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The best seats for a view at the main lounge area

I didn’t think I would have to channel my inner Bear Grylls for a luxury lodge stay but Tropical North Queensland has a mind of its own. It’s the morning of our arrival at Silky Oaks Lodge and the rain is coming down in buckets and has been for the past 48 hours. I call the lodge to check on possible road closures as it’s right next to the Mossman River and am told sooner rather than later is the best time to leave Cairns. It’s low tide this morning and the lodge was cut off by high waters yesterday. From taking our time packing our bags at the Hilton Cairns to a cyclone of flying underpants and t-shirts, my wife and I are now on a mission to make it to Silky Oaks Lodge before the river rises again.

SILKY OAKS LODGE from the Mosman River
Silky Oaks Lodge from the Mossman River

It’s the Mossman River that’s the big drawcard for guests at Silky Oaks Lodge as it winds its way through the rainforest, tall gorges and boulder-filled billabongs, providing the perfect backdrop for a luxury lodge stay. As we make our way up the Captain Cook Highway, we’re thankful the car rental company upgraded our car to a 4WD. Nearing Mossman, it’s easy to see why it was a good idea to leave early with Road Closed signs blocking several crossroads and water lapping the bitumen near the turn-off to the lodge. With only a kilometre to go, we stop at a flashing sign saying Road Closed Ahead and almost weep as our 5 star abode is so near and yet so far. I’m wondering whether we can make it across the creek safely in 4WD mode when a mini that seems to know where it’s going zooms past us.

Say it isn’t so!

We follow the little car as it disappears out of sight and discover the creek is no longer over the road and the flashing warning sign simply hasn’t been updated by the local council. We let out a delighted ‘whoop’ and within 5 minutes we’re at the entrance to Silky Oaks Lodge and practically running towards reception in our excitement to check in. A wooden walkway takes us past tropical gardens and the lodge’s pool before we arrive at reception and are greeted with a cheery hello and welcomed to the lodge.

The Silky Oaks Lodge entrance
The Silky Oaks Lodge entrance

We’re shown towards the lodge’s lounge area for a welcome drink overlooking the Mossman River which is stunning but also a raging torrent. It’s a lovely welcome with a glass of sparkling wine served on the deck overlooking the river while the formalities are taken care of. Not surprisingly, we’re told the river will remain closed to guests until the water subsides. With the pool out of action as well due to maintenance issues, it looks like we’ll be catching up on some reading and relaxing in the tropical surrounds of our room and outdoor bathtub for the first few days of our three-night stay.

Main Lodge and Restaurant
Main lodge and restaurant at Silky Oaks Lodge

We’re given time to take in the view and finish our drink before we’re shown to our villa. Arriving at our accommodation via a golf cart, a muddy plumber emerges from underneath it and tells us the water should hopefully be back on soon. Our receptionist apologises for the problem and quickly has us upstairs and into our villa for a quick tour and run down on the room. The king bed takes centre stage with a daybed nook and a benchtop behind the bedhead that has a complimentary mini bar, coffee machine and kettle plus assorted glasses, mugs and tea and coffee selections. Behind that, a bathroom with a large rain shower, toilet and vanity with bespoke toiletries awaits.

But the highlight is a freestanding bathtub located on the rear deck for rainforest bathing with the tub open to the elements and surrounded by rainforest. There is also an outdoor ‘Bali-style’ shower which we later discover has no hot water despite there being a hot setting on the tap. We may be in the tropics but the water is freezing cold. We call reception thinking it is another plumbing issue but the lovely staff member explains the outdoor shower is cold water only and meant to be ‘refreshing’. It certainly is!  

Settling into the room we love the luxe, understated décor which blends in beautifully with the rainforest surrounds, our comfy king size bed, spacious bathroom and outdoor bath. The location? Not so much. In front of our villa and from the deck, we have a view of the backend of another villa across the pathway, villa roofs and the pathway itself which gets a steady stream of guests heading to the walking trails and staff on their way to and from the staff quarters. However, its location is far better than many other villas in the lowest room category. We’ve been upgraded from a Rainforest Retreat (the lowest room category) to a Treehouse Retreat so we’re thrilled, but our abode isn’t as private as we were expecting from the photos on the website.

The Treehouse Retreat
Treehouse Retreat

We unpack and check out the included mini bar with its assortment of delicious snacks, soft drinks, wine and cheeses, almost all of which are from the surrounding area. It’s still raining so we head out to explore the grounds and contemplate a swim. Not surprisingly due to the raging waters, the river’s Beach Billabong and Main Billabong are both roped off and the pool is also out of action so swimming isn’t an option which is disappointing. Instead, we head back to the room for a relaxing afternoon spent chilling out, reading and enjoying the gorgeous bath which is a major highlight of our stay.

