Away from it all in Far North Queensland

by Harry B

Bloomfield Lodge, hidden away in the rainforest of Far North Queensland, is the perfect destination to relax and unwind. Remote yet luxurious, it’s also a base for exploring the Great Barrier Reef

Sitting under a sail shade at the end of a wooden jetty, as the sun sets over Weary Bay, it’s not hard to imagine you have found paradise on earth. To reach this idyllic spot in North Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest, you take a 30-minute flight by light aircraft up the coast from Cairns, landing on a grass runway that has just been cleared of stray wallabies in readiness for touchdown. You are met by a driver who transports you and your hand luggage (no suitcases here, mate) for 10 minutes down the track to a wharf at the mouth of the Bloomfield River. There you board a flat-bottomed boat and cross the bay to reach your destination.

Hidden under the rainforest canopy are 16 timber lodges which accommodate the guests of Bloomfield Lodge. There are no keys, no cash, no internet and no mobile phone reception, but this delightful place fully justifies its membership of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Once you’ve been here, you understand why the owners recommend a minimum stay of four nights. It’s the perfect escape from the pressures of everyday life. At $1,745 per person for four nights in high season (all meals included), it isn’t for travellers on a tight budget, but we ranked it as the highlight of our five weeks in New Zealand and Australia.

Far North Queensland is never cold, so the alfresco dining area needs only a roof to give cover when the tropical rains arrive. Next to the dining area is an honesty bar; help yourself and remember to tick off your selection on the room list that hangs behind the bar. Bearing in mind that all provisions arrive by the same boat that brings guests, the chefs here do a fantastic job. Understandably, there is a set menu for each meal, but special dietary requirements are accommodated if you notify the hotel in advance. On the day we arrived, lunch was red emperor fish, grilled to perfection and placed on a potato and herb salad, followed by delicious truffle cake. In the evening, the three-course dinner consisted of roast vegetable tarts with blue cheese; tender eye fillet wrapped in prosciutto ham; and almond and pecan pie. Breakfasts too were superb: try muffins with avocado, tomato, lemon butter and smoked salmon, topped with a poached egg.

After lunch, we enjoyed our first taste of the magic of Bloomfield’s jetty, training our binoculars on a small group of rainbow bee-eaters that flicked across the water before settling in trees by the shoreline. Later, from this gloriously peaceful spot, we saw frigate birds, a sea eagle, welcome swallows and cockatoos, while it was easy to spot shoals of small fish and the occasional green turtle in the shallow water. Fishing tackle is provided for anyone who fancies their luck. One of our fellow guests fulfilled a long-held ambition to try his hand at angling, but it was his wife who hooked a beauty within five minutes of holding a fishing rod for the first time.

If the heat and humidity become too uncomfortable, the small pool by the dining area is inviting. Or you can sit in the spa tub and enjoy the view across Weary Bay. Like so many places around here, the bay was named by Captain James Cook, when seeking a suitable mooring after holing his ship, the Endeavour, on nearby rocks in 1770. His crew spent hours rowing around the bay before deciding that the water was too shallow.

We learned more about the history of Captain Cook on an optional excursion to Cooktown, 74km away, most of it on unsealed roads. On Grassy Hill, we stood on the spot where Cook would have made observations to chart his passage after Endeavour had been repaired. The old convent is now the James Cook Historical Museum, where exhibits include an anchor and cannon from Endeavour, discovered by a diving team about 20 years ago. On the return journey, we stopped for liquid refreshment at the Lion’s Den Hotel, little changed over the past hundred years from the pub that was patronised by thirsty tin miners, fossickers and cattlemen.

Other optional activities organised by the Lodge’s enthusiastic team of guides include a trip by catamaran to the Great Barrier Reef. Up to 12 people can take part; the cost depends on the number of participants. An excursion to the Bloomfield Falls, by boat and 4WD, is another possibility.

Included in the price of our stay were two half-day activities: a cruise along the Bloomfield River and a guided rainforest walk. The cruise, in the same flat-bottomed boat that collected us on arrival, proceeded at a leisurely pace, pausing to observe crocodiles (the reason why the only swimming around here is in the pool at the Lodge), more rainbow bee-eaters, flycatchers, crested terns, sooty oystercatchers and a sacred kingfisher. The walk was a more energetic affair altogether. Our guide, Gary, led us through the forest up a dry creek bed. Eventually we reached a steep bank, where ropes attached to the trees made the climb a little easier. A welcome cooling breeze met us on the ridge at the top. Gary stopped at regular intervals to educate us about the fauna and flora, which included strangling vines, termite mounds, tree snakes and green ants. A dip in the pool was the perfect way to cool off after our exertions.

And so the end of our stay arrived, too soon. After another mouth-watering breakfast, it was time to leave.  Back at Mount Louis airstrip, where a timber hut bears the sign "IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS (NOT HERE MATE)", the plane touched down with the lucky new arrivals. For us, there remained the consolation of a great flight with superb views of the Queensland coast on our way back to Cairns – and the resolution to return for a longer visit to this tropical paradise.