Step away from the main strip and discover a few of the local secrets that make Palm Cove so special.
Think of Palm Cove and you’ll probably picture one of the country’s most glamorous beach resorts. But ask the locals and they’ll tell you it’s really a sleepy coastal village at heart, albeit with some of the best accommodation and dining in the country. Head a little further afield and you’ll discover hidden waterfalls, empty beaches and breezy bars serving up the freshest of fresh seafood (without the price tag).
One of Australia’s original beachfront hotels is tucked away behind the palm trees on Palm Cove’s esplanade. The Reef House opened in 1958 and blends the ambiance of a classic colonial beach house with a luxurious boutique hotel. Many of the properties here, like the Alamanda Palm Cove by Lancemore, Peppers Beach Club & Spa, and Sanctuary Palm Cove offer fully self-contained apartments, so you can come home from a day at the beach to a fully equipped kitchen and lots of space for the family.
The main drawcard in Palm Cove is the sparkling blue water of the Coral Sea. If you’re looking for something a little more physical than sunbaking, then Palm Cove Watersports should be your first port of call. Start the day with a sunrise kayak around the fringing reef of Double Island in search of turtles, master the art of stand-up paddleboarding or snorkel through quiet limestone sea caves. You can also hire gear and head out to explore on your own.
Just five minutes north of Palm Cove is the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it enclave of Ellis Beach (population: 30). There’s not much here – a long, narrow golden sand beach, a scattering of oceanfront bungalows, a surf club and the Ellis Beach Bar & Grill. On Sunday afternoon, settle in at the Bar & Grill for a feast of $1 oysters washed down with a local Queensland craft beer. Heavenly.
Back in town, head straight for the innovative NuNu restaurant at the Alamanda Palm Cove. Foodie bible Australian Gourmet Traveller once said “There are three must-visit places in North Queensland: the reef, the Daintree Rainforest and Nu Nu”. Vivo serves up Mediterranean favourites with a tropical spin and the Reef House Restaurant’s menu gives a taste of the best local seafood. The laid back Chill by Portofino is the place for an all day breakfast or classic burger. But maybe the best meal of all will be a simple barbecue on the beach, cooked yourself as the sun goes down.
When the locals want a swim, they head inland. Rivers and creeks wind through the lush rainforest surrounding Palm Cove, dotted with waterfalls and sun-dappled swimming holes. Crystal Cascades is a favourite – a series of clear freshwater pools cascading down the gorge shaded by overhanging rainforest and ringed by large granite boulders (you’ll probably need to ask a local how to find it). At Josephine Falls, south of Cairns, you can slip down a natural waterslide into a pool and underneath the tumbling Millaa Millaa Falls on the Atherton Tablelands you might be lucky enough to take a dip with a platypus.
Palm Cove is also a great jumping off point for day tours of Tropical North Queensland. Spend a day (or more) out on the Great Barrier Reef, visit the rainforest town of Kuranda and its lush surrounds, or discover the bustling tropical hubs of Cairns and Port Douglas.