I’D BEEN CONTEMPLATING the journey north for years, romanced by the pull of the lush green rainforests that remind us just how small we are, and how powerful nature is. Always curious to explore the pockets of paradise and breathe in the fresh air of my own back yard, I set off for three weeks with a car full of camping gear and a heart full of curiosity — from Byron Bay to the Daintree.
Sunshine Coast – Maleny (300km from home)
Maleny had my heart from the moment I stepped foot in the friendly, hillside village. I was romantically planning a move to the area within minutes of arriving, and words can’t do justice to how much I loved this part of my Daintree adventure. The Sunshine Coast is worthy of its own Escape story — watch this space.
Spicer’s Tamarind is the most indulgent place I’ve ever stayed. It is the ultimate in yogic luxury – and quite affordable if you can share the space with friends. There’s an on-site day spa where you can soak away in the steam room and spa that overlooks the valleys, but that’s just the beginning. The glamorous cabins are surrounded by nature and you’re instantly drawn to the fireplace as you step inside the room. You can relax in the bathtub overlooking the garden, and the bathroom tiles are heated – need I say more?
There’s so much nature to explore in the area. You can opt for a simple stroll to the retreat’s nearby waterfall or adventure beyond to the many mountains and waterfalls that the area boasts.
Maleny Mountain Yoga offers a smorgasbord of yoga, tai chi and relaxation classes, nestled amongst the green hills and forests just outside town.
Fraser Island (600km from home)
Fraser Island feels delightfully backward — think Eighties tourism, four-wheel-drive tours and limited food options, but it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. The holiday atmosphere begins as soon as you step off the ferry, and the nature is magnificent.
Kingfisher Bay Resort has all the creature comforts with great sunset views and a plethora of sight-seeing tours.
A trip to Lake McKenzie should be number one on your to-do list. Settle into white sand as you bask in the sun before a dip in the crystal blue waters. It’s picture-perfect, serene, and makes the mission beyond the familiar shores feel worthwhile.
There are no yoga options on the island, but a practice on the balcony of your room as the sun sets beats any studio experience.
The town of 1770/Agnes Water (700km from home)
Arriving in 1770 (minutes away from the nearby town of Agnes Water), I was hit with a familiar sense of nostalgia — this inviting little town reminded me of so many childhood family holidays.
In 1770, Lagoons is an affordable but upmarket option that’s quiet and comfortable, with a luxurious pool lit by lanterns at night. I couldn’t resist a second stop in the area on the way home — Agnes Water Beach Caravan Park is a bustling little community that’s more humble, but the beachfront glamping tents can’t be beat for nature lovers.
The nature is the main attraction of the area. Go for the Red Rock Beach Track. There are beautiful beaches dotted along the way — you can laze away the day under coconut palms or take a three-hour trek through sacred land. For sunset, wander the Butterfly Walk from Cook’s Monument at 1770 and watch the sun disappear across the horizon. Don’t forget to give the trees a little shake for a butterfly show.
The whole community knows the local yoga teacher Mel of Vitality Yoga, and she comes highly recommended. Classes are held in a big, outdoor tent where you can hear the sounds of birds, the ocean, and the wind rustling the trees as you
practice a sublime, nurturing flow.
Yeppoon (820km from home)
Mel had recommended I visit Yeppoon, and as a fellow yogi, I completely trusted her advice.
Just north of Yeppoon is the Byfield National Park, where I found my very own Garden of Eden. Byfield Camp Stay has beautiful gardens and private, relaxed camping. There’s nowhere to swim on the property so it may not be an option for the very hot months, but it was absolutely magic in July. There are also national park campgrounds with swimming and walks nearby.
In Yeppoon, try Jasmine Place Yoga – the local mindfulness centre specialising in counselling, meditation and delicious, flowing asana.
Pit Stop – Mackay
North of Mackay, you’ll find an abundance of nature to explore — from nature walks to swimming holes and waterfalls. Cedar Creek Falls is just south of Airlie Beach and an easy stop along the way.
