Use this as a guide for planning your luxury sojourn to Tropical North Queensland. Exploring the premium side of iconic landscapes including reef, rainforest, city and outback, this itinerary is perfect for honeymooners, anniversaries and special occasions, or simply those who like to live in the lap of luxury.
Arrival into Cairns
You’ve landed in Cairns and it’s straight to the hotel to check in.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion then Pullman Reef Hotel Casino’s Presidential Suite has your name written all over it. This 160m² corner room is located in the heart of Cairns City and features spectacular views over the Trinity Inlet and fringing mountains, a double spa bath and all the luxury touches to make your stay extra special.
If you’re celebrating with your nearest and dearest, the room is perfect for entertaining with a large sophisticated lounge area, a fully equipped kitchen featuring a butlers pantry, and a dining table for eight.
Alternatively, just downstairs is a Chef Hatted fine-dining restaurant, Tamarind, which is also a recipient of a World Luxury Restaurant Award.
It’s your choice, wake up to enjoy sunrise from one of the city’s best vantage points, or have a lie-in in your comfortable four-poster king bed and relish in your down time by ordering a room-service breakfast.
Active travellers can walk the Esplanade with both Muddy’s Cafe or Guyala providing mouthwatering breakfast options along the way, otherwise the city is full of equally delicious options. Check out our cafes in Cairns blog for a wrap-up of more great options.
The day is your oyster, do with it what you will! Keep it simple and explore the Cairns Botanic Gardens, gallery-hop, shop at locally owned stores or for designer apparel at DFS Galleria. For more adventurous options, hop on a helicopter to have a picnic on a sand cay in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, or head out on a private tour with an operator such as Discovery Tours Australia, who can tailor an itinerary specific to your tastes.
Great Barrier Reef Drive
Destination, Silky Oaks Lodge, but you’re going to want to make a few pit stops on the way, this is one of Australia’s most scenic drives after all. First stop, breakfast in Palm Cove. It’s hard to go past award-winning Nu Nu Restaurant, but if you’re after something more simple, pull up a beanbag at 27 Degrees. As nice as it would be to flop and drop for the day, the road awaits…
By the time you’ve made all the obligatory, jaw-dropping, photo stops between Palm Cove and Port Douglas, expect that it may take a little longer than Google Maps predicts.
The scenery doesn’t stop when you get to Port Douglas either – Flagstaff Hill, Rex Smeal Park, St Mary’s Chapel, Four Mile Beach… the list goes on! If it’s a Sunday, head down to the prettiest markets in Australia (superlative deserved), otherwise a wander up Macrossan Street will leave you with a whole new wardrobe for the rest of your trip.
After lunch (check out our Port Douglas restaurant guide), it’s finally time to head to the rainforest. Ensue more gasping, as the road heads off the beaten track, through more breathtaking scenery culminating at the most peaceful lodge imaginable.
This all-inclusive adults only retreat is perched on the emerald waters of the Mossman River, with private cabins peppered throughout the rainforest with a central main lodge featuring a restaurant, bar and lounge with unsurpassed views of the river. Your afternoon can be spent at your leisure – hanging in a hammock on your balcony, swimming or canoeing.
For dinner, perch in the canopy at Treehouse Restaurant for an unforgettable dining experience complete with matched wines. Think local and native produce, some of which is even harvested on site at the lodge’s Kitchen Garden, which features over 100 plant types.
Dinner and breakfast are included in your stay and is for guests only.
Silky Oaks Lodge
Your day starts with yoga in an open air pavilion followed by Daintree grown fruits, freshly squeezed juices, local tea and coffee, house made breads and gourmet twists on breakfast classics at Treehouse Restaurant.
At a property this beautiful, you’re going to want to spend some time simply acquainting yourself with it. Take relaxation to the next level at Healing Waters Spa, wander through the Kitchen Garden to see the produce that will be on your plate tonight, float your day away in the pool, wander through self-guided rainforest tracks and lap up ample time at the river.
Optional Detour –
Gain a deeper appreciation of the local lands and waters you’re exploring with a Dreamtime Walk from Mossman Gorge Cultural Centre, a painting class with a local Traditional Owner, or if you’re feeling adventurous, heading into the mangroves with Walkabout Cultural Adventures to try your hand at traditional fishing and hunting techniques.
Alternatively, Silky Oaks Lodge has a range of other daily excursions including reef tours, scenic helicopter flights and more that the staff can arrange for you. If you didn’t self-drive, there is a complimentary daily shuttle to Port Douglas.
