I’m suffering from the post-holiday blues, a bad dose of ‘over it’ brought on by the damp Sydney summer, and a gnawing ache sparked by a tousle with the corporate treadmill and the growing reality that it will be another six months before i can luxuriate in annual leave. I need a shot of ‘Vitamin Me’. I know where to get it. It’s just getting there that’s the tricky part.
If i could wangle a weekend getaway, here’s what i’d do. I’d head straight for the Botanical Ark in far north Queensland. The tranquility and rare tropical fruit indulgence on offer would help ferry me through the next arduous six months, i’m sure.
The Botanical Ark is a private ethnobotanical garden hidden at the end of Whyanbeel Valley and bordering the Daintree national park. It’s an idyllic spot about one and half hours drive north of Cairns. It’s a secluded sanctuary that’s not open to the general public. That means a super-sized dose of ‘Vitamin Me’.
The Botanical Ark is the home of Alan and Susan Carle and their two-year-old golden retriever/maremma cross named Gaia after Mother Earth. It’s also home to over 3000 species of tropical plants, including 500 species of fruit and nut, and many ethnobotanical plants that are used in everyday items such as dyes, oils and medicines. Many of them have been salvaged by the Carles from rainforests around the world.
This extraordinary pair have scoured jungles from South America to Madagascar and transported endangered species back home. Their cornucopia includes soursop, guanabana, pulusan (a relative of the lychee), durian, rambutans, mangosteen, chocolate pudding fruit (also called black sapote), canistel and star apples. Also in this tropical treasure chest is breadfruit and over 400 varieties of banana. That means plenty of antioxidants and Vitamin C – along with that essential dose of ‘Vitamin Me’.
Susan has mastered the art of tropical cuisine. Guanabana cheesecake, chocolate pudding fruit cake, cassava rosti, breadfruit gnocci, and mame sapote milkshake are some of the stars of her repertoire.
The Botanical Ark is a vital link in the food chain. The Carles hope to help protect threatened rainforests for the food value that comes from them. A single breadfruit tree can feed an indigenous family for the whole year. They are involved in several sustainable food projects, including one working with pigmies who live in Gabon in the Congo.
The Botanical Ark is also home to Tranquilla Villa, an exclusive holiday retreat nestled amongst the exotic gardens. The villa is surrounded by a wide verandah and has a well-positioned hammock over-looking a stream-fed freshwater pool out front. Yep, that’s where i’d be hanging out.
Imagine waking in the morning to the tropical symphony of songbirds, rather than slamming car doors and the distant drone of Sydney traffic. Or walking through the tropical foliage gently batting away butterflies, rather than commuters on the train.
“Write that book … scribe a poem, sonnet or song, ones that you’ve long dreamt about,” the Botanical Ark website suggests.
I know one stressed Sydneysider and writer who’s up for that.
I’d practice yoga on the sandy beach beside the freshwater pool, pen some posts, take a tropical garden tour with Alan, and a indulge in a cooking class with Susan. That’s about as strenuous as my getaway would be. After all, it’s all about ‘Vitamin Me’.
Note: Special interest groups can organise tours of Botanical Ark.
Photographs courtesy of Alan Carle and Norbert Guthier