The Treehouse Retreat rainforest bath tube
The Treehouse Retreat rainforest bath tub

Each evening, there is a cocktail hour between 5.30pm and 6.30pm in the lounge and bar area of the main lodge. We make a point of getting there early and score one of the tables overlooking the river. Each night features a different (and delicious) cocktail made with a signature house gin and an ice bucket filled with house wine, beers and soft drinks is also available. The wine on offer is okay but not on par with other high end Australian lodges like Saffire but it’s possible to ask for something else to drink if you would prefer (excluding premium wine like Champagne and spirits which cost extra). The ‘canapes’ mentioned on the website are popcorn on one night, mixed nuts on another. Not what we were expecting from a luxury lodge but they are nice to nibble on.

The best seats for a view at the main lounge area
The best seats for a view at the main lounge area

Dining at Silky Oaks is a major highlight with innovative and beautifully executed dishes available each night in the main restaurant. During breakfast, the staff check what time you would like dinner and book you in so there is a table available for you and the waitstaff can manage the number of guests in the restaurant. This works well with each dish arriving promptly and always with a smile. All of the staff at Silky Oaks were some of the nicest we’ve come across at any 5-star property in Australia with a genuine enthusiasm that made every interaction a pleasure.  

The main meal
Sweet and sour pork belly for mains on our first night
Asian-inspired share plates

The dishes at dinner were consistently good although the portion sizes varied significantly. On our first night, we went back and raided the mini-bar as we were still hungry (even after having lunch at the lodge on arrival) but the other evenings were better. Our favourite dinner was the Asian-inspired share plates on our second night. Breakfast is served from 6.30am to 9.30am and includes barista coffee, a self-serve continental selection and an a la carte menu of hot dishes like avocado toast or coconut waffles with pawpaw, banana and honey (don’t miss these, they’re delicious!).

Waffles for breakfast

Lunch is not included in the tariff and is a little on the pricey side for the signature lunch ($70 for two courses or $85 for three, food only) but there are more affordable options for inhouse guests like a burger ($34) or fish and chips ($36). Activities include a daily yoga class from 8am till 9am and swimming and kayaking on the Mossman River in front of the main lodge (when the waters aren’t a raging torrent). There is also the option for self-guided walks in the Daintree National Park ranging from pleasant strolls to hard core hikes. Bikes are also on offer to venture a little further afield and the entertaining guided garden walk is a must.

There is also a daily complimentary bus transfer to and from Port Douglas for those wanting to venture out. Countless other activities are available from the resort and are only limited by your imagination and budget with boutique helicopter adventures, river snorkelling, guided Indigenous tours and more on offer. There is also an on-site spa but this books out quickly so it’s best to lock in any treatments before you arrive. Luckily for us on the second afternoon of our stay, the water levels dropped enough to enjoy the waters of the Mossman River further upstream in a more sheltered area of the river. On the penultimate day of our stay, swimming and kayaking was available in front of the lodge as well. After many soaks in our beautiful rainforest bath tub, enjoyable swims in the river and exceptional dining, our stay came to an end.

Kayaking on the Mossman River at Silky Oaks Lodge

Silky Oaks Lodge captures the beauty of the rainforest and the stunning Mossman River but this is a lodge where you get what you pay for when it comes to your room. If you’ve got your heart set on the beautiful views and lush seclusion promised on the website, one of the higher room categories is for you. You might also need a little bit of Bear Gryll’s courage to brave the chilly waters of the Mossman River and the even more ‘refreshing’ outdoor rain shower but you’ll be glad you did.

Disclosure: The writers received a 20 percent discount off their accommodation and were upgraded from a Rainforest Retreat to Treehouse Retreat.

Looking for things to do while you’re in Cairns? Go white water rafting on the Barron River, take a day trip to Paronella Park and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk, ride the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail, check out Cairns’ thriving coffee scene, or head out of town and spend a few nights at the luxurious all inclusive Mt Mulligan Lodge . If the weather is good, a day trip to Fitzroy Island is a top choice if you don’t mind venturing slightly further afield.

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Trevor Templeman is a photographer and writer who travels the world capturing the essence of locations through their landscape, architecture and people. His words and photographs are published in magazines, newspapers and online around the world.