As a garden lover, when I’m travelling I always prefer a ‘garden stay’ where I’m surrounded by plants and garden, even if it’s just a few pots. Tabu B&B in northern Queensland is a beautiful pavilion room for 1-2 people surrounded by one of the best tropical gardens you’ll ever see. Definitely ★★★★★
When we wanted, no needed a quick winter getaway, we naturally thought of far north Queensland, with its mild winter days. Our Jetstar points flight from Sydney to Cairns and a small hire car gave us both Cairns city itself, and also sleepier but more touristy Port Douglas within an easy drive from the airport. We had three nights in ‘Port’ (as it’s called locally) and then another three at the totally divine, best wet-tropics garden, I wish I could live here FOREVER, Tabu B&B.
Accommodation: Opened by owners Mark and Fairlie only 18 months ago, Tabu is in a separate pavilion a few steps past the main house, with private views out across a picture-perfect, tropical garden. A spacious bedroom houses a king bed and there’s an attached ensuite bathroom that’s indoors (high surrounding walls for privacy and a solid roof) but also outdoors, with the top of the walls open and the bathroom sporting its own lush indoor garden. Outside, there’s a high-ceilinged verandah with table and chairs, plus fridge, tea and coffee making and crockery and cutlery.
Fairlie is a professional interior designer and colour consultant, and Tabu’s simple but elegant furnishings, bright fabrics, classy finishes and interesting details show off her skill. Best of all, from the point of view of a paying guest, it’s also been carefully chosen to be robust, so you don’t feel worried about putting a glass down on a surface, or that you might accidentally knock over some precious antique. Free wifi, an ipod dock speaker for our own music and no TV was exactly what we wanted.
There’s plenty of room for your bags, as well as wardrobe space for unpacking if you’re lucky enough to be staying several days. The bathroom is equipped with lots of big fluffy towels, separate pool towels, hairdryer and quality body wash and shampoo/conditioner.
Tabu’s garden: Mark is a landscape designer working throughout the Cairns district on both commercial and residential projects, and his own garden is a masterpiece display of his design skill and passion for tropical plants. Paths wind through a landscape of lush foliage plants, with fabulous textures in all shades of green enlivened by a splashes of intense colour from foliage or flowers. The distant views across the garden reminded me of the sea, with rolling and intersecting waves of green. It rained several times during our Cairns stay, but sitting on Tabu’s verandah, listening to the rain drops on huge fan palm leaves and seeing the glistening garden was so pleasurable, we didn’t mind a bit. At night, subtle lighting gives a new dynamic of shapes and shadows.
As you walk about the garden, there are detail treasures to find along each path – a planting of colourful Aglaonema, a small sculpture, unusual metallic-blue ferns, vivid heliconia flowers or the unusual turquoise of jade vine flowers cascading out of a huge old mango tree. I started to understand the rapidity of growth and decay that’s unique in a tropical landscape when I learned that the whole garden is only 5 years old and constantly evolving and changing. There’s so much to say about this garden, I will be writing another blog post about just it in the next few weeks but, suffice it to say, it will entrance, educate and inspire you.
There’s also a lovely plunge pool for a cooling dip hidden away in the garden, and a natural stream. The garden is over two blocks (1,400 square metres), so it will take you a couple of hours to explore it all.
Breakfast: Breakfast arrives each morning in a picnic hamper at your chosen time. A light and crispy baguette fresh from the locally bakery (or croissants if you prefer) is accompanied by soft-boiled eggs, muesli, fresh seasonal fruit and jam, giving you plenty of choice to fuel-up for the sightseeing day ahead.
Drawbacks and disappointments: None! We were concerned at first that there were no insect screens but found that in winter there are no sand flies, only 1or 2 mozzies and no moths, so you can sit outside completely unmolested. Even the couple of cane toads that appeared during the rain were interesting to us southerners.
Local facilities: Tabu is in Freshwater, nestled at the foot of Mt Whitfield and about 15 minutes drive north of Cairns city. Local shops, restaurants, cafes and takeaways are about 10 minutes walk from Tabu, as is Freshwater Station, from where you can catch a train on the famous Kuranda Railway. An easy drive to Cairns adds dozens of restaurants, both cheap and cheerful and high-end cuisine, plus lots of adventure activities.
Your hosts: Mark and Fairlie are exactly what you want in a B&B host – they’re welcoming, knowledgeable, friendly, and available if you need something, but also quickly unobtrusive if you prefer time alone. You will definitely want to add them to your Christmas card list. Mark’s knowledge of tropical plants is encyclopedic.
Tariff: From $125AUD/night. (Stays of 1-2 nights are $145AUD/night and 3 nights or more are $125AUD/night); bookings essential. Groups can also book to visit the garden, but the garden is not open to individual visitors as it is a private sanctuary for Tabu B&B guests.
What to do in and around Cairns: The Kuranda Scenic Railway stops at Freshwater and then goes up the MacAlister Range to the village of Kuranda. You can also take the 7.5km Skyway Rainforest Cableway, or choose one way on each. We had a hire car so we drove to Kuranda, walked around the village and also had several wonderful walks through Barron Gorge National Park with its spectacular views and pristine rainforest. A drive on through the less touristy towns of Mareeba, Atherton and back through Gordonvale reveals the agricultural history of the district with its sugar cane farms, mango, banana and avocado orchards, and coffee and tea plantations. Don’t miss the famous Curtain Fig in Curtain Fig National Park. Cairns has lots of restaurants and shops plus dozens of day-trip boats that offer sightseeing, diving, sailing and fishing trips out to the Great Barrier Reef. Enjoy a walk along the esplanade in the evening, with its water views, public swimming lagoon and many artworks.
[We stayed at Tabu B&B as full tariff-paying guests for 3 days in June, 2015. You can learn more about Tabu B&B on Garden Tour Hub]