Mount Mulligan Lodge
Soak up those last few rainforest hours before a complete change in scenery. Take two driving along the Great Barrier Reef Drive (lucky you!), back to Cairns Airport for your 2pm scenic helicopter transfer.
From a birdseye view, watch as the blues and greens of the coast quickly give way to the ochres and earthy tones of the Aussie bush as you head approximately 100kms inland.
On the horizon you’ll soon see the rugged range of Mount Mulligan (Ngarrabullgan) appear; at its base lies Mt Mulligan Lodge, your home for the next few days.
“Glamping” doesn’t come close to doing the lodge’s Outback Tent accommodation justice, each tastefully appointed to bring the feeling of the outback inside, and complete with air conditioning and en-suite. As you step up through the room types, all carry that same styling through while adding further luxuries including private outdoor soaking tubs, lounges and more. All guests receive three gourmet meals daily, complimentary mini bar, quality Australian beer wine and spirits and daily curated food experiences.
Sunset sees Mount Mulligan illuminated to a deep orange juxtaposed against pastel skies – combined with the chorus of birdsong it’s truly a sight to behold. With the total number of guests never exceeding 28, finding the perfect vantage point is never difficult. A couple of lodge favourites include the Sunset Bar, the infinity pool, by the lodge’s fire pit or over the weir.
Dinner is served at the main pavilion, featuring an indulgent contemporary menu inspired by local produce.
Mount Mulligan Lodge
It’s adventure time! Mount Mulligan is an important cultural landscape for the Djungan people as well as a historic gold and coal mining centre, including the site of Queensland’s worst mining disaster back in 1921. Explore the historic and natural attractions on your complimentary buggy or via guided tour, gourmet packed lunch in tow. There is also a network of walking trails or you can kayak and paddleboard the weir if you’d rather stick close to home. Discover more here.
Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, you may be lucky enough to swim under a waterfall cascading off this mega monolith. During this time, typically through summer and autumn, the outback is awash with a blanket of green as all the new plants bourgeon with the rain.
Arrive at Lizard Island
The bittersweet moment of leaving has come. On one hand, you’re heading somewhere exciting, on the other hand, it’s time to say goodbye to a special outback lodge.
You’d be remiss to come to the tropics without some island time. We hope you’re not sick of scenic flights as you’re about to jetset to one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most northerly resorts, approximately an hour north of Cairns.
Hosting the likes of Will Smith, Orlando Bloom, Katy Perry, and let’s be honest, a plethora of A-Listers, Lizard Island is as famous as its celebrity visitors for its beauty.
Flying into one of the most picturesque runways in the world, you’ll see the archipelago’s golden hills and pure white silica beaches tumble down to sapphire bays. Perched on the edge of a particular turquoise lagoon is paradise on earth, Lizard Island Resort.
With elegant rooms, suites, villas and even an entire four-bedroom house, this island oozes luxury and style. Spend your afternoon lazing around your room or head straight to the water to maximise those island vibes.
You should now realise there’s a theme emerging through this itinerary – Tropical North Queensland produce also heroes throughout Saltwater Restaurant’s gourmet menu that changes daily. If you’re feeling fancy, celebrate another successful day in paradise with a private seven course beachside degustation dinner. Dining at Lizard Island.
Great Barrier Reef
Lizard Island is located close to one of the world’s most highly regarded dive sights, Cod Hole, with its friendly resident potato cods. Explore on a full day outer reef tour, or snorkel or fish the fringing reefs and lagoons on half day tours. More activities.
Sundowners at Marlin Bar are a must after a bucket-list day exploring the Great Barrier Reef, before another amazing meal at Saltwater Restaurant.
Explore Lizard Island
Like Mt Mulligan Lodge supplies buggies, Lizard Island supplies dinghies for guests to use. Pick up your gourmet champagne picnic before self-chartering your way around any of the island’s many beaches.
If you can tear yourself away from swimming with turtles, take the trek to Cook’s Look. This is where Captain James Cook stood in 1770 to get his bearings of the island and reef.
Optional Detour – Research Station
Lizard Island also houses an important Great Barrier Reef research station which you can tour each Monday. Since its inception, the facility has contributed to over 1200 research papers and conducts approximately 100 research projects per year.
How did the end come so quickly? Make the most of your last hours on the island – watch the sunrise, take a paddle in the resort’s clear kayaks, squeeze in a final beach swim or make time feel slower at Essentia Day Spa.
Thankfully your flight back provides the best farewell soaring over the Great Barrier Reef all the way to Cairns. From here jump aboard your next leg home, or keep exploring Tropical North Queensland!
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