Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Northern Queensland finale - Daintree region


In my last Queensland post, I took us up to our crossing of the Daintree River by car ferry. Once you reach the other side, you're in the heart of the Daintree National Park and there are no shopping complexes, high-rise buildings, phone networks or even mainstream electricity. There are generators for power, one petrol station, a convenience store, and a scattering of accommodation and food options.

It is like a different world, and it is very peaceful.

Walkway to our cabin, Daintree Wilderness Lodge

I had hatched a cunning plan for our Daintree accommodation. I suggested that if we camped and used budget accommodation for the first part of the trip, we could have a more luxurious ending in the Daintree. Mr Bite didn't need too much convincing and so it was that we came to stay at the Daintree Wilderness Lodge, a small eco-friendly resort that has just 7 cabins, all set into rain forest off their private walkways. 

It has long been a dream of mine to stay in a tree house (as per my previous ramblings on the topic), and this is as close as I've come to date.

Daintree Wilderness Lodge


On our first evening, we arrived as dusk was starting to fall and so we were grateful to settle into our cabin without needing to venture out again that night. The lodge has a small on-site restaurant - catering to guests rather than a more commercial venture - and they ask that you alert them ahead of time if you have any dietary requirements. I had sent an email requesting vegetarian food and explaining that I prefer vegan if possible, and they went to great lengths to ensure I always had vegan options to choose from.

Breakfast is included with the accommodation, and if you want to eat dinner, there is a booking system where you order in the morning from a daily menu that lists several starters and main meal options. Desserts can be chosen on the night.

We obviously didn't pre-order dinner on our first night, but being marked as the vegetarian / vegan couple, they were prepared to feed us anyway. We had tomato-chilli pasta with olives, cooked and prepared equisitely. I don't usually get excited about pasta, but when presented with a freshly made vegan dish in the middle of the rain forest...well, it was a great dinner.


The following morning, the food trend continued when we returned for breakfast. Each morning, we received a starting taster plate of fresh fruit slices, a system that allowed me to taste dragon fruit (or red-fleshed pitaya) for the first time. Have you tried it? It is wonderful. It's sweet and berry-like and somehow reminiscent of eating a fruit tart.

Following the fruit plate, I was presented with muesli, Daintree coffee, and soy milk. Mr Bite had croissants and fresh orange juice. After weeks of self-catering breakfast, this was quite a feast.


Some of you may remember that I don't, in theory, like muesli. These breakfasts changed my mind. My muesli was only lightly toasted - the oats still tasted like oats - and included dried papaya and pineapple, dried banana chips, almonds, and coconut. It was like trail mix in breakfast form. Lightly drizzled with soy milk, it was a great start to the day. It also kept me full for hours!

On our first morning, we did the short walk on the lodge's property, down to a bubbling creek via an overgrown path. There are lots of mosquitoes in the Daintree and that walk alerted us to the need for mosquito repellent at all times - day and night!

Rainforest creek

Mosquitoes can't detract from beauty, though, and there is certainly enough of that to make up for the need for insect spray.

Our next stop was the Daintree Discovery Centre, an award winning and environmentally conscious centre that allows you to explore upper and lower levels of the rain forest on a series of raised and ground-based pathways. There is an audio tour included in the price and the focus is on what makes up the rain forest, its various systems, and its inhabitants.

Daintree Discovery Centre

Not far from the discovery centre is one of a number of forest boardwalks, the Jindalba boardwalk, which provided a peaceful late morning wander.


Jindalba boardwalk

From there, we headed on to try and find lunch. Now, eating in the Daintree is a little challenging. There aren't many places to choose from, and those that do exist don't necessarily focus on vegetarian eating. On this day, we ate at Thornton Kiosk, roughly halfway between the Daintree river crossing and the Cape Tribulation area, which is as far north as the sealed road goes (it's about 40 minutes between the two).
Thornton Beach
Thornton Kiosk is a casual place, but it has the distinct advantage of being situated virtually on the beach. That picture above? And also the one below? Snapped from our table.
 
Thornton Kiosk - beach side dining

The friendly owner was even able to provide me with a lunch to my tastes - a fresh garden salad and a separate, warm Turkish roll. I had chai tea on the side, while Mr Bite had a cheese and roast vegetable toasted Turkish roll.

