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Tourism Australia- Indigenous Experiences

Retreat into the Daintree Rainforest’s refurbished Silky Oaks Lodge

Jumbo-sized raindrops fall quickly as the heavens open at the newly revamped Silky Oaks Lodge, on the edge of the ancient Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland, but I don’t mind a bit.

I just sink deeper into my outdoor grey stone bath while listening to the soothing sound of steady rainfall and the gurgling Mossman River cascading over smooth rocks.

An uninvited guest has joined me, seemingly quite at home.
I remain perfectly still as a Ulysses butterfly dressed in iridescent blue flits around my bathtub.

It’s just one of the many delights at this nature haven, which opened in 1985, enticing many guests from all over the world to discover the wonders of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforest. Estimated to be 180 million years old, the Daintree is regarded as the world’s oldest living rainforest, with a fascinating ecosystem, ancient plants and hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife. 

I want to capture my butterfly moment on my iPhone, but instead savour the special experience until it spreads its wings and heads home.

That’s what this rainforest experience is all about – being present and living in the moment. I want to remain here forever, watching Mother Nature in all her glory tell her story.

Just as suddenly as it starts, the rain stops, leaving the forest covered in a damp coat that glistens and sparkles as the sun shines.

That fresh rainforest smell is even more poignant and I just want time to stand still in this ancient home to the Kuku Yalanji people, the Traditional Owners of the region. They’ve been living in this paradise for some 50,000 years. 

As I sip Daintree tea from a garden-patterned fine china teacup and nibble on a lemon myrtle cookie on my verandah,
I glance through books that evoke thought and wonder, including Marcia Langton’s Welcome To Country and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.

Then I plonk myself in the hammock and gently sway back and forwards. The hammocks are a much-loved relic of the original Silky Oaks Lodge. Guests requested that these remain, and I can understand why.

The make-over

It’s easy to fall in love with this place, which sits on 32 hectares of pristine rainforest. From the moment I step foot in the new-look main lodge, I’m seduced by its charm. It’s framed by
a dramatic skillion roof that reaches to the treetops, creating an airy space open to the sights and sounds of the rainforest and the river below.

The AUD $20 million refurbishment includes a reimagined guest reception, boutique, restaurant, contemporary bar and lounge area and my favourite haunt, the Jungle Perch, which cantilevers out into the canopy of the forest.

Visionary owners James and Hayley Baillie, of Baillie Lodges, inspired the design aesthetic and the focus on detail that commands attention wherever you are.

It’s been a team effort with Port Douglas-based architect Gary Hunt and interior design team Pike Withers, who have created an overall aesthetic of light, airy spaces with clean lines. 

The 40 river and treehouse suites are named after animals. Mine’s the Wallaroo suite, which overlooks the river.

Texture, wood, stone and cotton marry well in the comfortable suite with polished timber floors, a custom-made Baillie bed, spacious bathroom with rain shower, outdoor tub, day bed and well-stocked complimentary mini bar. 

But it’s the newly built luxurious sanctuary, the two-bedroom Daintree Pavilion, that’s even more worthy of that wow factor. There’s a tiered infinity pool, knockout rainforest views and dramatic skillion ceilings held aloft by glass walls.

Adding a sense of laidback luxury are furnishings by some of Australia’s best design talent, including Melbourne-based team behind Jardan, Tasmanian-based Pierre and Charlotte Julien, Ross Gardam and Kett’s Justin Hutchinson.

The artwork

Curated artwork throughout the lodge is mesmerising and evocative. The Kubirri Lounge is ideal for quiet reading,
private dining and meetings. It features the work of Malcolm Greenwood, who has created a series of ceramic ‘heads’ as a representation of a diverse group in the process of communicating and listening respectfully.

The artists at the Kuku Yalanji Arts Centre created 45 ceramic wall tiles that reflect the flora and fauna of the Daintree rainforest, while a series of intriguing photographs by Catherine Nelson are presented in the lounge, restaurant and rooms.

Nelson uses digital technology as her brush to create landscape ‘paintings’ and animations, including photographs with the Kuku Yalanji children playing in the Mossman River, throughout the lodge, with individual pieces in guest suites. Artworks by award-winning Indigenous artist Danie Mellor complement works sourced from the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, which all reflect the rainforest’s cultural heritage.

Rainforest dining

The cuisine here is contemporary Australian in style with tropical influences, designed to champion the bounty of local and regional produce. Each meal is a culinary adventure in the open-air tiered Treehouse Restaurant, where executive chef Mark Godbeer, who shifted from the Baillies’ famed Uluru lodge Longitude 131°, creates memorable dishes – some almost too pretty to eat. 

“As a chef new to the region, it’s wonderful to discover the bounty of local ingredients harvested in Tropical North Queensland’s
rich food bowl,” he said. “We’ve introduced some of the native ingredients used by the local First Nations Kuku Yalanji people to create a real taste of the tropical north on the menus at Silky Oaks Lodge, and will do more.” 

Godbeer has planted a flourishing kitchen garden on the old tennis court with tropical and Indigenous ingredients. The kitchen garden doubles as a venue for sunset evening drinks and canapes.

Each night we enjoy finger food and delicious drinks in the lounge – who can resist a Devils Thumb Rainforest Gin, Daintree Bubbles or Mossman Kick cocktail?

We feast on koji-cured kingfish tataki with pickled roe, ponzu and passionfruit, local tiger prawns and tempura reef fish, followed by
a tropical sorbet, and it all tastes fresh and worthy of applause.

Breakfast is a treat with fresh tropical fruit and warm pastries –
I enjoy the salmon and egg stack one morning and the coconut-flour waffles and blueberries the next.

Staff are warm and engaging and never forget your name.

Stepping out

You need to strike a balance between your lodge fix and discovering the wonders of this area – a highlight is a guided Dreamtime Gorge Walk from the nearby Mossman Gorge Centre. Our guide “Mooksie” tells us about the history of the forest and the wonders of medicinal plants and I leave with even greater respect.

The Great Barrier Reef is just a few hours away: a snorkelling expedition with Calypso Reef Cruises leaves from Port Douglas. There is also snorkelling in the Mossman River, rainforest hikes and mountain bikes on offer. Scenic helicopter flights can be arranged.

Fancy getting wet? Take a dip in the Mossman River in front of the lodge. It’s exhilarating in the cool, clear water, or follow the Fig Tree Rapids trail to a private swimming hole. The lodge pool, surrounded by greenery, also beckons.

The serene Healing Waters Spa offers a range of indulgent treatments inspired by ancient beliefs that water is a renewing and life-giving force, using the Australian Sodashi skincare range. There are seven treatment rooms with rainforest or river views, including couples rooms and Vichy showers. The 90-minute Daintree Dreaming treatment features a facial, full body exfoliation, body wrap and water therapy that leaves you feeling amazing. 

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