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Palm Cove, Queensland: Where to go, eat and stay

A guest post by Kate Rae

Palm Cove is a small, sweet, beachside town located between Cairns and Port Douglas in tropical North Queensland, Australia. The tranquil area is the perfect base to connect with the breathtaking surrounding nature, and it is only 25 minutes north of the Cairns Airport. I love visiting Palm Cove for its calm beaches and small tree-lined cove, meaning it never gets too crowded.

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Text: Palm Cove, Queensland: Where to go, eat and stay (and the Rachel's Ruminations logo.) Image: palm tree on a beach facing the calm ocean.
Pinnable image.

The coastal community is situated on an esplanade surrounded with 500-year-old Melaleuca trees. The beach is lovely for morning walks. If you’re feeling adventurous you could join a cruise to nearby Double Island or rent a kayak and paddle just off the shore. Fishing is also popular in Palm Cove, and there are many fish to be caught at the jetty, including Spanish mackerel, cod, whiting and flathead.

An ideal vacation destination

Palm Cove is truly an ideal place to visit in Far North Queensland, for its serene atmosphere and tropical weather. It’s also located near sights like the Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation and major waterfalls, including Baron Falls. That’s the most famous and largest in the area and is 30kms (19 mi) from Palm Cove.

A fun fact about Palm Cove is that it is one of the top wedding destinations in Australia. We witnessed a handful of ceremonies on the beach while we were there in the spring. Couples seem to prefer the quieter location and equally stunning beaches to other Australian hotspots.

Palm Cove, like the rest of Australia, has a long indigenous heritage. The Djabuganydji people were the first residents of the area. They are a tribe of Aboriginal people who were the initial inhabitants of a section of the Great Dividing Range, as well as neighbouring areas inside Queensland’s Wet Tropics.

Nearby, the Kuranda Scenic Railway is a popular tourist train that runs along the heritage-listed Cairns-Kuranda railway line. The line was built in 1891 and goes from Cairns, Queensland, through the Great Dividing Range to the settlement of Kuranda on the Atherton Tableland.

A beach at Palm Cove, calm water, trees leaning over the sand.
Palm Cove.

Palm Cove beaches 

The beaches in Australia are some of the best in the world, and the Coral Sea’s brilliant blue ocean is Palm Cove’s biggest attraction. If you’re searching for something a little more active than sunbaking, you can try a range of water sports like stand-up paddleboarding, kiteboarding, snorkelling through peaceful limestone sea caves or further afield, or kayaking around Double Island’s fringing reef searching for turtles. Or try hot-air ballooning!

Ellis Beach, which has a population of only 30, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it community located five minutes north of Palm Cove. There are only a few things to see here, but it’s worth the trip to experience the quiet, long, narrow beach with golden sand, the coastal bungalows, a surf club, and the Ellis Beach Bar & Grill. Just north of that is Nathan’s Northern Beach

In the opposite direction, follow the beachfront esplanade (Williams Esplanade) – or walk on the sandy beach – south of Palm Cove Beach to Clifton Beach and then to Kewarra Beach. At some point the name changes to Upolu Esplanade. From Taylor Point, south of Kewarra Beach, you can get a great view looking north along this whole stretch of beach towns. The beach is lined with small resorts, holiday homes and such, but with plenty of trees and, for much of its length, the esplanade is between them and the beach itself. 

Looking along a beach, an island visible close by.
Palm Cove.

Short trips from Palm Cove

You can easily access some of the most incredible day trips in Australia thanks to Palm Cove’s excellent location. Here are some popular day trips from Palm Cove in Queensland:

Great Barrier Reef

There’s a good chance you already know about the Great Barrier Reef, which is renowned for having an incredible array of marine life. You are in an excellent situation to take advantage of the Barrier Reef from Palm Cove because many of the top snorkel and dive trips leave from Port Douglas, which is 36 km (22 mi) to the north of Palm Cove, or from Cairns, which is 26 km (16 mi) to the south of Palm Cove. For added convenience, many of these programmes also provide shuttle services from Palm Cove. For any scuba diver, this is an absolute must, if only to appreciate the sheer size of the reef. 

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation is a beautiful stretch of beach and Daintree rainforest in north Queensland, inside Daintree National Park. This lush tropical part of Australia is protected and well worth the 2-hour drive from Palm Cove. 

Palm Trees and a white sand beach: waves in the background.
Cape Tribulation.

