EVER driven past a sign on the road but never taken the time to find out where it may lead; then when you finally do, you wonder why you left it so long to satisfy your curiosity?
Getting to the Cedar Park Rainforest Resort, 12 kilometres west of Kuranda, is only part of the adventure. Turn left off the Kennedy Highway just a few hundred metres past the Koah service station (30 minutes from Cairns), then follow the sealed road until arriving at a fork at which point you veer left and continue carefully along a winding, unsealed road. Just as that seed of doubt starts creeping into your mind, a makeshift sign appears from the edge of the dense forest reassuring the driver and his/her passengers ‘YOU ARE NOT LOST… yet!’ After several more kilometres of track, precarious corners and humorous directional signs, you drive through the gates of the luscious grounds and proceed to the well-signed car park and reception area.
Having not read or heard a thing about Cedar Park, nothing prepared me for the curious assault on my senses of walking through the front door not completely sure if I had entered a monastery, much less a resort. Within the first 60 seconds a visitor can become immersed in the eclectic furnishings – an impressive stone sculpture of the ‘hand of Buddha’, a collection of Papuan New Guinean artifacts, dour European portraits, indigenous rock art, classic outback scenes framed in recycled timber, some handmade jewellery on display for sale, a fireplace and bookshelf… and that’s all before being seated in the restaurant! The somewhat schizophrenic architectural style featuring low, timber arched doorways and a patchwork of stone masonry, bricks and timber, is apparently the legacy of a previous owner whose protracted and unorthodox building techniques were renowned to locals.
Situated on a large timber decking with a rainforest backdrop, the restaurant’s natural surrounds and simplicity give an immediate sense of peace and intimacy. Nothing is overstated. It is a bit like sitting down to a laidback picnic with friends complete with a white linen tablecloth and five-star service. Our host managed the floor impeccably, efficiently attending to drinks, orders and serving of meals almost single-handedly with brief glimpses of the ‘celebrity’ chefs, Christophe Huber (formerly owner of Atlantis Restaurant at Trinity Beach) and Markus Ryf (formerly of Sebel Reef House at Palm Cove and Thala Beach Lodge at Port Douglas), who emerged occasionally from the busy kitchen to deposit their culinary creations.
Obviously the rationale is to provide a limited selection of meals done exceptionally well. The paperbark menus offer a choice of five a la carte main courses, with several lighter lunch options for less than $20. The presentation and quality of the meals were excellent and drew not a single negative comment from our party of seven. The Atlantic Salmon ‘Mother’s Day special’ was served perfectly medium rare offset with a visually appealing saffron sauce and tasty risotto cake; the prime rib eye fillet steak ($29.50) was cooked well done (tragically) with no blood in sight as requested with lashings of garlic mash; the Thai green curry, both vegetable ($19.50) and seafood ($22.50) versions, had just the right amount of bite; and the herb-crusted barramundi topped with prawns on a champagne sauce, steamed vegetables and jasmine rice was delicious and very reasonably priced at $26.50.
Before the arrival of our meals, we had time to enjoy a drink and a short walk along the banks of a nearby running creek and rock pool which made me instantly regret not bringing my swimming togs (although I revised that opinion after plunging both feet into the icy water). I walked barefoot back to the restaurant and remained without shoes for the rest of our meal such was the relaxed vibe of the place. During our stay I noticed other guests wandering freely around the grounds and was impressed by the easy way the place seemed to operate. A glance at the visitor’s book on a nearby coffee table gave me an insight to the experience of others, mainly international tourists, and their delight at discovering Cedar Park and all it offered. Good food, hospitable service, relaxed privacy, native fauna and flora in a wonderful and accessible setting. As one guest put it: “Who needs Bird World when you wake up to the sound of nature all around?”
Our family thoroughly enjoyed the Cedar Park experience. We departed resolving to return for a more thorough exploration of the rainforest walks, swimming hole and other natural delights on offer. The moral of our story: sometimes in life you need to choose the path less traveled. Next time you pass a sign on the highway that stimulates your curiosity, turn around, go back and you may just discover a hidden gem you will cherish forever.
Cedar Park Rainforest Resort is open to the public on Friday, Saturday and Sunday; and 7 days to guests who can stay in one of six individually themed rooms, described accurately on the website as “an interesting experience not found anywhere else” for $125 (single)/$155 (twin double). Go to http://www.cedarparkresort.com.au/ or phone & fax (07) 4093 7892.
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