If the budget cuts haven’t hit too hard and a winter holiday is still on the cards, then here’s an idea that’s relatively close to home but still lets palm trees, soft white sand, sultry rainforest and balmy trade winds become a reality.
Take a direct flight from Auckland to Cairns (it’s only 5 ½ hours) and enjoy a real tropical break, even if it’s only for a week. Tropical North Queensland is a place you can return to again and again. The World Heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforests of the Daintree area provide a wide range of activities and lots of very cool places to stay.
And one of my favourite places is the Daintree Eco Lodge. As far as luxury lodges goes it is very good value with a room rate starting at around $NZ700 for 2 people, including breakfast, in the high season. But prices can be half that in the low season, which is from November through to April. This, however, is no ordinary hotel, with its free-standing rooms perched out on stilts within a forested valley. Each room (or bayan, as they are called) has a screened verandah, some with a spa out there as well, which opens out in to the tree canopy. It’s a bewitching place with an ancient story (it is run in close conjunction with the local Kuku Yulangi people) and is a fabulous place to unwind.
A few days in Cairns is well worth it, and gets you close to the marina for an early start if you’re going out on a reef trip. There are lots of trips to choose from – some head to the inner reef where less experienced people are happy to snorkel around the shallow coral gardens and soak up the magic of the reef. Other trips head to the outer and northern reefs, either as a day trip or for anything up to a week. These trips visit some world-class dive sites, whale and shark playgrounds and the occasional off-shore island.
Port Douglas and Palm Cove, both on the coast north of Cairns, are quiet little resort towns that have grown over the years from their coastal backwater roots. But they’re ideal for a family getaway if you don’t mind lots of other families doing exactly the same thing (you’ll find at least half of them are Kiwis). Port Douglas has an interesting weekly market, lots of funky cafes and is close to both the reef and the rainforest. It’s an ideal getaway and beats the winter mud around the cowshed any day.
(C) by Sue Farley