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  >  Destinations   >  Australia   >  Thala Beach Nature Reserve review

In the early 70s, Rob and Oonagh Prettejohn had planning approval to build a 700-bedroom hotel on a 60 hectare piece of land half way between Port Douglas and Cairns. Instead, they chose to rehabilitate the site, planting indigenous trees and building a handful of bungalows. Set on a coastal headland covered in rainforest, Thala Beach Nature Reserve (or Thala Lodge as it used to be known) has been leading the way in sustainable tourism ever since with nature tours, educational talks, star-gazing and stand-alone accommodation hidden amongst the rainforest.

View from Osprey's Restaurant
View from Osprey’s Restaurant

Thala Beach Nature Reserve is deeply connected to the unique flora and fauna that has made this part of Queensland world famous. You could easily spend a week here, enjoying a relaxing break and venturing out occasionally to explore further afield. If you are only planning on staying for a night or two, treat it as a ‘staycation’ spent at the resort so you can fully experience everything Thala has to offer. Here are 10 reasons to stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, including tips and tricks for how to make the most of your stay.

Getting to Thala Beach

It’s an easy 45 minute drive from Cairns to Thala Beach Nature Reserve. Even for overseas visitors, getting here is easy as you are driving along the Captain Cook Highway, with no need to turn off until you reach Thala’s driveway. If you don’t want to hire a car, there are shuttle buses running from Cairns to Thala, which include handy stops along the way such as the airport. When you’re staying at the resort, the staff at reception can also arrange a ticket on the shuttle service to nearby Palm Cove if you would like spend a relaxing morning or afternoon exploring this pretty tourist town.

Thala free activities program

Thala Beach Nature Reserve offers a complimentary activities program for in-house guests with choices ranging from stargazing and guided beach and bush walks to a cultural presentation by local Kuku Yalangi elders. Different activities operate on different days, so if you have something in particular you would like to do, such as the cultural presentation, contact the resort to see what night this is on and book your stay accordingly.

Stargazing at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Stargazing at Thala Beach Nature Reserve

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Exploring during one of Thala's walks
Exploring during one of Thala’s walks

Enjoy pristine Thala Beach

Thala Beach Nature Reserve has a gorgeous beach, known locally as Oak Beach, decked out with hammocks and packed with Insta-worthy photo opportunities. Nothing beats lying underneath one of the many palm trees with a good book. You can also swim here from July to October (outside stinger season) but the beach isn’t patrolled so keep an eye on the conditions and don’t go out too far.

Chilling out at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Chilling out at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Enjoying the beach at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
You can order a picnic from the restaurant
Swimming at Oak Beach
Swimming at Oak Beach

Thala swimming pools

If it is stinger season – or if you simply want a beautiful spot to swim – check out the swimming pool near reception which has been cleverly designed to look like a rock pool. This swimming pool offers several different ‘rock pools’ to swim in, so it feels like this shady spot is yours alone, even when others are using it too.

Enjoying the 'rock pool' swimming pool
Enjoying the ‘rock pool’ swimming pool
Thala Beach Nature Reserve lobby
Thala Beach Nature Reserve lobby

Thala Beach Nature Reserve rooms

We visited Thala as a family of three – Mum, Dad and a lanky 12 year old – and could not believe how spacious the accommodation was. Now our son is older, we have become accustomed to (literally) tripping over each other in standard hotel rooms and having nowhere to store our things. However, our room at Thala felt enormous with a separate unpacking area, heaps of space around the king size bed and a huge balcony. We didn’t even notice our son’s rollaway which was conveniently tucked into a corner.

View from our room
View from our balcony (Room 22)
Thala Beach room
Room at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Main bedroom with balcony in the background
Main bedroom with balcony in the background
Bathroom at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Bathroom at Thala Beach Nature Reserve

Osprey’s Restaurant at Thala

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at Osprey’s Restaurant, a casual bistro surrounded by native rainforest and sparkling ocean views. Breakfast and lunch are accompanied by an array of brightly coloured native birds, singing in the trees and splashing about in a bird bath tucked amongst the foliage. Huge monitor lizards also make regular appearances, crawling slowly up the silver trunks of the mighty gum trees as they try to surprise the bathing beauties, but the birds always see them coming.

Monitor lizard having a bath
Monitor lizard having a bath (this is the ‘baby’)

Osprey’s Restaurant menu

While the meals at Osprey’s Restaurant aren’t exactly cheap, they are superb with a focus on local produce from the surrounding area. You definitely get what you pay for at this restaurant. Even if you aren’t staying here, it is worth calling to reserve a table for lunch or dinner (it’s best to dine early in the evening so you can enjoy the stunning view). Provided the resort isn’t too busy, they should be able to fit you in.

Osprey's Restaurant
Osprey’s Restaurant

We particularly enjoyed our lunches here, when there were loads of rowdy, colourful birds to keep us entertained. Allow time to sit back with a cool drink and watch their antics before you order your meal, it’s one of the things that makes dining here such a special experience. We ordered dishes such as pappardelle with seasonal forest mushrooms, truffle oil, shaved parmesan and snow pea tendrils and a plate of five crispy coconut Coral Sea banana prawns (both pictured).

Crispy coconut Coral Sea banana prawns
Crispy coconut Coral Sea banana prawns
Pappardelle with seasonal forest mushrooms
Pappardelle with seasonal forest mushrooms

Breakfast is best enjoyed at leisure, so you can watch the wildlife and enjoy the delicious spread which includes treats such as house-made cinnamon-spiced pears and apricots, and a platter piled high with the tropical fruits which make the region famous. Don’t miss the eggs Benedict and other hot items which are tucked in a corner away from the rest of the buffet.

Explore the Thala Beach bushland

Along with regular guided nature walks, you can also set off on your own and explore the many trails winding their way through the 60 hectare resort. There is a picturesque 3km track which runs alongside Southern Creek or you can do the marine walk which winds around the point at the northern end of Oak Beach at low tide. Turtle Lookout provides stunning ocean views and, not surprisingly, the chance to spot turtles in the sparkling water below. Complimentary binoculars, field guides, maps and species lists are available from reception.

Exploring the 60ha grounds at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Exploring the 60ha grounds
Stop and rest awhile when you're out walking at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
Stop and rest awhile when you’re out walking

Overseas visitors at Thala

One of the unexpected highlights of staying at Thala Beach Nature Reserve for locals like us was watching the overseas guests’ surprise and delight at what they were seeing. Australia is a unique country but sometimes it is all too easy to take its many charms for granted. Staying at Thala reminded us how truly beautiful Australia is, and what a joy it can be sharing it with others. We didn’t just connect with nature during our visit. We also connected more deeply with each other, and our fellow travellers from around the world. Our family discovered that Thala Beach Nature Reserve offers something far more rewarding than a simple holiday.

Disclosure: The writers stayed as a guests of Thala Beach Nature Reserve.

Want to see the Great Barrier Reef while you’re in Cairns? Check out our review of Coral Expeditions’ Great Barrier Reef four-night cruise.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.