Smooth as silk in the other outback

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 September, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 September, 1993, 12:00am

THE magnificent Daintree rainforest even made British naturalist David Attenborough gasp when he saw it.

He was filming part of a nature series there and fell in love with the area, saying it was one of the grandest tropical rainforests he had seen.

Undisturbed for millions of years, Daintree has a unique forest habitat.

Here, left to her own devices, nature has achieved and maintained a superb balance.

The Daintree is a relatively narrow coastal band of jungle-thick vegetation capped by a leafy emerald canopy that is home to all kinds of birds and animals.

It was recently denoted a World National Park.

So varied is its flora and fauna that many of the plants, and some of the animals and insects, have never been named or catalogued.

The Daintree and its rivers are home to tree-kangaroos, innumerable species of birds and insects, snakes, crocodiles, and rare cassowaries - large, flightless, emu-like birds found only in parts of North Queensland and New Guinea rainforests.

Set in this wonderland and perched right on the bank of the crystal-clear Mossman River, is Silky Oaks, arguably the finest nature lodge in Australia.

To get there from Cairns airport is a scenic drive that will take you through many of Northern Queensland's attractions.

Heading north along the coastal road one passes luxury resorts lined with palm trees, beaches, and vast expanses of lush, green sugar cane plantation.

The road veers inland, leaving the touristy coastal strip, and passes through the quiet sugar town of Mossman, as yet untouched by the development boom.

Continuing towards mountains that rise into mist, the traveller eventually passes the last of the sugar fields.

Cross a bridge and you are at the edge of the Daintree rainforest.

Ahead of you, in a clearing among the trees, is Silky Oaks.

It is a self-contained resort full of pleasant surprises.

A highlight which visitors never forget is the open-sided, tree-level restaurant, where both the food and the view are outstanding.

Across from the leafy verandah, century-old trees reach for the sky.

Below them, the Mossman River, teeming with native jungle perch and turtles, flows gently by.

The main building is the heart of Silky Oaks.

It not only houses the restaurant, bar, barbecue and function area, but also a library, the office and reception.

Facing the entrance is a beautiful two-tiered and landscaped swimming pool where gurgling water tumbles over natural rocks.

Alongside is a grassy area where wallabies make their home.

Nestled among native trees and shrubs nearby is a group of 35 chalets on stilts, accommodation for guests.

Moss and Theresa Hunt, owners and managers of the resort, are no strangers to genuine hospitality.

Moss is the epitome of the ''dinkum'' Australian. He has been in the hospitality industry all his working life, and long dreamed of owning his own resort.

The nature-loving Hunts were enthralled with the Daintree, so conceived the idea of a luxurious but low-key nature lodge with modern facilities. Silky Oaks was born.

They realised the importance of good cuisine, and have made dining at Silky Oaks a memorable experience.

Their chef bases his meals on fresh local produce.

Appetisers include paupiette of Tasmanian smoked salmon filled with crabmeat and avocado, accompanied by a salmon caviar sauce; or tropical salad with tiger prawns and paw-paw seed dressing.

Many main courses feature catches from Queensland waters.

Coral trout, caught by handline, is served pan-fried with crab meat and mango sauce.

The famous freshwater barramundi from Cape York Peninsula is char-grilled to perfection and the broiled crayfish from the coral caverns of the Barrier Reef is equally as irresistible.

The nature lodges, on stilts, are built with local timber.

They have polished wooden floors and wood-lined walls and ceilings that add rustic ambience.

Louvred windows invite gentle breezes, the sounds and aromas of the forest, yet keep out insects and mosquitoes.

Here, you can relax on your verandah, looking across the canopy of magnificent trees and watching the forest and the bird life while listening to the rustle of leaves and the soft splash of the river below.

There are no telephones or televisions in the chalets.

''That is not what our guests come here for,'' says Moss. What they have come for is nature.

''We have just completed 14 kilometres of categorised nature trails, and a mountain hiking trail.'' Eco-tourism is well catered for.

Silky Oaks is also the base for Australian Wilderness Safaris, an award-winning firm that runs daily guided trips in four-wheel-drive vehicles to explore the wonders of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation.

The trips, from one to four days, include the options of exploring the wilderness areas of Cooktown, Laura, Roaring Meg and Cape Tribulation.

There are speciality safaris for watching and photographing kangaroos, visiting outback stations and aboriginal missions. Another takes you to the rich soils of the Atherton Tablelands.

How to get there Qantas flies to Brisbane every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, and domestic carrier Ansett continues the journey to Cairns. Cost: $10,400.