Pretty palm trees arched across an elegant driveway signified we had arrived at a special tropical location. As we pulled to a stop outside The Elandra Resort, we tried to overcome feeling frazzled; we had only fifteen minutes to spare before we were due to attend a cocktail party. You see, it had been one of “those days”. Instead of enjoying the scenic Friday afternoon drive to Mission Beach, I desperately attempted to tick off unaccounted-for items on my to-do list, computer and mobi Wi-Fi working hard on my lap in the car; Cooper, sitting behind the wheel, grew increasingly impatient with the time-consuming road-works which we’d not factored into our schedule. We jumped out of the car at our final destination however, and caught sight of the breathtaking pool deck (voted “sexiest in Australia” by avid travellers), Dunk and other islands of the Great Barrier Reef through the foyer.
Stunning, and instantly therapeutic.
Then, resort manager, Sharon Muir, appeared − a breath of vibrant fresh air. She guessed who we were and welcomed us as if we were life-long friends, buggied us to our villa, handed over the keys and said, “Enjoy our beautiful beach house”.
And that’s how they roll at this exclusive little piece of paradise, generally only an hour and a half drive from Cairns, and about two and a half from Townsville. The Elandra Resort Mission Beach is up-market, rainforest-meets-the-sea heaven, with a warm side of family-style hospitality. Even owners, Katrina Knowles and Adam Karras’ dog, Willis, sauntered over to us on our arrival. He didn’t need coaxing for cuddles − fine by us as we’re always happy to adopt a dog when away from home.
Also fine was room 404, which aside from being oversized, welcoming, plush and comfy, boasts dramatic sea, island and coastal beach views as far as the appreciative eye can gaze. There really is nothing more soothing than spending time by the ocean, and perched above a setting like this is exactly what I needed to recharge my drained batteries.
Crisp, stylish, yet emanating a calm northern Queensland vibe, Elandra − meaning “safari or home by the sea” − isn’t your average resort. Core business here revolves around weddings, special events, conferences and corporate incentive escapes. Sharon insists there are to be “no worries” when you turn up to The Elandra for an event, whether you’re a guest, bride, groom, CEO or group facilitator. “You tell us what you need, what you do and/or don’t want as part of your experience, how many people are coming, and we will design a bespoke itinerary and package to suit your requirements and budget, utilising our own exceptional team as well as hand-chosen, trusted quality service providers from around the region,” she explains.
Cooper and I were lucky enough to experience the Elandra events expertise first-hand during the resort’s wonderful Tastes of the Tropics weekend, an event designed to “give back” to the local community and supporters who the Elandra team hold dear. “Our community spirit has always been alive and well, but it’s really been since Cyclone Yasi in 2011 that everyone treasures local relationships more closely. The eye of the storm came in directly over us. Elandra was actually an evacuation point for South Mission Beach because the areas below us are really low-lying and a damaging king tide was expected. We had hundreds of people bunkered up across the 40 rooms on the property, and provided safe haven for pets − cats, dogs, snakes − you name it! We’ve got the only helipad in the area too, so a couple of hundred army personnel from Townsville were also based here during the emergency so they could service the hard-hit areas between Cardwell and Innisfail. Because we’re not open to the general public anymore, we try to host various local events every year or two, so that our friends from the region can come back to enjoy the Elandra experience,” Sharon tells us.
This was no ordinary meal with mates though; Tastes of the Tropics was a gourmet getaway like no other, brimming with indulgence, sampling, demonstrations and degustation. The weekend included a cocktail dinner boasting divine canapés utilising only the freshest local seafood and produce, and a gala dinner, both catered for by none other than acclaimed celebrity chef from Channel Ten’s The Living Room, Miguel Maestre. Stuffed mussels, tigres style with brava sauce; lobster sliders, freshly shucked oysters; sesame crusted yellow fin tuna and seaweed salad as well as suckling pig with celeriac remoulade were just a few of Miguel’s delicacies featured on the weekend menu. Set to a theme of Spanish guitar and flamenco dancing as a nod to special guests, Miguel and his family’s heritage, the entire spectrum of events we were privileged to attend really showcased the experience and pride that the team here injects into anything that happens on their land. I should add also, that when Miguel wasn’t in charge of the kitchen, the treats rustled up by The Elandra Mission Beach’s chef, Tomasz Kornacki, were just as delicious.
