Story and photos by René Kraus, explorebigsky.com contributor

Traveling north from Cairns on Captain Cook Highway, you pass a series of beach communities. The last two towns before Port Douglas are Palm Cove and Ellis Beach. For the last part of our 10-day trip, we stayed in Palm Cove, and from there we explored the surrounding areas, including a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Palm Cove, named for the fringe of palm trees lining the u-shaped beach, is a quiet, relatively undeveloped resort town, by design. There are no chain restaurants, no GAP stores, no 7-Elevens. Legend has it, no building can be built taller than a palm tree.

A row of majestic Melaleuca trees line Williams Esplanade, the main street. Some of these rare and protected trees are hundreds of years old, and shops have built floors and ceilings specifically to accommodate them. Tree tea oil, a medicinal product, is derived from them, and is used to treat a variety of ailments including sore throats and skin rashes.

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Williams Esplanade has galleries, open-air restaurants, accommodations of all levels, and world-class spas. There are no buildings directly on the beach, which is reserved for water sports, swimming and incredible sunsets. Looking slightly north from the beach, just a few miles from the shore, is Double-head Island, a privately owned resort.

One of Palm Cove’s first resorts was the Reef House, originally built as a private residence and family retreat by a Cairns bookkeeper. A local swimming pool proprietor, heavily in debt to the owner, promised to build him the best swimming pool in Queensland. Today, guests of the famed Reef House enjoy this beautiful pool, complete with a waterfall and extensive gardens.

We rented a car and drove 45 mintutes to Port Douglas. From there we took a 90-minute cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef, where the ship docked at a large, stationary platform. We enjoyed a buffet with unlimited shrimp, salads, breads, cheeses and beverages, then sunned ourselves on the wide open decks.

My travel companion’s son took his first dive during our visit—the look on his face when he surfaced from the reef was priceless. We also took advantage of snorkeling and the glass-bottom viewing submarine. There were changing rooms and showers (cold water only!) on board, so we were able to freshen up before heading back.

On the way home, we stopped to explore Port Douglas, which is much larger than Palm Cove and has many more shops and restaurants. We stopped at a few open-air restaurants for drinks and to listen to live music while trying to decide where to have dinner.

While walking up and down the streets, we stopped to read several posted menus, but one in particular stood out. Following a crushed seashell path through a tropical garden, we came upon the incredible outdoor dining area of the Nautilus restaurant. Beautifully lit, this oasis looked like a movie set, it was so spectacular and unexpected. For over 50 years The Nautilus has served both locals and dignitaries. The house specialty was whole coral trout, a perch-like fish native to the barrier reefs—delicious.

Soon, it was time to leave Australia. We spent our last few days lounging at the pool, walking the esplanade, and taking in the beauty of Palm Cove. It had been a fabulous trip, and we vowed to return, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Rene’ Kraus is a communications consultant and freelance writer. Rene works with individuals and organizations to develop strategic and effective communications. An avid traveler, she writes to share the beauty of the world at large. Contact her at Renekraus100@gmail.com.