A healthy eating guide to Townsville and Tropical North Queensland

Unlike some destinations that call to mind flaky, buttery pastries or cornucopias of French fries, you can keep your healthy eating plans in check when travelling in the Tropics. Blessed with an abundance of fresh tropical fruit, vibrant veggies and health-conscious locals, you’ll find organic, gluten-free, superfood, vegan and paleo options are easier to hunt down than the elusive cassowary.

From acai bowls to kombucha, here are nine of the best places for healthy-eating foodies in Townsville and Tropical North Queensland.

Cotters Market, Townsville

If you’re craving fresh fruit to stock your holiday villa or simply devour at lunchtime, there is no better place to stop in Townsville than Cotters Market. Held along Flinders Street every Sunday (8:30am-1pm), the market is small but worthy.

One of the biggest stalls sells rows of watermelons, dragonfruit, pineapples and rockmelons, so take your reusable shopping bags and stock up. At the next stall along, shout yourself a refreshing electrolyte-rich coconut water. You don’t have to go to Fiji to get the real deal, either. Pick a coconut from the pavement and watch it be sliced open in front of you and then enjoy as you potter around the rest of the market.

The Beet Bar, Townsville

Beet Bar I Healthy eating Townsville

Photo by @thebeetbar

While you’re checking out trendy Flinders Street, be sure to pop into The Beet Bar which makes the list of 100 things to do in Townsville (check out the others here) and order from their extensive range of superfood bowls. The choice is overwhelming, with acai combinations of dragonfruit, mango, vanilla protein and banana.

If you’re keen to sample something different, try the activated charcoal bowl. It’s delicious, refreshing and surprisingly filling, but make sure you check your teeth for black smudges afterwards. The bowls are all refined sugar-free, as well as dairy- and gluten-free, and vegan. The bar also whizzes up fresh juices and smoothies, making this a health-food heaven.

Lafew Café & Kombucha Bar, Cairns

Lafew I Healthy eating Cairns

Photo by @lafewteahouse via FB

Dragonfruit makes a regular appearance in Tropical North Queensland, so it’s no surprise to see it as a flavour of the in-vogue probiotic fizzy drink kombucha. Lafew Café & Kombucha Bar in Cairns pours a turmeric and chamomile kombucha combination, as well as vanilla, chai, and lime and ginger options. But this place isn’t somewhere to just grab a takeaway bottle and run; rather it’s a spot to lounge on the vintage furniture with friends and enjoy the kombucha on tap. 

You’ll need some raw desserts to wash down, like the coconut cake and strawberry mousse tart that are free from dairy, cane sugar, wheat, egg and soy. If you want something more filling, call in for a lunch of pad Thai with zucchini noodles or an Earth Bowl with a bean and veggie patty and kraut and potato salad.

Rusty’s Markets, Cairns

Rustys I Healthy Eating Cairns

Photo by @rustysmarkets via FB

While you’re in the Cairns CBD, it’s also worth spending a morning at Rusty’s Market, known for its amazing fresh produce. Held on Friday and Saturday from 5am-6pm and Sunday from 5am-3pm, it’s buzzing with foodies keen to pick up exotic fruit, vegetables, fresh bread and seafood.

There are more than 180 stalls at this iconic Cairns attraction so be prepared to while away a few hours enjoying them all. And you never know, you may just bump into local celebrity chefs such as Nick Holloway, who regularly calls in to stock his award-winning Palm Cove restaurant, Nu Nu.

Greenfields, Cairns

Located poolside at Cairns’ five-star resort Riley, Greenfields restaurant places their focus on raw and simple. Wholesome delights include Greek kale salad with quinoa, poached chicken, sweet potato and feta, or coconut bircher muesli with maple syrup, roasted hazelnuts and apricots. Smoothies also show off the region’s fruit, from lychees to pineapple and banana.

No time to sit down? Greenfields offers a takeaway option with food and drinks packed for the road in eco-friendly packaging.

Chill Café, Palm Cove

If you crave a hearty salad, look no further than Chill Café in the upmarket resort village of Palm Cove, 30 minutes’ north of Cairns. The ‘kick-ass salads’ are large, more-ish and will have vegetarians singing “hallelujah”. The Woodford Salad is a top choice and comes with hemp and sunflower seeds, sweet potato and popping pomegranate.

For breakfast (served until 3pm), you can expect a generous helping of local fresh fruit, the ‘tree hugger platter’ of poached eggs, mushrooms and avocado, or even turmeric and cracked pepper-infused poached eggs with kale. Chow it down at the timber bar and soak in views of the sea through the towering foreshore palms that give the place its name.

27 Degrees, Palm Cove

27 Degrees I Healthy eating Palm Cove

Photo by @27degreesqld

Up the street in pretty Palm Cove, you’ll find 27 Degrees, which immediately grabs your attention with its bright retro styling. This tiny place has a stellar bowl-inspired menu – think poke, acai and granola. You can also enjoy more substantial lunch options featuring brown rice and quinoa such as the Miso Chicken Bowl with avocado, hummus and mild spicy mayo; or The Sunny Bowl with falafel balls, gherkins and Japanese sesame dressing.

Add a freshly-squeezed orange juice, kombucha on tap or dairy-free smoothie to your order and you’ll leave feeling revitalised and satisfied.

Betty’s Bohemian Beach Café, Port Douglas

Bohemian in name, bohemian in styling, this café on busy Macrossan Street in Port Douglas oozes feminine chic with white wicker cane chairs, lace doilies and an array of different glassware.

You can also expect to find Catalan tomatoes with spinach, basil and babaganoush on ciabatta, or a macro bowl with brown rice, avocado, sprouts, edamame, kimchi and miso dressing for brunch; while a honey soaked chai latte is on the drinks menu. A top spot to enjoy breakfast before spending a morning scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef or swimming at nearby Four Mile Beach.

Driftwood Café, Cooktown

It’s the go-to place for health-conscious travellers and locals in Cooktown, and it’s easy to see why. Not only does Driftwood Café have lovely views across Endeavour Park to the river, but the menu also caters to diners in search of gluten- and dairy-free choices.

The herby ricotta zucchini muffins are a great option for parents looking for a healthy treat for their kids (or themselves), while their daily cakes (like the raw blueberry cheesecake with almond crust) make for a delicious breakfast-on-the-go. You can also pick up a jar of beetroot sauerkraut to keep your gut health in check, too.

What are your go-to cafés for healthy eating? Tell us in the comments below.