I relished in the energy of this place. It’s not hard to fall in love with The Elandra when you’re lounging around on an oversized daybed overlooking the Coral Sea, or meandering through the lush gardens, enjoying the overall beauty and serenity that we have on offer in our backyard, Queensland. Whether you’re planning to host your own celebrity-studded event, idyllic tropical wedding, extraordinary bucks or hens extravaganza including cocktails, manis, pedis or even a night-time game of laser tag in the rainforest; you want to indulge in secluded island day trips and beach picnics, or you wish to do as we did − eat, drink, sleep, repeat (and make some new friends along the way), consider this spot for your special get-together. Sublime, sexy, easy, exceptional − Elandra (elandraresorts.com).
Cooktown is one of those unique places in the world brimming with truly colourful characters from all walks of life. A quintessentially Aussie town of 2000 people and a destination of unspoilt beauty; here you may discover the very best of Australia’s coast, rainforest, bush, savannah and desert landscapes, which remain largely unchanged since the days when Captain Cook and his crew from England first spotted land.
From country folk donning Akubras, and the Indigenous locals proudly showing visitors around their traditional lands, to those who have migrated far north for a break from high-powered city lives, and bar staff with their thick Scottish accents − everyone’s got a story and they’re happy to tell it (or listen to yours). It’s difficult to resist conjuring romantic notions of living in a place like this, A Country Practice style (Aussie TV throwback reference!), as Cooper and I do consider little towns like Cooktown with much affection.
WHERE TO STAY – TRAVEL IN COOKTOWN
It’s actually mind boggling to discover that a little town in the far northern reaches of Australia might offer such delightful facilities, and the Sovereign Resort Hotel far surpassed our expectations. I mean, it looks lovely on the website − and honestly, it’s just as nice, if not nicer! There’s a shuttle service to and from the airport, the prices are great, inexpensive car hire available on-site, accommodation options are available depending on your needs, staff (particularly Sally) are absolutely lovely, rooms clean and spacious, restaurant divine, pool is perfect and you couldn’t ask for a more convenient (or pretty) location in the centre of town. Highly recommended, would stay here again without hesitation. Book online: Sovereign Resort Hotel
While it’s the traditional town-Down Under experience you’ll enjoy in Cooktown, what may surprise you is the interesting history that seeps into every street corner, along the waterfront, trailing up and down mountainsides, throughout pubs, the post office and port. Cooktown has endured its ups and downs in terms of boom-times, but will forever maintain a critical position in Australia’s story.
In 1770, as the traditional owners of the land, the Guugu Yimidhirr people, watched on with trepidation, Lieutenant James Cook and his crew ran their ship, Endeavour, aground. They had discovered Botany Bay in New South Wales (April 1770), and Seventeen Seventy in Queensland (May 1770) but on the way up towards Australia’s tip, the Great Barrier Reef seriously damaged the hull of the ship, and they had to stop here for 48 days (the longest onshore stay of this particular voyage of discovery). Cook named only one river in Australia, that being the Endeavour here in Cooktown, after the vessel his crew were able to save in these parts. Of course, he returned home to England and Australia would later be officially founded by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788, but Cooktown was already firmly plotted on early maps of Australia by then.
The settlement gradually flourished and just under 100 years on, Cooktown was in fact the second most thriving town in Queensland with one of the busiest ports, all due to the Palmer River Gold Rush (1873). Stores, pubs, banks, gambling and even opium dens were flourishing in town, while 15,000 miners (10,000 being Chinese) prospected for gold along the banks of the Endeavour. Several buildings, many treasured artefacts, and most likely a few ghosts, remain here from that colourful period.
The Gold ‘rush’ was just that, a fleeting period in time which would indeed come to an end, leaving the future of Cooktown hanging delicately by a thread. I recently discovered a Sydney Morning Herald article from 1 November 1941 where the journalist, Hugh Henry, described the then “Ghost town of the North”:
“… A ramshackle wharf now seldom visited by large steamers; a dilapidated township with fine public buildings fast falling into decay, while hotels alone continue to do a thriving business; and a signal-station hill commanding one of the loveliest river views in Australia a wide estuary of sapphire gleaming under a sky of kingfisher blue. That is Cooktown today. Australia is a young country and it is natural to think of its history as one of uninterrupted progress. But no traveller can go far in Australia without being impressed by the number of towns with a record of past prosperity, and a present so deteriorated that it is difficult to establish any connection between them as they have been and as they are. Among Australia’s ghost towns Cooktown, on the far north coast of Queensland, occupies a prominent position. Tile residents of Cooktown reject any suggestion that their native place is dead, but in the next breath they are eager to discuss ways and means of resurrection.”
