After bouncing about on a hot dirt track, there are few sights more welcome than a smiling lodge host bearing a chilled glass of bubbles. It’s an apt introduction to Mt Mulligan Lodge, a unique north Queensland getaway, which genuinely merits the description “outback escape”.
Our original plan was to helicopter in – a quick 35-minute trip from Cairns – but a sudden tropical storm grounded air traffic, so we’ve switched to a 4WD. Since turning off at the small township of Dimbulah, we’ve passed just one dusty ute and a handful of floppy-eared Bos indicus cattle.
I’ve been hanging out for a first glimpse of Mount Mulligan, our destination lodge’s namesake, since leaving Brisbane. This massive tabletop mountain, known to First Nations Australians as Ngarrabullgan, sits on Djungan land. It’s a sacred site, revered as the birthplace of the creator being, the Rainbow Serpent. Cave shelters located on the mountain have been dated back 37,000 years.
We’ve journeyed up through 180-million-year-old rainforest on our climb out of Cairns, pushing past papaya orchards and dairy farms on the Atherton Tablelands, before finally heading into the bush.
At Mt Mulligan, a 28,000-hectare working cattle station, we turn the corner of the main pavilion, Champagne flutes in hand and it’s like walking onto a film set – with towering, widescreen views of the mighty Ngarrabullgan, the undisputed star.
Kempt green lawns lead down to a dark, almost mirror-like body of water, prettily edged with water lilies, in which Ngarrabullgan is partially reflected. There are weeping paperbarks and red gums, and across on the other side of the weir, a small mob of wallaroos and wallabies is lazily grazing in the late afternoon humidity. The only sound is desultory guest chatter from the pool deck and the occasional splash of a barramundi in search of its afternoon tea. As I drink everything in, I’m convinced I feel my pulse rate slowing.
Mt Mulligan Lodge is an all-inclusive property but the pleasures of staying here are as much about what’s not part of the package. For example, there’s no formal reception area, check-in fussing or having to present a credit card to cover extras. With a maximum of 32 guests at any time, there’s a hyper-personal approach to everything.
Welcome drinks and a chat with affable lodge manager Tegan Stanley is as casually formal as it gets. Unless you specifically request a key, your guest suite remains unlocked during your stay.
Stanley shepherds us inside a high-ceilinged communal area with fold-back floor-to-ceiling windows, cleverly lit river stone-filled gabion walls and shou sugi ban charred timbers. The airy main pavilion is the axis on which everything here turns. This is where we meet head chef Jeremy Fenech.
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