Just last Wednesday, my family and I returned from a warm and sunny 10 day holiday to Port Douglas and Palm Cove, in the glorious tropics of Far North Queensland. It was the first visit to Queensland for most of us (except for my Husband, who is a far more seasoned traveller than I), and the first time we’ve attempted air travel with the kids since my daughter’s diagnosis.
So there were a few issues to sort: food on the 3 hour flight to Cairns, grocery shopping at our destinations, eating out. Best to tap into some local knowledge, so I got in touch with Joanne, author of the lovely blog Help! My Teenager has Coeliac Disease for a bit of advice. Joanne is based in Townsville which is a bit further south of our destination, but still in touch with what’s happening around the traps. Joanne blogs about the unique challenges of feeding a Coeliac teenager, and her site is well worth a visit.
Joanne generously provided me with an extensive list of supermarkets, restaurants and information about the general area and just to be on the safe side, I also read her post Travelling the Gluten-free Way, which detailed her family’s trip overseas. Even though it focussed on international travel, there was lots of good advice.
We departed bitterly cold Adelaide armed with loads of gluten-free snacks and lunch. Our day started at 4.00 am and as we weren’t due at our accommodation in Port Douglas until 2pm, I was packing food for the day. That worked out well, as the only gluten-free food that seemed to be available on our Jetstar flight was a cookie. Good for a special treat but not really sufficient to quell a hungry tummy!
I was quite unprepared for the beauty of Port Douglas. Basking in a gentle summery warmth, it is a cosmopolitan township with an incredible beach – gorgeous palm trees lining the sand. It’s a tourist town, so our food options were good.
Coles Supermarket in the centre of town carried a pretty good range of gluten-free food, although our bread of choice was so popular that it was often sold out. We had no problems finding gluten-free supplies (including icecream cake) for my daughter’s birthday celebration – it was novel to have a “summer” birthday in the middle of winter! IGA Supa was located a little way out of town. It had a few bits and pieces but the range was very limited.
Eating out was the thing that worried me the most – it’s always a risk – but most places had gluten-free options marked on their menus and staff were generally well-informed about suitable dishes, how food was prepared and cooked and the risks of cross-contamination.
Italian Restaurant Bucci had a dedicated kids’ menu with a couple of gluten-free options. Our daughter chose the Pasta with Cheese. There were lots more gluten-free dishes marked on the main menu.
We had take-away from Han Court Chinese Restaurant. Menu items weren’t specifically marked gluten-free, but when I asked about options, I was given a list of gluten-free dishes to choose from. Easy!
Just nearby was Zipangu Sushi Teriyaki. It only had a couple of tables for eating in, but on another night we ordered the takeaway and the kids all happily feasted on California rolls. Zipangu even provided some gluten-free soy sauce. And it has to be said, that if any of your tribe can eat gluten, the udon noodle soup was absolutely to die for. Seriously the best chicken broth I’ve ever tasted.
For coffee and cake, Taste on Macrossan (near Coles Supermarket) was the go. My daughter loved the gluten-free chocolate cake (made by The Hungry Hummingbird who had a stall at the Sunday markets). We went there for brunch one day and my daughter happily tucked into the bacon and eggs with gluten-free pumpkin bread. There were a number of other gluten-free options on their lunch menu, including the kids’ menu, and the café had an impressive range of gourmet foods for sale, many of which were also gluten-free. Wow!
The reason for our trip was the wedding of my cousin. The ceremony was held in the charming St Mary’s by the Sea Church, and the reception was over the road at Salsa Bar and Grill. I enjoyed a magnificent main meal of barramundi, and just check out the dessert platter of pana cotta, chocolate tart, macarons, crème brulee and more (taken on my iPhone):
Salsa’s website menu doesn’t indicate whether any meals are gluten-free, but it’s worth asking – the food is amazing!
We took a day trip to the Low Isles on the Great Barrier Reef. It involved an hour-long boat trip, followed by snorkelling, island walk, glass-bottomed boat ride, or just enjoying our own island for the day. Morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea were all provided. We chose the Wavedancer Cruise because it seemed the most family friendly of all the cruises on offer (thanks to my relatives for doing the research!).
I was pretty worried about this one. Even though I called ahead and informed them that we were bringing a gluten-free child, I thought that if there was some issue with the food, my daughter would be literally stranded on an island without anything to eat. So I boarded the boat with a backpack loaded with snack foods. I needn’t have worried. There was a special plate set aside for our daughter with more food than she could eat, and it was really, really good stuff – healthy salads, good quality carbs, lean proteins – all a little body needs for a day on the Great Barrier Reef! But even then, there was more. The delicious spread for the rest of us was largely gluten-free. More healthy salads, meats and soup. The bread rolls (the only gluten-containing food at lunch) were placed in a separate dish well away from the rest of the food, so there was minimal risk of cross-contamination. The very attentive staff gave me a folder filled with nutritional information about the spread, so I was content to allow my daughter to choose what she wanted to eat. Heaven!
Getting off the gluten-free track, one night my husband and I called in my parents to babysit so that we could dine with friends. We decided to head out for a sneaky gluten fix at Chilly’s Pizza and Trattoria for some pretty amazing pizza. Most of the menu items looked like they were gluten-filled, but maybe the risotto or paella would be gluten-free. It’s worth enquiring, if only to take in the surprisingly delightful and rustic night-time atmosphere.
And a word about our accommodation. We opted for a holiday unit for our week-long stay. It was immaculately clean, well presented, brilliantly set up for kids, a 10 minute walk from the main part of the town and a five-minute walk to Four Mile Beach. It was also relatively cheap. You can check it out here.
And then there was Palm Cove. *Sigh.* Knocking it out of the ball park with its amazing beauty. I found it even more stunning than Port Douglas and also with a totally different vibe. It was more like a sedate little village. The main strip is on the beachfront, which really adds to the charm, nestled in amongst huge eucalyptus trees, with palm trees lining the beach. You can see from the picture below that the buildings are actually built around the huge trees. It was just fantastic to see huge old gum trees growing up through the middle of the patios and verandas!
We only spent 2 nights at Palm Cove, but I did have a look at quite a few menus as I walked the strip. Very few places had gluten-free options marked, but I’m sure that most would offer something. Just ask.
We had lunch at Cocky’s at the Cove and even though their menu didn’t identify any gluten-free options, when I enquired I was delighted to discover that they could do gluten-free hot chips, soup, nachos, chowder and with gluten-free bread, there were various hamburger and other options. We had a great meal.
Our other dining out experience was poor, so for legal reasons I’ll not document it here! If I started on about all the things that concerned me, I’d never stop!
I was so delighted by Palm Cove that I think we will have to return there one day and when we do, we’ll be visiting El Grekos Greek Taverna. Their menu looked amazing and included a kids’ option of gluten-free lamb souvlaki, a family favourite.
There are three very small grocery stores in Palm Cove, with limited gluten-free options among them. But there is a shopping centre 0n the highway at nearby Clifton Beach, with a supermarket well-stocked with gluten-free everything.
It was a great holiday. I’m so glad we went and I’m pretty sure it will be some time before we do anything like that again. But what a privilege to experience a totally different aspect of this vast and beautiful country!