While Cooktown isn’t home to as many as its hey-day of the late 1800s, it does boast a friendly population of interesting people from all over the world, and indeed is a delightful place to visit. There’s a grand old building resembling an American plantation home on the main strip that’s for lease − I’m in love with it! Various glorious old structures are located around town, and make for a refreshing change to the mundane contemporary constructions that saturate most contemporary Australian locations. Equally beautiful is what Mother Nature has blessed this part of the world with − sublime coastline, divine hill-top views and inspiring landscapes as far as the eye can see.
I could literally go on and on about how many travel and recreational options there are on offer here, and as we’ve mentioned in our video coverage of the town, we’ve only just scratched the surface. It’s certainly a little place with not only a big heart, but history and adventure to boot. However, in pursuit of learning, combined with travel, here’s a few things we’d suggest you keep an eye out for:
GETTING TO COOKTOWN
Honestly, one of the top reasons to travel in Cooktown and around top end in the first place is for the opportunity to fly with Hinterland Aviation. The team (both in Cairns and Cooktown) are friendly, professional and fun. There’s free WiFi in the Cairns terminal, plenty of flight options per week to choose from, and while you can drive to Cooktown in around three hours, this service is convenient, easy and value for money. The scenery between Cairns and Cooktown is awe-inspiring, and seeing it from this vantage point − through the sizeable windows of a comfortable charter plane − is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and should be on everyone’s bucket-list. More at: Hinterland Aviation
Just 45 minutes, scenic flight − it’s flexible, convenient, great value and private − save time, energy and enjoy the landscape in a way that showcases its ultimate beauty− from above!
James Cook Museum
Being one of Australia’s most historical townships you’ll find many displays and places to visit to learn about Cooktown’s past. Some of the town’s old colonial buildings can still be seen today and walking down Charlotte Street you’ll note great examples including the old bank building built in 1891 for the Queensland National Bank, the Post Office (1887), The Daintree Divisional Board Council Hall, now the RSL (1885), Jackey Jackey Store Building, now a café (1886), The Sovereign Hotel, now The Sovereign Resort (1874), and Seagren’s Store, now Seagren’s Inn (1880). Additionally you’ll not want to miss the beautifully restored convent building and a former boarding school for girls, now home to the James Cook Museum on Helen Street. Built in 1889, it features displays of an anchor and cannon from the ship Endeavour, some of Captain Cook’s diary extracts, and fascinating stories about life in early Cooktown. Entry is $10 (adults).
If you enjoy this museum and its historical offerings, you may also be interested to take a look at The History Centre on Charlotte Street (opposite The Sovereign Resort Hotel) which currently houses the Cooktown and District Historical Society, award-winning interpretive historical displays, and family research facility. Entry is $5 (adults).
Love old photos? Here are some fascinating images from old Cooktown.
The lookout on Grassy Hill with its 360 degree views of Cooktown, coastline, inlet and the sprawling hills in the distance is one of the area’s most popular attractions. The landscape seen today from the top of the hill has changed little since Cook and the crew of the Endeavour climbed Grassy Hill in 1770 to view the surrounding reefs. To most of us, Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef is famous, attracting tourists from all over the world. But to Cook and his crew it would have presented a real danger. From this vantage point, Cook would have been able to plot a safe course through the dangerous reefs to get the crew safely on their way back towards home.
The Cook Monument
Cooktown is rich in history and the Cook Monument commemorates Lieutenant James Cook’s landing on 17 June 1770. It was on this location the local Aborigines would have watched with caution and curiosity as the crew beached his ship the Endeavour, tethering it to a tree after its wooden hull was damaged on the reef south of Cooktown. It’s been told that because white people had never been seen before, the Aborigines thought Cook’s crew were ghosts! Interesting note: It was during this time that botanist, Joseph Banks, wrote the first European description of a kangaroo. How unique Australia must have seemed!
Cooktown Lighthouse on Grassy Hill was built in England and shipped to Cooktown, in 1885 to guide ships through the reef. Back then, Cook would have been very impressed by this technology!
Nature’s Powerhouse + Botanical Gardens
A two-minute drive from the town centre is the indoor Nature’s Powerhouse and historic Botanical Gardens. The Nature’s Powerhouse contains a stunning collection of works by local artists with a very strong emphasis on plants. The Botanical Gardens have a long history and were first established in 1878, only five years after Cooktown was established, and feature many of the plants used by the local Aboriginal people in their daily lives then and now. Many of the plant species were completely new to botanist Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook on The Endeavour and returned home to England with exciting clippings to study.
The Queen’s Steps
The Queen’s Steps were made for HM Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Cooktown in 1970 to open the James Cook Museum, part of a yearlong celebration marking 200 years since Captain James Cook’s remarkable voyage of discovery.
The Cemetery and Chinese Shrine
The Cooktown Cemetery and Chinese Shrine is just outside the centre of town, and offers insight into how tough life would have been for the early pioneers. The styles of graves indicate religious groupings but surprisingly there is a virtual absence of Chinese and Aboriginal graves, despite burials of both peoples being recorded. Many of the events and individuals that contributed to Cooktown’s development are remembered however; and keep an eye out for notable old graves, like that of the oldest identifiable burial place, of Rev Francis Tripp who died on the 20 May 1874 at the age of 46.
The Powder Magazine Building
The Powder Magazine Building was built in 1874 to store explosives. It is thought to be the first brick building constructed on Cape York Peninsula. Interestingly, no nails were used in the building in order to prevent sparks when barrels of gunpowder were being moved.
The Milbi Wall
A unique attraction in Cooktown is the Milbi Wall, a one metre high curving wall, around 12 metres in length, made of hundreds of ceramic tiles and divided into three sections, each telling history from an Aboriginal perspective.
•The first tells the stories of the creation of the Cooktown area (sometimes called Dreamtime stories), and is important to the culture of the first Australians.
The second section of the wall represents first contact with Europeans.
The third section centres on the 1967 Australian Constitutional referendum, when the Australian people voted to give Aboriginal and Torres Strait people full equality, including voting rights.
A beautiful spot for a stroll, fishing or even some alone contemplation-time. This was once, during the Gold Rush, one of the busiest ports in Queensland. It’s also the starting point of the River of Life Walkway which meanders through parklands to the Post Office, with plaques dotted along the way explaining the stories behind the historic sites you on your path.
There’s a handy WELCOME TO COOKTOWN map which you will find at information centres and hotels/motels which outlines these landmarks and more, making a driving or walking tour of the town easy and fun, ensuring you don’t miss a thing.
There are also copious tour options on offer in the area which take visitors on excursions to surrounding coast and bushland, for more history, fishing, hiking, swimming, driving, animal-spotting, Reef adventures and more. One of the most renowned and popular options leaving from Cooktown is award-winning Guurrbi Aboriginal Tours, which takes guests on a magical tour through surrounding lands, exploring life as it was and discovering ancestral rock art sites, lead by Willie, the traditional story-keeper of the Nugal-warra clan. As one guest has said on their website, the excursion is, “An amazing journey of story and dreaming, birthing and beginning”.
Cooktown is a great place to snorkel, fish, spot a crocodile, explore the Outback or just relax. Pristine beaches, incredible mountain views, cascading waterfalls, and excellent fishing are just some of the wonderful experiences to be enjoyed in this region. More information: TourismCapeYork.com
In Cooktown you’ll find everything you need for a break away. There’s a pharmacy, newsagent, IGA supermarket, plenty of pubs and cafe options, take-away and huge bakery offering breakfast options and delicious Chinese dishes for lunch.
Have you been to Cooktown or any awesome little Aussie spots? Share your adventure and travel tips with us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.
On the weekend we took a day tour / road-trip across the Cairns Highlands in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. One of the highlights was tasting a little selection from Golden Drop Mango Winery (and I mean ‘a little’ as it was only 9am).
You can order online at www.goldendrop.com.au and set yourself up for creating one of these delicious cocktails (more on their website).