On the way to Cape Tribulation, you will pass through Port Douglas and Mossman. The route will take you past the iconic melaleuca trees that line the beach, down the breathtaking Great Barrier Reef Drive, and over the Daintree River.

Thick woods at Daintree.
Daintree.

Barron Falls

This waterfall is within the protected Barron Gorge National Park. Unless it’s rained a lot recently, it tends to be a mere trickle. Nevertheless it’s pretty at 125 metres (410 feet) tall. You can drive to the park or take the Kuranda Scenic Railway or the Skyrail, which is an aerial tram. Both of them start in Cairns and include stops at Barron Falls overlooks.

Getting to Palm Cove

The drive to Palm Cove from Cairns is easy and takes about 30 minutes. Because this area is so close to Cairns, the gateway to North Queensland, the whole area is accessible by air, road, or rail. Jetstar, Qantas, and Virgin Australia all offer direct flights to Cairns International Airport. Both taxis and airport transfer buses are available from Cairns.

Compare rental car prices from Cairns airport here.

Where to stay in Palm Cove

Despite having some of the best hotels in the area, Palm Cove is a small coastal community at heart. Here are some of the top hotels I recommend in Palm Cove:

Mantra Amphora

The Mantra Amphora Resort is my favourite place to stay in Palm Cove, due to the quiet and comfortable rooms and the protected pool. The serene sea is right across from the resort for a swim. Or you can relax by the lagoon swimming pool, which has numerous nooks that are shaded by towering palm trees. The pool area is particularly ideal when the wind picks up on shore, something I noted when I visited in springtime.

Mantra Amphora Resort offers a variety of comfortable accommodation options, including hotel rooms and self-contained one-, two, and three-bedroom apartments. All of the rooms have luxurious interior finishes and most have spa baths. Every room and apartment has a private balcony with views of the garden or the beach, making it the perfect place to unwind as the sun sets.

A hotel building with palm trees in front of it.
Mantra Amphora

Book the Mantra Amphora.

Reef House

North Queensland’s Reef House Boutique Hotel and Spa provides visitors the chance to unwind and rejuvenate. It’s been in business for more than 47 years. The Reef House strives to give each guest an unforgettable experience by providing warm service and paying close attention to details. The luxury room options, which come in a wide selection of suites and apartments to suit couples, singles, or small groups of any size, are at the core of this philosophy.

Reef House is a 5-star hotel option, whether you’re looking to escape to a tropical location with friends or are coming to unwind with your significant other on a lovely honeymoon. The Reef House is an adults-only getaway.

Book the Reef House.

Peppers Beach Club

The Peppers Beach Club & Spa is in a top-rated North Queensland resort, complete with lush green gardens and a large lagoon pool. Peppers is perfect if you’re looking for a modern stay in Palm Cove. The smell of frangipanis, the ocean breeze and the location close to the beach and jetty in Palm Cove make this resort a popular stay in Palm Cove.

Note that the day spa at Peppers is open to the public, so even if this resort is outside your budget, you could still splurge on a treatment at the spa.

Book Peppers Beach Club.

Paradise On The Beach Resort

Paradise On The Beach is situated on the shore in the centre of Palm Cove. A boutique resort, Paradise On The Beach has over 30 studio and one-bedroom rooms. Each features gorgeous designer furnishings and a balcony with views of the gardens and pool. For a higher-end, luxurious stay, Paradise On The Beach Resort offers excellent value.

Looking straight out at a very calm sea from a white sand beach, framed by trees.
Palm Cove.

Use this link to book Paradise on the Beach.

To explore other accommodations in all price ranges, use the map below:

Food and drink in Palm Cove

There is plenty to choose from, with the number of restaurants and bars in Palm Cove. Most delight in using local ingredients, creating delicious dishes and giving guests a warm, tropical welcome along with a refreshing drink. Palm Cove’s restaurants and bars offer everything from fine dining to fast food. Some of the best restaurants in Palm Cove include:

La Mesa

La Mesa restaurant is on-site at Peppers Beach Club and Spa. It provides a communal dining experience influenced by Mexican and Latin American culture. Various traditional mini dishes are made with locally obtained, delicious and fresh ingredients from the reef and the nearby tropics.

Nu Nu Restaurant

Nu Nu is warm and welcoming. The food is a combination of fresh, seasonal products, accompanied by an incredible drink menu. Critics praise Chef Holloway’s talent, and the restaurant was selected for the 2015 Australian Gourmet Traveller and the 2017 Good Food Guide Queensland Regional Restaurant of the Year, for preparing dishes that speak specifically to the location.

