RAIN DANCE: Locals celebrate.
RAIN DANCE: Locals celebrate.

Going ‘troppo' good fun

THEY were dancing in the rain at Innisfail. Good for them.

Members of the local rock’n’roll group were not going to to let a bit of rain stop a celebratory dance in the streets at the Feast of the Senses Market Day Extravaganza.

“If it didn’t rain, nothing would grow and we wouldn’t have all this beautiful produce,” one intrepid stallholder laughed as she sold tomatoes and watched the dancers in the middle of Edith Street twirling and bopping against a background of art deco architecture.

Innisfail, in Tropical North Queensland, is home to some of the best art-deco architecture in Australia, thanks (if you could put it that way) to a devastating cyclone in 1918 which practically razed the town.

At the time of reconstruction in the 1920s and ’30s, the art-deco movement was at its zenith and consequently many of the town’s buildings were built in this fascinating style.

The Feast of the Senses Festival in March each year is an opportunity to experience Queensland’s exotic fruits and delicacies, to learn about the growing process, and generally get out and make merry.

You probably did not know that the region is home to Australia’s only pepper farm, and that some of the world’s most sought-after vanilla is grown at Broken Nose Vanilla Farm in nearby Babinda.

Cyclone Yasi had done her dirty work just before the festival, stripping the trees on the Great Dividing Range, savaging the sugar cane and destroying the banana plants.

But within weeks the vegetation fought back. Tree tops were green again and banana plants looked hale and hearty once more. By late March the entire region looked lush and promising.

Foodie Peter Russell-Clarke was in town for the festival, ignoring the rain and sharing his culinary quirks with visitors and stall holders at more than 80 stalls displaying local plants, wines, herbs and spices.

As well as dancing in the street, the locals were competing lustily in the dragon fruit stacking competition, vying to guess the weight of a huge bunch of bananas and lining up at food stalls for everything from noodles to gourmet duck dishes.

We stayed the weekend at Castaways Resort at Mission Beach, right on the beach and unaffected by Yasi.

Castaways’ long pool parallels the beach and an open bar and dining area spills out to an expanse of green lawn leading down to the sand.

The property, which looks out to Dunk Island, has spacious two-level apartments with kitchenettes.

Ocean views over the swaying palms make Castaways an excellent option for anyone looking for a winter escape, even those who find a mild south-east Queensland winter too cold for their liking.

A must-visit, the RACQ told us so in its list of 150 best things to do in Australia, is Paronella Park at nearby Mena Creek.

This moss-covered castle relic on five hectares of luxuriant grounds evokes a sense of a grand past.

It was created by Spaniard, Jose Paronella, who arrived in Queensland in 1913 to cut cane and set about building a citadel for his sweetheart, Margarita.

Nothing was too grand for his Margarita – tennis courts, quaint bridges, spurting fountains, tranquil ponds, stone stairways, elaborate gardens, a picnic area overlooking Mena Creek Falls, even a tunnel of love.

Now Paronella Park, which has not only survived cyclones but also floods and fire, is more romantic than ever.

Couples make their wedding vows in sylvan glades within the park then walk through the tunnel of love, hand in hand along the spectacular Kauri Tree path.

Visitors flock.

Locals hold special celebrations in the park.

Everyone picnics in front of the falls.

Owners Mark and Judy Evans are committed to keeping Jose Paronella’s dream alive and their passion is evident on the tours they take every day around this Spanish castle entangled in the rainforest.

That same passion is apparent everywhere in the region from cyclone-savvy locals determined never to let Mother Nature get them down no matter how she strikes.

Pampered in private rainforest

A highlight of my visit to Tropical North Queensland for the Feast of the Senses festival was meeting Nancy Hegarty, of the Rainspa Day Spa Retreat.

Nancy is ardent about natural healing.

And she has created a private rainforest sanctuary to pamper locals and visitors with a menu of treatments including body wraps, scrubs and exfoliations and rainwater Vichy showers.

Nancy specialises in kinesiology, muscle testing, strengthening and balancing meridians with acupressure and deep tissue massage to restore bodily functions.

Nancy takes her work very seriously and has formulated her own organic skin care products designed to assist with natural healing.

Just visiting her spa with its misty mountain views, pure air and lush surroundings, induces tranquillity.

After a back and neck massage in the calming treatment room with Nancy’s firm fingers easing aches, loosening tight muscles, I experienced the deepest sleep I had experienced in months.

If you go:

Innisfail is 90 minutes south of Cairns.

The best way to get there is to fly to Cairns and hire a car.

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