Sparkling Mango Cocktail
1.7L mango nectar
1-2 tablespoons Golden Mango Cello
1 1/2 cup frozen mango pulp
750ml Sparkling Mango Wine
In a large jug, combine all ingredients. Add ice and serve immediately before bubbles subside.
Orange Blossom Cocktail
10ml Mandarin Cello
Dash of Bitters
Tonic Water, Soda or Lemonade (optional, to make a long drink).
1 small ripe mango
45ml White run, Vodka or Gin (optional)
45ml Golden Mango Cello
Sugar or caster sugar to taste
1/2 cup of ice cubes
15ml lemon or lime juice
Strawberry for garnish
Peel and slice the mango flesh from the stone and place in blender with all ingredients except the strawberry and blend until smooth. Garnish and serve in a chilled glass.
Cairns in Tropical North Queensland is world-famous as being situated on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef, however there are so many amazing things to explore in the region.
In fact, you can experience a ‘snapshot’ of ‘Australia’ all within one easy-to-navigate area of North Queensland: Reef, rainforest and the Outback. Where to start though? My travel and adventure partner, Cooper, and I decided to give a new APP, Taste Paradise a whirl, however we combined a couple of its suggested trails (the Misty Mountain trail and Savannah Tablelands) into one. Hire a car, book a bus or jump on the Skyrail and begin in Kuranda…
You could spend a week cruising through the sublime landscapes of the Cairns Highlands / Atherton Tablelands − rainforest, dusty flat land, coffee plantations, bananas, nuts, citrus fruits, tea, green dairy pastures, mountainous trails, lakes, waterfalls and palm trees − eating and photographing every hour or so. We only had a weekend unfortunately, which was then condensed into a day, however an itinerary of interest which allows a food-loving traveller to not only see, but taste, the best Tropical North Queensland has to offer, could be as follows:
Kuranda Markets – for all your delicious locally grown produce, market-wares, rainforest charm and Golden Drop Mango Wine (also an optional stop available near Mareeba). Open from 9am, 7 days.
Jaques Coffee Plantation – rich history, delicious coffee and an interesting tour. Did you know the family who own this are from Tanzania, and developed the world’s first mechanical coffee harvester! Open 9am to 5pm daily.
Coffee Works, 136 Mason Street, Mareeba, open 9am to 4pm daily, for gourmet coffee, chocolate, liqueur and tea.
Mount Uncle Distillery and Bridges Cafe, on your way out of Mareeba on the way towards Atherton – premium liqueurs and spirits here, as well as a beautiful setting. This is North Queensland’s first and only distillery. Cellar room and tea room open 7 days, 10am to 4:30pm.
If you have time, you might like to take a detour towards Lake Tinaroo, or even stay at this lovely location overnight.
Head into Atherton and visit Gallo Dairyland for delectable product. Their website is really interesting and features great facts about the local dairy industry. Cheese and chocolate on the menu – need I say more?
The famous Nerada Tea plantation is along here too, 10km outside Malanda, open 7 days, 9am to 4pm − ideal for morning or afternoon tea.
You could drop by Malanda Falls for some photos before continuing to Millaa Millaa. The landscapes become markedly hilly and green throughout this region, as you’ve entered the beautiful misty mountains trail and waterfall circuit. Millaa Millaa Falls and lookout are also worthwhile, picturesque stops.
Finally, take a drive down a narrow road towards Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Diary. You could be forgiven for confusing this countryside with the rolling green lands of Ireland, but the Aussie accents and hospitality at this quaint tea-house will have you back in Oz in no time. Enjoy a Devonshire Tea or cheesecake, and don’t leave without purchasing some famous Mungalli Creek gourmet Greek-style yoghurt, soft or hard cheeses. If Gallo Dairyland is about cheese and chocolate, then this spot is about cheese and tea. All good by me!
Then complete your circuit by heading back towards Cairns (about an hour / hour and a half drive back to the city from Mungalli Creek).
Welcome! We are Sarah + Cooper, Aussie expats living in the UK with our Westie dog, London. We like to inspire on how to travel for longer and to live and work from anywhere. Our most popular content here is about seeing the world with your pet, remote working & digital nomadism, and house + pet sitting. Create a global life of your dreams at any age! Subscribe to find out more :)