied in northern Queensland is sight. Art in general is a favourite holiday momento and several inner city retail galleries cater to this growing market. Art earns the region a staggering amount of money each year and much of it is bought by visitors.
Culture is also worth investigating. The Tjapukai complex at Smithfield, just north of the city, gives an excellent interpretative experience on the journey of the Aboriginal culture since the disastrous arrival of the white man. Their Creation Theatre, Dance Theatre, restaurant and participation areas can easily fill a half day.
After that, hop on the Skyrail next door to soar gently over the pristine rainforest in a slow-moving gondola. The ride lasts a minimum of 30 minutes with several stop-off points along the way. Then to round off the day, take the scenic train back to Cairns from Kuranda. That particular sequence of events is one of the most popular day packages around Cairns and appeals to all but the ardent adventure junkies.
They will head off to Cape Tribulation for a day of rainforests, south to Tully for some excellent white-water rafting and kayaking, or out to sea for some reef diving, boom-netting, snorkeling or deep water marlin fishing.
And that still leaves the beaches, galleries, golf and cafes of Palm Cove and the northern beaches, Port Douglas and Mission Beach. The only problem with all these choices is that the long awaited holiday planned to de-stress and revive may in fact be more demanding than a week at work. So it’s back to the spas for some gentle relaxation before leaving.
In addition to Dunk Island’s Spa of Peace and Plenty, the resort on Lizard Island has developed its fabulous Azure Spa in a recent rebuild. And the Daintree Eco Lodge, up in the wilds of the Daintree National Park also offers the spa experience. Silky Oaks Lodge near Mossman has the Healing Waters rainforest spa and the Angsana resort at Palm Cove has a beautiful spa overlooking the beach.
Needing respite once again, with the sounds of inspirational music wafting through the rainforest and the scents of a bewitching array of essential oils floating on the breeze, my Swedish massage lulled me back into that dreamy state of deep relaxation I had been searching for in my travels. Work could wait a bit longer, I was here to stay.