Hidden away on the Coral Sea coast north of Cairns, Palm Cove has perfected the art of ‘inclusive exclusivity’.
This is a destination renowned for its upscale hotels, decadent spas, and some of the best restaurants in Queensland. But equally, you’ll find it relaxed, warm and welcoming, and utterly charming. And sand in your slingbacks is all part of the fun when you have a beachfront this divine.
If you’re staying in Palm Cove, lucky you. If you’re dipping in and out from Cairns, the drive from the CBD will take about 30 minutes. Travel by taxi or Uber, or take the 110 bus (the bus ride is an hour or so each way and will set you back $10 for a single ticket).
Here are ten of the best things to do in and around the village. Each one is an opportunity to experience Palm Cove in all its tropical glory.
Wandering along the Esplanade is a delight. At one end you have the Estuary and Great Barrier Reef Chapel; at the other, the jetty (great for photos at sunrise and sunset). A golden beach links the two, and despite the popularity of Palm Cove it’s never difficult to find your own little patch of paradise. While trim lawns shaded by avenues of swaying palms define much of the beachfront, on the Esplanade itself it’s all about the mighty and much-loved melaleuca trees. Many of these paperbarks are over a century old, and over the decades they’ve been incorporated into the layout of hotels, eateries and bars. Drift in and out of the boutiques and cafes in between as the mood takes you.
The azure waters of the Coral Sea look incredibly inviting, but only swim in the patrolled, netted zone and obey all safety signs. While they’re more prevalent in the warmer months (December to May), box jellyfish (stingers) are present in these waters throughout the year. The swimming nets are robust and drop right to the sea floor. Alternatively, there’s always your hotel pool.
Visitors flock to Palm Cove for R&R, and there’s no dearth of opportunities to be primped and pampered. You’ll find well appointed day spas at all the major hotels and resorts, along with several independent salons. Book in for an afternoon treatment so that you’re looking and feeling fine for the evening ahead.
Palm Cove’s fairy-light festooned al fresco dining scene takes the freshest local produce (much of it from the Atherton Tablelands) and turns it into culinary ‘wow’. The precinct’s top eateries like Nu Nu and Vivo won’t fail to impress, and even fish and chips by the beachfront offers an ambience-rich reward all of its own. If you’re celebrating something special, head for Reef House Restaurant for a six-course degustation with matching wines, served on the terrace beneath towering sweet-scented melaleucas.
If you’ve ventured out along the jetty, you’ll have noticed a fairly sizeable island off to the left. Double Island has a fringing reef and is a top spot for spotting marine life like rays, turtles, shovelnose sharks and brightly coloured fish. Palm Cove Watersports offers a variety of kayaking trips out to the island, including a two-hour sunrise option. The sight of first light bouncing off the Coral Sea is magic and makes this early start well worth the initial pain.
Awaken those work-weary senses with a yoga class in what has to be one of the most stunning ‘studios’ in the country. Hartig Yoga conducts regular outdoor classes on the lawned beachfront at the southern end of the Esplanade. Classes are suitable for participants of all skill levels and even if you only master some simple stretches and basic moves, you’ll walk away feeling revitalised and ready to take on the world.
There are two UNESCO World Heritage-listed landscapes located within coo-ee of Palm Cove, so set aside a day to experience each. Magnificent Daintree National Park is part of the wider Queensland Wet Tropics and is best experienced with the help of a local expert like Billy Tea Safaris. You’ll cruise the crocodile-inhabited Daintree River, walk on the beach at Cape Tribulation, and navigate the 4WD-only Bloomfield Track. The tour picks up and drops off in Palm Cove.
World-famous for its marine life, the Great Barrier Reef should also be on your holiday to-do list. Quicksilver Cruises’ daily trip to their permanent platform at Agincourt Reef departs from Port Douglas, but a tour and return transfer package is offered from Palm Cove. Listen and learn from a qualified marine biologist en route to the reef, then spend your time at the platform snorkelling, scuba diving, or even walking under water in an Ocean Walker helmet. A delicious buffet lunch is included in the cost of the cruise, while additional costs apply for some activities. The stunning drive to and from Port Douglas along the Captain Cook Highway is one you’ll always remember.
Release your inner Mick Dundee and learn about an evolutionary pedigree that stretches back some 200 million years on a visit to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures — roughly 15 minutes’ drive north of Palm Cove. If your without wheels, it’s possible to book an afternoon ticket and transfer package to the park, which is home to a whole bunch of furry, feathered and or course, scaly critters. The boat cruise on Hartley’s Lagoon will get you unnervingly close to the park’s notorious namesakes.
Get another taste of the extraordinary beauty of the Wet Tropics by visiting the Cairns Botanic Gardens, just a short drive south of Palm Cove. It’s a lovely spot for picnic, so seek supplies before you head off. The gardens are crisscrossed by shaded pathways framed by gingers, bromeliads and bird’s-nest ferns. The Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory houses colourful orchids and a mesmerising kaleidoscope (the official term!) of butterflies. There’s a lawned area in front, which is the perfect spot to throw down your rug.
For almost 50 years The Reef House has set the standard for luxury boutique hotels in Palm Cove. It offers stylish accommodation and a wide range of spacious room types in a postcard perfect setting.
Designed as an adults-only retreat, there are lots of touches that will make your stay here truly special. Enjoy a gin infused welcome drink and cold towel on arrival, along with a complimentary sorbet each afternoon and canapes at sunset. The hotel has two pools and an award-winning day spa.
Do you have any suggestions to add to the best things to do in Palm Cove? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.