Palm Cove is about 20 minutes north of Cairns, in Queensland’s tropical north. The whole region used to be inhabited by sugar cane farms. These days, Palm Cove’s historical village seems like it was purpose-built for tourists and is all the better for it. Who wants reality getting in the way when you’re getting away from it all?
Unlike other spots on Queensland’s tropical north map, Palm Cove isn’t particularly a family destination (hooray!). The place gets its fair share of gay and lesbian couples, though the majority of visitors are straight honeymooners.
My list of things to do at Palm Cove reads thus: lie in a deckchair on the beach and/or swing in a hammock under the palms; eat out and wander about; paddle in the ocean and follow it up with a dip in the pool; have a nap, massage or both; watch the sun slip behind the mountains, drink cocktails, eat some more, then have a nightcap; sleep. Repeat for duration of trip.
There is a range of accommodation options in Palm Cove offering all this and more (or less). Those establishments that actively encourage gay and lesbian guests include Angsana Resort & Spa and the Novotel Palm Cove Resort, which boasts 10 swimming pools and a nine-hole golf course and is especially popular post-Mardi Gras. Others include two palatial white monoliths, The Sebel Reef House (great pool) and the Saray’I (great name).
I stayed at Angsana, which is practically on the sand, as just a palm-lined stretch of luscious green grass separates the guests from the cove. Just about everything is al fresco here. The Thai style lobby has a roof but no walls, and even the library is wide open and breezy. The spa facilities feature luxury rooms with outdoor showers and spas downstairs, and Thai-inspired open rooms overlooking private pools and the beachfront upstairs.
The spa staff are trained in Thailand and seconded to the company’s resorts in Palm Cove, Bintan, Bangalore and the Maldives. My therapist, Kate, was so unerringly polite it was almost painful. The Crowning Glory head, neck and shoulder massage she administered was divine and, though I hate to lower the tone, the hair pulling and backslapping were the highlights.
Post-massage and still wearing my yellow robe, I was served sweet peppermint tea and left alone to chill out to the hypnotic music and the subtle smell of the Sunday incense (they use a different one for each day).
My heavenly inertia at Angsana was interspersed with equally sumptuous, slightly more active pastimes. At the insistence of my fellow travellers, we occasionally left Palm Cove to further sample the wonders of the tropics, in particular the rainforest and the reef.
I’ve visited the tropical north before and can absolutely recommend doing and seeing everything. Go whitewater rafting on the Tully River, take a flight in a hot air balloon at first light, stay at one of the rainforest retreats in the Daintree and drive up to Cape Tribulation. That said, I was happy not to retrace my steps this time, and instead opted for a more relaxing route.
We took the Skyrail, a cableway that glides above the Barron Gorge, from Cairns to Kuranda, and enjoyed a casual yet informative guided boardwalk tour of the rainforest along the way. Our tour guide made particular mention of a tree that changes sex every year, around Mardi Gras time.
Kuranda is a pretty village that’s also accessible by a scenic railway line. The train meanders its way through the rainforest, past waterfalls and across ravines at a leisurely pace -“ it’s more than 100 years old -“ and arrives at lovely, flowerpot filled station.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch by the Barron River, where you can hire a canoe, taking heed of the sign that declares it free of dangerous crocodiles. I was glad to have spotted the sign as we were leaving. Dangerous or not, a croc at a picnic is not my idea of relaxing.
For the grand finale, our last day was spent on the reef. We climbed aboard a seaplane, flew low for 20 minutes (is that a whale or dolphin?) and landed on sand cay, which for a while we had all to ourselves. Snorkelling here is unforgettable. The water is an unbelievably clear aquamarine, the sun filters through like a kaleidoscope, technicolour tropical fish swim by, and the ocean floor is covered with coral, giant clams and iridescent starfish. After another picnic lunch, a glass of sparkling wine, and a rest under the beach umbrella, I couldn’t even remember what real life looked like.
Disclosure: The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism Queensland. Story courtesy of Gay Australia Guide. The editor of this travel page is also the publisher of Gay Australia Guide and other titles in the Gay Travel Guides group. Visit www.gaytravelguides.info.