Accommodation in the Cairns and Port Douglas regions is spread across three main hubs: central Cairns for its ease of access to tours and city vibes; Palm Cove village, around a 20-minute drive north, which has more of a resort feel; and Port Douglas, an hour north, from where many tours also depart and which has a strong range of upmarket hotels and amenities.
Cairns Harbour Lights
The most modern of Cairns’s waterfront properties, which include the Hilton and the Shangri-la hotels, the Harbour Lights hotel has 94 self-contained apartments, ranging from one to three bedrooms. Each has views over the Cairns marina from balconies and easy access to the city’s range of shops, restaurants and parklands. The hotel is also perfectly situated for the various tour boats heading out to the Great Barrier Reef leaving from the harbour and for walks along the esplanade. The complex features pools, a fitness centre and the independently run Dundee’s restaurant on the waterfront.
Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
It might seem an unusual choice to stay at a casino hotel close to two of the natural wonders of the world (the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree National Park) but the rooms here provide close to the ultimate in luxury for Cairns. That’s especially so if you are lucky enough to stay in its top-level Presidential Suite, which provides decadence and romance with its four-poster bed, oversized spa bath and sweeping views over Cairns and the ocean from a wraparound balcony. The Reef Hotel Casino is also a social hub of sorts and is strong on facilities such as the Asian-fusion restaurant Tamarind, Café China for seafood and several bars, including the Vertigo cocktail lounge.
Fitzroy Island Resort
Of the island resorts a short distance from Cairns, Fitzroy Island, a 45-minute boat ride away, has much to recommend it, above all for holidaying families. Its self-contained apartments are serviced daily, have fully equipped kitchens and spacious balconies, many with ocean views. Facilities include a beachfront bar and bistro, an a la carte restaurant and a small cinema for the odd rainy day. The rest of the time you’ll be busy with snorkelling and glass-bottom boating on Fitzroy’s fringing reef, taking walks through the island’s national park to shell-strewn Nudey Beach (not as clothes optional as it sounds) and with visiting the nearby turtle-rehabilitation centre that has rescued hundreds of marine turtles.
Pullman Palm Cove Sea Temple Resort & Spa
Attractively set around landscaped pools behind the beach at Palm Cove, north of Cairns, the Sea Temple Resort & Spa provides relaxation from the moment you set foot inside the door. Staff members are personable and attentive and the resort’s studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments are spacious, elegantly decorated and modern. Add to this great restaurants and a spa with superb organic treatments and this boutique, resort-village is the ideal place to come back to after a day exploring the World Heritage-listed reef and rainforest not far away.
Peppers Beach Club & Spa
Set right in the bosom of Palm Cove’s vibrant village, known locally as the “Riviera of Tropical North Queensland”, Peppers is boutique apartment accommodation with plenty of style and substance. Rooms look out across the Coral Sea or over three resort pools and tropical gardens full of melaleuca trees. This is an excellent place in which to hang loose, shoot the tropical breeze or get regally pummelled at the Salt Spa. Lime & Pepper restaurant, under executive chef Thomas Ege makes it easy to stay “home” for dinner but Peppers is also a short stroll to plenty of other great cafes and restaurants.
Thala Beach Nature Reserve
On the southern fringes of Port Douglas and occupying its own headland above Oak Beach, Thala manages to combine real luxury with the highest level of eco-accreditation. Set at the top of a winding driveway, amid 58 hectares of coconut plantation and rainforest, the resort has a feeling of space and privacy as well as high levels of service and comfort. Accommodation is in modish suites and bungalows strung along ridges, surrounded by eucalypts and ferns and features polished wood floors, verandahs and wooden shutters. The lodge’s Osprey’s restaurant has sublime ocean views and, with brightly coloured birds flitting across the view, is a dreamy spot to start the day with some eggs Benedict. But what distinguishes Thala as a holistic hotel is its complimentary tours, run by staff members with deep knowledge of varied subjects including marine biology and astronomy. These inclusive tours, from ambles down to the beachfront, identifying butterfly species to after-dinner stargazing using the resort’s powerful telescope, ensure a memorable stay.
The indoor-outdoor feel of these 33 luxurious apartments in the midst of cosmopolitan Port Douglas make them stand out from the plethora of accommodation in the village. Each has an outdoor entertaining area and rooftop and first-floor units have their own pools and spas, not to mention incredible views over the Coral Sea and rainforest. Four Mile Beach is a mere 150-metre dawdle away, Macrossan Street is packed with excellent restaurants and the three-bedroom apartments are a fantasy of modern interior design, decorated in cool marine hues and furnished with aplomb. The penthouse, with its rooftop terrace, is sumptuous and private and as promising a location for a wedding proposal/night/anniversary as any in the region.
Silly Oaks Lodge
This luxury lodge, situated 15 minutes from Port Douglas and on the Mossman River, is a rainforest retreat made up of treehouses and suites clad in natural raw materials – wood, mainly. It stands on 34 hectares of reforested land and like Thala Beach Nature Reserve, has excellent eco-credentials. Its open-sided Treehouse Restaurant directly overlooks the river and the jungle and is much lauded for its food, which is prepared using fresh local produce. Private, candlelit dinners by the river can also be arranged and activities include self-guided and guided rainforest walks, canoeing on the river and yoga in the pavilion.