From cocoa plantations to bush-food cooking classes, Far North Queensland is a tropical bonanza of flavours. The region is in the culinary spotlight, with the annual food festival, Taste Port Douglas, on this weekend. We had a look around and discovered some uniquely tropical food offerings.
Taste Port Douglas
This Friday the sleepy tropical resort north of Cairns will be invaded by southern celebrity chefs as they cook their best dishes at Taste Port Douglas. Joining the festival this year are the Indigenous Kuku Yalanji people. Local brothers Linc and Brandon Walker are offering tours that teach visitors about how they hunt on the beach and mudflats and how to find native foods in the bush and rainforest. For Taste Port Douglas, see tasteportdouglas.com.au. For Indigenous tours, see walkaboutadventures.com.au.
Up north, on the way to the Daintree River, is a small plantation in a clearing in the rainforest. This is Sweet Farm, a small family-run sugar cane and cocoa holding. The location, on the banks of the Whyanbeel Creek, is stunning. Farm tours showcase the sustainable farming of sugar and cocoa and offer tastings. Further south and inland are the Atherton Tablelands. At about 1000 metres above sea level, this region is considerably cooler than the coast and is dotted with extinct volcanoes, creating some of the richest soil in Australia and producing great dairy products and fine tea and coffee.
At Jaques Australian Coffee Plantation outside Mareeba, the staff ply tourists with their sweet coffee liqueur. The coffee grown and roasted here is good for a low-altitude plantation, with floral aromas and a clean, acidic finish.
Further south in the village of Tolga is a roadside stall that, over the years, has grown into one of the best greengrocer stores in Queensland. The Humpy is filled with the sweet aroma of ripe tropical fruit, such as sweet, heady Mareeba Gold pineapples, , locally grown peanuts, enjoyed boiled as a snack in these parts, sweet potatoes and preserves including mango relish and rosella (a type of hibiscus) jam.
Towards Malanda, horticulture and rainforest give way to the green pastures of dairy country. Gallo Dairyland is a cheesery and chocolatier set up for the tourist market, and perhaps built a little too close to the cattleyards. A generous cheese platter is available for $20, or you can order a platter to go and have lunch at Malanda Falls. Situated in a patch of rainforest on the edge of town, this is a natural waterfall where the pool was enlarged and formed into a beach almost 100 years ago.
On a back road above Malanda is Nerada Tea Visitors Centre. Set in an old farmhouse, it overlooks a sweeping plantation of perfectly clipped tea plants. Its fresh black tea is only available there. Take time to check out the pair of tree kangaroos sleeping high in the trees above the farmhouse.
Under the shadow of Mount Bartle Frere, Queensland's highest mountain, is Rainforest Bounty Cooking School. This is held in the well-appointed home kitchen, with views over the Tablelands, of Geraldine McGuire. Classes start with morning tea followed by a stroll through the rainforest garden to harvest native limes and Davidson's plums. The cooking classes cover a range of cuisines, but always impart a strong understanding of what the native forest has to offer.
Mungalli Creek Dairy is a biodynamic farm, producing some of the best dairy products in Australia. Sweet treats include scones and jersey cream and rainforest fruit jam, and cheesecake made with quark.
On the coast not far from Mission Beach is Peter and Alison Salleras' Fruit Forest Farm. Its 65 hectares contain exotic fruit, from the sweet and meaty jackfruit to the blood-red fleshed Vietnamese gac fruit. Take the tour and taste the myriad different fruit, their flavours quite remarkable and truly memorable.
Sweet Farm Tours, 333 Miallo Bamboo Creek Road, Miallo, (07) 4098 8134, sweetfarmtours.com
Jaques Australian Coffee Plantation, 137 Leotta Road, Mareeba, (07) 4093 3284, jaquescoffee.com.au
The Humpy, 1 Kennedy Highway, Tolga, (07) 4095 4102
Gallo Dairyland, Malanda-Atherton Road and East Barron Road, Atherton, (07) 4095 2388, gallodairyland.com.au
Nerada Tea Visitors Centre, 933 Glen Allyn Road, Malanda, (07) 4096 8222, neradatea.com.au
Rainforest Bounty, Malanda, (07) 4096 8026 rainforestbounty.com.au
Mungalli Creek Dairy, 254 Brooks Road, Millaa Millaa, (07) 4097 2232, mungallicreekdairy.com.au
Fruit Forest Farm, 699 East Feluga Road, Tully, 0467 309 958, fruitforestfarm.com.au
Nu Nu, at Palm Cove, north of Cairns, is the quintessential tropical dining experience. Tables are set out under the palm trees, the breeze rustles in the fronds, and waves gently roll in from the coral sea and break on the beach.
The beachside restaurant offers a great breakfast, with dishes such as spiced pineapple and coconut cream muesli and mud crab omelette on the menu. The dinner menu features pork massaman curry with wild ginger and young coconut, and line-caught reef fish. It's worth the $30 taxi fare from Cairns.
Further up the coast at Port Douglas is Harrisons, a restaurant set in a majestic old Queenslander house sitting in the shade of sprawling mango trees. Chef Spencer Patrick applies classic English-French techniques to tropical ingredients. A meal could start with prawn and sugar cane pops and move to beef cheeks cooked in tamarind.
Nu Nu, 1 Veivers Road, Palm Cove, (07) 4059 1880, nunu.com.au
Harrisons, 22 Wharf Sreet, Port Douglas, (07) 4099 4011, harrisonsrestaurant.com.au
Mt Quincan Crater Retreat is a luxury tree house in a remnant of the rainforest on the slopes of an extinct volcano overlooking rich dairy country. With an outdoor shower and full country breakfast, this is luxury accommodation with a remote feel. At the other end of the spectrum is the Lake Eacham Hotel at Yungaburra. Built from rainforest hardwood in the 1800s, this old pub offers cheap rooms with non-ironic '60s fittings.
Mt Quincan Crater Retreat, Hunt Road, Peeramon, (07) 4095 2255
Lake Eacham Hotel, 6 Kehoe Place, Yungaburra, (07) 4095 3515