Rest your head somewhere unforgettable on a visit to Tropical North Queensland. Angela Saurine explores five memorable accommodation options.
1. Island life
Get away from it all at Fitzroy Island Resort, a 4km sq island which is just a 45-minute fast cat ride from Cairns. Stay in a bungalow, beach cabin, studio room or suite and spend your days snorkelling, kayaking and hiking in the surrounding national park. Walk to the summit, the historic lighthouse at the eastern end of the island, which was a military base during World War II, or to the two main beaches, Welcome Bay and Nudey Beach. Recently named the best beach in the country by Tourism Australia’s global beach ambassador Brad Farmer, Nudey is a secluded stretch of pristine sand, backed with protected rainforest where, these days, nude sunbathers are rarely spotted. The resort has a beachfront bar Foxy’s, a restaurant called Zephyr and a pool with a swim-up bar. Kids will love the arcade games room, movie theatre and play room. Butterfly bungalows are available from $150 per night, with Resort Studios from $260 per night and Ocean Suites from $285.
2. On the reef
Listen to the sound of water lapping against the pontoon as you float above the Great Barrier Reef during the unique Sunlover by Starlight experience. Sunlover Reef Cruises offers the ultimate sleep-out experience with an overnight stay for up to 18 people at Moore Reef Pontoon, 26 nautical miles off the coast of Cairns. Guests sleep in deluxe swags on the 45m long, 12m wide pontoon and have exclusive access to the reef after the day trippers leave at 3.30pm until 11am the next day when the vessel returns. Enjoy a cheese and fruit platter as the sun sets over the water, followed by a marine life presentation in the underwater observatory and a barbecue dinner. The next morning, experience a private guided snorkel safari and a glass bottom boat tour. The Sunlover by Starlight experience costs $499 per person per night, with a minimum age of 12.
3. Under canvas
Pitch a tent between the palm trees metres from the sand at Ellis Beach Oceanfront Bungalow & Leisure Park. On a 6km-long beach halfway between Cairns and Port Douglas and just five minutes’ drive north of Palm Cove, the park has a range of beachfront campsites with views across the water to Double Island. There’s a camp kitchen with covered eating areas, coin-operated barbecues, a pool and wading pool, two toilet blocks with showers and laundry rooms with coin-operated washing machines and dryers. Stock up on bread and milk, hire fishing rods and buy bait from the general store and head across the road to Ellis Beach Bar and Grill for bistro-style meals and live music on some Sunday afternoons. Powered beachfront sites cost $43 per night for two during the low season (November to April) and $48 during the high season (May to October). If glamping is more your thing, Ellis Beach also has bungalows and budget cabins.
4. With the birds
Doze off among the treetops at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, a bush-covered 58ha property criss-crossed with paths taking you through native forest to secluded coves and swimming holes formed by waterfalls and natural boulders. The family-owned beachfront eco-retreat between Cairns and Port Douglas has 83 bungalows, including the treehouse-like Coral Sea Bungalows, which are built on stilts. Relax on your private timber deck and take in the views over Oak Beach as wallabies, possums
and sugar gliders go about their business in the trees around you. Complimentary guided wildlife walks with onsite rangers are available, as well as bird watching tours, tree planting and stargazing. The retreat’s Osprey Restaurant is perched high on a hill, offering modern Australian cuisine with panoramic views across the Coral Sea and north to Cape Tribulation as gentle breezes keep diners cool. Coral Sea Bungalows start from $739 per night twin share, with specials such as pay for four nights and stay for five available.
5. In the lap of luxury
Splash out with a trip to the northern-most accommodation on the Great Barrier Reef, the luxurious Lizard Island Resort. A one-hour flight from Cairns, the property sleeps up to 82 guests in 40 suites and villas designed in harmony with nature. The Villa is located on top of a cliff with a private plunge pool and two bedrooms. Canapes are served by a food and beverage valet each night. Take a guided tour to the research station, hike to the top of Cook’s Look or indulge in a treatment at the Essential Day Spa. Order a picnic hamper and get dropped off by boat at one of the island’s 24 beaches for a private lunch. At night, soak up the 180-degree views from Salt Water Restaurant or liaise with the chef on a menu for a seven-course degustation dinner on a private beach pavilion at Anchor Bay. Prices for Gardenview Rooms start from $1800 per night twin share, with The Villa priced from $5800.