Discover a tropical paradise along the Great Barrier Reef Drive between Cairns & Port Douglas at the idyllic coastal eco-retreat, Thala Beach Nature Reserve.
Look up Thala Beach Nature Reserve on social media and chances are your feed will be dominated by images of their coconut plantation. Rising to Insta-fame in the last few years for its neat lines of coconut trees and next-level tropical vibes, what you may not realise is there’s much more to this hotspot than its coconuts.
Think of the coconut plantation like a grand entrance to an exotic palace. Your palace is situated on a private peninsula on the Coral Sea and you’re welcomed to the property with a friendly smile and an ice-cold complimentary drink.
Unlike most castles though, this family-owned eco-lodge works hard at being as unobtrusive on the environment as possible. Scattered over the headland is a series of bungalows that hide within the forest affording guests a private escape set within nature. Time slows down while you’re here and your days should be filled with eating, drinking and relaxing. Ahh, so this must be what royalty feels like…
At the main lodge, you’ll find Osprey’s Restaurant perched among the treetops welcoming both guests and visitors. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better view from a restaurant in the north, overlooking the shimmering Coral Sea, and on a clear day seeing all the way to the Daintree rainforest, Low Isles and Snapper Island.
A menu highlighting the produce of Tropical North Queensland awaits. Changing regularly to reflect what’s in season, expect imaginative and innovative modern Australian dishes. Swap your regular drink of choice with a whole fresh coconut, with or without a sneaky bit of alcohol, and now you are truly on tropical time.
A smorgasbord of hot and cold food including fresh fruit, Australian cheeses, yoghurts and freshly baked bread will be presented to you for breakfast. As you feast on the generous buffet, watch the social lives of birdlife unfold from your table as they compete over the watering hole within the trees.
Get even closer with nature, with a gourmet picnic hamper prepared for you to enjoy anywhere throughout the resort.
Top tip: Book an early dinner to catch the sunset over the nearby ridge requesting a table close to the veranda.
The promise of palm trees and private access beaches is all too alluring at this coastal retreat. Meander the 2km stretch of Oak Beach before relaxing on a daybed or hammock under the mottled shade of coconut fronds and sheoaks. A small shack, opening for events and occasionally to guests, will be the subject of many photos with its rustic seaside charm befitting to a scene on a postcard.
You may be on vacay-mode but an early rise is worth your while as the sun creeps up above the horizon reflecting golden light across the gentle seas and piercing through silhouetted leaves.
Now brush off your sandy toes, it’s time to head up to your bungalow.
Top tip: At low tide explore the rocky coastline on the Marine Walk between northern Oak and Pebbly Beaches.
Nestled among the forest, your private bungalow pays homage to the environment bringing the outside in using natural materials and an open plan to invite the sea breeze to flow through.
Most cabins maintain the same styling but vary in location, with Coral Sea Bungalows perched among the canopy with views to the sea, Eucalypt Bungalows individually positioned among the eucalypt forest and Jungle Walk Bungalows located within the woodland forest offering earthy, jungle vibes.
The indulgent Sandpiper Suite stakes claim to the southern-most point of the headland with uninterrupted views over the coral sea of Thala’s two beaches and featuring a large veranda with sunbeds and a separate lounge area.
Surrounded by shady trees, with rocky waterfalls and hidden caves you’ll feel as though you’re swimming in a rainforest stream at the lodge’s two freeform pools. The larger pool is located by the main lodge while the smaller is set within the forested gardens on your way down to the beach.
Environment & wildlife
You’ll feel as though you’re on an island as you wander through the trails of Thala Beach, surrounded by the sea on three sides. Fifty-eight hectares of forested gardens and host plants attract almost 120 species of butterfly and almost 200 species of birds so even non-birdwatchers will become amateur twitchers. Some birds are found more easily than others – watch the rainbow lorikeets bully metallic starlings out of the watering hole in the tree near Osprey’s Restaurant, or hear the scratching of the orange-footed scrub fowl as you wander around. Keep an eye out for the resident Papuan frogmouths or the restaurant namesake, the Eastern Osprey.
Walking tracks weave their way through seven micro-habitats found across the property. Spot turtles or rare snub-nosed dolphins from the coastal lookouts and wallabies and pademelons within the forest or at the wallaby grazing patch. Catch a glimpse of the elusive sugar gliders and striped possums who nest in the trees around the reserve coming out to feed at night.
Top tip: Find out more about the nature and wildlife on a complimentary guided walk offered throughout the week.
With demand increasing by 500 per cent in the last decade, it only takes a trip to the supermarket to realise how popular coconuts have become in recent years. Delve into the lifecycle, the lesser-known facts and the uses of this famous fruit (yes, fruit) on Thala’s Coconut Odyssey Tour.
A range of tours and experiences are available to guests free-of-charge throughout the week, including the aforementioned Coconut Odyssey Tour, Nature and Garden Walks, Birdwatching, Stargazing and Talks with Kuku Yalanji People, where Traditional Custodian elders share their stories that have been passed down through many generations.
For an additional cost, paddle out to hidden coves with an expert guide along the “turtle highway” to spot turtles grazing, stingrays and the occasional dolphin or dugong, then ease the tension of your newfound muscles after kayaking at on-site Rejuvenate Spa.
Located along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, all Great Barrier Reef tours departing from both Cairns and Port Douglas include Thala Beach as a pick-up point. While it’s difficult to drag yourself away from the retreat, you can rest easy knowing your bungalow awaits your return at the end of an exhilarating day on the world’s largest ecosystem.
In the 1970s, Rob & Oonagh Prettejohn purchased a degraded sugarcane farm that was to become the site of Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Continuing operations for some years before the development of the lodge, the duo have worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to revegetate the land with the assistance of a dedicated team.
Local natives replaced exotic weeds, butterfly and bird host plants were propagated and in time the forest has regenerated across the 145 acres. In the 1990s 40 bird species could be observed on the property, now you can see as many as 194, a testament to the success of their rehabilitation project.
You won’t find single-use plastic bottles, coffee cups or straws across the resort. Guests are provided with complimentary stainless steel water bottles to use during their stay and beyond, taking the bottles on their continued journeys to reduce buying bottled waters.
2017: Celebrated 10 years of Advanced Ecotourism accreditation – the highest level of eco-accreditation in Australia Awarded by Ecotourism Australia.
2017: Awarded Green Travel Leader status (Ecotourism Australia) through responsible, sustainable practices and environmental sensitivity after ten consecutive years meeting the strict criteria for Advanced Ecotourism status.
2018: Handpicked as a National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, one of only five eco-retreat members in Australia.