From quiet beaches to delightful libraries and everything in between, we’ve got a bunch of unusual experiences to make the most of eastern Australia
WORDS: URVASHI PANT
PHOTOGRAPHS: VAIBHAV MEHTA
1. SUNBATHE WITH SNAILS
What would you do if you found yourself on a beach named Nudey, with nary a soul in sight, crystal-clear waters glinting in the morning sun and powder-soft white sand between your toes? We suggest you stretch yourself out on a boulder, lie alongside a rout of snails and get a nice tan. What did you have in mind? Fitzroy Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns, not only offers a catalogue-worthy beach, but also other activities that will keep you happily engaged. Here, you have the chance to snorkel and get acquainted with the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef, or work those muscles with some kayaking and trampoline jumping – right into the ocean. It’s stinger season from October to May (marine stingers like jellyfish), so, if you enter the waters, do so with full body stinger suits.
Not everything fun has to do with being in the water, though. There are walking trails in varied difficulty levels – some of them will require you to apply sunscreen and mosquito repellant generously and be well hydrated; consult the hotel staff before setting off.
Of the 339 hectares that the island is spread over, 324 hectares is protected as Fitzroy Island National Park, so you will come across diverse wildlife, like sulphur-crested cockatoos and the major’s skink, Egernia frerei, a reptilian species. We took the relatively easy and very enjoyable trail that leads to Nudey Beach. The stretch, made up mostly of stone steps and boulders, is through a rainforest. Keep your eye on the path for you may startle – and, in turn, be startled by – skinks that dart across your path or emerge suddenly from the crevices in the boulders.
If you weren’t lucky enough to see turtles in the reef, you have another chance at the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which works with sick and injured turtles. We were introduced by Jen Moloney, resident marine biologist, to juveniles Rinney and Woodson, who seemed to bask in the attention as they swam lazily in their display tank. Moloney’s accounts of the turtles are hilarious, and you start to notice their distinct personalities – Woodson, for instance, is a bit of a maverick, while Rinney is more set in his ways. The session with Moloney is informative and kids will love the experience. There is only one resort on the island, Fitzroy Island Resort, which offers a range of accommodation, but there is nothing much to do here at night, so we suggest you plan a day trip.
2. GET A TASTE OF EUROPEAN LUXURY IN MONTVILLE
The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly Estate in Montville is a well-loved and much-awarded restaurant. Our drive here, even though it’s just 7.30pm, is made in pitch darkness. It’s a quiet evening at the restaurant, and we quickly settle in at the lounge area near the bar. The big, comfortable sofas, wooden furniture and coffee table books lend a British gymkhana club feel to it. The main dining area is minimalistic but elegant, with black-and-white paintings adorning the walls.
There are two ways to approach the menu at The Long Apron – create your own dining experience with a five-course meal, or have the chef to put together a tasting menu for you. Both come with an option of wine matching at additional cost. The ingredients for the dishes are sourced from local producers, which means that the food is as fresh as it can get. Every course is a delight, but the carrot gnocchi, carrot miso, orange, chive and wild rice crumble stands out among the vegetarian dishes for its vibrant colours and layers of delicate flavour. Dining at The Long Apron is an immersive experience – allow yourself to be pampered by the excellent team of servers.
3. SOAK IN THE ATMOSPHERE AT QUEEN STREET, BRISBANE
A small crowd is gathered at a corner of the Queen Street Mall precinct. On closer inspection, we spot a band of six setting up the equipment for a performance. Soon enough, music fills the air, attracting even bigger crowds. Some of the younger people, in their school uniform, whip out smartphones and start recording their performance – for their social media feed most likely. The Queen Street Mall, in the heart of Brisbane City is buzzing, and there are still a couple of hours for the sun to set. The precinct, with a mix of local, street and luxury brands, is retail heaven for shopaholics.
Queen Street also offers rich dining options for all budgets. If you want to enjoy a good meal with stunning views of the city, head to OTTO, which does reimagined Italian cuisine, and serves a pretty good Bellini.