Luxury living in the bush
IT'S said that getting there is half the fun ... and that is definitely the case if you're heading to Bloomfield Lodge.
First you have to get to Cairns - and survive a night in a place where there isn't a whole lot happening.
The best bet is to set yourself up in a good hotel such as the Shangri-La, overlooking the busy Marlin Marina, where you can lounge by the pool, work out in the gym and visit the spa. Or book yourself on a day-trip to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling.
Other highlights of Cairns include lying on the grass by the outdoor public pools or a visit to the night markets. Regrettably, I did neither. Instead I chose to walk the streets, trying desperately to find a decent cafe or some interesting shops. I failed.
Lying by the pools watching the locals waddle in and out of the water would have been far more entertaining.
Anyway, back to the journey to Bloomfield. Having got to Cairns and survived my time there, I'm collected from my hotel at the crack of dawn and driven to the nearby domestic airport. Rather excitingly, the runway is lined with small planes, some of them marked "Flying Doctor", which heightens the sense of Outback adventure and the feeling that Bryan Brown might swagger around the corner any minute.
Alas, it's not to be, but an affable bloke leads the handful of travellers into the Bloomfield Lodge VIP Lounge - a small room where we can help ourselves to tea, coffee and dry biscuits - while we wait for our plane.
Our bloke runs through the safety procedures and advises we'll be flying on a 12-seater. Depending on how many passengers are flying the day you travel, the plane may be even smaller, but this was small enough for me.
Especially when our bloke informed us that there was a weight allowance and could we all kindly step on the scales. Help! I shouldn't have tucked into those dried biscuits quite so readily. We all giggle nervously and crack a few Weight Watchers jokes. The next concern is my luggage. We're only allowed 7kg each - that's the size of my sponge bag.
Bloomfield Lodge is only accessible by sea. Situated in far north Queensland on the edge of the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, it has just been named by Forbes magazine as the World's Best Remote Lodge.
And remote it is.
Our plane heads out over the sparkling Coral Sea and follows the coastline, with its white sandy beaches and thick canopy of forest. The signs of civilisation lessen as we pass Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation National Park, and fly on and on with the rainforest stretching inland as far as the eye can see.
Finally, the plane begins to circle above a paddock cleared in the middle of some rough-looking farmland which is part of the vast Mt Louis cattle station. This is our landing strip. We bump along the grass and pull up at the airport shed.
From here it's a four-wheel-drive ride along a metal road to a landing on the edge of Bloomfield River. A dead kangaroo lies on the side of the road. We board the waiting river boat, putt gently across the water and, within minutes, spot our first crocodile sunbathing on the opposite bank.
There is no turning back from this adventure. Any thoughts of romantically trailing my hand in the water quickly disappear as the boat revs up a notch and we head out across the bar and along the coast to Weary Bay and, finally, Bloomfield Lodge.
Immediately, a wave of tranquillity washes over me. The trees rustle gently in the ocean breeze, the calls of the birds from the forest ring out (more than 430 different varieties can be found hereabouts) and the warm welcome from our hosts includes a brief on how the pool-side honesty bar works, showing they have their priorities right.
As I am shown to my luxury villa nestled high amongst the trees, I pinch myself that I am so far from everything and everyone. Mobile phones don't work and there is no internet access. I pace the floor and gaze out at the horizon. What am I going to do for four days?
On the first day, with the best of intentions, I rise and head to the small but perfectly formed gym. Which I have to myself, of course. No one else is doing anything so ridiculously physical. They are all wisely sleeping in, listening to the gentle sound of waves and the bird life in the trees.
I, however, carry through my burst of energy with a plunge into the cool green pool surrounded by palm trees. Ahh, now I really deserve the fruit, muesli, coffee and cooked breakfast on offer.
Be warned. The food here is amazing. In the vast, open-sided restaurant where you share tables with your fellow guests (unless you book a romantic table for two in one of the bures), you are tempted with gourmet delights. One night, there is a barbecue with the biggest display of seafood I've ever seen. And there's only about 16 guests.
The thing is, apart from eating, there's really not a lot to do. Well, there is if you want to: bush walks, crocodile-spotting, fishing trips, snorkelling trips to the reef, bird-watching ... But this all unfolds at such a leisurely rate that you find there's plenty of time to do nothing.
I'd highly recommend you stretch out on the daybed on your villa's balcony and read. Or sleep. Or both. Tip: use your baggage allowance to pack books. Don't waste it on clothes. The dress code here is incredibly relaxed, as you will be within hours of arriving.
There is, of course, only so much slothing about that one can do. (Or is there?) Other guests spend hours trying to catch fish off the end of the jetty and marvel at the crabs they snare in the pots. They tramp to the nearby beach and take up the offers of fishing and snorkelling trips.
The chance to join Shayne, the lodge's resident bushman, on a walk through the forest was enough to get me off my daybed. Shayne is a man who could put David Attenborough out of a job, such is his passion for and love of nature.
Oh, what miracles are happening every day - from the top of the eucalyptus trees that tower above us to the small microscopic insects beneath our feet - as nature goes about its business of maintaining its intricate and busy ecosystems.
I hang on every word Shayne says, falling in love all over again with the miracle of nature. And here, where it has been barely touched by man, one is reminded of how it has been so savaged elsewhere in the world.
The next day, I jump at the chance to join my new hero Shayne on a river cruise for some croc-spotting. As our boat weaves its way quietly through the mangroves, we spot more than seven of these evil-looking beasts. They say to zig-zag if one chases you, but Shayne reckons they move so quickly you'll be lucky to get in a zig.
Even though the day is warm, I break out in goosebumps as Shayne explains the death roll, where a croc drags its victim down to drown in the mud and water.
Scary monsters aside, the river is also home to a whole host of wild bird life and the local Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal. Having lived amongst the locals for decades, Shayne gives a sensitive insight into the challenges that face the people of the area in finding a balance between maintaining what is unique to the untouched region with the need to make a livelihood.
For an area so remote, it has its fair share of fascinating tales: in 1770 Captain Cook's ship, the Endeavour, ran aground on the reef nearby; then in the late 1970s Bloomfield Lodge was a holiday lodge belonging to the Federated Painters and Dockers Union and served as headquarters for a marijuana-harvesting operation; more recently, a giant commune of alternative lifestylers set up their version of Utopia further up the coast in Cape Tribulation National Park until they were forced out by the authorities.
Bloomfield Lodge is now owned by the much-respected British travel company Trailfinders, and with this has come its transformation into a world-class retreat. From the gourmet meals produced each day to the massages that help eke away those last bits of tension, from the luxurious villas with their dreamy fittings and open-air design to the professionalism and enthusiasm of all the people involved, you can see why this place wins awards.
When it comes to getting away from it all, you can't get much further than this. Or more relaxed.