Thornton Beach

With all this beauty, I shouldn't forget to mention the more sinister aspects of the rain forest.
First: cassowaries. I knew little about these large, flightless birds before we arrived in the area. Once there, I learned rapidly and developed a distinct fear of encountering one on a morning run. They attack, you know. Not often, and not necessarily to the point of death, but I think once would be enough and I wouldn't need to die to find it unpleasant.
Fortunately, as you might have guessed from this post being put together, we didn't encounter any cassowaries and I am yet to be attached by a giant beaked bird.
Second: killer jelly fish. These are, technically, only in the water during the summer months (just when you might want to go in the water too!). We thought we wouldn't risk finding a rogue June species though, and stayed clear of the beaches during out trip (plus, it wasn't that warm).

Stinging dangers on the left; cassowary dangers on the right (or at least, cassowary slow-down signs).


After our Thornton Beach lunch, we drove up to Cape Tribulation and the small (tiny) settlement there. Despite some other tourists in the vicinity, we were able to enjoy beach views without a single other person in sight. 


While at Cape Tribulation, we also considered dining options for our evening meal. We thought it would be worth eating away from our accommodation on one night, and settled on Whet, one of the few 'proper' restaurants in the area with an attractive location set into a hillside and balcony seating.
When we returned to Whet that evening, I set about customising myself a vegetarian dinner from the decidedly lacking vegetarian menu. There was a fish dish that came with a side of papaya salad and rice, and I wondered if I might be able to have just the papaya salad and rice. Unfortunately, our waitress (new) got a bit flustered and indicated that just wouldn't be possible, and so I instead ordered the house salad of greens, apple and walnuts, with a side order of rice for that. Mr Bite ordered fish and chips - he eats fish despite our vegetarian accommodation request.


Sadly, my rice didn't arrive and about halfway through the salad I cancelled the request, deciding at that point it would be too odd to add it to my meal.
The salad was good, but I'm afraid there is more sadness to come with this meal. When we went up to pay, I noted a menu by the cash register labelled 'vegetarian'. They had a separate vegetarian menu. Despite my requests for modifications to give a meat-free meal, and despite staff being meant to offer it routinely, our waitress never thought to mention it. The vegetarian menu was fantastic. Seriously - Asian-style tofu, a veggie burger, a full array of options. The owner was very apologetic but I couldn't help feel slightly ripped off at not seeing the menu ahead of time!

That minor mishap aside, I would recommend the restaurant and the fact they have a vegetarian menu (even if somewhat hidden...) highlights that it would be a good place for veggie food. Just, you know, make sure you ask for it!

Dubuji boardwalk guest!

On our second full day, and our last full holiday day, we did two other boardwalks located between our accommodation and Cape Tribulation: the Maardja boardwalk, which traverses mangroves, and the Dubuji boardwalk, which covers rain forest and mangrove scenery and provided us with a very large goanna to photograph.
We did a self-catered lunch based on remaining supermarket provisions, and then...we went horseriding.




Cape Tribulation horse riding does small guided tours for all levels of riders, and we summoned up the courage to give it a try. Mr Bite had never ridden before, and I have done similar tourist-focused tours on only a few occasions. I blithely reassured Mr B that we would probably just be walking, perhaps trotting, and nothing more than that.

As it turns out, we cantered. Several times! Once was on the beach below, which was a magical and memorable experience.


That evening, we had an excellent vegetarian Thai red curry at our accommodation (cooked from scratch to avoid any fish sauce going in the curry flavourings!), which was done just to my level of spiciness. Mr Bite's level of spiciness is a bit lower than mine, and so he also had a lemon meringue pie to cool his mouth down afterwards...



It was an amazing three days - and an amazing two weeks.
Daintree Wilderness Lodge - http://www.daintreewildernesslodge.com.au/ or +61 7 4098 9105.

Daintree Discovery Centre - http://www.daintree-rec.com.au/ or +61 7 4098 9171.

Cape Tribulation Horse Rides - http://www.capetribhorserides.com.au or +61 7 4098 0030.

Whet Cafe Bar and Restaurant - http://www.whet.net.au/ or +61 7 4098 0007. Ask for the vegetarian menu!
Have you much horse riding experience?!

28 comments:

  1. Ooh, good to get these recommendations for accommodation and food. When we went to Cape Trib it was just for the day, and before the high season, so HEAPS of places were closed. I think we ate chips at the pub for lunch! But Whet sounds lovely, if you manage the vege menu. Next time you visit you'll have to go to the Tropical Fruit Farm! It's very cool - though it sounds like you got plenty of fruit for brekky, too :)

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    1. I looked into staying at the Tropical Fruit Farm! Sadly they were full but I would have loved to visit - just wasn't sure if I could convince Mr Bite of the idea ;) Fortunately we did get some great fruit at breakfast.

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  2. Incredible!

