WORDS & IMAGES: RACHEL BALE
Eco retreat: Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Destination: Oak Beach, Tropical North Queensland
One of Australia’s top eco retreats, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is brimming with Australian wildlife. Our writer, Rachel Bale, experienced this luxurious Tropical North Queensland paradise first-hand:
Spanning 145 acres and sitting atop a private headland, Thala Beach Nature Reserve is an eco retreat located in Oak Beach, only 15 minutes south of popular Port Douglas and the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Its remote location means that it supports a constantly changing kaleidoscope of natural wonders, giving guests an opportunity to experience the native Australian wildlife first-hand. In addition, the lodge has achieved the highest possible ecotourism accreditation and is dedicated to protecting the pristine ecosystem in which it’s situated while giving guests meaningful and informative experiences.
What most attracted me to Thala Beach Nature Reserve wasn’t only its expansive, pristine location, but also the story behind its development. In the early 1970s when owners, Rob and Oonagh Prettejohn, purchased the property, only a third of the headland remained forested, the rest having been cleared for a sugarcane plantation. Committed to restoring the environment back to its natural state, thousands of indigenous trees were planted to begin the rehabilitation process. The eco-retreat that now exists on the site was carefully constructed out of natural, sustainable materials in a low impact style that blends naturally in with the landscape.
Pristine nature at its best…
The most special thing about Thala Beach Nature Reserve is, of course, it’s pristine natural setting. The headland is rich in biodiversity with six different natural habitats concentrated into this area. Ancient littoral rainforest, casuarinas and mangroves hug the coastline, while dry eucalypt woodland, gallery forest and coconuts occupy the higher ground and inland creeks. Each habitat attracts its own unique wildlife species, including wallabies (there’s even one that visits reception most days named ‘Apple’), lace monitor lizards, ospreys, sugar gliders, flying foxes, over 120 butterfly species and over 200 species of birds! What a playground!
All of Thala Beach Nature Reserve’s 83 bungalows are built high on stilts and nestled within the forest. My Coral Sea Bungalow was perched in the upper canopy of the ridge and offered spectacular views over the treetops and out to the Coral Sea. The main room featured a large bed and lounge area that looked out to a sea of green below — the treetops below that stretched all the way to the ocean. There’s no Wi-Fi in the rooms, but honestly in a place as beautiful as this, the last thing I felt like doing was being glued to a screen. You can get a signal at the main reception and restaurant area, only a short walk away.
If sleeping in the treetops wasn’t enough, here guests dine in the treetops as well! The open-air Osprey Restaurant is located at the top of the sweeping staircase that leads from reception. On clear days, the panoramic vista affords spectacular views all the way from Double Island to Cape Tribulation, said to be some of the best views in far north Queensland! I woke up to a breakfast of fresh eggs, tropical fruit, pastries and homemade granola in the company of rainbow lorikeets darting around in the treetops only metres away.
What I truly loved about my stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve was that it offered so much more than your run-of-the-mill hotel experience. The owners, Rob and Oonagh are so passionate about the environment that they want all of their guests to experience the best of it and therefore offer a host of complimentary experiences. From bird and butterfly walks, stargazing tours to coconut odysseys, there is plenty to keep guests busy!
Eager to learn as much as possible about this beautiful environment I was staying in, I booked into one of the complimentary guided nature walks with resident botanist, Brett. Lasting for 90 minutes, I was guided through the surrounding forest, learning about the native flora and fauna and spotting all manner of interesting critters from a huge golden orb spider, an Australian tarantula to a tiny coin-sized green tree frog.
I also attended a presentation by the indigenous elders of a local aboriginal community, the Kuku Yalangi people, where I learnt about bush tucker, the Didgeridoo as well as how the rainforest is a vital source of life for the community. Connecting with the elders was such a special, unique experience and it was so wonderful to see such a strong partnership between Thala and the local indigenous people.
For the eco-conscious traveller, a stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve couldn’t be more appealing. While seclusion and luxury is paramount here, I rested easy knowing that this is never at the expense of the surrounding natural environment. Not only was a stay here rejuvenating, it also fosters a a deeper connection and appreciation to the delicate ecosystem of this spectacular region.
Rooms can be booked through the Thala Beach Nature Reserve website.
Disclosure: Our writer, Rachel Bale, was welcomed as a guest of Thala Beach Nature Reserve, but all opinions remain her own.
Images courtesy © Rachel Bale
Rachel Bale is an international travel writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the Founder and Editor of the popular travel blog, The Department of Wandering, dedicated to helping readers explore a destination beyond the guidebook. Her work has been featured in a wide variety of print and online media, including Nine Elsewhere, British Airways High Life, Matador Network and more. Given her extensive travels, ecotourism is something she is very passionate about. Follow her travels on Instagram at @departmentofwandering
Join us on Our Planet Travel’s eco adventure: