Paul Rush enters a state of bliss as Silky Oaks Lodge weaves its dreamtime magic.
I'm walking in the solitude and serenity of the in Tropical North Queensland - the oldest living rainforest on Earth. Clutching a field guide and compass, I slowly penetrate this alien environment as I cross several rocky streams on my way to the Fig Free Rapids.
I might well be stepping into a scene from Jurassic Park but I can't escape a sense of nervous anticipation and unease. Fortunately this passes when I plunge into the pristine natural rock pools on the scenic Mossman River. After the refreshing dip I retrace my steps to the magical forest fastness of Silky Oaks Lodge.
While in an exploratory mood, I jump into a kayak and paddle on the Mossman River below the lodge, which is silky smooth at this point. The cool freshwater pools are crystal clear and I spend an enjoyable hour tracking fish that dart along the riverbank margins under a canopy of beautiful sunlit rainforest.
A vigorous hike and an energetic paddle demands rest and rejuvenation. The blissful Healing Waters Spa at Silky Oaks offers much more.
The spa uses rainforest flower and plant essences in their massage therapies to replenish and nurture tired bodies.
If Silky Oaks is going to weave its magic on me, I need to experience all the gentle cocooning available, so I enter into the restful ambiance of the treehouse spa sanctuary and sit down with a cup of iced tea made from lemon myrtle, wild rosella and lime. With soothing reassurance I'm eased gently into this unfamiliar environment.
The youthful therapist is soon introducing my feet to the joy of deep-tissue massage. This exploration of sole delights combines warmed aromatherapy oils, hot lime cleansing, Thai foot ritual and a nourishing footbath. The rest of my body is gagging for attention and my back and neck massage, using lime and ginger salt glow, comes just in time.
Feeling rejuvenated I float on air back to my beautifully appointed treehouse, carried along by the afterglow of my 'total wellness experience' - a voyage of self-discovery that leaves me weightless and almost ageless, but the mirror in the room refuses to reveal a younger-looking me.
Silky Oaks Lodge is blessed with an exquisite open-air treetops restaurant with blissful, enriching qualities of its own, as well as exceptional cuisine. The dining area looks out into the rainforest canopy and down to the Mossman River, which tumbles over boulders in a symphony of rushing water.
The restaurant features an ever-changing four-course menu based on fresh local produce; barramundi, red emperor, yellowfin tuna and tropical fruits such as lychees, mangoes, rambutans and pineapple. I enjoy a generous seafood platter, which combines shellfish and prawns with a selection of fresh fruits.
The cuisine is the highlight of a stay at Silky Oaks as the chef is very inventive. I particularly enjoy the homemade soups and the fresh seafood, especially the barramundi and barracuda. The Daintree yoghurt is a lovely treat as is the caramel parfait dessert.
A short distance upstream of the lodge is the long narrow oasis of Bird Island, home to colourful avian species and the striking, electric blue Ulysses butterfly. This glorious creature flits and flutters about in an unrelenting search for a mate before its all-too-short life is extinguished. My first sight of the iridescent blue wing is both breathtaking and mesmerising.
Bicycles are available for guests to ride into Mossman 20 minutes away. A complimentary shuttle bus runs to Port Douglas where guests can enjoy shopping, cafes, golf, reef cruises, indigenous culture experiences, a wildlife sanctuary and a splendid swimming beach.
The more adventurous can try tandem skydiving, horse trekking, hang gliding or hot air ballooning. However, the palm-tree lined lagoon pools beside the lodge are so enticing that it's tempting to lounge all day and forgo the adventures.
I take one of the many guided interpretative tours available at Silky Oaks. The Cooper Creek Wilderness tour visits a section of the ancient Daintree Rainforest that sustains an extraordinary biodiversity and has been described as the Valley of the Rainforest Dinosaurs. I stand in awe under the spectacular fan palm gallery and savour the solitude and tranquillity of this wondrous natural environment.
Silky Oaks has the best of both worlds, being close to the Coral Sea coast and yet hidden from the world within tropical gardens and lush rainforest. No matter whether you stay in the river houses or treehouses, you will be lost in the solitude and serenity.
The guided rainforest walk is a highlight for many visitors, and my guide has a few surprises in store for me on this day. He introduces me to exotic species like the cheeky pademelon wallabies, croaky frogs, squawking cockatoos, cooing pigeons, edible green ants and the not-nice-to-know female golden orb spider that eats its mate.