The Reef House Restaurant

This restaurant is a component of The Reef House hotel. You can order off the a la carte, degustation, or ultimate seafood platter menus. The restaurant is only accessible to in-house guests for breakfast; however, everyone is welcome for lunch or dinner. To avoid missing out, reservations must be made at least two to three days in advance.

Il Forno Pizzeria

Il Forno Pizzeria is one of my favourite restaurants in Palm Cove. They have delicious pizzas and accompanying drinks, in the heart of town. The relaxed setting is lovely for group dinners and the popular menu items include homemade tiramisu, salads and long-standing family recipes in authentic Italian style.

Neptune’s Restaurant

Neptune’s, also in the centre of Palm Cove, offers Mediterranean cuisine. The vast menu includes freshly-caught fish from the area, handcrafted pizzas and delicious pastas, in a simple yet elegant atmosphere.

Vivo Palm Cove

For 10 years, locals and visitors have been returning to Vivo Bar and Grill, the iconic restaurant bar situated in a white house in Palm Cove, for its beverages and ambience. People begin to arrive shortly after the sun rises over the palm-lined shore across the street for some of the greatest breakfast food in the region. The encircling veranda is also the place to sit for dinner or drinks. With more than 200 carefully-chosen Australian and foreign wines available, Vivo is fully licenced and home to an outstanding wine vault. There is a large variety of wines available by the bottle and by the glass.

Rattle n Hum

Rattle n Hum is located in Palm Cove, Cairns and Port Douglas and is a great place for a meal or a beer. Char-grilled steaks and seafood are served at this lively seaside pub and restaurant, which also has live music and karaoke. In the picturesque surroundings of Palm Cove, savour a hot stone-oven pizza or a hearty steak and salad with a warm, laid-back and family-friendly atmosphere.

The Surf Club

The Surf Club has extremely affordable meals and drinks in a laid-back atmosphere. Fresh Australian cuisine is the speciality here. The majority of customers advise tasting the excellently-prepared fish and chips, rump steaks, and prawns on ice. Delicious draught beer, wine, or craft beer are served here, and the friendly bar crew make this location great by working hard and remaining upbeat. The welcoming environment and cosy decor help travellers unwind.

With the beach surrounded by swaying palms and the clear blue ocean, charming Palm Cove is a quintessential tropical resort for families, backpackers, couples and group travel. Offering first-rate accommodations, delicious food, a laid-back atmosphere and small-town ambiance, Palm Cove is a lovely spot for a relaxing holiday. There are so many things to do in Palm Cove that you’ll need at least a week to properly enjoy and unwind.

About the author: Kate Rae is the founder of She Travels Australia, providing alternative and unique travel tips for Australia. She Travels Australia is a go-to place for Australian travel secrets, written by a local. You can also find her on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook.

My travel recommendations

Planning travel

  • Skyscanner is where I always start my flight searches.
  • Booking.com is the company I use most for finding accommodations. If you prefer, Expedia offers more or less the same.
  • Discover Cars offers an easy way to compare prices from all of the major car-rental companies in one place.
  • Use Viator or GetYourGuide to find walking tours, day tours, airport pickups, city cards, tickets and whatever else you need at your destination.
  • Bookmundi is great when you’re looking for a longer tour of a few days to a few weeks, private or with a group, pretty much anywhere in the world. Lots of different tour companies list their tours here, so you can comparison shop.
  • GetTransfer is the place to book your airport-to-hotel transfers (and vice-versa). It’s so reassuring to have this all set up and paid for ahead of time, rather than having to make decisions after a long, tiring flight!
  • Buy a GoCity Pass when you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing on a city trip. It can save you a lot on admissions to museums and other attractions in big cities like New York and Amsterdam.
  • I’m a fan of SCOTTeVEST’s jackets and vests because when I wear one, I don’t have to carry a handbag. I feel like all my stuff is safer when I travel because it’s in inside pockets close to my body.
  • Airalo is an e-sim card. You buy it through an app and activate it when you need it. I tried it on my trip to Thailand and it worked just like any other sim card, but without my having to fuss with physical cards.
  • I use ExpressVPN on my phone and laptop when I travel. It keeps me safe from hackers when I use public or hotel wifi.

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about Rachel

Hi, I’m Rachel!

Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments!  Read more…
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