I just came back from Australia’s Silky Oak Lodge, where my idea for an eco-lodge was turned upside down. Maybe because I was able to splash in the warm waters of the tropical Mossman River under the canopy of the Daintree Rainforest. Sit quietly on the balcony of my tree house while birdsong echoes through the woods as red-throated mistletoe and black cockatoo fly by. Enjoy a cocktail made with local Wolf Lane Tropical Gin and dehydrated finger lime, typically used by indigenous peoples. Or you can dine in Chef Mark Godbeer’s imaginative cuisine in a dramatic space that would raise the eyebrows of any visiting architect.
Silky Oaks Lodge is located in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest on Australia’s North East Coast in Queensland. It is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Site which covers nearly 3,500 square miles. It is also the oldest rainforest in the world and perhaps that is why the word “Edenic” pops up in my mind many times in this lush tropical paradise.
A visit to the rainforest alone could be reward enough. Even more spectacular, however, became as the driver approached the entrance to Silky Oaks, which is widely regarded as one of the best eco-lodges in the world. Then I quickly learned that nothing is routine at Silky Oaks.
You walk down the sidewalk and the staff greets you with eucalyptus and lemon scented towels followed by a chilled glass of Australian sparkling wine. It’s hard to focus on it because you’re standing in the main box and the roof of the cathedral rises overhead. Other than that, it’s open air, with dense rainforest vegetation with leaves and hanging vines where walls would normally be. The setting is more dramatic, almost cinematic. It pulsates and teems with life, with the distinctive sound of river rapids in the background, punctuated by the cry of green oriole and the commotion of small flocks of white oriole. Large, bright blue butterflies flutter by, and this overhead commotion could be a flock of white cockatoos. It was only the first five minutes of sensation.
This main hut is an engineering marvel perched on an embankment surrounded by lush green foliage and foliage. You see the Mossman River Gorge, about halfway down the tree canopy. Below, flashes of the river and the ubiquitous sound of water rushing through rocky rapids. Beneath the soaring roof is a tiered dining room that makes the space feel like a theater. Several seating areas include the Jungle Perch, a round pod with a dozen seats overlooking the gorge, and the ultimate riverside cocktail spot.
The cottage and 40 private treehouses artfully tucked away in the woods are a base for exploring the Daintree Rainforest, Native walks in Mossman Gorge, and snorkeling and snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef from nearby Port Douglas. All at the right time, I thought, seduced by the soothing surroundings, aided by a massage at the Healing Waters Spa and outdoor yoga classes with the talented Erin Rekowski, who uses the stories of the indigenous people of Kuku Yalanji during her savasana. There is also a free-form stone pool, extensive walking paths and splashing in this river.
Silky Oaks has been part of Baillie Hotels since 2019, founded by James and Hayley Baillie. It is now partially owned by KSL, which also counts Amangani and Amangiri resorts among its many luxury resorts. Silky Oaks is also part of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, a unique collection of 19 unique lodges spread across this vast country.
A recent A$20 million renovation shut it down for a year and a half and it reopened in December 2021. Each guest house is called a tree house, built from the forest floor, but there are only a few steps to enter. The wooden walls that used to be a dark interior are now whitewashed and the middle walls have been stripped to open up the space. The basic design has a very comfortable king-size bed as the focal point, the so-called Baillie bed, designed by Hayley Baillie.
Each tree house has at least an extra large couch, chair and a private deck with chairs and a hammock. The bathrooms have been updated with Sydney quartzite stone. Some cabins like ours had a large circular outside tub. The treehouses known as Rain Forests Retreats are set back a bit from the woods, with the larger units offering complete and complete privacy with indoor hot tubs. The floors are spectacular and consist of 16 hardwoods, including the silky oak of the same name. Some suites have glass-enclosed bathrooms and outdoor rain showers. They all have a balcony and a hammock. The best place to stay is the Daintree Pavilion, a nearly 3,500 square foot mid-century modern home tucked away in the woods for true privacy. The A$2 million structure has two bedrooms and is a favorite of the celebrity crowd, from the ubiquitous Kim Kardashian to Katie Perry and Orlando Bloom.
There are extensive walking trails, some leading to the Billabong River, a secluded riverside pool. We decided to join a tour with a local clothing supplier, Back Country Bliss Tours, where you put on a wetsuit, rafted down the river and snorkeled in hopes of spotting the elusive platypus. They proved as elusive as promised, but the trip ended with 20 minutes of gentle floating on our rafts, gazing at the treetops in a rainforest of 3,000 species of trees. It was Eden.
Visit Silky Oaks Lodge.