Nowhere is Australia’s natural beauty more pronounced than in Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef and, boy, does it know how to put on a show.
By Lauren Arena
You don’t have to be a greenie to recognise the natural healing powers of a place like Tropical North Queensland – there’s soothing beaches, majestic wildlife and absolutely picture-perfect resorts where you can lie back and soak up the seemingly endless summer. Likewise, intrepid travellers can revel in the rainbow-coloured reefs, adrenaline-packed adventure parks, and lively nature reserves. So meeting planners can rest assured that delegates of all shapes and sizes will enjoy this sun-loving destination.
On a recent trek through the region, our group of PCOs was right in the thick of it. Our first stop was Cairns, where the centrally-located convention precinct, right in the heart of the city’s commercial hub, means everything is within walking distance.
At the Cairns Convention Centre the staff are as warm and welcoming as the sun that streams through the venue’s floor-to-ceiling windows. With 22 versatile meeting rooms and space for more than 5000 delegates, the centre truly lives up to its world-acclaimed reputation. Delegates were also treated to a table-top buffet lunch at the centre, gorging on fresh local produce like seared salmon, roasted tenderloin of Morganbury Farm beef and an incredibly lush risotto with Gallo silk, peas and mushroom – quality catering and a quality venue.
Nearby, the Pullman Cairns International has a sparkling new lobby area that arouses a sense of contemporary resort grandeur and 17 flexible meeting spaces, while the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino features newly refurbished conference facilities for up to 800 guests and an expansive pool terrace for events under the sun. A pedestrian walkway connects the two properties, which offer a combined total of 449 rooms.
At the very top of the casino hotel is the region’s newest attraction – Cairns ZooM Wildlife Dome. Here, we challenged our physical prowess on the ropes course where, suspended between the trees and roaming birds, we crossed the climbing wall, balanced across log bridges and swinging beer kegs, and wriggled our way through tunnels and cargo nets. It was hard yakka, especially with tropical birds ducking and diving around us – one feathered native even made a small nest inside a suspended cargo net, which unfortunately wasn’t the safest place to build a home with 10 nervous climbers eager to make their way through the obstacle course.
Overall it was exhilarating and challenging and a great team-building activity as everyone, even those with a fear of heights, gave it a go. However some delegates were braver than others. Those daring enough climbed to the top of the dome and scaled the outside of the building, while two especially brave PCOs jumped 13 metres in a free-fall power jump.
A short walk down the Esplanade will get you to the Pacific Cairns International, with seven classically-designed meeting rooms and the recently revamped Bushfire Flame Grill restaurant, where the Brazilian-inspired churrasco experience makes for a lively corporate dinner (there’s even a DIY caipirinha station).
In between a day spent snorkelling and scuba diving along the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef thanks to Sunlover Cruises and a trek through to Palm Cove and Port Douglas, we made a stop at Rainforestation Nature Park in Kuranda. In amongst the 100 acres of World Heritage rainforest and the surrounding wildlife park, we got up close and personal with some furry locals. We cuddled koalas, kissed dingos and waved hello – from a safe distance – to Jack the Ripper, a 50 year-old, 750kg crocodile who earned his reputation after killing 12 of his former girlfriends while mating.
After learning the technique of boomerang-throwing and getting to know some of the local Indigenous Pamagirri tribe, we headed into the rainforest, dredging through the wet undergrowth in an amphibious World War II army duck (or DUKW). Constructed by women throughout the war, the ducks were built to last only 10 years, but more than 70 years on the historical vehicles, all with six-wheel-drive, propeller and rudder, are still going strong and with very few adjustments.
We hauled our way through the dense vegetation and waded through the river while our guide pointed out the wonderful characteristics of the rainforest, all hidden in plain sight. The ducks are also used for team-building activities by night, like the M*A*S*H-themed jungle combat event where groups are fully equipped with army t-shirts and water guns to fend off the enemy.
Heading north, we splashed about at Peppers Beach Club and Spa Palm Cove, where sun-kissed, beach-front glamour is in abundance. We were treated to evening canapés by the resort’s new executive chef, Thomas Ege, whose creative flair in the kitchen (his signature dish of lemon myrtle marinated Grimaud duck breast with creamy orange risotto, vanilla foam and asparagus is a real treat) is the perfect match to the resort’s luxurious five-star style. The property has 140 recently refurbished suites and conference facilities for up to 100 delegates.
Further along the beach, we indulged in a sumptuous, poolside dinner at Pullman Palm Cove Sea Temple Resort and Spa. The outdoor space is elegant and intimate, and the ultimate location to treat small incentive or corporate groups.
Meanwhile, in picturesque Port Douglas we were given a first look at Sheraton Mirage Resort’s new outdoor event space, the affectionately named, Secret Garden. Under a canopy of stars and surrounded by beautifully illuminated tropical ferns and palms we enjoyed a private dinner and exhilarating fire dance performance. While the conference facilities are vast and overlook the stunning outdoor pool, the interior lobby and reception area look a little tired. Luckily, the 25-year-old hotel is set to undergo a $200 million refurbishment in coming years as the state prepares for a tourism boom.
As in Palm Cove, Port Douglas is home to Peppers Beach Club and Pullman Sea Temple as well as the ever-chic QT Resort, so there’s a great selection of accommodation and meeting options.