Sitting beside the Mossman River, hidden amongst the thick rainforests of Far North Queensland, I’ve always loved the simple grace and spectacular surroundings of Silky Oaks Lodge. But when hoteliers James and Hayley Baillie took over the reins and announced a $20 million revamp of this beloved lodge in the heart of Australia’s stunning Daintree Rainforest, I knew we were in for something special.
This power-couple of Australian tourism has a seemingly innate ability to draw the most out of a region, crafting luxury lodges that combine a respectful sense of place, with understated luxury and innovative design. Silky Oaks is the latest gem in their curated collection of Australian lodges. With its open-air concept and unparalleled location between the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and the Mossman River, Silky Oaks is a tropical haven for travellers looking to slow down and truly feel one with mother earth.
I sat down with Hayley Baillie, my friend and co-owner of Baillie Lodges, to find out how their touch has transformed this already-legendary rainforest sanctuary.
My husband James and I both had personal connections to the lodge from our time there in the 1990s: I was on holiday with my parents and James was formerly the Lodge General Manager when the property was owned by P&O Resorts.
When the chance arose to bring the property under Baillie Lodges, we saw an opportunity to offer guests a new experience of the world’s oldest rainforest through modern design, local artworks and food and beverages. It’s been our mission to partner with premium local tour operators, especially for First Nations Kuku Yalanji cultural tours.
The Daintree Rainforest and gently flowing Mossman River are the natural attractions that play centre stage. Our aim in commissioning a local, Cairns-based architect to revitalize the lodge was to preserve as much of the property’s heritage as possible, while also making the most of the landscape and enabling seamless interaction with the environment for our guests. This meant raising the roof to reach toward the rainforest treetops and adopting an open-air design to welcome the sights and sounds of the rainforest and river.
Yes, and this approach to working sustainably with the local community, its artists and producers is key to the way Baillie Lodges operates; and in turn, contributes to the guest experience and a real ‘sense of place.'
We worked with the local First Nations Kuku Yalanji artists at the Yalanji Art Centre on commissions of ceramic tiles that represent the flora and fauna of the Daintree and align with the names of each suite. Guests see these tiles in the reception area on arrival and this installation sets the scene for an experience immersed in nature. The artworks by Australian artist Catherine Nelson seen around the lounging areas and in suites embrace the immersive and almost magnetic draw of the landscape which is so much a part of a stay at Silky Oaks Lodge.
We also work with the region’s small-scale food and drink producers from the reef and the rainforest to the Atherton Tablelands food bowl to source local ingredients while supporting local farmers and producers.
It’s entirely possible for our guests to experience the Great Barrier Reef on half or full-day tours, plus take a First Nations Kuku Yalanji guided walk through the Daintree or Mossman Gorge and then float down the river on a magical tour with Back Country Bliss.
My recommended must-do experience is both addictive and free: take the path to the Mossman River in front of the main lodge at Silky and dive in, head under! It’s refreshing, pure water—known as ‘healing waters’ by the region’s Indigenous community—and gives a wonderful welcome to the country. You can swim early in the morning, at lunch and before dinner. I recommend all three!
The Beach Billabong is a private swimming hole in the Mossman River, just up from the main lodge fringed with white sands just like a freshwater beach! If I’m feeling more adventurous and really want to go off-grid, I’ll hike to the Fig Tree Rapids where I can swim under a freshwater waterfall and have the waterhole all to myself!
On the lunch menu, my go-to is always the kingfish tataki which uses local ingredients from the new Kitchen Garden we’ve developed on-site.
Sunset is a wonderful time to enjoy cocktails on the Jungle Perch overlooking the river. My pick is a local Gin and Tonic made on local Cairns distillery Wolf Lane Tropical Gin or the Atherton Tablelands Mount Uncle’s Botanic Australis Northern Gem Gin.
We’ve grown the Baillie Lodges portfolio from humble beginnings at Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island and have sought to grow our Australia-based collection of luxury lodges to enable enriching Baillie itineraries for our guests. So from the initial Lord Howe subtropical island destination, we added wildlife at Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island and then the outback experience with Longitude 131 at Uluru Kata Tjuta.
Silky Oaks Lodge was the next Australian property with the Tropical North Queensland experience and reef and rainforest connection. We usually look for properties that are located in an extraordinary destination—often World Heritage listed—that are supported by an engaged local community around which we can offer our guests a real sense of place: a meaningful experience of the destination and connection with its people.