I am not alone as I step on to the silky white sands of Palm Cove beach.
A pod of dolphins is having a wonderful time right in front of me.
They dive, twist and turn through the blue waters, putting on a show for early morning walkers, joggers and cyclists who are parading along the palm-fringed bay.
Even though it may be a common sight for locals, visitors are treated to a great show in this beautiful part of far north Queensland.
“We are used to this magnificent sight,” says a Palm Cove resident, as she passes by on her daily walk.
“Welcome to paradise.”
And she’s right.
With the dolphins, the stunning beach, white sands, blue waters and that feeling of warm sun on your back, it is no wonder Palm Cove is a popular haunt for holidaymakers.
This one-time fishing village, about 25 minutes’ drive north of Cairns, has come a long way since World War II, when US forces used Haycock Island, a vertical outcrop off the coast of Palm Cove, for target practice.
Hugging the coast and lapped by the Coral Sea, it is a haven for many escaping the winter chills and offers a wide variety of apartment and resort-style accommodation, relaxed beachfront dining, art galleries, a championship golf course plus easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and nearby rainforests.
The village, named after the palm trees, is lined with restaurants, cafes and resorts as well as some great boutique shopping.
Netted surf enclosures offer safe all year round swimming and the temperatures, even in the middle of winter, are perfect with sunny days and slightly cooler mornings and evenings.
It is a perfect place to chill out and a great base to explore all that the area offers.
Taking centre stage is the Great Barrier Reef with its 1500 species of fish, 4000 species of molluscs and 400 types of coral that co-exist in a diverse ecosystem.
You can snorkel, dive and even stay the night out on the reef.
Cairns and Port Douglas are the closest departure points for a reef excursion but there are daily pick-ups from Palm Cove.
Fitzroy Island, a tropical paradise of rainforest and coral beaches within the calm sheltered waters of the reef, is also a popular day trip and perfect for snorkelling, diving or exploring the island rainforest.
Kayaking, glass-bottom boat tours and a visit to the new turtle rehabilitation centre are recommended.
If you love exploring without the crowds, Michaelmas Cay, a world-renowned bird sanctuary and exclusive Paradise Reef on the outer Great Barrier Reef are good options.
A visit to the world-heritage listed rainforest is also another must-do with many operators offering day and overnight tours into the pristine environment and visits to historical mining towns.
More than 79 per cent of land in tropical north Queensland is protected including areas in the Daintree and Cape Tribulation rainforests of the north, the tropical Atherton tablelands to the west and Mission Beach to the south.
Don’t miss the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway experience at Smithfield, just 15 minutes’ drive north of Cairns, which spans 7.5 kilometres over the pristine tropical rainforests.
It’s a great experience gliding over the rainforest canopy in a gondola before descending through the canopy layers and deep into the heart of the forest at Skyrail’s two rainforest mid-stations. There is also the option of returning via the Kuranda Scenic railway.
There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy wildlife encounters — you can have breakfast with tropical birds, lunch with lorikeets, zip line over the top of a live giant crocodile, have dinner among some of Australia’s most iconic wildlife creatures, cuddle a koala, feed a kangaroo and pat a python.
A drive to Port Douglas along the picturesque coastal road recognised among the best drives in the country showcases the scenery.
It twists and turns passing through a variety of landscapes with the rainforest on one side and the beach the other.
Port Douglas is well worth a visit and is known for its food, wine, arts and culture as well as world-class golf course.
Schedule a swim at beautiful Four Mile Beach and wander down the main street for boutique shopping with a tropical twist. Nearby is Mossman Gorge, a spectacular freshwater swimming hole where you can experience local indigenous culture and explore the Daintree Rainforest.
Restaurants are many and varied with delicious interpretations of local produce and tastes from around the world.
Back at Palm Cove take a wander down to the jetty, which is one of the region’s most popular fishing spots.
Peppers Beach Club & Spa Palm Cove is a great base in the area catering for those who want to explore the region or simply stop and flop. Its day spa, voted among the top 10 spas of the world, offers indulgent treatments and pampering.
Comfortable suites have views to the ocean, pools, gardens or mountain ranges beyond while the resort is set in lush tropical gardens with a lagoon pool and beach.
Feast on the eclectic cuisine of the tropics at Lime and Pepper, where the food has been hailed as innovative, tasty and visually impressive. Head chef Thomas Ege has worked in the Cayman Islands and at restaurants throughout Europe and is now wowing tastebuds with his new menu.
If you are a foodie, you won’t be disappointed with more than a dozen restaurants and cafes, many specialising in local seafood and tropical produce. Other great dining experiences include Reef House Restaurant, Far Horizons Restaurant and The Pantry@the Cove.
As for the most memorable moment, it’s watching those dolphins from Palm Cove’s famous stretch of sand, which is deserving of its many accolades as the best small stretch of beach in Australia.
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