A recent escape to Australia's tropical north Queensland offered the perfect break from winter woes. Sun-filled days were spent swimming, walking and reading and topped up with tempting creations from local restaurants.
Port Douglas is famous for its smorgasbord of cafés and restaurants — the choice is almost intimidating. So we congratulated ourselves for choosing Bel Cibo, a stylish but comfortable restaurant overlooking busy Macrossan Street, the perfect place for people-watching. We discovered it's proudly owned by Kiwi chef, Andy Gray (see image left).Andy trained in Wellington at the former Park Royal Hotel (now the Intercontinental) and enjoyed spells at Cobar in Eastbourne, Icon at Te Papa and Pravda in Wellington central. After a Kiwi OE he joined Sydney chef Matt Moran's famous Aria restaurant and won many accolades. He was enticed to Port Douglas 10 years ago to 2 Fish before opening his own eatery Bel Cibo two years ago. Bel Cibo offers a modern Italian menu, fresh local seafood is a speciality and our innovatively-plated food was delicious.
Another special treat is a night at Flames of the Forest. Guests are driven to a secret location 10 minutes west of Port Douglas, to walk along a candlelit forest pathway leading to their dining tables. There's not an electric light in sight - just candles, shimmering and reflecting in the nearby stream, and hanging like chandeliers over the tables. The food is modern Australian (including kangaroo bruschetta and salt and pepper crocodile) with good use of tropical produce such as black sapotes. Dining in this rainforest is a mystical experience.
Trinity Beach — a 20-minute drive north of Cairns and 40 minutes south of Port Douglas — was our home while in North Queensland. It's a popular Kiwi haunt but not over commercialised. The beachside apartments are just a little taller than the palm trees and the promenade is dotted with small cafés offering a pot-pourri of cuisines.
Two of the most popular with locals from Cairns as well as tourists are L'Unico Trattoria and the Blue Moon Grill. L'Unico — overlooking the beach — offers an excellent range of pizzas, pastas and other Italian dishes. The Blue Moon provides a mix of modern Australian and Asian delights. The barramundi spring rolls and duck curry are not to be missed.