    It looks like paradise, so peaceful and beautiful surroundings. Have to say I am a little jealous! :)

    And the meals ... mouth watering :)

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    1. It really is like paradise. And it can be quite a cheap trip if you camp and self-cater!

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  3. Love, love, love this post and all of your photos! I'm so happy that you spoilt yourselves in the Daintree - it's the perfect place for an indulgence! We went with basic accommodation on our first trip and rented a gorgeous house with it's own swimming hole the second time. The accommodation options vary a lot price wise but regardless of that I think they all make you feel so close to the forest.

    I've heard about other vegos missing out on the "secret" veg menu at Whet recently which really is such a shame. If/When I go back I won't be 100% focussed on self catering - it seems like there is more on offer than I imagined. I've never come across a cassowary in the wild but the thing that fears me most about that region is saltwater crocodiles in the ocean (as well as the stingers)!

    So glad to read about this happy end to your trip, I'm sure you will have memories of it forever!

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    1. Renting a house would be a fantastic way to experience the area. We'll have to go back and stay for longer and try that out!

      Oddly, I wasn't as worried about crocodiles as I was about cassowaries. I think I worry about the wrong things sometimes :P

      I'd highly recommend visiting Whet when you return. The vege menu looked fantastic and there were plenty of options on it marked as vegan too.

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  4. These are such gorgeous photos! Thank you so much for letting me travel vicariously through your stories and pictures :)
    Shashi @ http://runninsrilankan.com

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed them Shashi!

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  5. Now if all this isn't paradise, I don't know what is! (Minus the veg menu mishap...MAJOR oops on their part!)

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    1. I know (on the menu)! But even that wasn't enough to detract from it really :)

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  6. It looks so wonderful - I think I want to live there!

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    1. I think I want to visit annually :-)

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  7. Wait, the cassowary will lie down pregnant?

    Oh I'm so witty. I'm so witty. *rolls eyes*

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    1. I'm dazzled by your wit ;)

      I'm also now imaging a sign with a third image showing the crucial step between 'before' and 'pregnant'...

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    2. Wow. Just wow. You took that much further.

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    3. Well, you know, there is only one way to get pregnant...

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  8. Great end to your trip. I am glad in discussions of muesli you can now say that you generally don't like it but will make an exception in Daintree Wilderness Lodge. Sounds like a great place to stay - I sometimes see dragonfruit in our local supermarket - it is delicious as dried fruit too if you ever find that. Beautiful scenery and sounds like you need a return to the daintree just to sample the veg menu at Whet (if you can forgive them!)

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    1. I will definitely look out for dried dragonfruit now! I don't think I'd ever encountered it before this trip but it was delicious.

      I definitely need to return to Whet, and the region, and think it would be lovely to drop into conversation that "oh yes, I like muesli, but only at the Daintree Wilderness Lodge"!

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  9. I would love to live in a tree house too, perhaps it's a childhood desire that just needs to be fulfilled? Your accommodation looked perfect.. and I now need to plan a Queensland holiday!(that has nothing to do with theme parks)

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    1. This is about as far removed from theme parks as you can get - and so much better :-) One of these days we'll both fulfill our tree house dreams and probably discover they're horribly impractical, but in the mean time, it's a lovely notion!

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  10. Even to a seasoned horse rider (I've been riding horses for over 20 years) beach rides are super duper special. You can go for an absolute fang and not be too scared about injuring your horse (because of the shock absorbing and the grip from the sand and the lack of stones, rocks etc), and when they get too hot you just turn them around and head for the waves. Brilliant! I once got chased by a croc riding my horse on a beach in Far North Queensland though - you've gotta watch that, they're actually quite fast. Thankfully we managed to outrun it :)

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    1. Eek!! I am glad I hadn't heard that story before we went riding! That would definitely spur me on to cantering :P

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  11. What a lovely place to relax and unwind and how fantastic that they were so accommodating with your dietary requests. Far North QLD is a wonderful holiday destination but it sure does have its share of poisonous and deadly creatures xx

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    1. It most certainly does. And of course the mosquitoes are every where too, and we weren't even there in the wet season! I suppose beauty needs some challenges to offset it or the area would be over-run.

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  12. What a beautiful place to vacation. The cabins you stayed in looked awesome. I totally would have splurged on them too!

    Bummer about the menu at the restaurant. They should have discounted your meal instead of just offering an apology. :-(

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    1. I thought so too! Oh well - they'd have got more money from us if I'd ordered from their vegie menu ;)

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  13. Thanks for sharing beautiful pictures...I want to go there. I am gonna bug my hubby for our next vacation.

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    1. Hopefully he'll be persuaded - it is a great destination!

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