48 hours in Palm Cove for empty nesters

Palm Cove is arguably the prettiest pocket of all the luxe getaways that portray the best of Tropical North Queensland.

Settled along the main drag of Williams Esplanade, it’s framed by leaning palms facing the Coral Sea, with the Daintree Rainforest at its back door and the omnipresence of mist-shrouded mountains – you could say Palm Cove is far too blessed.

It’s the ideal getaway for empty-nesters as we can have all our needs met in a contained strip of paradise: dining options galore, everything in gentle walking distance, shopping aplenty, no loud nightclubs or pubs, and a feeling of entitlement in the balmy air for those who’ve finished raising a family and deserve some ‘me’ time.


4PM: Touch down

Reef House Resort and Spa | 48 hours in Palm Cove for Empty Nesters

Reef House Resort Palm Cove

Reef House Resort | 48 hours in Palm Cove for Empty Nesters

Punch Reef House Resort and Spa | 48 hours in Palm Cove for Empty Nesters

An easy 20-minute drive from the airport (arrange transport because you won’t need a car) and you’re ready to check-in to Palm Cove and get down to the important business of pleasure.

While the beachfront strip is home to a plethora of accommodation choices, we can’t go past the Reef House Resort and Spa, which recently underwent a soft refurbishment. Its white colonial charm built around centuries-old melaleucas has been attracting visitors since the ’70s.

A long timber entry flanked by handsome columns among lush greenery sets a stylish mood, and when staff appear at dusk to light candles around the resort, romance is irresistible (even for empty nesters like us.)

Once unpacked and settled, it’s down to the bar for complimentary Brigadier’s punch and dainty canapés. But there is also an honesty bar stocked with top-shelf tipples to make your own cocktails (a recipe book is nearby for the non-creatives).

8PM: Dinner with a side of mind-blowing views

Nu Nu Palm Cove

Dining at Nu Nu Palm Cove

Appetite whetted by a Gin Sling (the Reef House’s colonial setting demanded it), it’s a short stroll to Nu Nu.

This Gourmet Traveller-endorsed restaurant is acclaimed nationwide, and while its open-air setting with white lattice, timber floors and comfy banquettes presents a laid-back Queensland vibe, it belies the serious approach to food.

A few barbecued prawns with rainforest honey will get the palate piqued to move on to line-caught reef fish with shiitake and pickled mushrooms in a dashi broth (because when you’re in this part of the world, seafood is mandatory).


6AM: Rise and shine

Strolling Palm Cove

Leap out of bed (yes, leap) and decide the best way to start the day.

A stroll bare-foot along the sand by the water’s edge marvelling at the elegant lean of palm trees bending in reverence to the water? A swim in the sea*?

Or if you’re up to it, the guys at Palm Cove Watersports will take you on a sunrise guided kayak tour out to Double Island. It takes about 20 minutes to reach the island, and at that time of early morning, dolphin, turtle and stingray sightings are highly likely. The guides will show you where to look.

*During stinger season (November to June) swim only in the stinger net provided.

8AM: Brekkie #reefstyle

Breakfast Reef House Resort and Spa Palm Cove

Tropical Breakfast Reef House Resort and Spa Palm Cove

Take your breakfast on the deck of the Reef House restaurant among the old and graceful melaleucas and overdose on tropical fruit.

10AM: Let the activities begin

Bicycle Palm Cove

Activities in Palm Cove

Golf at the Palm Cove Country Club is an option, but so is the reef, with half-day trips out of Cairns or Port Douglas easily arranged.

If you didn’t do the sunrise kayak tour, why not hire a kayak yourself and go for a gentle paddle at your own pace. You can go as far as Double Island (remember it’s 20 minutes out and 20 minutes back) or just stay by the shoreline and enjoy a lovely connection with the water and the views back through the palms to the resort town.

1PM: Fuel up

Ellis Beach Bar and Grill Palm Cove

Dining at Ellis Beach Bar and Grill Palm Cove

Takeaway Palm Cove

You’ve earned lunch.

Choose whatever tickles your fancy – it could be takeaway fish ‘n’ chips or a big burger from one of the cafes to eat on the grassy foreshore, or a parmigiana at The Surf Club (go on…you know you want to.)

4PM: Slow it down

Reef House Resort and Spa Palm Cove

It’s spa time! And your choices are on every corner in this indulgent resort/spa town, from Elemis anti-ageing facials at the Palm Cove Retreat to Kodo massages using ancient Aboriginal techniques at Peppers Beach Club and Spa.

Or check-in to the Reef House Spa whose menu has something to nurture every empty nester. (I highly recommend the youth elixir spa facial with an infusion of serums, collagen essential oils, rose balsam, crushed nut butters and anti-ageing vitamins. It’ll have you feeling years younger!)

7PM: Dine the world

Vivo Palm Cove

A pre-dinner drink on your balcony or by the pool and then to Vivo, where the menu travels the globe with a pizza bar, curry bar, pasta bar, and grill bar, as well as an a la carte menu with (and we like this very much) two fixed-priced menus: two courses for $39 or three for $49… with a glass of wine!


8AM: Lazy mornings

Lazy morning Palm Cove

Okay, you deserve a sleep in, and when you rouse, a few easy laps in the Reef House pool will make you feel virtuous and ease you into a lazy Sunday breakfast at Coffee Haven.

Eggs benedict? No calorie counting – you’re on holiday. And why not linger over a second cup of coffee, locals reckon this place serves the best coffee in Queensland.

10AM: Loved up

Alamanda Chapel Palm Cove

Alamanda Palm Cove Chapel

Feeling romantic? Palm Cove is one of Australia’s premier wedding locations and a beautiful place to renew your vows.

The Alamanda chapel will welcome you with your celebrant, but you’ll have to arrange it beforehand. We’ve watched many a bride marry, and mature couples renew their vows in this romantic setting.

11AM: Indulge in some retail therapy

Shopping in Palm Cove

Williams Esplanade Palm Cove

No place is more conducive to browsing, with the glorious beach and palms peeking at you as you trawl the boutiques.

This is the place to re-stock your wardrobe with up-to-the-minute resort wear that will easily take you to any glam beach town around the world.

Annie’s Ladies Boutique has a range of floaty kaftans with just enough bling to make you stand-out – and with sensible sizing (up to plus-size), everyone can find something (and if you can’t find a pair of colourful sandals to match, you’re not looking properly).

With art galleries and cafes in between the stylish shops along Williams Esplanade, coffee and culture breaks are easy.

1pm: Chill out time

Apres Beach Bar & Grill Palm Cove

Want food, drink, good company and music for your last afternoon in Palm Cove?

It’s all on tap at Apres Beach Bar & Grill, whether it’s karaoke (yes, we know), a national band on tour, the crazy piano man, or the staff playing ’60s, ’70s and ’80s music.

Join the locals out on the deck and let your last hours in Palm Cove drift lazily by before your transport arrives to take you back to the airport.

Did we miss something? What else would you include during a weekend in Palm Cove?