Thala Beach Reserve – Heaven For Nature Lovers
by Bonita Grima
On a private headland between Cairns and Port Douglas, a small collection of deluxe stilted bungalows sit amongst the treetops, protected by native forest, as far as the eye can see.
Stepping out onto the elevated timber decking of my ‘Coral Sea’ bungalow, the name does not disappoint, for spread out before me, the stunning coastline feels exclusive. Of course, there are other guests enjoying the very same view, but we are camouflaged well within our leafy hideaways.
For the discerning nature-lover, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is one of Australia’s leading eco resorts, achieving the highest level of accreditation from Ecotourism Australia. When owners, Rob and Oonagh Prettejohn, bought the ex-sugarcane property back in the seventies, just 45 of 145 acres remained as forest. But thanks to their rehabilitation efforts over the years, both land and wildlife numbers have returned to health. Around 200 bird species, 120 butterfly species, and various native animals inhabit Thala’s grounds. For guests like me, wanting to immerse themselves further in nature, there’s a range of authentic and informative experiences to choose whether it’s wildlife spotting with local rangers, cultural talks and activities with Kuku Yalanji elders, stargazing at the onsite observatory or taking a tour through the reserve’s own coconut plantation.
I join Thala’s Coconut Odyssey tour with guide, Naprari Tunsted, in the grove that’s been drawing a healthy Instagram crowd for its ‘cathedral’ of coconut trees. Demonstrating how to husk the fibrous fruit, Napari, who is of Torres Strait Islander descent, imparts the interesting health benefits of the ‘tree of life’ and shares fond childhood memories of his mother’s use of coconut during cooking. It gives me an appetite for more.
Osprey is Thala’s open-air rainforest canopy restaurant and serves a menu focused on local and seasonal ingredients. I choose prawns with coconut from the plantation and black rice and avocado, served with taro chips, green onion and a lime and coconut dressing. It’s also a pretty special spot to enjoy a sundowner. With a bird’s eye view to mountains and the sparkling Coral Sea, I’m reminded of my position here, between two world heritage sites – Great Barrier Reef and Daintree rainforest..
After a swim in one of the freeform pools, I explore the many trails winding throughout the property and I’m delighted when I spot some of the little birds from the list displayed in the lobby – honeyeaters, metallic starlings and willy wagtails. Reaching a rest area named ‘Dugong Lookout’, I sit listening to waves rolling in amid all the birdsong. Eyes closed, I find a sense of peace, and realise it’s this feeling that draws people here, from all corners of the globe.
From the owner’s own artwork inspired by nature, to the drinking fountains and brushes ‘for sandy toes’ that I discover on the path up from the private beach, it’s the little signs of care at Thala that make it deserving of its emblem, the White-bellied Sea-Eagle a symbol of fidelity in untamed coastlines. ■
Bonita Grima was a guest of Thala Beach NatureReserve. Visit thalabeach.com.au