In the spirit of the rainforest I seek out more peace and tranquillity in the cold light of dawn in the yoga pavilion. For our teacher, yoga is a guiding philosophy and a way of life. She explains that yoga is non-competitive but westerners tend to approach it in an aggressive way. The secret is to work gently with your body until you become more aware of how you stand, sit, talk and think. The effect can be to unify your body, mind and soul.
After two nights in the serenity of Silky Oaks I can readily relate to this principle. However, I'm soon out of my comfort zone in executing the delicate balancing manoeuvres and although I can do press-ups, holding the prone position for two minutes supported on fingers and toes is a big physical challenge.
I conclude the session with the requisite acute awareness of my body. Every muscle has been used in this complete workout and some are still in revolt. The mind and soul need more work so for a moment I'm convinced that I need to revisit the spa for more five-star body pampering, but there's a plane to catch.
I leave Silky Oaks Lodge with a singular reluctance as it's the perfect antidote to modern fast-paced living and an ideal escape to a state of bliss. As one guest couple commented: "What an amazingly soulful place of peace, love, light and healing. We've had the best holiday ever, can we stay here permanently?"
1. Daintree Discovery Centre: From the top of the 23 metre high Canopy Tower the spectacular Aerial Walkway provides unprecedented access to the mid level rainforest. You may see a Cassowary with a clutch of chicks wandering along the creek below.
2. Mossman Gorge Centre: Don't miss the award-winning Ngadiku Dreamtime Walks, The walks are conducted by the traditional owners of the Gorge, the Kuku Yalanji people. Be taken on a journey steeped in heritage as you uncover their ancient culture and traditions.
3. Daintree River cruises: Cruise the famous Daintree River, a link between two world heritage areas, the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. There is a choice of tours where you will learn about the mangrove ecosystem and surrounding wildlife.
4. Waterfalls: Head to the Atherton Tablelands where the waterfall circuit starts near Millaa Millaa off Palmerston Highway and includes Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls. Watch out for platypuses and elusive tree kangaroos or try to spot one of the 327 bird species of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.
5. Atherton Tablelands: Known as the "food bowl of the tropics", visit Australia's oldest coffee plantation, Skybury, or head further out to Millaa Millaa to sample some of the best cheeses and yoghurt the region has to offer.
6. Jungle Surfing canopy Tours: Set in the pristine Daintree Rainforest at Cape Tribulation, experience a unique rainforest tour where your feet don't touch the ground. Seated comfortably in full body harnesses, Jungle Surfers fly through the trees on flying fox ziplines, stopping to take in spectacular bird's eye views over the treetops and out to the Great Barrier Reef.
7. Port Douglas Carnivale: 2014 is the 20th Anniversary of this magical 10 day festival hosted by the far north villages of Port Douglas, Mossman and the Daintree. Carnivale 2014 launches on 16th May and includes music, arts, sports, games, food, culture and all styles of family entertainment.
8. Shopping: From the sprawling seaside Port Douglas markets every Sunday morning to specialty Port Douglas shopping boutiques, leisure retail stores art galleries, shopping in Port Douglas is hard to resist!
9. Beaches: Don't miss Port Douglas' 4-Mile Beach... From the centre of Port Douglas you can walk to the beach in under 5 minutes then the 4 miles of beach unfold in a gentle curve that continues as far as the eye can see.
10. Savannahlander: The Savannahlander is an outback train journey which begins in Cairns and rattles its way from the coast, up the scenic Kuranda Range (the Kuranda scenic railway) including stops at Barron Falls and Stoney Creek, through World Heritage listed rainforests to Kuranda and on through the Atherton Tablelands into the Gulf Savannah region - to "outback" Queensland.
IF YOU GO
Getting there: Direct flights from Auckland to Cairns, or services connecting via Brisbane. Daintree is approximately 1h 50 drive from Cairns.
Accommodation: Silky Oaks Lodge has 50 luxury treehouse villas set into the rainforest on the banks of the Mossman River in Tropical North Queensland. A full buffet breakfast and many lodge activities in the rainforest and on the river are included. A courtesy coach runs to Mossman and Port Douglas and excursions to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Forest can be arranged.
Further information: See escapewinter.co.nz.