Airlie Beach (1300km from home)
There are vibrant markets along the Airlie Beach strip, and the nearby, lazy town of Hideaway Bay made a perfect lunchtime picnic place (although the camp grounds were completely full).
The beaches are undeniably beautiful, and you only need to open your eyes to discover a perfect walking trail. And, of course, if you have time, you can always pop over to The Whitsundays.
Yoga Therapies is the epitome of a small town studio with an inviting community of yogis, away from the hustle and bustle of the main street.
Mission Beach (1800km from home)
Driving towards Mission Beach, I noticed the landscape instantly change. Barren land turned into lush greenery and mountainous views into the distance.
Sanctuary is one of Australia’s biggest yoga retreat centres, also offering guest accommodation for those who want to visit for a night or two. You’re likely to spot a cassowary, and accommodation consists of little huts with only screens to protect from the elements. Throughout the night, you’ll be enveloped in a cacophony of forest sounds and have the truly eye-opening experience of what life once might have been.
You can take a stroll through Sanctuary’s grounds, and there are plenty of secluded beaches to wander. Ask the locals to point you in the direction of the best nature walks.
The area is quiet, so opt for a self-practice, or join in one of Sanctuary’s retreats for the full yoga experience.
Cairns (1900km from home)
In my mind Cairns had always been a cute little beach town, but in reality it felt like a big city. It’s on the water, so there’s that laid-back vibe but with plenty of stimulation on offer. Keen to continue my journey, my visit to Cairns was brief, and locals suggested exploring the northern beaches for a more relaxed atmosphere.
Knoff Yoga (I’ve heard my yoga friends referring to owner Nicky as ‘the Queen’) and Yoga Hub are the places to practice. If you’re heading to the northern beaches, the nearby suburb of Palm Cove also has a number of small yoga businesses offering outdoor classes that take in the beautiful landscape.
The Daintree (2000km from home)
Before the ferry
Daintree Eco Lodge makes for a perfect indulgent stopover. The rooms are relaxed, and you’ll instantly notice the deliberate lack of a television. Some rooms have baths on the rainforest verandas, and the property has its own rainforest wander and waterfall. The luxury is definitely worth a visit before delving into the thick of the Daintree.
After the ferry
The Daintree National Park is a world heritage wonderland, and visitors can take a short ferry ride to get there. There’s no shopping, no phone reception and no trendy yoga studios. And there’s no Wi-Fi, so once I had crossed the river, I quickly said goodbye to my digital nomadery and my favourite Netflix series, ready to immerse myself in the tropical surrounds. Endless enchanted forests softened the chatter of my mind as I explored some of the world’s most rich and powerful rainforest. Un-impacted by the Ice Age, this place is older than the Amazon!
Stay, Nature, Yoga: Prema Shanti
Arriving at Prema Shanti felt like a coming home. So familiar and comforting, from the serene music in the background, to the yoga shala blessed by monks -— these guys are the real deal.
Owned by yogi couple Mara and Janardhan, Prema Shanti is communal and friendly, but with plenty of time and space for doing your own thing. On the first night we practiced a gentle yoga class then enjoyed a group dinner of biryani, lentils and spinach, followed by an early night in a comfortable, zen room in preparation for meditation early the next morning. After breakfast, Mara sat with us and pointed out all the places we could visit. “Here’s the bio-dynamic ice-cream place. Here’s the sacred (secret) waterhole. But please, I invite you to be with yourself and feel the energy of this place.” She encouraged us to slow down and go within, but also pointed us in the direction of some of the area’s best and most spiritual attractions.
In the handful of days that I spent at Prema Shanti, I spent the hours sitting on the deck overlooking the rainforest, reading and sipping cups of tea, taking dips in sacred swimming
holes and exploring the handful of rainforest walks on offer. Janardhan told us that it takes the “city folk” a couple of days to settle in, and by the time it was time to leave, having settled into a deliciously slow pace, I was sad to say goodbye and was already planning my next visit.
Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.