Far North Queensland Wanders & Eats
Well, this week was one of many firsts for me. Ever wanted to travel to beautiful locations, take photos, and check out the local food scene, for work?
Well the past week, I've been adventuring around North Queensland (Cairns>Townsville>Magnetic Island) with my twin sister, Lauren (@gypsea_lust), and her partner, Khy (@khyorchard) for Tourism Queensland and Tourism Townsville, to get a feel for living a gypsy life!
Yep, I was sent along to capture some of the eats that North Queensland has to offer, as well as the beauty and nature in the region.
The past 5 days I got to live the dream life! Like I said, many firsts: travel working, helicopter rides, bare back horse riding in the ocean, holding a koala, and cruising topless in a topless car.
So our adventure first took us to Cairn's where we picked up our hire car, briefly made a pitt stop into my Mum's place to take her and our pup Cooper (@cooper_the_cavoodle_) to breakfast at Lauren's favourite spot in Cairn's- Caffiend.
If you're ever in the Cairns region, check them out! their chai is delicious (Lozza's favourite chai spot) made on loose leaf tea, unfortunately soy is the only non-dairy milk option, but soy and chai do make a lovely team! I had the "green breaky" - the eggs + pumpkin + mushrooms (cooked in olive oil)… or I could have just asked for it vegan, but sometimes it tends to confuse the poor waitress, and they end up bringing me a plate of toast, avocado and kale and awkwardly say, "umm I have.. the vegan?" with a really weird puzzled face. - anyway, my breakfast was deeelish! You'll find them on Grafton Street in the heart of Cairns (down a really awesome graffiti filled alley way- which kind of makes you feel like your in Melbourne.
Then we hit the road for our first site, on the way to Townsville, the Tyto Wetlands. Located just out of Ingham.
Much to my excitement, along the road we found a roadside banana stall, where we stocked up on snacks for the trip (4 for $1, pretty good deal!). This was located just out of Innisfail, a region known for it's banana farming.
We pulled into a small town along the highway and picked up some lunch to-go (Veggie sticks and hummus). Then headed down the road to Wallaman Falls (Australia's largest single drop waterfall), soon after realising the trip out to the falls would leave us out there until sun down. (Yep, sometimes the days don't go to schedule), so we decided to turn back and continue on to Townsville to make it there by sunset.
For dinner we headed to the new complex in Townsville called The Courtyard in City Lane on Flinders Street, and had a veg mexican fiesta!
We checked in to the Rambutan Backpackers, but don't be fooled. This is a 5 star 'glam-packers'. It felt more like staying at a small boutique hotel. The whole styling was so fresh, modern, and classy.
Our first sunrise, we headed up to Castle Hill, an iconic landmark and popular hiking/walking track for locals, where you get stunning views of the whole city while the sun rises from the ocean. It's also a great view of Magnetic Island.
With breakfast on my mind, I did my research (as I always do when visiting new locations) and found the perfect place to refuel and nourish. This place is a foodie's dream! It's called The Beet Bar, in Flinders Street (main area in Townsville). They have a smoothie bowl list longer then you've ever seen, heaps of delicious smoothies, great coffee (with homemade milks), cold press juices (made fresh), raw treats, as well as options for lunch (salads and savouries) and lotsss of vegan options.
Then we were headed for Magnetic Island. A ferry can take you over with your car, and it only takes approximately 20 minutes, but we took the scenic route > by air! Nautilus Aviation took us on a breathtaking whirl around the island, so we could see all the secluded bays, and rocky coastline around Magnetic Island. Also my first time riding in a helicopter, so I was pretty excited.
Once on land, we explored the island by stretch jeep (of course!) with Tropicana Adventures. For the next few hours, we were shown all the quiet beautiful bays and beaches of Magnetic Island that are accessible with 4WD only (yep very bumpy roads), and even met lots of wild koalas, hanging down low in the trees. There is no great predators for the Koalas on Magnetic Island, so they are in abundance, and very happy too!
For lunch the next two days we found ourselves at Cafe Nourish in Horseshoe Bay. The first day I had the falafel wrap, and second day the grilled veg panini and they were more then happy to change the menu items to suit me! (yep, I'm a pain in the butt when eating out, I always have to take something away but add something else). They also do fresh juices, smoothies and coffee (or should I say, iced coffees).
The rest of the day we spend exploring more of the coastline of Magnetic Island with Tropicana Tours. We ended the day with a beautiful sunset at Picnic Bay Jetty, and tucked ourselves into our gorgeous beach bungalows, listening to the waves crash metres from us. (Base Backpackers Magnetic Island).
We rose before the sun and headed out to do the Forts Walk for sunrise. It was the perfect place to see it, climbing up high on the rocks to look over the surrounding bays. A little sprinkle of rain turned us back to the car (yep only 40 days of rain and we got to see a little, but it only lasted around 10 minutes).
We headed back into Horseshoe Bay for an early breakfast at (ironically) The Early Bird Cafe and Teahouse. This place was amazing!! They have the most extensive tea list I've ever seen. We asked for the Masala Chai Tea made on steamed soy milk, so yum! I love my chai made on fresh spices- so much more authentic. The three of us all ordered the avocado on a piece of sourdough (only $7) which they then give you a list of things you can add on. Obviously I added mushrooms because they're the bomb! And the serving of avo was generous - praise the lord! That is my kinda place!
Bellies full, we headed off for another day of exploring...
