We’ve only been in Palm Cove a few hours and are relaxing at a café when the dog-walker ambles past. She has two pets on leads, but it’s the third creature in her crew that catches our attention – a white cat (no leash) is trotting a few paces behind, obviously relishing the morning exercise.
“Oh, yes, that’s Winston,” our waitress explains casually, following the group with her eyes. “He’s out walking with her most days, never needs a lead.”
By the end of our holiday in this laid-back piece of Queensland, I understand that Winston typifies the quirky but classy vibe of Palm Cove, a place where five-star resorts and 1950s beach shacks sit side by side in complete harmony, where beachside paths wind carefully around the centuries-old paperbark trees out of respect for their beauty and history, and where unique character – of both environment and residents – is celebrated.
We have come seeking a complete break after a hectic year of renovations, job changes and constant activity with three kids.
We could not have come to a better place.
Palm Cove combines great weather, unspoilt beachscape, endless family-friendly eating options and more five-star spas per square metre than I’ve ever come across. It is easy to get to, and very, very hard to leave.
The low-down on Palm Cove
How to get there:
Fly to Cairns International Airport. From there, your hotel can organise a car transfer for $96-115 (depending on passenger numbers) or you can take one of the plentiful taxis and maxicabs waiting at the rank. The 25-minute trip will set you back around $75.
Where to stay:
You are spoiled for choice, whether you are after a resort with lagoon-style pool and swim-up bar, a quieter apartment without the frills or a private house rental. Hotels at the northern end are closer to the swimming net area (a plus for those with croc phobia!), while those at the southern end have the benefit of beachfront access (no road crossing) and hammocks among the trees.
Where to eat:
You could eat at a different place every night for two weeks, with plenty of kid-friendly options, including pizza and pasta restaurants, a Thai restaurant offering delicious takeaway chicken satays and vegetable stir-fry, and a couple of bar and grill venues with kid-friendly burgers. Small supermarkets can sell you the basics for a home barbecue, but it’s a quick bus ride or 30-minute walk to a decent supermarket if you want to stock up properly.
It won’t take you long to discover the local ice-creameries, where gelati is made daily onsite with local ingredients – think salted caramel, raspberry and white chocolate, and jam donut flavours, on top of all the traditionals. Generous tastings are available, with new flavours constantly being invented. But for guilt-free indulgence, I fell in love with the local slushie outlet, which boasted all-natural crushed ices like apple, ginger and carrot, watermelon and berries, and coconut and mango.
With more time and a group of girlfriends, Palm Cove would be the ultimate spa-crawl destination. I can imagine rolling from one venue to the next in a relaxed and sweet-smelling haze, perhaps a pedicure here, a body scrub there and a head-to-toe massage to finish. But with just one chance to truly indulge, I go for a five-star option, and submit to the soothing magic of a rooftop pavilion from which I can hear the gentle waves and breeze rustling the palm leaves. My 90-minute “Spirit” package includes a jasmine and frangipani salt scrub, a thermal mud wrap that warms tired muscles, and then, to finish, the ultimate head and shoulders massage. After the treatment, as I sip a herbal tea beside a private plunge pool among the tree-tops with views overlooking the sea, it is hard not to feel on top of the world.
You mean you actually want to leave this place? Then the nearby options are endless. Regular tours will transport you to Cape Tribulation, Port Douglas, or out to the Great Barrier Reef. Hartley’s Crocodile Farm is definitely worth a visit, and will make you much more conscious of the numerous signs near rivers warning of estuarine crocodiles. Closer afield is Cairns Tropical Zoo (just outside Palm Cove), or you could take the Kuranda Skyrail cable car and scenic train through lush rainforest. And from Palm Cove itself you can hire stand-up paddle boards or join a kayak tour of nearby Double Island.
Or you could just pick up a delicious slushie, grab a good book, and relax while the kids make friends on the beach or by the pool. It all depends what you’re after!
Images courtesy of Tourism Tropical North Queensland