The northeast region of Queensland, Australia, is highly popular with visitors for its obvious draws: tropical climate, gorgeous beaches, lush rainforest and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. And in Mission Beach, a coastal settlement about two hours south of Cairns, there is another reason to visit, nestled deep in the trees: an eco-lodge called Sanctuary Retreat at Mission Beach. Situated high on a hill, surrounded by dense rainforest that rolls all the way down to the Coral Sea, Sanctuary is just as inviting as it sounds.
From the parking lot, there are two routes up through the steep terrain: a narrow footpath meandering through the forest, and a wider, very steep vehicle-access track suitable only for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. On a recent visit, my husband and I were lugging heavy backpacks with us, so we called the front desk for assistance. (A phone is in the parking lot for this purpose.)
Within minutes, we were picked up by a truck and driven through the trees to Sanctuary’s “long house,” the building that encompasses the in-house restaurant and bar, lounge area, reception desk and Internet area.
The long house is open and spacious. Natural timbers frame walls of glass panes that give us impressive views of the rainforest outside and the sea beyond.
The rule is no shoes inside, so after slipping off our sandals to check in, we slipped them back on to check out our AUD$ 65 per night (approx. US$ 49) double rainforest hut. The lodge also offers twin-bed huts and shared accommodations, as well as luxurious deluxe canopy cabins.
Sitting on stilts high above the forest floor and enclosed by the verdant blanket of the rainforest, the little wooden hut instantly charmed us. Keeping with the minimalist theme of the long house, only mesh screens separate the double bed and guests from the forest and its inhabitants.
A small wooden balcony running along the outside of the hut offers views of the forest.
The 16 huts, connected by boardwalks and stairs, are well spaced and camouflaged along the lodge’s steep terrain, to make guests feel isolated among the trees. They grant sufficient privacy, while still being just a short walk from the shared bathroom facilities and long house.
We spent our two days at Sanctuary relaxing in our hut amid the sights and sounds of the forest, and in the cozy long house, where couches and hammocks encourage guests to stretch out while they peruse the books, magazines and games lining the walls.
We also explored the trails on the lodge’s grounds, which run all the way down to the dazzling Coral Sea. The sandy beach, bordered by the rainforest, was only a short walk away. Beautiful by day, the almost-secluded Brooks Beach was breathtaking at sunset.
For meals, we tried both of the lodge’s dining options: We used the clean, well-equipped shared kitchen one night, and the next night we sampled the tempting menu, which included barramundi fillet (a reef fish encrusted in almond and yogurt) and, among the many dishes for vegetarians, Jakarta vegetable curry.
The menu changes daily; diners are always guaranteed a meal with locally grown, fresh ingredients, as well as a selection from the modest wine list.
Our final morning brought golden sunlight streaming into our hut, and we decided to try one of the daily yoga classes offered by the lodge’s yoga center, in a separate building with a high, peaked roof. The retreat offers classes suitable for beginning and advanced students alike. It was a perfectly invigorating end to a tranquil stay at the aptly titled Sanctuary.
If You Go
Sanctuary Retreat at Mission Beach