There is also a large colony of rock Wallabies on Magnetic Island, they are so friendly, and eat from your hands. We were lucky enough to feed one with her baby coming out of her pouch to say hello. It was really quiet magical to watch.
We visited the Koala Sanctuary at Bungalow Bay for some cuddles with the koalas. [This is a backpackers village near Horseshoe Bay with a small wildlife park on site.] Holding a koala was a first for me, so I was quiet the excited lil bean. They are so cute, sleepy and soft! (don't let them claws scare you).
Then, of course, lunch at Cafe Nourish again, and more beach lazing. Some of the central beaches are netted (Stinger season on the island) so we went for a quick dip to cool off and hung under the shady palms.
The heat of the day brought us back to the beach, where we tried to cool off with some gelato.. Which taught us 2 things:
- Gelato melts very quickly in the Tropical North Queensland Summer Heat.
- Trying to get your gelato from the shop, 100m up the beach to get a photo is almost impossible. almost...
Along the beach we met up with the team from Horseshoe Bay Ranch, where Lauren and I got to ride bareback on the horses in the ocean. Yep, in bikinis, swimming with the horses. WOW. This is the only spot on the east coast of Australia that does this. And I have to say, it was one of the most exciting things I'd ever done (although, an unexperienced rider, I was quiet scared at times).
When we landed on Magnetic Island we were intrigued, every where you went, there were these tiny topless colourful cars, I wanted to ride in one so badly! And so we made it happen. So as the afternoon sun rolled over, we visited Tropical Topless Car Rentals and took a topless barbie car for a spin around the island 🦄 (you can hire these for your entire time on the island).
This is seriously the most fun and awesome way to get around the island. I felt like I had been shot back in time. I also brought my pineapple I bought on the island along for the ride. And we did what all crazy young tourists would do, got topless.
We watched the sunset from our Backpackers on the sea while having a drink and some dinner. (I had a really nice quinoa, pumpkin and beetroot salad). Then I crashed, I was pretty knackered from all this adventuring, while Lauren and Khy went star gazing on the island.
A good nights rest was needed for tomorrows underwater wanderings.
We spent the whole next day out on the Great Barrier Reef with Adrenalin Dive . It took about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get out to the reef. I always love sitting on the top deck, taking in the wind, sun and views. (hat and sunscreen on of course) The reef we went to is called Lodestone Reef.
This is probably my 5th time out on the GBR and I just never get over it. I love taking in a deep breath of air and diving down to the coral, floating along the reef your mind gets lost in all the underwater beauty. I can see why divers get so addicted. and I had the best two guiding me around (Lauren and Khy are both divers, and lived in Cairns for a year, so they spent almost every weekend in this underwater world).
- I played mermaid for the day. -
The company also goes out to Yongala Shipwreck on other days, and I'm putting that on my wish trip list for next time.
That was the end of our magical time on Magnetic Island, we were headed back for our last night in Townsville…
Our final night we spent back at Rambutan Backpackers and went out for our last dinner- this time we found a Japanese Restaurant called GYO near the Strand in Townsville, and treated ourselves to a big veggie spread. Only thing missing from the menu was vegetable gyoza's (one of my fav's!) Then went back to the Rambutan for a late night dip in the pool and espresso martini, which, admittedly, I couldn't drink because it was extremely sweet :(
On our final day venturing around Far North Queensland we hit the road for the final road-trip- back to Cairns. But first, we had a few more places to visit.
First up, was a stop in at Otto's Fresh Food Market to grab the necessities for a picnic brunch. Otto's is conceptually really awesome! It has a bit of everything, literally! There is heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables, local fine foods, even a health food aisle. Then theres the deli-style eatery- where you can buy fresh baked goods, doughnuts, fruit salads, salad, their famous 'bretzel subs', plus fresh juices, smoothies, and coffee's. I even spotted some vegan treats.
I had a delicious green smoothie made on almond milk, and a fruit salad, with a chai brewed on tea leaves to go- I also packed some extra fruit for our next adventure.
Our next stop was to Little Crystal Creek, near Paluma. There is cascades of waterfalls, an old stoney bridge, and plenty of cool fresh water pools to dunk in. This is the kinda place you want to spend the whole day at with the tropical heat. We all took turns jumping off the waterfall (I took some time to work up the courage) and climbed up to the top falls.
Our last little stop in was quiet the treat- Frosty Mangoes, a well known tourist stop in for travellers commuting between Cairns and Townsville. Famous for their tropical fruits they grow and home made ice creams (mostly from their fruits). They had a selection of so many different fruit flavoured sorbet's. Rockmelon, Mango, Strawberry, Dragonfruit, Lychee, Papaya, Black Sapote, and Guava... to name a few. I tried the 'Diabetic Mango' flavour- just mangoes, water and a touch of stevia (which by the way is a natural plant/herb that tastes extremely sweet (300 times that of sugar)- with zero energy (calories), I'm just not quite sure I'm convinced on it yet though- something about the aftertaste).
Anyway, back on topic: the sorbet's were delicious. Lauren tried the blackberry + lime and basil (left). They even offered to take us on a tour of the farm, but time was slipping away from us and we needed to reach Cairns by sunset.
And by sunrise the next day we were jet setting back home. What an adventure! North Queensland you exceeded all of my expectations! Beaches, Islands, Reefs, Waterfalls, Tropical Fruits, Wildlife, and Wholesome Eats, all in 5 days, and all within my country, Australia. How lucky can I be...