A perfect cocktail of luxury, fine food and pampering has travel writer Lee Mylne falling for Spicers Tamarind.
Water dragons scamper between trees, skittering across the grass in search of breakfast; they’re not quite near enough to smell mine. The smaller dragons are bold; larger specimens prefer to bask in the sunny spots around the edge of the deck. Natural rawness, relaxed luxury – it’s the blending of two worlds that makes this place so unique. We’re at Spicers Tamarind Retreat in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, where nature is never far away. Even at check-in, it’s clear there is plenty of real wildlife to see in the lovely rainforest setting around the retreat. In the showy yellow blossoms of the Golden Penda rainforest outside the front door to our luxury villa, lorikeets and other birds are feasting, setting the tone for our long weekend: stretchy pants have been packed in anticipation of some fine food and wine experiences.
It begins just a few hours after settling into our villa, where clever design has created a split-level two-bedroom two-bathroom contemporary abode that’s comfortable and classy. Carefully chosen artworks, big sofas, a stocked mini-bar, coffee machine, and a fireplace equipped with paper and kindling set the scene.
Set on 18-acres just outside the town of Maleny, Spicers Tamarind has 14 private villas, spread out around the central building, where guests dine, drink or just relax. Water lilies bloom in the ponds and fountains between wooden decks that lead to the restaurant.
A two-minute walk from our villa brings us to The Tamarind, and it’s here that the Asian influence that gives the retreat its name comes into play. If choosing from the menu, zinging with flavours from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea and Malaysia, proves a challenge, a five-course degustation menu can make it painless. We accept the challenge and opt for the a la carte menu and find that catering to a seafood allergy is not a problem for the team in chef Dan Jarrett’s kitchen, who produce a fragrant yellow curry from the vegetarian menu, with chicken added, for my partner. My fish curry is a combination of Mooloolaba swordfish, betel leaves, Fraser Island spanner crab and vermicelli.
On Saturday afternoon, I’m booked into one of the weekly classes at the retreat’s purpose-built cooking school. This week it’s Thai, on others French, Italian or South-East Asian.
“Putting on your apron will be the most difficult thing you do today,” says perfectly-named chef Sharon Cook as our class of 12 rather nervously take up our positions at our cooking stations. And while she’s not quite right, by the end of the four-hour class we’re all pretty happy with our culinary creations proving you don’t need to be Maggie Beer after all.
Starting gently, with a wander through the market garden to pick herbs, we are soon hard at work grinding our own spice mixes in preparation for our four-course lunch; learning to juggle the preparation of one dish with the execution of another. First a coconut and chilli soup, similar to one we had at dinner last night, then two curries – beef and squid, followed by deep-fried rice-paper parcels of sweet banana, dates and cinnamon, sprinkled with macadamia nuts and icing sugar. All washed down with a glass of crisp pinot gris. And as we finish, as if on cue, the door opens and kitchen staff arrive to clean up and do the dishes! You can’t beat that.
After lunch, the large day bed on the front deck of our villa looks enticing; I’ll be back to that later. Some villas have hot tubs on their private decks, but I’m more than happy with the
large free-standing bath-tub in the main ensuite, which has floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open onto a small private deck and garden if al fresco bathing appeals. In one of the
touches that shows the attention to detail throughout the villas, the bath has a wooden caddy designed to hold a book and wine glass. And for winter stays, the heated floors and towel rails are perfect touches.
For even more decadent pampering, a session at Spa Anise calls. Secluded in a quiet setting the spa has four double rooms – for couples or friends – and a hydrotherapy pool overlooking the surrounding rainforest. While my feet soak in warm scented water, I choose from four fragrant oils for my massage and settle on “Princess” – a blend of jasmine, sandalwood, cinnamon, mandarin and ylang-ylang. Over the next two hours, my therapist Jana loosens the knots in my neck and shoulders and using Queensland-made Waterlily products delivers Spa Anise’s signature treatment, a fusion of body, facial and foot massage that reduces me to an almost comatose state of bliss.
In the late afternoon, there’s time to wind down further, with a beer tasting around the fire pit near the restaurant. Your two beers each – a strawberry rhubarb sour and New Zealand
pale ale – and a small plate of nibbles is delivered to you on or near the deck. The beer is from Brouhaha Brewery at Maleny, which we’ve already visited on this getaway. A tip: the Mooloolaba prawn and bug roll at Brouhaha is a great match for the beer!
Breakfasts at Spicers Tamarind provide yet more temptation. Branch out from basic bacon and eggs and try something like the breakfast bowl of fried brown rice, mushrooms,
shallots, harissa ricotta, pickled carrots, avocado and bacon, topped with poached eggs, or Mexican beans in a soft tortilla.
In need of exercise, after breakfast, I head down the rainforest track to Gardner’s Falls and Obi Obi Creek to find it’s one of those hidden gems the locals try to keep on the hush, but can’t help but spread the word about. Families are picnicking along the creek banks and kids are swinging high from a rope to splash down in the deep pockets. It’s Queensland all over.
And if I need another reminder of that, I get it on the last day of our stay when my quiet cup of tea is interrupted by tapping on the glass door to the deck. A cheeky bush turkey has come to say good morning.
By Lee Mylne